Reading Primary Sources

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
90 minutes
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
This lesson prepares students to use primary sources for research purposes. It provides students the opportunity to work on their analysis and research skills.

Students will be engaged individually in primary source analysis and use collaborative teaming to make use of the knowledge gained by presenting the findings of their research to the rest of the class. Finally, the student will have the opportunity to review the work of peers and to have their work reviewed in a team setting.


This lesson prepares students to use primary sources for research purposes. It provides students the opportunity to work on their analysis and research skills, their presentation skills (both creating and delivering), and the opportunity to participate in peer review of others’ work. 

Lesson Objectives - the student will

The student will analyze a primary document by filling out the “Read Like a Historian” matrix with at least 80% accuracy.  As a team, the students will produce a poster describing and summarizing the content and historical significance of their documents with at least 80% accuracy.  And, finally, each team will present their findings to the entire class.

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

Common Core Anchors:

  • Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development, summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
  • Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical , connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape the meaning or tone.


Missouri State GLEs for Middle School Social Studies:

  • Select, investigate, and present a topic using primary and secondary resources, such as oral interviews, artifacts, journals, documents, photos, and letters.  TS7A (DOK4)
  • Create maps, graphs, timelines, charts and diagrams to communicate information. TS7Bb (DOK2)
  • Identify, research, and defend a point of view/position. TS7G
Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • “Read like a Historian” matrix, modified as middle level reading activity
  • Context Handouts
  • Poster sized Post-it Notes
  • Magic Markers
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

Ideally, all of the photographs and illustrations would also be printed for the team to accompany the four textual sources that will be read and analyzed.


Pages 11, 12, 15, 16

Letter to Hoover (opposed)




Letter to Hoover


  • Set Three: Human Rights
UN Human Rights Day

Pages 1, 4



  • Set Four: Desegregation of the Military


  • Set Five: Internment of the Issei and Nisei


Child Labor

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, power-driven machines replaced hand labor for making most manufactured items. Factories began to spring up everywhere, first in England and then in the United States. The factory owners found a new source of labor to run their machines—children. Operating the power-driven machines did not require adult strength, and children could be hired more cheaply than adults. By the mid-1800’s, child labor was a major problem.

Children had always worked, especially in farming. But factory work was hard. A child with a factory job might work 12 to 18 hours a day, six days a week, to earn a dollar. Many children began working before the age of 7, tending machines in spinning mills or hauling heavy loads. The factories were often damp, dark, and dirty. Some children worked underground, in coal mines. The working children had no time to play or go to school, and little time to rest. They often became ill.

By 1810, about 2 million school-age children were working 50- to 70-hour weeks. Most came from poor families. When parents could not support their children, they sometimes turned them over to a mill or factory owner. One glass factory in Massachusetts was fenced with barbed wire "to keep the young imps inside." These were boys under 12 who carried loads of hot glass all night for a wage of 40 cents to $1.10 per night.

Church and labor groups, teachers, and many other people were outraged by such cruelty. The English writer Charles Dickens helped publicize the evils of child labor with his novel Oliver Twist.

Britain was the first to pass laws regulating child labor. From 1802 to 1878, a series of laws gradually shortened the working hours, improved the conditions, and raised the age at which children could work. Other European countries adopted similar laws.

In the United States it took many years to outlaw child labor. By 1899, 28 states had passed laws regulating child labor. Many efforts were made to pass a national child labor law. The U.S. Congress passed two laws, in 1918 and 1922, but the Supreme Court declared both unconstitutional. In 1924, Congress proposed a constitutional amendment prohibiting child labor, but the states did not ratify it. Then, in 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. It fixed minimum ages of 16 for work during school hours, 14 for certain jobs after school, and 18 for dangerous work. Today all the states and the U.S. government have laws regulating child labor. These laws have cured the worst evils of children working in factories.




De Priest Incident


‘A Tempest in a Teapot’

The Racial Politics of First Lady Lou Hoover’s Invitation of Jessie DePriest to a White House Tea

First Lady Lou Hoover’s invitation to Jessie L. DePriest to a White House tea party in 1929 created a storm of protest and indignation. This traditional act of hospitality toward the wife of the first black elected to Congress in the twentieth century created a political crisis for the president and first lady.

This presentation examines the “tempest” from the perspectives of the first lady, the DePriests, and DePriest family descendants.

The story of Oscar and Jessie DePriest highlights the courage and contributions of Oscar Stanton DePriest, the sole black voice in Congress at that time, to the history of the American civil rights struggle and the grace and poise of his wife who ably represented a generation of black women.




Human rights are moral principles that set out certain standards of human behavior, and are regularly protected as legal rights in national and international law They are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (the same for everyone). The doctrine of human rights has been highly influential within international law, global and regional institutions. Policies of states and in the activities of non-governmental organizations and have become a cornerstone of public policy around the world. The idea of human rights suggests, "if the public discourse of peacetime global society can be said to have a common moral language, it is that of human rights." The strong claims made by the doctrine of human rights continue to provoke considerable skepticism and debates about the content, nature and justifications of human rights to this day. Indeed, the question of what is meant by a "right" is itself controversial and the subject of continued philosophical debate.

Many of the basic ideas that animated the human rights movement developed in the aftermath of the Second World War and the atrocities of The Holocaust, culminating in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The ancient world did not possess the concept of universal human rights  The true forerunner of human rights discourse was the concept of natural rights which appeared as part of the medieval Natural law tradition that became prominent during the Enlightenment with such philosophers as John Locke, Francis Hutcheson, and Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, and featured prominently in the English Bill of Rights and the political discourse of the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

From this foundation, the modern human rights arguments emerged over the latter half of the twentieth century




Desegregation of the Military


In 1940 the U.S. population was about 131 million, 12.6 million of which was African American, or about 10 percent of the total population. During World War II, the Army had become the nation’s largest minority employer. Of the 2.5 million African Americans males who registered for the draft through December 31, 1945, more than one million were inducted into the armed forces. African Ame