Kansas Memory Workshop

February 2011

Using Primary Sources in the Classroom

Presented by Pat Michaelis, Director of Library and Archives, and Mary Madden, Director of Education and Outreach, Kansas State Historical Society

Pat Michaelis and Mary Madden provided the group with instructions on using the Kansas Memory website, strategies on using primary sources to teach social studies and reading/writing indicators, and directions on creating a Read Kansas! lesson plan.

They discussed some of the inherent problems with using primary sources:

  •  Presentism – students look at primary sources using their present “lens” and not the standards of the time
  • Difficult handwriting,
  • Archaic vocabulary and complicated syntax
  •  Not enough information
  • Isolated from other sources – need more than one document to understand what is being researched
  • Out of context – the farther we are away from when the document was created, the harder it is to interpret
  • Black and white photographs
  • Takes time to use

They shared a wealth of information about why to and how to use primary sources in the classroom from the Boeing Learning Center of the National Archives.They also shared the Habits of the Mind from the National Council for History Education.

They demonstrated how to help students take time to study the details of a painting by dividing it into quarters and examining and listing details for just one quarter of the painting at a time using John Gast’s American Progress, available at the Library of Congress.     


Writing a Read Kansas! Lesson Plan

  • Identify history, economic, government, or civics indicator
  • Do initial search of Kansas Memory to see what resources exist.  The goal of the lesson is to have students use primary sources to learn history.  Like a science lab, the lesson will have the student questioning, analyzing, and interpreting the primary source.
  • Choose reading and writing indicators
  • Write essential questions that help students connect the topic to a bigger issue or view the topic from a different perspective.  These questions have no one obvious answer, raise other important questions, often are interdisciplinary, and are framed to provoke and sustain student interest.
  • Develop lesson plan activities that provide context for the topic (brief lecture or expository reading) and allow students to do history by using primary sources to create their interpretation of the topic.
  • Develop an assessment activity that shows that individual students gained understanding.
  • Provide for the teacher background information on the topic, definitions, answer key, and resources used in creating the lesson – anything you would need if you didn’t create the lesson.
  • Provide an overview of the scope and content of the lesson and the length of time it will take to complete the lesson.