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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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6 Free Online Resources for Primary Source Documents

The Common Core Learning Standards describe the importance of teaching students how to comprehend informational text. They are asked to read closely, make inferences, cite evidence, analyze arguments and interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text. Primary source documents are artifacts created by individuals during a particular period in history. This could be a letter, speech, photograph or journal entry. If you're looking to integrate social studies into your literacy block, try out one of these resources for primary source documents.

1. National Archives

The National Archives is a fantastic resource. Their website is easy to navigate and includes lots of teacher resources. They feature a daily historical document relating to an event from that day in history. The online catalog can be searched using keywords, and 100 "milestone" documents are identified as significant to American history.

2. DocsTeach

Also run by the National Archives, DocsTeach is full of activities for educators. The documents are organized by different periods in American history. If you're teaching "Civil War and Reconstruction" or "Revolution and the New Nation," just click on the topic to find hundreds of primary source documents. DocsTeach provides audio, video, charts, graphs, maps and more.

3. Spartacus Educational

Spartacus Educational is a great resource for global history. It contains free encyclopedia entries that directly connect to primary source documents, making it a perfect tool for educators looking to give students a starting point in their research. It can even be used for a historical figure scavenger hunt!

4. Fordham University

Fordham University is another good resource for global history. Similar to how DocsTeach organizes primary sources into periods of American history, this site categorizes documents as well. From the "Reformation" to "Post-World War II Religious Thought," teachers can find full texts available from Fordham or similar institutions. These sources are appropriate for the middle school and high school classroom.

5. The Avalon Project

Broken down by time period then listed in alphabetical order, the Avalon Project at Yale University also has primary sources for global history teachers. This database starts with ancient and medieval documents and moves into present times. In addition to categories that address specific historical periods, the Avalon Project includes links to human rights documents as part of Project Diana.

6. Life Magazine Photo Archive

Google and Life Magazine have a wonderful search engine that lets users search millions of images from the Life Magazine Photo Archive. Not only can you type in key terms to guide your searches, you can also look through images organized by decade (1860s through 1970s) or significant people, places, events or sports topics.

Easy iPad Access

Using iPads in your classroom? Check out these free apps for primary source documents:

  • National Archives DocsTeach: access to documents and activities available on their website
  • Today's Document: quick look and searchable database of documents connected to a specific date in history
  • Quotable Americans: important quotes in American history with supporting images
  • Manifest Destiny: information on Westward Expansion connected to John Gast's famous painting
  • Building Titanic: National Geographic's app includes images and diagrams of this famous ocean liner

Where do you go to find primary source documents to use in your classroom?

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