Activity 4A: Using Primary and Secondary Sources

Students will do various exercises to learn about primary and secondary sources.

Standard: Strand 1: American History

Grades 6-8

Concept 1: Research Skills for History

PO 5. Describe the differences between a primary and secondary source documents

PO 6. Determine the credibility and bias of primary and secondary sources

High School

Concept 1: Research Skills for History

PO 5. Evaluate primary and secondary sources

a. author's main points

b. purpose and perspective

c. facts vs. opinions

d. different points of view on same historical event

e. credibility and validity


    1. Review the differences between primary and secondary sources.  The two web sites listed under "Sources to Consult" will provide explanations and exercises.
    2. Discuss complexity of this issue.  Look at the article in the Journal of Arizona History by Fred Watson, "Still on Strike..." Although published in a journal normally containing secondary sources, this is a transcription of an oral history of one of the deportees.  Is it primary or secondary? Why?
    3. Discuss what primary sources can add to research?
    4. What problems do primary sources pose? Bias? Quality of memory? Who is speaking? Relationship of document to the event.
    5. What problems do secondary sources pose? Bias? Quality of sources used? Experience of the author.
    6. Is there a difference between a web primary source and print primary source?
    7. Have students examine the Bisbee Deportation site and identify two primary sources and two secondary sources.
    8. Students then analyze their primary sources using one of the worksheets developed by the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) (written documents, maps, photographs)
    9. Have students analyze their secondary sources using the Secondary Source worksheet


     Link to secondary source worksheet

Sources to Consult

Using Primary Sources on the Web - Reference and Users Services Association Guide to Using Primary Sources

What are Primary Sources - Library of Congress Learning Page

NARA Document Analysis Worksheet - National Archives and Records Administration worksheets. Links to worksheets located near upper right side of page.