Primary sources in the early elementary classroom

It’s never too early to introduce students to primary sources. Often when we discuss Primary Sources we see how rich they make content but we often forget to look at how it enriches Social Studies content for our youngest students.  Pre-readers benefit from primary source activities just as much as their older elementary counterparts. In fact, the questions, observations, and thinking that these students apply to primary sources may surprise you.

Because you are dealing with either pre-readers or emerging readers in this age range, you will be doing much of the primary source activities orally with these students. Using items such as film, photographs, and music may work better than letters and manuscripts.


Here are some ideas for ways you can incorporate primary sources into your early elementary classroom:

Arrange events or images in chronological order:

Grab a set of images across time of the same theme.  Some ideas include school rooms, methods of transportation, or social gatherings. Have students place them in chronological order. Ask questions regarding what they observed in the images that led them to those conclusions.

Want to try this out?
Print the images of school rooms below and see how your students do with this activity. What kinds of clues are they using within the photos to help them decide on the chronological order?


Explore differences in the lives of children now and long ago:

Take images of children engaged in activities in the past that would be similar to activities now. Laminate images or place in a protective sleeve. Have students circle the items in the image that differ from their current experience.

Want to try this out?

Print these images or sets of images and ask your young students to identify differences and similarities to activities they engage in today.



Easter Egg Hunt:


Compare and contrast how people live in different settings around the world.

Use images of different Native American tribes and sort into the correct tribe. Then pin point the tribe’s relative location on a topographical map. Talk about the region’s climate may have affected the tribe’s culture, homes, dress, and other attributes. You could also do this activity with groups of immigrants and talk about how the group characteristics reflect where they came from.

Want to try this out?
Print the following primary sources that represent a variety of Native American tribes, follow directions listed above.






To see a model activity used in a Kindergarten Classroom, see Kindergarten Historians: Primary Sources in an Early Elementary Classroom

By using primary sources at this age, you are already giving your students a foundation in understanding the difference between observation and opinion, how to use evidence to back up a claim, and even cause and effect. These skills will continue to be emphasized throughout the common core as these students continue through school.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s