Using Primary Sources to Study State History

My favorite new TCI lesson is found in the 4th grade program Social Studies Alive! Florida and Its People.  If you aren’t from Florida, keep reading because you can adapt this lesson for your state. This lesson uses primary sources to introduce students to Florida’s past, while they discover the event’s that shaped their state.   Here is the simple version.  Tell your students you are going to create a State History Museum and they are all junior historians.  Ask students to bring in Primary Sources from home that they will add to the museum exhibits.  Explain that the resources can be as simple as a photograph of themselves or a member of their family at a State Park, Tourist site, or State Landmark or the Primary Source can be more complicated like an artifact, diary entry, postcards, or a song about their state (or place within their state). Provide the students with a list of specific examples of Primary Sources.   You can even offer extra credit for the “oldest” Primary Source or “most unique” Primary Source.  Pre determine how many and what type of exhibits you want your museum to showcase like “Pioneer Days”, “Business Booms”, “Leaders that shaped the state”, “State Economy” etc… but don’t let the students know the categories until after they bring their Primary Sources. Once the students bring in their Primary Sources, create stations around the room so all of the students can analyze their classmates’ Primary Sources. Explain to the students not all of the Primary Sources  they “discovered” can go in the museum, but they will select the Primary Sources that best represent the Exhibits within the museum.  Turn the students into Junior Historians and place them into pairs. Assign each partnership to a station.


As Junior Historians they have to:

1) determine if what their classmate brought in is in fact a primary source
2) if they believe it should be placed in the Museum
3) which exhibit category it would belong in
4)  justify for allowing entry into the museum or a reason why they allowing it in the museum.


Once the students’ finish with their station, they rotate to a new station. Students continue rotating until they visit all or most of the stations.  The final step is ranking their top 5 Primary Sources to go into the museum.  Hold Response Group Strategy discussion and come to a consensus on which Primary Sources belong in the museum.  The best part of this activity is that the students will defend more than 5 selections (which is a great problem to have).  Since they are junior Historians and you are the Museum Curator, you can decide if all the artifacts make the cut.  The exposure and practice to Primary Sources while learning the content will give students the opportunity to practice analyzing Primary Sources. There are several adaptations and additions you could make to this lesson.  I would love to hear how you would modify, add, or delete to this lesson to make it more engaging for your students!


Primary Source Examples:
•    photographs
•    letters
•    artifacts
•    diaries
•    works of art such as paintings/sculptures/quilts
•    fiction
•    poetry
•    journals
•    autobiographies
•    music and songs
•    memoirs
•    cartoons
•    census records
•    broadsides
•    court or government records
•    immigration records
•    drawings
•    maps from the place or time
•    ships’ logs
•    ledger books
•    labor records
•    recorded oral histories and people speaking for themselves
•    texts or recordings of speeches
•    architectural landmarks
•    charts/graphs
•    sound recordings
•    documentary film

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