Resources on the Web
There are lots of resources out there for teachers who want to incorporate primary resources into their lesson plans. Some sites offer archived documents which you can draw on to create your own lesson plans. Others offer the documents, plus plans on how they can be used in classroom activities. There are lots of web pages like "The Sailing Circle" site that offer information and activities on specific subjects. Other sites are more general, and a creative teacher can pull things from them to use in the context of their own lesson plan.
The Library of Congress Learning Page is one that all teachers interested in using documents should know about. It is well written and engaging. Here you will find something for all ages and interests. This site gives you access to the digital collection of the Library of Congree. It is very well organized, and easy to search under events, people, places and time. You will find documents, maps, motion pictures, photos, prints and sound recordings.
For teachers, there is an indepth tutorial for searching the database. There is also an area which gives guidelines for using primary sources in the classroom.
For students there are many activities. In one area, a historical question is posed. The student is led through, using primary documents from the Library of Congress collection to answer the question. It is often layered such that one has to do a little, or a lot of investigation.
The National Archives and Records Administration also has a wonderful site. The "Digital Classroom" includes lesson plans from both volumes of Teaching with Documents, which were published by the National Archives. These activities explore a wide variety of topics. Students can do everything from learning about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family by looking at census reports, to learning about Watergate by reading a memo about Richard Nixon's suspected involvement in the event.
Do History created by the Film Study Center at Harvard University is a wonderful case study for piecing together the past from a single primary document. The diary of Martha Ballard, an 18th century midwife, is on-line.
This is a great example of how a single document can allow you to delve deeply into social issues, characters, as well as the contemporary version of the topic. The student moves from specific events, to general context, and back again. The activities make it clear that different people can look at the same document, and come up with many different interpretations. There is a big difference between the information gleaned from personal, as opposed to official sources. Also, the student comes to realize that the story we tell depends on the sources left behind. It may not be full or correct.
Students look at primary sources, the diary and others, to reveal stories from Martha's life. There are two indepth interactive examples of how to do history.
Turn-of-the-Century Child is another wonderful example of how you can creatively use primary documents in the classroom. With this website, students and teachers learn about the lives of children who lived around the turn of the last century. It is rich and multi-layered. It does take a little while to figure out how to navigate the site, but it is well worth it.
Students look at the same photograph three times. The first time to observe and make deductions. The second time to draw logical inferences based on prior knowledge of the people and what they are doing. And lastly, they record indepth information about the photograph, and record it on the data sheet.
In another part of the site, students take on the identity of one of the children. They create a scrapbook as if they were the child. Given resources, they investigate their name, birhtdate and aspects of their lives.
This website is great for getting kids to really look at photographs, and to think about them on many different levels.
Many state and local historical societies, museums, libraries and state archives have collections on-line. Some include lesson plans and activities. Though they center around state history, some could be used more broadly. The following are some excellent examples:
Conneticut History Online
Michigan Historic Center
Maryland State Archives
Also, keep in mind that cartoons are primary documents, and kids love them. These can always be a good starting place. The Professional Cartoonists Index is a place to find contemporary cartoons. There is even a teacher's guide to the site.