Examining Primary and Secondary Sources

Help students identify relevant research and evidence from primary and secondary sources
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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.


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.