Understanding the difference between Primary and Secondary sources is a confusing and consistent problem when middle school students research. Beyond confusion, it leads to missing the value of documents and sources students read. The Minnesota History Fair produced this excellent video we use as a guide:
Primary Sources = something which comes from the event; a first-hand account of the historical event. (Letters, Newspapers, Film/Photo evidence)
Secondary Sources = any other sources which offers analysis, perspective, or context to better understand the historical event. (Books, Encylopedias, etc)
We used EdPuzzle to turn this into a quiz so we can gather more feedback from students as they watch, too. No type of sources is uniformly primary or secondary. The Chicago Tribune might run a newspaper story reflecting on the 50th anniversary of an event, for example. Therefore, while many historical newspapers provide first-hand accounts of great events, not all are primary sources. Teaching students to evaluate and examine sources is an important critical thinking skill.
Beyond History Fair research, teaching student historians to examine their sources of information is a critical tenet of citizenship, a skill which is heightened in our current era of news and social media. While determining these types of sources is critical for a great history fair project, understanding how to look for bias, audience, and authority are essential tools of an educated and engaged citizen. History Fair research, again, is training for critical thinking beyond the project.
We’ll spend the week studying the difference in sources, as well where students can find these great pieces of information.