Tips and Tricks

Primary Source Usage: Tips and Tricks

  1. Use primary sources within the history curriculum to expand upon student understanding of different aspects of history.
  2. Allow students to interpret primary sources.  This will expand their ability to practice critical and creative thinking.  
  3. Use primary sources to teach about historical thinking. 
  4. It is important to provide historical context to students about primary sources, so it gives them an idea about what they should be looking for (themes, concepts, etc.).
  5. Try to relate the documents to larger concepts.  For example, you can use primary sources in order to teach students about considering multiple perspectives in history.  This concept is important for all aspects of history as well as other subjects including English.
  6. Different types of primary sources can be used to teach different themes.  For example, newspaper articles can be used to teach about the media as well as era from which it is from.
  7. Primary documents allow the student to act as the historian.  They do not act as passive receptors of factual knowledge, but rather dig deep into real issues through interaction with the sources.  
  8. Draw on student’s prior knowledge when observing primary documents.  This can help to ease them into working with the material.  
  9. Assist students in recognizing key details about a source.  Have them consider aspects of the document that may surprise them, and what major ideas are the documents trying to express. 
  10. Students should consider their own personal responses to the document.  Have students consider what feelings the documents generate in them.  What questions might they have after examining the document?
  11. Questions to consider when examining a primary source: What was happening during this time period? What was the creator’s purpose in making this source? What does the creator do to get his/her point across? Who was the intended audience of this document? What biases or stereotypes do you see?
  12. 12.  After examining the source, have students summarize what they have learned from analyzing the source.  Consider conclusions to be made from the document, what can be learned from it, and strategies for finding answers to student’s questions.
  13. 13. Provide students with multiple primary sources to compare and contrast different perspectives on an issue


William Still: An African-American Abolitionist Website Tips and Tricks

by Aslaku Berhanu

  1. The letters provide a lot of good information on Still's family, family concerns, religious philosophy, schoolwork, and the sale of his book.
  2. When seaching letters, search by year or correspondants such as "Caroline Still Anderson."
  3. The People and Places section provides information on prominent Blacks, institutions, and organizations in 19th-century Philadelphia.
  4. The Classroom Resources section has great curricular ideas and resources on the subjects of the underground railroad, Black abolitionists, and Blacks in 19th century Philadelphia.