Top Five Reasons to Explore! Primary Sources


Explore! Primary Sources is the brand new repository of over 250 original text and audio, provided with historical context and comprehension questions to encourage active reading and analysis. The primary-source collection stretches across four centuries. It includes founding documents, Constitutional amendments, speeches, letters, patriotic songs, personal letters, Oval Office conversations, and more. Start practicing for the new SAT evidence-based reading section that focuses on primary-source document analysis.

Here's why you should use it!

1. Read, Think, Analyze.  It is still all about climbing the ladder on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and there’s no better way engage those high-level thinking skills than to tackle a primary source.

2. Wait a minute. Just to be clear, What is a primary source??? Primary sources are original documents, images, recordings, or videos. They were created during the time period you are studying by people who either experienced events first hand or lived through them. So they’re different from textbooks that summarize someone else’s interpretation of an event. Primary sources are original texts open for YOUR interpretation.

According to the National Center for History in Schools:

When we ask students to work with and learn from primary sources, we transform them into historians. Rather than passively receiving information from a teacher or textbook, students engage in the activities of historians — making sense of the stories, events, and ideas of the past through document analysis.

3. Primary sources require active reading. Students apply knowledge of the historical context to gain perspective on the writer’s point of view and begin reading to uncover evidence. Students get to be like a detective gathering evidence to obtain a clearer picture of the time period they are investigating.


4. Primary sources are multi media. Reading is only one important way to enjoy primary sources. You can also listen to them! Speeches, radio broadcasts, patriotic songs, Oval Office conversations – these are all primary sources best consumed as audio! Active listening is just as important as active reading!

For example, this audio clip of Lady Bird Johnson portrays the confusion and horror of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.


5. Start practicing for the new SAT evidence-based reading section that focuses on primary-source document analysis.

According to College Board: Redesigned SAT:

For every passage students read, there will be at least one question asking them to select a quote from the text that best supports the answer they have chosen in response to the preceding question. Some passages will be paired with informational graphics, and students will be asked to integrate the information conveyed through each in order to find the best answer.

And don't forget that many of our other history, civics, and economics resources include primary-source documents—and primary-source document analysis! Here are just a few:

FDR and the New Deal
Lincoln and the Civil War
Reformation: Luther's Challenge to the Church
Ancient Egypt: The Social Pyramid
Freedom of Speech in School
The Minimum Wage


About Author

Molly Farrow

Molly Farrow taught high school history for 11 years in Wake County and Durham County. She also taught at the Taipei American School in Taiwan. She received a M.A.T. degree from the University of North Carolina and a B.S. degree in Political Science from Wake Forest University. Working alongside a team, she enjoys developing the award-winning online social studies resources for Curriculum Pathways that allow teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms. Outside work, she enjoys traveling and spending time with her family and their dog, Dante.

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