Lesson: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

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Lesson Objective

Students will be able to define and distinguish between primary and secondary sources.

Lesson Plan

Connection (3-5 mins): Students should be seated on the carpet with a partner.  Students will be expected to turn and talk to their partners throughout the lesson.  Yesterday, we learned how to find information in a book in order to cite a source.  It is important to cite this information because we can’t take credit for information we learn through sources.  Today, we will learn about two different types of sources; primary and secondary.

Teach/Active Engagement (10-15 mins):  Primary sources provide first hand evidence of historical events.  The authors of primary sources were actually present during the event.  Examples of primary sources are photographs, maps, postcards, and manuscripts.  However, secondary sources are interpretations and opinions about primary sources.  For example, if two of your friends are having an argument on the playground and you don’t see the argument.  The information your friend provides to the principal would be considered a primary source because she was present during the argument.  However, if you went to the principal to explain what you learned about the fight from other people, your explanation would be considered a secondary source.  Textbooks are examples of secondary sources because the textbook writers were not present during the events in the book.  They can sometimes add their own opinions and interpretations of the events into the textbooks. 

I know that is a lot of information and sources can be very confusing.  Turn and tell your partner the definition of a primary source.  Try to explain the definition in your own words. Students should turn and talk.  Teacher has students share out responses.  Great job! Now partner number two, explain secondary sources to your partner.  Remember to use your own words and try to teach your partner about secondary sources.  Students turn and talk.  Teacher calls on students to share out. 

Now that we have the definitions of the two types of sources let’s try to place examples into categories.  Teacher uncovers chart with the following examples of sources.

1.    A diary entry from Anne Frank about the Holocaust.
2.    A biography of Harriet Tubman written by a current author.
3.    A textbook chapter about the Great Depression.
4.    A fossil found in the desert from the Ice Age.

Teacher reads aloud the first example.  Students place one finger in the air if they think the example is a primary source, and two fingers in the air if they think the example is a secondary source.  Teacher asks students to share out their responses and explain their thinking.  If necessary, teacher explains a diary entry is an example of a primary source because Anne Frank was writing about her own experiences in the Holocaust, a diary is a place you record your own thoughts and feelings about an event.

Let’s try another example.  Teacher reads aloud second example.  Turn and tell your partner if this is an example of a primary or secondary source.  Students should turn and talk.  Teacher has students share out.  You were all correct, a biography is a secondary source because the author is writing about the life of someone else.  They may not have been present for every event in the life of that person and are therefore writing a secondary interpretation of those events. 

Teacher repeats the same process with the last two examples.  I think you are all getting the hang of primary and secondary sources.  It is important to understand the difference between these two types of sources because we want to be critical readers of a text. We need to read secondary sources more critically because they may contain opinions or ideas of the author instead of the person the event revolves around. 

When you return to your seats today you will be given several different examples of sources.  With your group mates, discuss these sources and determine if they are examples of primary or secondary sources.  Once you have determine the type of source, write a sentence explaining your reasoning.  Off you go researchers!  

Workshop Time (15-20 mins):  Students should work in their groups to complete the source activity (attached to lesson).  The worksheet does not require students to write sentences explaining their thinking, however I require students to complete this extra step.  This is helpful in breaking down student misunderstandings and allows students time to debate their explanations.

Exit Slip/Share (10-12 mins):  Teacher should collect the worksheets at the end of the lesson to determine which students need more support.  It is also an option if students are struggling, to go over the examples as a whole class and allow students time to debate their answers. 

Reflection: I really enjoy teaching this lesson.  Although the content can be difficult to understand, the students are very enthusiastic debaters and enjoy explaining their thinking.  Some of the best conversations in my room resulted from this lesson because students had great reasons for their choices and were able to defend their thinking.

Lesson Resources

Primary and Secondary Sources Exit Slip  


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