Primary Sources

Why Use Primary Resources:

Primary sources provide a window into the past—unfiltered access to the record of artistic, social, scientific and political thought and achievement during the specific period under study, produced by people who lived during that period.

Bringing young people into close contact with these unique, often profoundly personal, documents and objects can give them a very real sense of what it was like to be alive during a long-past era.

1. Engage students

  • Primary sources help students relate in a personal way to events of the past and promote a deeper understanding of history as a series of human events.
  • Because primary sources are snippets of history, they encourage students to seek additional evidence through research.
  • First-person accounts of events helps make them more real, fostering active reading and response.

2. Develop critical thinking skills

  • Many state standards support teaching with primary sources, which require students to be both critical and analytical as they read and examine documents and objects.
  • Primary sources are often incomplete and have little context. Students must use prior knowledge and work with multiple primary sources to find patterns.
  • In analyzing primary sources, students move from concrete observations and facts to questioning and making inferences about the materials.
  • Questions of creator bias, purpose, and point of view may challenge students’ assumptions.

3. Construct knowledge

  • Inquiry into primary sources encourages students to wrestle with contradictions and compare multiple sources that represent differing points of view, confronting the complexity of the past.
  • Students construct knowledge as they form reasoned conclusions, base their conclusions on evidence, and connect primary sources to the context in which they were created, synthesizing information from multiple sources.
  • Integrating what they glean from comparing primary sources with what they already know, and what they learn from research, allows students to construct content knowledge and deepen understanding.

(via the library of congress)


A Jackdaw is your personal archive of hands-on primary source materials. They are an array of fascinating, relevant primary source documents delivered directly to students. Most documents are reproduced in their actual sizes for you to touch and explore over and over. Transcripts and translations of difficult to read documents are provided for better understanding. Jackdaw primary sources encourage critical thinking and analysis, and augment retention of information in a variety of interdisciplinary disciplines.

Please keep in mind that entire sets of documents do not need to be used at once. Please feel free to cherry pick certain documents to create the ideal lesson for your grade. Also, the items within the different subjects are a range of reading levels (sometimes in Old English or cursive).

Jackdaws are also a wonderful way to incorporate many of the new key concepts of the Common Core Social Studies framework.


Jackdaws are wonderful examples of primary resource documents that are ideal for inquiry projects and developing essential questions. Students have the information that they need for a rich learning experience and deep understanding when given the opportunity to use primary resources. Using Jackdaws helps students focus on a particular topic or time period and explore the information at their own pace. Students can then report findings of their research to their class or group. Once these findings have been reported, information can be consolidated and then applied to different projects and is retained as knowledge.

View what we have availalbe by checking out these previous newsletters -

Inquiry With Jackdaws

NEW Jackdaws

DOCsTeach (National Archives)

BOCES MultiMedia suggests reviewing the primary sources available through The National Archives. Explore thousands of letters, photographs, speeches, posters, political cartoons, maps, patents, videos, audio recordings, graphs, legislation, telegrams, court documents, amendments, draft cards, executive orders, citizenship documents, census records, and more — covering a wide variety of historical topics, all saved for the American people at the National Archives.

Access to The National Archives is free to use. Any questions regarding usernames and passwords should be sent to The National Archives directly.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts in its collections. The Library is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. The Library of Congress is a wonderful way to do research about local and state history.

Access to The Library of Congress is free to use. Any questions regarding the Library of Congress should be sent to directly.


The MultiMedia library is open 7:30am-3:30pm Monday-Friday. Please call or email us if you have any problems or requests!