This past week’s #worldgeochat was about “ditching the textbook”. (Check out the archives here.) My “current” textbook was published in 2005. In a course in which we study the modern world this can be hopelessly out of date. Yet, our chat got me thinking of times that the textbook could prove to be useful. My colleague from District 203, and friend, Ellie Reitz ( @le_reitz ) shared that she had her students look at our textbook’s coverage of Syria from 2005 compared to accounts they were studying from present day. Needless to say this was eye opening for her students. I also quickly filed that away to do with several areas we study next year to illustrate how places, and the coverage of them, change over time. I also thought of how I use my textbook for my lesson on how I introduce primary and secondary sources.

The first thing I do is show students one of the following videos from the Library of Congress or this one from The Minnesota Historical Society. After we watch and discuss the video I have them quiz themselves using Quizizz. I use this game linked here to quiz the students to see if they can correctly identify a primary and secondary source. One of the great things about this free self paced game, that is similar to Kahoot, is that it includes Memes that vary depending if you answer a question right or wrong. What makes it even more awesome is that you can create your own memes. I use silly ones for if the students get the answer right, yet I created my own incorrect meme that is a picture that details the definition and examples of primary and secondary sources. This way students that answer incorrectly get extra review that hopefully will help them to learn the difference. At the conclusion of this day I have students read the 2 pages of our textbook that cover the Industrial Revolution.

When students arrive the second day I have them answer their bell ringer question. I project this image and have the students answer what do they think this girl is thinking?

IR Girl As they answer I have “Factory” by Bruce Springsteen playing. After they respond we discuss their answers. Most students say something like, “She wishes she could be outside playing as opposed to working in this factory.” We next discuss what they read about the Industrial Revolution from their textbook. The students share a lot of key facts, yet they show little emotion about the content. I ask them how they felt about the reading. They say that it was “interesting.” I press them, and ask again, would you recommend this part of the textbook to a friend? Most answer with a resounding, “No!” I ask why not? The most common answer is that although the textbook offers a nice summary of the Industrial Revolution it is, “BORING!”

The next step in the lesson is that I have 5 stations set up. At each station I have different primary sources such as song lyrics, “The Distressed Seamstress”, a child miner interview, a blanket factory worker interview, political cartoons from the Industrial Revolution era, and photos from the era. The students travel around to each station filling in this chart.  After they have traveled to each station and filled in the graphic organizer I then ask them for their thoughts. They are usually shocked and outraged by the conditions that workers faced during the Industrial Revolution. I ask which made more of an impact on them, the textbook or the primary sources? With 100% agreement, all students say the primary sources are the ones they will remember long after the words from the textbook. I ask why? Most state because you saw the human side of this event. The stories made them react. My final question is what if I didn’t have you read the textbook and you were given no knowledge about the Industrial Revolution, what problem might you have? Most state they would have no clue what was going on at this time in society. The stories would have no context. From this lesson students not only see the power of primary sources but also learn that primary sources can be used most effectively when combined with secondary sources.

This is just my intro lesson on using primary sources. If you are looking for more ways to embed primary sources in your instruction I recommend looking at The Reading Like a Historian videos from The Teaching Channel. I also recommend looking for lessons on the Stanford History Education Group’s site and their Beyond the Bubble page focused on assessments. The Library of Congress is a treasure trove of resources, graphic organizers, and lessons that teachers can use. One more great place to get ideas for using primary sources is episode 1 of The Talking Social Studies podcast. ( @TalkinSS )

In terms of where I find primary sources, one of my first stop recently is Newsela because the texts can be leveled to acccomodate the various reading levels for my students. If you are looking for a whole bunch of sites that focus on primary sources all aggregated in one place I recommend Jerry Blumengarten’s ( @cybraryman1 ) primary source page, and Glen Wiebe’s ( @glennw98 ) page.

After a couple of years of trial and error for lessons to introduce primary sources in my classroom I have found these 2 days of lessons have been most effective for my students. That being said, I’m always trying to reflect and find an even better way. How do you introduce primary sources in your classroom? What are your best primary source based lessons? Where do you go to find primary sources?

5 thoughts on “All the Feels with Primary Sources

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