This page is intended for the novice or veteran teacher who is using primary sources for the first time. It is recommended that teachers prepare the entire lesson prior to assigning any primary sources. This includes any lectures, readings, or other technology that may be used to explain the historical context of the document. Teachers may consider editing the document to provide the students with a smaller segment more significant part of the document to begin their study of primary sources. Preserving American Freedom contextual essays, annotations, and other resources to help teachers plan a thorough lesson.
Teaching students to use and interact with primary sources requires patience and time. Veteran teachers and department chairs that incorporate primary sources into their courses are the best resources for creating an engaging and productive lesson. Introducing primary sources to students will require the teacher to lead by example, reading a document with the students, highlighting what information is noteworthy and what can be left out. Gradual implementation would suggest beginning with one document and adding multiple documents a few months into the school year. Always allow students to take notes and keep their notes during discussions and assessments of the primary sources to build and maintain confidence. As the year progresses and teachers develop a better sense of their classes, incorporate more documents (HSP has primary source-based plans that use multiple documents.) and pose questions to develop greater understanding. By the end of the first semester or later, have students create questions for their colleagues to answer using their notes. Ultimately, toward the end of the school year, students might feel comfortable enough to lead a class discussion. Throughout this process teachers should constantly re-evaluate the progress of the students and possibly explore different methods to achieve student success. As all teachers know, each class has its own dynamic and ability that may help or hinder the best lessons – remember patience.
The preparation page, attached as a pdf file, will expand on these issues.
A few helpful hints can be found in our Guide to Primary Source Planning.