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Primary Source Documents +
Critical Thinking Skills


DocsTeach allows you to locate and create interactive learning activities using primary source documents. Activity templates promote historical thinking skills encouraging students to become "history detectives." This Web 2.0 teaching tool is well-designed and easy to use. It is sponsored by The Foundation for the National Archives and the National Archives.

You must register to access, save, and create custom activities.

Many interactive activities are available for use and meet the National History Standards. You can search by historical era, historical thinking standards, and different tools, such as sequencing and mapping.

This document and photo archives is a great free teacher resource!

A free DocsTeach app for iPad is now available.

I've spent some time browsing the site's activities and document and photo archives. There is truly a goldmine here! One very interesting document I found was a pamphlet titled "What is it? Coca Cola" published in 1901 during the Temperance Movement. Excerpts from this document would be a great hook for introducing lessons on the Temperance Movement.

Here's a good introduction to the site from the National Archives -

21st Century Skills
The interactive activities based on primary source documents support critical thinking skills when students -

  • Analyze and link documents to see cause and effect relationships,
  • Interpret data from maps, graphs, charts, etc. to better comprehend historical events, and
  • Analyze and evaluate documents to understand how they are historically connected.

In the Classroom
Sometimes problems involved in using primary sources in the classroom can be locating appropriate documents for lessons and then keeping students from becoming overwhelmed by the difficulty of the text. DocsTeach helps with both of these issues.

The site offers thousands of documents, including text, images, graphical data, audio and video files. With these varied documents, the site's search feature, and the flexible activity tools, you can easily create interactive lessons appropriate for your grade level.

Each activity tool is correlated to a level on Bloom’s Taxonomy — from Remembering and Understanding through Evaluating and Creating. This feature helps teachers to scaffold lessons as they build students' understanding.

With the many available activities offered on the site, you will probably find lessons already created that you can use with your students. If not, then it is easy to create your own. Documents and activities can be searched by historical era, historical thinking skill, and type of media.

While social studies is the main focus on the site, other curriculum areas can benefit.

Other ways primary sources can be used -

  • Science classes can use documents to study the space race.
  • English Language Arts teachers can use primary documents to introduce a genre unit on historical fiction or biography,

Students do not have to register for an account. Teachers provide students with a Web address (or code for the iPad app) to access an activity. Their responses are emailed to the teacher.

Common Core State Standards (CCSS):
Analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating primary sources cause students to investigate historical events and people instead of just memorizing dates and facts.

Besides helping them better understand and connect with historical themes, integrating primary sources into the curriculum gives students practice in meeting the keypoints of many of the CCSS for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies. The CCSS emphasizes the study of primary sources to write critically
about historical themes and events using details and understanding from the texts as evidence supporting their writing.


View these videos for help in setting up and using this site.

National Archives DocsTeach tutorials

Safety Concerns

Students do not have to register or use their names and email addresses to access the activities. They simply access the site by using the web address their teacher provides or the code for the iPad app. The site is safe and easy to use for students.

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