Analyzing Primary Sources

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
1 week
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Primary source discovery and analysis

The National Archives in Washington DC has established mini lessons on understanding and using primary sources. They have provided worksheets on line that show how to analyze documents, photographs, cartoons, posters, maps, artifacts, sound recordings and motion pictures. The list here will give you the links to these resources.

Supporting materials for using primary sources in the classroom.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

To teach students how to use primary documents.

Lesson Objectives - the student will

Students will be able to analyze primary documents.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

Missouri Standards

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)



Kansas Standards


Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

3. (A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S. history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).

4. (A) compares competing historical narratives in United States history by contrasting different historians’ choice of questions, use of sources, and points of view, in order to demonstrate how these factors contribute to different interpretations.

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
Technology Required

Access to computer and internet

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • This evening, with the help of a family member or an adult who is close to you, look through the souvenirs of your life that have been saved as you have grown. For example, these might include a photograph, a letter, a diary, a newspaper clipping, a birth certificate, a report card, or a library or social security card. Select one item that you are willing to share with your classmates and teacher, and bring it to class.
  • During your turn in class, present your document providing the following information:
    1. What type of document is this?
    2. What is the date of the document?
    3. Who created the document?
    4. How does the document relate to you?
  • Consider, for your document and the documents of your classmates, responses to the following questions:
    1. What does the existence of this document say about whoever created it?
    2. What does the existence of this document say about whoever saved it?
    3. What does the existence of this document say about American life in this era?

Document Analysis Worksheets These worksheets guide students to analyze the following types of primary sources:

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

Based on completion of worksheets