Using Primary Sources: Activity Pack

Using Primary Sources: History’s Building Blocks



History is not a passive subject. Historians actively search out and analyze primary sources in order to tell the stories of our past. Behind those streamlined narratives are hundreds of messy sources. These lesson plans use primary sources utilized by the detectives in History Detectives to give students practice with analyzing, questioning and following up on information contained in a variety of primary sources.


Lesson Plans

A Wide Open Town: Debating the Temperance Movement

Students learn about the Temperance Movement and New York in the 1890s through period images, including political cartoons, posters and illustrations, then debate the merits of the Temperance Movement and reflect on how historians use period images to reconstruct the past. 

Nazi Spy Ring Busted: Evaluating the Reliability of Primary Sources

Students learn about Dr. Fred W. Thomas, a German-American who was accused of being a Nazi Spy during World War II, then act out the job of the historian by examining primary sources related to the investigation into Dr. Thomas in order to reconstruct an accurate story of Dr. Thomas’s role in the war. 

The Rogue’s Gallery: Analyzing a Collection of Primary Sources

Students analyze pages from a 1909 book featuring hundreds of clippings for lost and wanted men from the early 20th century in order to figure out what purpose the book served  and what it reveals about the man who owned it. Finally, they analyze how studying a collection of documents reveals more than a single document could.


Related Reproducibles:



These lessons are aligned to the Common Core Standards for History/Social Studies and the National Standards for History.