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An inquirED Blog

Using Primary Sources from the Library of Congress through Distance Learning

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

The Importance of Primary Sources

Primary sources should be the key evidence used in the investigations of the social studies classroom. They provide students with the crucial information, viewpoints, and perspectives they need to construct valid arguments and make decisions about the world. Likewise, as we teach the process of collecting sources, their analysis, and use, we are actually teaching the process of inquiry. We are training students to look more deeply than the social media post or the knee-jerk reaction. We are teaching them to question what they see and hear - and seek out proof - before coming to conclusions.

Only a Piece of the Puzzle

Primary sources are critical - yes - but so are the instructional practices used to select these sources for students and integrate them into social studies curriculum.

In "The Danger of a Single Story," Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes the reductive power of hearing, seeing, and learning a single story. She talks about the stories she grew up with as a Nigerian woman, then the single story that she was reduced to when she attended a university in the United States.

It's important to keep Adichie's reflections in mind as we incorporate primary sources into our curriculum. Are we using those sources to tell a single story? What biases do we hold that shape the selection of those sources? We should ensure that our use of primary sources

  • integrates the history and experiences of diverse cultures and historically underrepresented groups throughout the curriculum, avoiding the tokenism of special months and lessons that can serve to marginalize under-represented groups.

  • investigates the history of discrimination in all its forms as a determining force in shaping historical narratives and practices.

  • incorporates the voices, ideas, images, and perspectives of under-represented groups in the primary and secondary sources used during student investigations.

The content of our sources also must be aligned with the strategies and practices we use as well. The use of primary sources should

  • seek to build skills and content knowledge in students from diverse backgrounds.

  • actively engage cultural learning styles and tools.

  • include instructional approaches that mirror the cultural norms of under-represented groups.

  • approach difficult subject matter with sensitivity and awareness.

  • scaffold student learning toward indepedence

Webinar Summary

Thanks to our panelists: Sarah Westbrook (Right Question Insitute), Ann Canning (Teaching With Primary Sources Eastern Region) and Jennifer Hanson (Teaching With Primary Sources Eastern Region). During the webinar, we used resources from the Library of Congress to implement inquiry-based activities with online learning tools.

Webinar Resources

Elementary Distance Learning

  • Weekly inquiries for Early, Intermediate, and Middle School students. Releasing one a week for 10 weeks. All centered on the compelling question: How can we stay together when we're apart?


Resources from Ann Canning and Jennifer Hanson

  • A direct link to the Google Form used in Jennifer's activity.

  • High-resolution version of the image used in Jennifer's activity.

  • A handy guide to creating a Zoom IN!

  • A PDF version of the Primary Source Analysis Tool

  • An online version of the Primary Source Analysis Tool

  • The TPS Regional program promotes the widespread, sustained and effective use of primary sources from the Library of Congress in K-12 classrooms by increasing access to the TPS program

  • The Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Eastern Region program at Waynesburg University supports K-12 education by offering free professional development and resources to educators in Southwestern Pennsylvania and throughout the Eastern Region.

  • The TPS Midwest Region at Illinois State University covers 17 states situated in the center of the United States, from Minnesota to Louisiana.\

  • The TPS Western Regional, coordinated by Metropolitan State University of Denver, encompasses 16 western states including Alaska and Hawaii.  States in the Western Region include:

  • Each project is intended to provide young people with engaging and meaningful opportunities to learn about Congress and civic participation using primary sources from the Library’s online collections

  • Become a member and join the community of support!


Resources from Sarah Westbrook's Activity

  • Find everything you need to use the QFT in class tomorrow!

  • Feel free to take and use this Padlet activity as a template. Simply log in or create a free Padlet account and click the “Remake” button at the top right of your screen. Remember to clearly cite The Right Question Institute as the source of the QFT!

  • LOC blog post that links resources throughout Library collections

  • A primary source set on Japanese American internment with detailed teacher’s guide

  • Ansel Adams's Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar relocation center

  • Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) documented the change on the homefront, especially among ethnic groups and workers uprooted by the war.

  • Produced by the Japanese-Americans interned at assembly centers and relocation centers around the country during World War II, these newspapers provide a unique look into the daily lives of the people who were held in these camps.


Resources from Tina Heafner's Activity

  • Teacher’s Guide for historical context, teaching suggestions, links to online resources about Women's Suffrage.

  • The current issue features select primary sources from The Library of Congress that are related to the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as well as the campaign for women’s voting rights.

  • Image collection for Indians of North America

  • Image collection for Iroquois Women

  • Image collection for Joseph Ferdinand Keppler


Finally, if you were not able to attend the webinar, please view the recording below.



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