Hello, Guest!

Lesson Plan

Primary Sources and Personal Artifacts by Library of Congress

Course, Subject

United States History and Government, Social Studies (NYS K-12 Framework Common Core)

Grade Levels

Elementary, Intermediate, 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade


This lesson plan introduces the practice of using primary sources; where to find primary sources, what they are, how to examine them, and how to construct a context to tell more of the story.


  • Culture & Folklife


  • Postwar United States, 1945-present
  • Great Depression and WWII, 1929-1945


Students will:

  • Analyze personal artifacts as primary sources;
  • Analyze historical primary sources; and
  • Connect historical text with primary sources.


One week





Day 1: Introduction to Personal Primary Sources

Display personal primary source documents and personal artifacts that reflect something important in your own life. Display the artifact and instruct the students to use the Primary Source Analysis Tool to record their observations of the artifact. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.

Students may place a value on the artifact from a reviewer and owner perspective. This leads to a discussion of what brings value, as well as meaning, to an artifact. Help students to distinguish between how an owner would place personal value on the artifact from how a reviewer would place value on the artifact.

Some suggestions for personal artifacts are:

  • published documents-an official document about you, i.e., driver's license, birth certificate, teaching credential, passport;
  • unpublished documents-a letter written to you, diary, journal;
  • oral traditions/histories-a family story, and
  • visual documents/artifacts-a photograph, drawing, caricature, trophy, locket, or medal.

Day 2: Student Activity

Ask students to bring their own personal artifacts and display them for their group of three students. Teams of three review each artifact supplied by team members and interpret them to determine information about the owners' personalities and lifestyles. Each team works together to complete the Primary Source Analysis Tool, answering additional questions from the teacher's guide to Analyzing Primary Sources at your discretion.

Day 3: Sharing the Results

When the groups' Primary Source Analysis Tools charts are complete, the reviewers share their results with the class. The artifact owner constructs the context that reveals more of the story. Students may place a value on the artifact from a reviewer and owner perspective. This may continue the discussion of what brings value to an artifact.

Day 4: Introducing Primary Sources from the Library of Congress

Introduce students to a selection of primary sources from the Primary Source Sets. As a whole class, students complete aPrimary Source Analysis Tool. The students analyze the primary sources, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus their work, and select additional questions to focus and prompt a whole class discussion of their analysis.

Discuss the value of the historical primary sources with the class, returning as needed to the previous discussion of their own artifacts. Students may write a reflection connecting their own artifacts to their study of the historical primary sources.


The lesson may be extended using the following activities:

  • Create slide shows or Web pages illustrating the literary work, artifacts, and 5-W poetry. Add soundtracks of students reading their poetry or music to the slide shows or Web pages.
  • Other literary works may be used.

Use direct quotations of phrases and vocabulary from a novel, short story or non-fiction piece that they have read. Students answer the 5-Ws:

  • who;
  • what;
  • where;
  • when;
  • why, and sometimes
  • how.

Students attempt to match these "answers" to both the literary work and the primary source. You may want to write a beginning verse together, and then have them work in teams of three to add one or two more verses. Be sure to instruct them in the skills of capitalization and punctuation for poetry.

Suggestions for writing the poem:

  • Students may write individual poems.
  • Students may write individual verses selected from assigned pages, and put their verses together with the rest of the class to form one longer poem that encapsulates the entire story.
  • Students may work in groups of two or three to write a group poem.
  • Students may work in groups of two or three to create a verse selected from assigned pages and put their verses together with the rest of the class to form one longer poem that encapsulates the entire story.

The final creative activity involves arranging the quoted phrases and individual words into a verse or series of verses that link the artifacts to the literary work.


Evaluate student participation and products according to criteria specified by the teacher or generated with the class.


Access this resource at:

Primary Sources and Personal Artifacts

Content Provider

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It is also the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections.

The Library's mission is to support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.

As Librarian of Congress, I oversee the many thousands of dedicated staff who acquire, catalog, preserve, and make available library collections within our three buildings on Capitol Hill and over the Internet. I am pleased that you are visiting our Web site today, and I invite you return to it often.

James H. Billington
Librarian of Congress 

Credits: Mary A. Ritter

Data is Loading...