Teaching with the Library of Congress

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Bringing the power of primary sources into the classroom.
Updated: 22 hours 38 min ago

In the Collections of the World’s Largest Library, We Find the World’s Largest . . .

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 9:00am

This post is by Lee Ann Potter, Director of Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress.

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting the keynote address at the 35th History and Social Science Teachers’ Conference at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Il.  On my way there, after flying into Indianapolis, I was driving west on I-70, and saw a sign promoting the World’s Largest Wind Chimes in the community of Casey, IL.  Had it not been getting dark and starting to rain, I would have stopped to see them.  I enjoy such attractions and appreciate the way communities differentiate themselves with them.

The World’s Largest Bike, Sparta Wisconsin. Carol Highsmith.

Because the Library of Congress is The Largest Library in the World, just for fun, I did a search on “world’s largest” on loc.gov and was tickled to find a photograph of the World’s Largest Bike, in Sparta, Wisconsin, a WPA poster for Buckingham Fountain on Chicago’s lake front, described as the “world’s largest and most beautiful illuminated fountain,” a photograph of Vulcan, the world’s largest cast iron statue in Birmingham, Alabama, and many others.

Buckingham Fountain on Chicago’s Lake Front. John Buczak, 1939.

If you are looking for a primary source analysis activity that presents many possibilities for speculation, and may inspire research projects related to local history, you might use these images or others from the collection!  Share them with students and lead a class discussion with questions such as: What do these items have in common?  Why do you think individuals or communities chose to promote them?  Are you aware of other, similar attractions?  Do such attractions always feature over-sized items?  If not, what other superlatives capture attention and imagination?

The Library’s primary source analysis tool includes prompts specifically for photographs and prints that can help your students look for details and refine their questions about these larger-than-life constructions.

We’d love to hear about more of these!  If you live in a community that boasts of being home to the “largest,” “greatest,” “most,” or other superlative attraction, please tell us about it!  And we’d love to hear how and when the attraction came to be!

Hangout for Teachers Tuesday October 21: The Veterans History Project

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 12:34pm

Learn more about the Veterans History Project (VHP) from the Library of Congress and the many ways it can be used in the classroom.  Teachers who have both contributed to and taught with the rich collections of the Veterans History Project, education staff from the Library, and the VHP staff will discuss these rich resources and will answer your questions, too. Join us on October 21, 4 PM ET, at https://plus.google.com/events/cv6rl35sr9s1v7osukrsmdpm0a0.

Veterans History Project Homepage

VHP collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. Hear firsthand how this one-of-a-kind collection, with more than 65,000 resources, can be incorporated into the K-12 curriculum.

To pique your interest, check out the Blog Round-Up: Primary Source Highlights for Veterans Day. Here are a couple of highlights from the post:

Can’t join the live event? The full webinar schedule, including upcoming events and recordings of past events is available here.  We’ll add the recording from this event, too. UPDATE, 22 October: Here’s the link to the presentation.

“What Do Scientists Do?” Seeking Answers in the Alexander Graham Bell Papers at the Library of Congress

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 2:30pm

This guest post comes to us from Meg Steele, who works with K-12 educators at the Library of Congress.

What do scientists do? This simple prompt was central in one activity during the inaugural week-long Seminar for Science Educators held at the Library this summer. Twenty-five educators examined primary sources, and one secondary source, from the Library’s collections to generate possible answers.

The question was inspired by the science and engineering practices embedded within the Next Generation Science Standards, which suggest that science content will have more value to students when taught in context of these practices. We set out to see if the real work of professionals across the sciences could come to life with primary sources generated by and about Bell.

Professor Bell in Lyceum Hall, Salem, addressing a party of scientific men in Boston

First, with the focus question as a reference point, teachers in small groups used the Primary Source Analysis Tool to analyze an 1877 print featuring “Professor Bell in Lyceum Hall…” They generated observations, reflections, and questions, including questions about the work of scientists as depicted in the scene.

These questions prepared them for the next step: reading “Telephone and Multiple Telegraph,”  informational text from the Library’s website. Used effectively, secondary texts – whether a short article on a website, or a chapter from a nonfiction book, can help spur further inquiry, building a learner’s confidence and focus. For the teachers this summer, from a variety of science disciplines, the article confirmed hunches about chronology raised by the primary source, offered vocabulary for details they noticed, and provided a model for summary and synthesis. The article also dug a bit deeper into science content, enabling the group to start making natural connections to the science practices illustrated by the primary source.

Seminar participants analyze a primary source

With this foundation, and keeping in mind the focus question, each small group of teachers examined additional primary sources from the Bell collection, representing different points of view, different stages of Bell’s work, and different scientific practices.

  • A drawing from Bell’s notebooks spurred observations about planning investigations, using calculations and data.
  • A letter from Joseph Henry, then head of the Smithsonian, responding to a letter from Bell asking for advice, illustrated the importance of reaching out to mentors and connecting to a larger body of scientific discovery.
  • A circular from Western Union, a competitor of Bell Telephone, highlighting a patent dispute, crossed disciplines into economics and business, and underscored the importance of effective and timely communication in the work of science.

Teachers analyzed the items, generating lengthy lists of possible answers to What do scientists do? 

We shifted to thinking about educational practices and strategies, and invited the group to reflect and compare the experiences of reading a primary source with reading a secondary text, asking how they were similar, or different, and how they worked together. The teachers offered additional ideas of how they might pair primary and secondary sources effectively in their classrooms.

When exposure to the real work of scientists can sometimes be limited, how might you use primary sources generated by and about scientists to bring their work to life?

Library of Congress Primary Source Sets for the K-2 Classroom

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 9:00am

Did you know that the Library of Congress has three primary source sets that were designed with the early elementary grades in mind? They are: Symbols of the United States, Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln: Three Great Presidents, and Children’s Lives at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. Each one contains a selection of primary sources – all available as easy-to-use PDFs – with historical background information, teaching ideas for the early childhood classroom, and an analysis tool and teacher’s guides.

When developing these primary source sets, we selected common topics and identified primary sources that are age-appropriate and engaging for younger students. Whether you are seasoned in incorporating primary sources into your early childhood curriculum, or want to give it a try for the very first time, these three primary source sets are just for you!

Betsey [sic] Ross [Detail], c1908

Symbols of the United States

Six U.S. symbols are highlighted: the Liberty Bell, the U.S. flag, the bald eagle, the national anthem, Uncle Sam, and the Statue of Liberty. Primary sources include posters, sheet music, newspaper cartoons, and photos.

Sample activity from the Teacher’s Guide: Invite students to look closely at the three documents related to the flag to find differences; for example, the number of stars. How do these images show that symbols can change over time?

“Symbols of the United States” is also available as an interactive Library of Congress Student Discovery Set.


The Washington family [Detail], 1798

Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln: Three Great Presidents

For each president, one primary source shows something about the president’s home or family life, the next one represents one of his great achievements, a third item is a portrait of the president, and the fourth is a photograph of the monument or memorial dedicated to him.

Sample activity: Ask students what they notice about the portrait of George Washington and encourage them to move from generalities (for example, he was old and had white hair) to specifics (for example, he is holding a sword).



Washington, D.C. Public Schools [Detail], 1899?

Children’s Lives at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

The dawn of the twentieth century was a time of great change in the United States, and many of those changes can be seen in the lives of the nation’s children. Images, film, and books shed light on the ways in which they worked, learned, and played around the year 1900.

Sample activity from the Teacher’s Guide:  Display a photo such as the one at left and ask students to do a “30-second look.” Remove the photo and ask them to share details they remember seeing.  Display the photo so they can look again.



We hope you enjoy using these three primary source sets with your students, and we think you’ll find that you can use teaching ideas from these sets with our other primary source sets. If you’re new to using primary sources in the classroom, you can see a picture of practice in the blog post Kindergarten Historians: Primary Sources in an Early Elementary Classroom.

We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences about incorporating primary sources into the early childhood classroom.

Engaging Students with Primary Source Maps

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 9:00am

This post is by Rebecca Newland, the current Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.

Most students are familiar with using maps to plan a route, but fewer think of maps as both reflecting and influencing events. Engage students with the wealth of maps available from the Library of Congress, closely examining them to learn about the circumstances in which they were created.

Map showing the distribution of the slave population of the southern states of the United States. Compiled from the census of 1860

After the census of 1860, this map was produced, compiling information gathered about the number of enslaved people in the southern states of the United States. The map was released September 9, 1861, approximately five months after the start of the Civil War. Use the primary source analysis tool and selected questions from the Teacher’ Guide: Analyzing Maps to help students observe details, reflect on the map’s purpose and impact, and ask questions about the importance of the information provided by the map.

Deepen discussion by asking:

  • Who was the audience for this map?
  • Why might a mapmaker have produced a map illustrating this particular data set from the 1860 census? Think about events from that time and how those might have influenced the mapmaker.
  • Consider the possibility that maps influence events, not just reflect them.  How might this map have influenced events during the Civil War?

Distribution of Negro population by county 1950 : showing each county with 500 or more Negro population.

Another strategy to engage students with maps is to pair complementary maps that illustrate change over time. Consider this map showing the distribution of African American populations in the United States in 1950.


  • Who was the audience for this map?
  • What was the purpose of the map?
  • How does the map differ from the “Distribution of the Slave Population” map? Consider format and content.
  • Again, consider the possibility that maps influence events, not just reflect them. How might this map have influenced events?

Please take a moment to comment below: How do you use historic maps with your students? What maps might influence events today?

Teacher Webinar Tuesday Oct 7 — Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 9:00am

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 transformed U.S. society, and its impact is still felt–and debated–today. Join education experts from the Library of Congress to explore the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the conditions that led to it, and its decades-long legacy. This webinar will discuss teaching ideas that allow educators to prompt critical analysis and informed debate by their students around the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Civil rights march on Washington, D.C. 1963 Aug. 28.

Join us in a webinar

On Tuesday, October 7, at 7 PM ET, staff from the Library will host a webinar that will engage participants in a model primary source analysis, facilitate a discussion about the power of primary sources for teaching about civil rights issues, and demonstrate how to find resources from Library of Congress.

Throughout the year, the Library will be hosting educator webinars every other Tuesday at 7:00 ET focusing on a variety of instructional strategies for using primary sources in instruction.  Check out the 2014 schedule and information about joining the webinar. In addition to the webinars, we will be hosting Hangouts with subject matter experts from around the Library. Watch this blog for reminders about upcoming events!

We hope you can join the webinar and share your insights! But for those who can’t join us for the live event or want to review it, the recording will be posted here.

Teaching resources

The Teaching with the Library of Congress blog wrote about the significance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as select titles from the Act:

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the conditions that led to it, and its decades-long legacy are the subjects of a powerful new teaching resource from the Library of Congress and HISTORY®, part of the Idea Book For Educators series titled “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom.” Inspired by the Library of Congress exhibition of the same name, the Idea Book presents unique primary sources from the Library’s collections that illuminate the unjust laws and practices that preceded the act. Much of the content from the blog posts above can also be found in the Idea Book.

The Idea Book is available from HISTORY® here – sign in required for download.


Disability Awareness Month: Four Questions for Eric Eldritch of the Library of Congress

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 9:00am

Eric Eldritch

Last year we presented a blog post on Deaf Culture for Deaf Awareness Month. One of the co-authors was Eric Eldritch. In honor of Disability Employment Awareness Month, we asked Eric several questions about his work helping the Library of Congress promote an understanding of people with disabilities as citizens, contributors and employees in a diverse world and inclusive workforce.

Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with.

My title at the Library of Congress is EEO Specialist/ADA Coordinator.  My work is to provide information, referral and technical assistance that supports the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act at the Library of Congress. The Library provides accommodations for persons with disabilities who are visitors, researchers and employees by making facilities, programs and services accessible. Through these efforts, people with disabilities both participate in and contribute to the Library of Congress.

As a part of the ADA Working Group for the Library of Congress, we are making great efforts to provide education and support for access in all departments of the Library of Congress. I use materials readily found in our collections for understanding the whole array of disabilities in these categories: Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, Legally Blind, Mobility, Dexterity, Medical, Mental Health and Cognitive disabilities. So much information is available today – more than ever before – because people with disabilities are finding employment and making a difference in our world everyday.

Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s online collections?

Several years ago we looked throughout the Library of Congress collections and found materials about and by people with disabilities. The Library created a webpage that lists these collections and webcasts.  I was amazed to find that so many collections chronicled the history and milestones of the lives of people with disabilities. One item from the Alexander Graham Bell collection shows Alexander Graham Bell, Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller all in one picture. What is surprising is that each of them are persons with disabilities themselves (respectively learning disability,  low vision and deaf blind).

I found that Jose Feliciano wrote a song ”No Dogs Allowed” after struggling to take his service dog on an international flight. My favorite items are those that point to individuals with disabilities that aren’t always acknowledged as disabilities: Harry Belafonte, Harriet Tubman, and Dorothea Lange (respectively learning disability, narcolepsy and polio).  Profiles of these notable people can be found on Disability Awareness website by clicking on the link “Find Out More About These Individuals.” If you would like this collection of profiles as a PDF you can find them here.

Share a time when an item from the collections sparked your curiosity.

I am continually amazed by the amount of materials that the Library of Congress provides for researching about people with disabilities and the growing field of Disabilities Studies. I learned so much working on a joint presentation on people with disabilities in film and media by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and the Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcast and Recorded Sound Division (LC/MBRS). Panelists explained that people with disabilities have been invisible, understated, or inflated in the public eye due to images which appear in film and television. The seminar sparked my interest listening and seeing an exchange of ideas.  Oh, another project, co-writing an article for this blog about Deaf History Month, led me into a variety of the Library’s collections to search for primary sources. I found the research process collaborating with librarians and deaf colleagues exciting. It resulted in the post for National Deaf History Month that appeared in this blog in March of last year.

What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you work with?

When you scratch your head looking for materials to celebrate Disability Employment Awareness Month (honored annually in October), the Library of Congress has a treasure trove of materials right at your fingertips. The materials on this resource page and the page especially for teachers will provide a research adventure for teachers, librarians and students.


October in History with the Library of Congress

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 9:00am

This post comes courtesy of Uhuru Flemming of the Library of Congress.

Many teachers like to include mini-lessons or bell-ringers about “this day in history.” The Library of Congress offers two resources that recount what happened on a particular day using the Library’s collections of digitized primary sources: Jump Back in Time (introductory) and Today in History (advanced). Choose the one that best matches your students’ reading levels to build both content knowledge and research skills with primary sources in context.

October highlights include the celebration of Halloween (introductory; advanced) and Christopher Columbus and crew spotting land that came to be known as the Americas (introductory; advanced), as well as milestones related to:

Military History




To engage your students immediately, distribute or display one primary source from an entry and invite them to jot down a single detail they notice and then share. To draw your students deeper into analyzing the primary sources, ask them to record observations, reflections and questions on the Library’s primary source analysis tool. Anne Savage offers tips in the Blog Round-Up: Using the Primary Source Analysis Tool.

Students can also:

  • Compare a secondary source account, such as a textbook explanation, to a primary source account. What can be learned from each? What cannot be learned from each? What questions do students have?
  • Consider how a series of primary sources support or challenge information and understanding on a particular topic. Ask students to refine or revise conclusions based on their study of each subsequent primary source.
  • Use the list of additional resources at the end of each Today in History entry to search for additional primary sources.

Some of our favorite ideas for using these resources came in the comments reacting to Primary Sources Every Day from the Library of Congress. Let us know how you use them!



Encouraging Student Interest in the Economic Context of the Constitution with Continental Currency

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 10:51am

This post is by Lee Ann Potter, Director of Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress.

In the September 2014 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article focused on the economic challenges facing the young United States at the time of the Constitutional Convention.  We suggested that continental currency might ignite student interest in the subject.

Continental currency was paper money issued during the revolution that had no backing in gold or silver.  These notes were backed by the “anticipation” of tax revenues.  Without solid backing and easily counterfeited, they quickly lost value, giving rise to the phrase “not worth a Continental.”  Not only did the federal Congress issue such paper money, but the individual colonies did, as well.  Values varied, and rarely was currency from one colony accepted in another.


After ratification of the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and the end of the war two years later, the new nation, the states, and individuals were in debt; inflation was high; there was a severe shortage of specie; the trade imbalance with foreign nations was significant; and yet Congress and the state governments continued to produce paper money, further contributing to the young country’s economic problems.  Calls to strengthen the national government and its control of the economy by 1787 were loud and clear.

Understanding this economic situation may help students better understand the many enumerated powers given to Congress in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution involving economic issues or financial responsibilities.

The examples of currency included in the article were featured in two Library of Congress exhibitions: “Creating the United States,”  and “Benjamin Franklin . . . in His Own Words.”

If you’ve used continental currency to help your students learn about economic challenges at the time of the Constitution, to what extent did the paper money encourage student interest?


Educator Webinar: Tapping the Power of Teaching with Visual Images

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 8:36am

By analyzing a visual image, students can discover more than just the image’s content–they can also begin to explore its context. Analyzing images lets students discover new topics for exploration and also build visual literacy skills that they can apply not only to primary sources, but to anything they see.

Join us in a webinar

On Tuesday, September 23, at 7 PM ET, education experts from the Library will offer a webinar that will engage participants in a model photograph analysis activity, facilitate a discussion about the power of teaching with visual images, and demonstrate how to find visual images from the Library of Congress.

Throughout the year, the Library will be hosting educator webinars every other Tuesday at 7:00 ET focusing on a variety of instructional strategies for using primary sources in instruction.  The 2014 schedule and information about joining the webinar is now available. In addition to the webinars, we will be hosting Hangouts with subject matter experts from around the Library. Watch here for reminders about each!

Can’t join the webinar? The recording is now available here.

Teaching strategies

Two years ago, Teaching with the Library of Congress published a “round up” of posts on teaching with photographs. We’d like to update that with a few more recent posts to stimulate your thinking about the power of teaching with visual images.

John Howell, an Indianapolis newsboy, makes $.75 some days.

Join the conversation now: What strategies have you used to help your students unlock learning from images?

Celebrate Hispanic American Culture with the Library of Congress

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 9:00am

From September 15 to October 15 every year, the Library of Congress and partner institutions observe National Hispanic Heritage Month by recognizing and paying tribute to the history and contributions of Americans who trace their roots to Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

This year Teaching with the Library of Congress highlights examples of the rich cultural traditions of Hispanic Americans and their ancestors from long ago. Have your primary source analysis tools ready to guide you and your students in exploring, enjoying, and celebrating some of these wonderful images from the collections of the Library of Congress and the World Digital Library.

Mural on building on Guadalupe Street [Detail], 2005

  • Dive into the amazing mural above, photographed in 2005 in San Antonio.
  • Read about and respond to an image of bultos at the famous Spanish market in 1998 Santa Fe.
  • See a photo of women making tortillas in a bake shop, San Antonio, Texas in 1949. Yum!
  • Explore a slideshow showing traditional dancing and costume at a 1940 fiesta in Taos, New Mexico.
  • Then step back a few centuries and examine images from the Florentine Codex, Book X, 1577 – an encyclopedic work about the people and culture of central Mexico. You’ll see colorful illustrations of people weaving, sewing, eating, building, gardening or farming, making pottery and more.
  • Ask students to consider what they can learn about culture by looking at primary sources across the centuries.

Florentine Codex, Book X, 1577

Florentine Codex, Book X, 1577 [detail]

Florentine Codex, Book X, 1577

Find more ideas for celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in your classroom from our 2013 and 2011 blog posts. You can also check out the Library’s new Hispanic Heritage Month Pinterest board for more primary sources and historical materials.

Let us know how you incorporate Hispanic culture into your classroom – this month and all year round.

Back to School with Primary Sources: A Primer from the Library of Congress

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 2:14pm

Welcome (or welcome back!) to Teaching with the Library of Congress, where we hope you discover and discuss the most effective techniques for using Library of Congress primary sources in the classroom.  We invite readers to engage with topics ranging from What Makes a Primary Source a Primary Source? to what’s happening “next month in history?” Here are staff picks for places to start – or continue – teaching with primary sources.

Teachers Page

What does the Library of Congress have for me?

“There are millions of primary sources online at the Library of Congress!  Where do I start?” is a common question from K-12 teachers. Both The Library of Congress Teachers Page: Resources for Getting Started with Primary Sources and What the Library of Congress Has for Teachers: Primary Sources and Tools and Techniques to Use Them  offer a number of easy ways to jump in to teaching with the Library’s online collections of primary sources.

Primary source analysis strategies

We’ve gathered strategies, techniques, and tools for analyzing primary sources into a couple of handy reference posts.

A Washington, D.C., classroom, possibly in 1899.


Looking for classroom activities?  Practicing Close Observation: Spying on the Past introduces even the youngest students to primary source analysis with a focus on the foundational skill of observation. Introduce students to the value of exploring multiple perspectives and deepen their skills at reading informational text with strategies outlined in  Informational Text: Multiple Points of View in Multiple Formats.

Leave a comment if you try any of these strategies, or if you have one to add.


Free Ebooks from the Library of Congress Put History in Students’ Hands

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 8:04am

Trace the routes immigrants took to North America. Highlight the orbits in Copernicus’ map of the solar system. Circle the “no” votes on Thomas Jefferson’s personal chart tracking votes on the Constitution. Zoom in on the faces of new arrivals as they step ashore at Ellis Island in a Thomas Edison film.

As the new school year begins, the Library of Congress invites students everywhere to touch, draw on and analyze some of its most valuable treasures–all via a new set of free interactive ebooks for iPads.

The new Library of Congress Student Discovery Sets bring together historical artifacts and one-of-a-kind documents on a wide range of topics, from history to science to literature. Interactive tools let students zoom in for close examination, draw to highlight interesting details, and make notes about what they discover.

The first six Student Discovery Sets are available now for the iPad, and can be downloaded for free on iBooks. These sets cover the U.S. Constitution, Symbols of the United States, Immigration, the Dust Bowl, the Harlem Renaissance, and Understanding the Cosmos.

Student exploring one of the Library’s new Student Discovery Sets

With a swipe of a finger, learners can peer into the workshop where the Statue of Liberty was built or scrutinize George Washington’s notes on the Constitution. Using the portability that tablets bring, students can hand their work to a classmate to collaborate.

The objects in the Student Discovery Sets are primary sources–items created by eyewitnesses to history. From Galileo’s drawings of the moon to Zora Neale Hurston’s plays to Thomas Edison’s films, these maps, songs, posters, sheet music and iconic images immerse students in history, culture and science and give them the power to explore.

Primary sources have unique instructional power, says the Library’s director of Educational Outreach, Lee Ann Potter. “By analyzing primary sources, students can engage with complex content, build their critical thinking skills and create new knowledge. The Library’s new Student Discovery Sets provide rich tools for launching that process of analysis and discovery.”

The sets are designed for students, providing easy access to open-ended exploration. A Teacher’s Guide for each set, with background information, teaching ideas and additional resources, is one click away on the Library’s website for teachers, loc.gov/teachers.

Try these new interactive tools and let us know how you might use them!

The Civil Rights History Project: Primary Sources and Oral History

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 9:00am

This post is by Rebecca Newland, the current Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.

History is most fascinating when we feel connected to the people with direct experience of the events. One way to pique student interest is by using primary sources from the Library of Congress –  letters, photographs, and oral histories — that document real people’s lives. The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress recently launched the Civil Rights History Project, a digitized collection of interviews with active participants in the Civil Rights movement and essays about the movement.

Ruby Sales, participant in the Selma to Montgomery Marches

These oral histories offer students the opportunity to watch and listen to real people, many of whom are still living, tell their stories about working with groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), participating in events like the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (1963), the Freedom Rides (1961), the Selma to Montgomery Rights March (1965), sit-ins, and voter registration drives in the South.

Gertrude Newsome Jackson, community organizer and school activist

Consider listening to portions of interviews that relate to what you are studying in class. Each interview includes a time stamped, searchable transcript. One method of introducing students to oral histories is to begin by asking students to listen and watch without distraction. Watch and listen a second time with the transcript. Invite students to annotate the transcript. Select questions from the Analyzing Oral Histories Teacher’s Guide to prompt students to observe, reflect, and ask questions about what they hear and see. After listening a second time, ask students: What did you notice the second time that you didn’t the first?

Add ”Thinking Like a Historian” routines to deepen analysis:

  • Source: Identify the item’s author and purpose. Consider point of view and credibility.
  • Contextualize: Situate the item and its events in time and place.
  • Close Reading: Identify and evaluate what the source says, paying special attention to word choice.
  • Corroborate: Compare claims and evidence across multiple sources to determine agreement and disagreement.
  • Reading the silences: What is missing? Details? Perspectives?

Encourage students to reflect on the significance of oral histories when studying the civil rights movement of the 1960s by asking:

  • What can we learn from oral histories?
  • How is learning from an oral history different from studying other formats?

Reflect on your own teaching:

  • How do oral histories support your students to help them develop listening skills?
  • What opportunities do oral histories present for evaluating a speaker’s point of view and reasoning?
  • What kinds of resources would help your students develop a more complete understanding of the events?

Share in the comments below: How will you engage your students with oral histories from the collections of the Library of Congress?

Tonight: Free Constitution Day Webinar Launches Library of Congress Educator Webinar Series

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 10:05am

Thomas Jefferson’s chart of state votes on the U.S. Constitution, 1788

“This has been a great sharing of ideas & resources!”

“I will be sharing with my department tomorrow!”

“How exciting! Can’t wait to take it back to my classroom.”

– Participants in the Library of Congress 2013 Constitution Day educator webinar.

UPDATE: A recording of the session is available here. Please join the conversation in the comments.

The Library of Congress 2014-15 educator webinar series kicks off tonight at 7:00 ET with a program about Constitution Day Resources.  Join teachers and school librarians from around the country to get quick access to primary sources and teacher tools to use with your students in time for Constitution Day.  This session is appropriate for educators from all grade levels and content areas.  The program is open to the first 99 attendees to log on here.

The hour-long program will start with an analysis of a primary source related to the Constitution and participants will be invited to discuss instructional strategies that can be used with primary sources.  In addition, education specialists will highlight resources related to Constitution Day for teachers from the Library’s vast online collections.

Throughout the year, the Library will be hosting educator webinars every other Tuesday at 7:00 ET focusing on a variety of instructional strategies for using primary sources in instruction.  The 2014 schedule is now available. In addition to the webinars, we will be hosting Hangouts with subject matter experts from around the Library. Watch here for reminders about each!

A recording of tonight’s session will be added to this blog post, so if you can’t make it, please check back here later and join the conversation in the comments.

In the meantime, you can brush up on your Constitutional knowledge by visiting the Library’s page of Constitution Day teacher resources, or by browsing Constitution-related posts from the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog.


Share “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” Using Primary Sources

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:15am

Last year the Library’s education staff provided a selection of primary sources that documented what we did on our summer vacations. This was such a popular post that we decided once again to share how we spent our summer vacations using items from the Library’s online collections. We hope you enjoy this year’s adventures and get some ideas on how primary sources might help you learn more about your students and their interests.

The Rail road suspension bridge: near Niagara Falls. Currier and Ives, 1856.

Lee Ann Potter

My husband and I spent a long weekend in Niagara Falls.  While walking along the Canadian side, we read a historic marker that described a mid-nineteenth century suspension bridge that carried trains over the Niagara River not far from the amazing falls.  While my imagination could envision such an engineering feat, an 1856 Currier and Ives lithograph showed it to be even more remarkable. 

CORE members swing down Fort Hamilton Parkway, Brooklyn, toward 69th St. ferry on trek to Washington. Orlando Fernadez, 1963.

Meg Steele

I spent most of the summer in Washington, DC, at the Library working with teachers from across the country who came here for our Summer Teacher Institutes. Our last week was a special focus Institute on Civil Rights, in conjunction with the Library’s upcoming exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This image, “CORE members swing down Fort Hamilton Parkway, Brooklyn, toward 69th St. ferry on trek to Washington” would be powerful to use with students and reminds me of the amazing 131 teachers who also came to Washington, DC, our nation’s capital, on a mission.

Deck Plan and South Elevation – Rehoboth Avenue Bridge, State Route 1A (Rehoboth Avenue) over Lewes & Rehoboth Canal, Rehoboth Beach, Sussex County, DE

Vivian Awumey

This summer, three generations of my family vacationed together on the Delaware coast.  We made several trips across the bridge depicted in this planning document from the Library’s collection to travel to and from Rehoboth Beach.

Kathy McGuigan

My husband and I got married in August on our way to a camping trip to Acadia National Park.  As one of our first wedding gifts, we were given a framed map of Camden, Maine, the town we overlooked during our ceremony.  As a wedding gift to ourselves, we purchased what I call the “condo tent” for our life-long married adventures in the great outdoors.  I was amazed to find this image which I imagine to be one of the first to capture car camping. It was the best summer yet!

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Camden, Knox County, Maine, 1884.

Camping, National Photo Company

Stephen Wesson

This summer my family visited New York, where we took in a retrospective on the Futurist movement at the Guggenheim Museum. It included a number of architectural drawings, including works by Antonio Sant’Elia, and it was interesting to view these plans for vast, angular towers within the organic curves of Frank Lloyd Wright’s museum building.

Casa a gradinata con ascensori esterni. Studio di pareticolare per la citta nuova. Antonio Sant’Elia, 1914.

Professor Lowe’s military balloon near Gaines Mill, Virginia, Matthew Brady.

Cheryl Lederle

I spent a long weekend outside of Richmond, Virginia, and drove past a number of Civil War battlefields. The Library has rich collections related to the Civil War, so I had many choices. This photograph of a military balloon got me thinking about the role of technology in war, as in life.

Great Hall. View from the second floor south corridor. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. Carol Highsmith, 2007.

Danna Bell

Sarah Moore Grimké

For the past year I have had the great honor of serving as president of the Society of American Archivists, North America’s oldest and largest national archival professional association. This year’s conference was held in Washington, DC, and the all-attendee reception was held in the Great Hall here at the Library. I was proud to showcase where I work and grateful to my colleagues who helped to make the reception and the entire conference a success.

Anne Savage

Travel was not in the cards for me this summer, so I “got away” by reading historical fiction. I like to delve into the actual events that inspire a book – or the life of the author – by hunting for and examining related primary sources. Viewing images of abolitionists Sarah Moore Grimké and her sister Angelina and reading what Frederick Douglass said about them brought me closer to these characters in the Sue Monk Kidd novel, The Invention of Wings.

Rebecca Newland

Maine is a beautiful state I had the good fortune to visit this August.  We spent a few days exploring Bar Harbor and its surrounding areas including Acadia National Park.  This sunset picture from the top of Cadillac Mountain captures the beauty of the area.  Our visit was a bit earlier in the evening, but accompanied by a rainbow ending an afternoon of rain.

Sunset View from Cadillac Mountain Road, View West. – Acadia National Park Motor Roads, Bar Harbor, Hancock County, ME. Jett Lowe, 1994.

Now it’s time for you to share your adventures using primary sources from the Library of Congress collections. Share your stories along with a link to an item from the collections, or tell us how you used primary sources to learn about your students at the start of the school year.

Living the Dream: Reflections on a Year as Library of Congress Teacher in Residence

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 2:59pm

This post is by Rebecca Newland, the current Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.

I first encountered the K-12 education program at the Library of Congress when I attended a Summer Teacher Institute in August 2012. This one week altered my thinking about student engagement and my role as a librarian working with students and teachers. After I returned to my school library, positive experiences using primary sources prompted me to look for additional opportunities at the Library of Congress. This led me to apply to be the Teacher in Residence. My selection was a dream come true.

Learning from primary sources, Summer Teacher Institute 2012

In my first blog post as Teacher in Residence, I set a number of goals: to connect primary sources to literature, to create research questions to advance inquiry, and to foster library skills. I was able to meet these goals in a number of ways and to reach out to teachers and librarians with approaches to working with primary sources and teaching research skills.

  • I am particularly proud of a blog post suggesting resources and strategies for addressing the controversies surrounding Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a frequently-taught and frequently-challenged work of American literature.
  • In another post I offered suggestions and resources for using primary sources to inspire students to write their own research questions.
  •  Two additional posts furthered the discussion about primary sources and research by examining how sourcing and contextualizing can strengthen analysis.

I also wanted to become a better teacher, librarian, and resource for students and teachers. I was able to meet this goal by facilitating a variety of Library of Congress professional development workshop experiences–some face-to-face here at the Library, some in local schools, and some online.

These offerings introduced educators to strategies for using Library of Congress primary sources to engage students, build critical thinking skills, and construct knowledge. The energy created by educators engrossed with primary sources during these sessions was infectious; I floated on air, knowing that they were experiencing what I did when I first realized the power of primary sources. They returned to their students excited about strategies for using primary sources.

Exploring the stacks during a Main Reading Room Tour, Summer Teacher Institute 2014

Working with teachers during our Summer Teacher Institutes was a great honor. Amazing educators from across the nation traveled to Washington, DC to immerse themselves in topics across the curriculum, including civil rights and sciences such as chemistry and biology. These were perhaps the most exhausting and invigorating five weeks of my career.

Throughout the process of writing, creating resources, and working with teachers and librarians, I have had the chance to see a wide variety of amazing items in the Library’s collections from Walt Whitman’s journals to Alexander Graham Bell’s letters to civil rights activists’ oral histories. I look forward to another year in this amazing place working with knowledgeable and dedicated professionals who inspire me with their enthusiasm for educators and students.

The National Book Festival and Primary Sources: A Great Combination!

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 9:00am

Mark your calendars! The National Book Festival is this Saturday at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center. Events start at 10am and continue until 10pm.

2014 National Book Festival Poster by Bob Staake

Authors at this year’s festival include Judith Viorst, Jules Feiffer, Jack Gantos, Kate DiCamillo, Jacqueline Woodson and Susan Stockdale. Evening events include a Poetry Slam; a session on graphic novels; another session on how great books become great movies; and a celebration of the works of Octavio Paz, Efrain Huerta and Jose Revueltas.

Staff from the Educational Outreach Division and  the Young Readers Center will be in the Library of Congress Learning Center of the Let’s Read America Pavilion, located on the second level in Hall D, from 10am-5pm. Come and see how primary sources can be used to enhance and enrich the experience of reading a book. Teachers will have the opportunity to learn about our educational resources and pick up related materials.

The Children’s Guide to the National Book Festival provides an event schedule, tips on how to navigate the Festival, information on some of the authors, an Eye Spy game using the Book Festival poster, and information on the Book Festival patch for Boy and Girl Scouts that will be available at the festival.

We hope to see you all there!