skip to content

Archives and ARC

Curriculum Ideas for the Elementary Level Using Primary Sources

elementary students

A Sense of Place

  • Compare a contemporary map and historical map of a specific area (city, residential neighborhood, school neighborhood).  Have students identify differences and similarities.  A possible enrichment activity would be drawing a map of the same area in the future.
  • Compare a series of photographs for a particular street or area.  Using photographs that span several decades, students would identify differences and similarities in the images.
  • Using original records (assessment cards, tax rolls, maps) and published sources (city directories), students would prepare a history of their school, their home, or any other building of choice.

A Sense of Person

  • Students can research and prepare very basic family histories.  The projects would begin with oral history interviews with members of the students’ families.  The second step would incorporate use of original records typically used in genealogy or family history research.
  • Students would examine original records such as censuses and citizenship records to discover the ethnicity of their community.  By researching these records, students would gain a sense of the state’s immigrant history.
  • An individual’s occupation is a large part of their identity.  Using censuses, students would document the occupations of early residents of their communities.  As a final project, this might take the format of graphs and charts.

Sense of Time

  • Most students do not have a very good sense of time or historical context.   To help illustrate this concept, students could examine school records from the late 1800s, the mid 1900s, and the 1960s.  The students would research the curriculum (books used, poems learned, songs sung, daily subject schedule, etc.) and compare it to what they are studying. An enrichment activity could be to actually have the class follow the historical schedule and to use some of the original lesson content.
  • Students could examine any primary source that interested them that was created the year they were born.  The goal of this lesson would be to help the students understand that historical events are not just things that happened centuries ago; but rather that history is being made every day.


  • Compare and contrast weather patterns using historical records.  Records available include the original weather bureau materials for the Green Bay Station (1886-1976) and the logbooks of lighthouse keepers.  Students could use the abundant amount of data to also learn graphing skills.

Arts and Music

  • Students read descriptive passages of diaries, letters, or reminiscences and create illustrations to accompany them.
  • Students write song lyrics based on the contents of original materials or historical events.

Language and Literature

  • Students read portions of first-hand accounts about a specific event or time.  Students can then prepare summaries, turn the materials into dialogues, and/or dramatic readings.
  • Students use original materials as the basis for a creative writing project.  The original materials could include diary excerpts, photographs, or letters.  Students would learn research skills as well as create a unique piece of writing. 
  • Students could use handwritten accounts from various time periods to reflect on the changes in penmanship.  An enrichment activity could be to have the students write a document in a historic penmanship style.