Promoting Inquiry and Exploration with Primary Resources

After visiting the Library of Congress today, I have a new appreciation for learning and education. I became inspired by reading all of the educational quotes on the walls and seeing the many statues of historical figures that represent the eight categories of knowledge, each considered symbolic of civilized life and thought.

The mission of the Library of Congress is to collect and organize America's resources and make them universally accessible and useful.  One of the ways that the Library of Congress is reaching out to teachers is by providing them with a wealth of resources and tools to supplement curriculum, instruction and assessment in the classroom.  Moreover, the Library of Congress offers classroom materials and professional development to help teachers effectively use primary sources from the Library's vast digital collections in their teaching.

Teachers can find Library of Congress lesson plans and more that meet Common Core standards, state content standards, and the standards of national organizations.  When using these resources it is important to support the learning of students who need more scaffolding with sample questions as they respond to the primary source.  Encourage them to go back and forth between the different columns, there is no correct order.

Using Primary Sources
  1. Have students identify and note details
  2. Encourage students to generate and test hypotheses about the source
  3. Have students ask questions to lead to more observations and reflections
In order to help students with this process, use the following terminology
  1. Observe:  I see ...
  2. Reflect:  I think ...
  3. Question:  I wonder ...
Instructional/Assessment Strategies
  1. Encourage students to perform this process as a Think-Pair-Share Activity
  2. Encourage students to perform this process in groups with a JigSaw activity
  3. Encourage students to think of a creative title that would capture the major concepts or themes of the primary source
  4. Encourage students to create a short story or poem based on factual information from the primary source.
Further Investigation

The whole purpose of using primary sources in the classroom is to promote inquiry, exploration, and research for our students.  We need to empower our students to ask their own questions that are important to them to make their learning more meaningful.  Let's help our students to identify questions appropriate for further investigation, and to develop a research strategy for finding answers. 

Have students compare two related primary sources

Have students expand or alter textbook explanations of history based on primary sources they study.

Ask students to consider how a series of primary sources support or challenge information and understanding on a particular topic.  Have students refine or revise conclusions based on their study of each subsequent primary source. 

For Your Consideration

Try using Google Cultural Institute for additional resources and information as a cross-reference.  


Teacher Guide.pdf

Analysis Tool link

Analysis Tool.pdf

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  1. Library of Congress:
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