Examining Primary and Secondary Sources

Help students identify relevant research and evidence from primary and secondary sources
71 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

Examining Primary and Secondary Sources helps students understand the value and use of both primary and secondary sources when completing research. As students engage in research, they identify strong evidence to support their claim. This strategy is used to help students identify the value and use of primary and secondary sources during research.

Implementation Steps

30 minutes
  1. Provide students with various examples of primary and secondary sources. Possible examples:

    • Primary Resources: Autobiographies and memoirs, interviews, surveys, photographs, drawings, works of art/literature, certain internet resources, speeches and oral history, books, government documents, research data, audio recordings,technical reports, scientific journals, etc.

    • Secondary Resources: Bibliographies, reference books (dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc), magazine, journal, and newspaper articles, book reviews, commentaries, textbooks, etc.

  2. Optional: If primary and secondary resources have not been discussed with students prior to this, students will need to either research or be provided with a definition of both primary and secondary resources. See the "Identifying Primary and Secondary Sources" article from Santiago College in the resource section for definition ideas.

  3. Have students work individually, with partners, or in small groups to look at the source examples and label each as a primary or secondary source. Have students provide a quick 1-3 sentence explanation why each source is labeled primary or secondary.

  4. Have students share out their answers during a class discussion. This discussion can happen several different ways.

    1. Partners, small groups, or individual students present the sources they were given and why they labeled each a primary or secondary source.

    2. Each group, student, or partner create a t-chart poster where they identify their primary and secondary resources.

    3. Students rotate around to each group to share their findings with other groups in the room.

    4. Optional: Consider making a final anchor chart where primary and secondary sources have been identified to help students remember the difference between sources when they begin researching.

Internet Search Hunt to Identify Primary and Secondary Resources

Students participate in an internet search hunt to find and identify primary and secondary resources based on a specific assigned topic to learn about and compare the differences between primary and secondary resources

  1. Provide students with a worksheet that has two different research topics to choose from. They do not have to be related (i.e. Titanic and Man on the Moon). All students could choose between the same two topics or each student could have a sheet with two different topics.

  2. On the sheet, have a place for students to identify 5 Primary Source examples from different types of sources including audio images, objects, numbers, text, etc. On the same sheet, have a place for students to identify 3 Secondary Source examples from different types of sources.

  3. Have students circle the topic they are going to work on and then participate in an internet scavenger hunt to find the 5 primary sources and 3 secondary sources. Have students write or draw what the sources are and provide a quick explanation of each source falls under the primary and secondary sources category.

  4. Optional: For upper grades, students could also be asked to provide proper citation for their sources to practice creating bibliographies for their research.

 

Organizing Online Research and Taking Notes on Online Sources

Kathleen Rockefeller
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Online research and note-taking is often more effective if students have an organizational structure when completing online research. There are various graphic organizers and note-taking templates for students to use when conducting online research and taking notes from online sources.  

Implementation steps:

  1. Set up norms and expectations for the online research and the online note-taking process with students. See the related BetterLesson instructional strategy on Creating Shared Work Time Norms and Expectations, linked in the resources section below, for more information on creating shared norms and expectations. When setting up norms and expectations for the online research and the online note-taking process it is important for the teacher to consider: 

    • What websites and resources should students access to conduct research for this assignment?

    • How does the online research process look differently if students are conducting research alone, with a partner, or with a group?

    • What tool, worksheet, or graphic organizer will students use to organize their research and/or take notes on?

  2. Determine an appropriate research graphic organizer and/or note-taking template for students to use for the specific research assignment. The teacher can utilize electronic note-taking tools (Google doc., Word document, etc.), or paper-based note-taking templates. See the related BetterLesson instructional strategy on Student Research Trackers, linked in the resources section below, for more information on the various ways to track and record research. Providing students with a specific template or graphic organizer to use during the research process is essential in order for students to organize their research and focus on key information.  

    • The Research Sources document, linked below in the resources section, is an example of a graphic organizer for students to use to select and organize online research sources.  A graphic organizer like this allows students to determine what sources they plan to use for their research, and identify why those sources are the best ones to use in order to support their research.

    • The Online Research Note-Taking Template, linked below in the resources, is an example of a note-taking tool that students could use during the research process.  A note-taking page like this, created with Google docs, can be used electronically or paper-based, depending on the needs and preferences of the students.  

    • The Cornell Note-Taking System is a great strategy to teach note-taking skills to students.  More detailed information on the Cornell Note-Taking System, including videos on implementation, are linked below in the resources section. 

  3. Provide a rubric with expectations for the research and note-taking process for each specific assignment.

  4. Monitor student work during the research process and provide feedback to students as they conduct their research.  

 

Special Education Modification

Nedra Massenburg
Special Education Specialist

Examining Primary and Secondary Sources helps students understand the value and use of both primary and secondary sources when completing research. Teaching this strategy supports students with disabilities to be more engaged in the research process and build their confidence in identifying strong evidence to support their claim.  

Examining Primary and Secondary Sources to help students identify strong evidence requires significant executive functioning (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, etc.), reading and written expression skills.  In order to support students with disabilities in these areas, consider the following modifications:

Modifications:

  1. Use structured handouts that help students with task initiation as well as provide clear benchmarks (bolded words, bulleted lists) to assess task completion.

  2. Use visual timers and verbal reminders to help students with task initiation and task completion as they are examining primary and secondary sources. As an example, a teacher may say, “Now you will have five minutes to examine document three.  You should be looking for two pieces of information to support the views of the North in the war.  After the timer for five minutes goes off, I will ask everyone to share out one piece of evidence they found with their partner.”

  3. Consider using the “quality over quantity” approach for students with disabilities affecting writing and reading skills to complete the task.  As an example, a teacher may narrow a student's focus to only three primary or secondary sources as opposed to four to give them more time to fully research and vet their sources and synthesize information.

  4. If multiple teachers are present, careful thought should be put into co-teaching models and how they integrate into a differentiated lesson plan on examining primary and secondary sources. See the resources in the resource section below for more information.

EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

This strategy guides learners in the imperative academic skill of research. Learners are guided in choosing appropriate sources of research to emphasize the importance of strong evidence. 

English learners are required to read sources, discuss them with their peers, and classify them in writing. In order to support English Learners, consider the following modifications:


Modifications:

  1. Pre-teach the concept of primary and secondary sources. English learners may not have encountered primary and secondary sources in the past. If you are not planning on doing so with the whole class, find time to explicitly teach the vocabulary primary and secondary and provide models of each either in visual/video form or in language they can understand. Consider using this time to build background knowledge on the topic learners will be researching by using models on the topic. See the "Building Background Knowledge for English Language Learners" and the "Primary Sources, the Library of Congress and English Learners" resources in the resource section below for more information.
  2. Provide comprehensible research content. English learners at all proficiency levels will require text or other media in a form they can understand in order to apply the skill. Consider providing video or visual sources in particular for English learners at lower levels of proficiency. Consider partnering with English learners’ specialists for sources designed for speakers of other languages. See the "Research for English Learners" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  3. Provide sentence frames or graphic organizers for group work and sharing out. Create a set of sentence frames for learners to use while identifying resources. For learners at lower levels of proficiency, provide learners a variety of ways to express their learning, e.g., match sources with primary/secondary index card, draw their reason why. See the "Classifying Primary and Secondary Sources" resource in the resource section below for more information.

Questions to Consider

  1. How could you support students to find relevant sources?
  2. How could you modify this strategy?
  3. How could you focus your students' analysis of the visual and support them to extract the key information?
  4. How could you integrate this strategy across content areas?

Tech Tools

Digital Public Library

  1. Digital Public Library is an online resource with a large amount of information students can access and use safely.

  2. Digital Public Library supports this strategy by providing a digital research option for students.

Related Lessons

Explore the "Were You There? Did You Write It Down?" lesson by 4th grade ELA teacher Jody Barnes included in the resources below to see how uses information about current events to help students identify primary and secondary resources.