Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Be a “Source”erer's Apprentice

Jan Curtis


Students sharpen research skills by studying primary and secondary sources. When students know what kind of sources are available, they can find exciting stories, facts, and photographs which can make history come alive.


The student distinguishes between primary and secondary sources of information.


-Examples of primary sources, such as family pictures, letters, diaries, provided by teacher
-Information on primary and secondary sources to help students distinguish between the two, such as pages or handouts provided by the teacher, or a history textbook such as [The World Past and Present, East and West], New York: Macmillan/McGraw-Hill School Publishing Company, 1995.
-Student copies of the worksheet, Are You a Good Researcher? (Available through the Alabama Department of Archives and History, P.O. Box 30010, Montgomery, AL 36130)
-Student-provided examples of primary sources
-Student copies of the worksheet, Interviewing a Primary Source (See Associated File)


1. Decide on information to be presented.
2. Copy worksheet, Interviewing a Primary Source. (See Associated File)
3. Copy worksheet, Are You a Good Researcher? (See Materials) If desired, create your own. The worksheet contains 15 examples of primary and secondary sources from which students select the primary sources. For example, a journal that includes recipes kept by Mrs. Liza Smith in 1896, could be listed. Students would have to determine whether it is a primary or secondary source.
4. Find examples of primary sources to share with class.


Note: This lesson practices and models primary sources only.

1. Become familiar with primary and secondary sources. A primary source is the original work of a person and tells that person’s ideas in his or her own words. Two examples are letters and diaries, but primary sources can also include photographs, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, wills, and minutes of meetings. When these firsthand, eyewitness accounts are used to write a story, book, paper, or film, the finished product is a secondary source.

2. To gain attention of the students, start by asking if anyone has been an eyewitness to an historical event, or even to an accident. Have they ever witnessed a fight on the schoolground, and rushed to class to tell their version of what happened? Let’s get students excited about those historical events that other people have witnessed. Tell students that history comes alive to those who have witnessed events firsthand, or who have lived through history-making events.

3. Show and discuss examples of primary and secondary sources. Present information (textbooks, handouts, etc.) to explain primary and secondary sources. Have students generate questions concerning the sources that were brought to the classroom, or the material covered in the textbook or handouts. Use questioning techniques to check for understanding of the difference in the type of sources.

4. Students complete, with a partner, Are You a Good Researcher? (See Materials and Preparations) This worksheet contains fifteen examples of sources, and students select the ones that are primary sources. Collect the worksheets.

5. Pass out the worksheets, allowing time to finish, if necessary. Go over the answers one at a time with the whole group. Student pairs indicate their answers by raising their hands if they think the answer is primary and putting their hands down if they think it is secondary. The teacher indicates the correct answer.

6. Make the following assignment: Bring an example of a primary source to class one week from today. If it is irreplaceable, bring a copy of the source. Be prepared to explain to the class what makes the source a primary source. (Students are responsible during this week to check with their teacher if they are concerned that their source is unacceptable. Students can bring in their source before the due date, and keep it in their classroom folder, or designated place.)

7. Students share their sources, and defend their choices. Selected teams of students (all students should be used during the class) recommend to the teacher whether the sources are commendable, acceptable, or not acceptable, and defend their answers. (Teams refer to the definition of a primary source to make their recommendations. A commendable source might be one that shows extra effort.)

8. Collect the sources for students to use the next time they come to class.

9. Students use the source brought from home to fill out the worksheet, Interviewing a Primary Source. (See Associated File) Assess this worksheet and check for mastery of the benchmark.


Note: This lesson only assesses primary sources.

Using their chosen primary source, students prove it is a primary source by answering questions on the Interviewing a Primary Source worksheet. (See Associated File) This is a formative assessment and students who do not prove that their sources are primary should conference with the teacher and have another chance.

Attached Files

This file contains the Interviewing a Primary Source worksheet.     File Extension: pdf

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