Future History: Strengthening Analysis Skills with Current Primary Sources
Lesson Plan - Academic Skills

Skill Area: Researching
Subject: Social Studies, English Language Arts
Learning Objectives: In this lesson, students will learn to discern the difference between primary and secondary sources and the role each plays in a research project, effectively analyze primary sources, and demonstrate the ability to place primary sources in context.

Materials Needed

Source Analysis Guide worksheets available in "Working with Primary Sources" area of your ABC-CLIO database's Academic Success Corner.

Video tutorials available for students in "Working with Primary Sources" area of your ABC-CLIO database's Academic Success Corner:

  1. "Why Work with Primary Sources?"
  2. "Analyzing Primary Sources"

Access to social, news, and entertainment media (present-day primary sources)

Instructional Procedure

Students can complete this activity prior to beginning a substantial research project in which a range of source materials are required or before a unit that relies on primary source analysis.

Day 1

Begin activity with an informal class discussion in which students share what they do and do not know about primary sources: what they are and how they are used in analysis. Students can then watch the first provided video, "Why Work with Primary Sources?" Were students correct in their estimation of what does and doesn't qualify as a primary source? Why might it sometimes be difficult to determine the difference between a primary and secondary source? When was the last time students used a primary source to learn something?

After the viewing and discussion, ask students to address the following prompt as a homework task:

Imagine you are a historian 200 years in the future and are preparing to research what life was like in the 21st century. In particular, think about the best way to learn about life in this particular year. Conduct a general survey of the real-life primary sources around you, and plan your research by answering the following questions:

What do you think you might learn by looking at…

…21st century text messages?

…social media posts?

…popular songs?

…popular movies or TV shows?

…a selection of most viewed news stories?

Day 2

After discussing students' experience surveying their surroundings to look at what might serve as primary sources for future historians, turn to a more directed analysis by having students watch the second video in the series ("Analyzing Primary Sources").

In small groups, have students share the range of present-day primary sources that might reveal important aspects of their own lives to see what those chosen sources might share in common and what they illustrate when held up together.

Then, students can select one specific primary source from their own daily lives and analyze it using the appropriate Source Analysis Guide worksheet from the Primary Sources section of the Academic Success Corner. (Encourage students to think creatively regarding the categorizing of their sources; text message thread could quality as "Letters," memes posted on social media could be "Editorial Cartoons," etc.)

After completing the appropriate analysis worksheet on their own, students can return to class prepared to share their findings, as well as what they experienced while engaging in primary source analysis. What questions from the worksheet were more difficult to answer than others? Why?


This activity can be completed individually, in small groups, or a combination of both as described above. In addition, the videos and worksheets can be applied directly to any subject-grounded primary source or course-specific research task.


Students will be assessed based on their ability to:

  • Identify primary sources in both academic and non-academic contexts
  • Apply analysis framework to sources and successfully evaluate them

Additional Resources

Bahde, Anne, Heather Smedberg, and Mattie Taormina, Editors. Using Primary Sources
Hands-On Instructional Exercises. Libraries Unlimited, 2014, https://www.abc-clio.com/products/a4130p/.

Cahill, Maria. "How Frequently Do Your Teachers/Students Use the Library to Access Different Types of Primary Sources?" School Library Connection, November 2016. https://schoollibraryconnection.com/home/survey/2046617.

Foor, Tara. "Now on Exhibit: Prompting Higher Order Thinking Skills through Primary Sources." School Library Connection, January 2019. https://schoollibraryconnection.com/content/article/2174223.

Hoyer, Jen, Kaitlin H. Holt, and Julia Pelaez with Brooklyn Public Library. What Primary Sources Teach
Lessons for Every Classroom. Libraries Unlimited, 2022, https://www.abc-clio.com/products/a6435p/.

Morris, Rebecca J. "Fostering Deeper Understanding with Primary Sources." School Library Connection, November 2016. https://schoollibraryconnection.com/content/article/2046630.

Seth Taylor
Seth Taylor, MFA, has 20 years of experience in higher education as a teacher, administrator and professional development specialist. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Rhetoric, Composition and Research Methodology San Diego State University, Colorado State University, and the University of Redlands.

MLA Citation

Taylor, Seth. "Future History: Strengthening Analysis Skills with Current Primary Sources." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2022, educatorsupport.abc-clio.com/Support/Display/2293153?cid=338&productId=1. Accessed 8 Dec. 2022.

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