Being able to identify a primary, secondary or tertiary source is an important skill for all students. Any student who participates in NHDC should master this skill in their first year of participation. In this workshop, you will be giving your students a simple assessment to determine their skill level in this area, defining primary, secondary and tertiary sources, and demonstrating each. For National History Day, it is important that students conduct balanced research using both primary and secondary sources. NHD judges will expect students to be able to tell the difference between the two.
Define each type of source for your students. This document (Primary and Secondary Sources) can be projected or handed out; it may further their understanding of the differences. Using this information, show students several sources related to a topic of your choice. Begin with primary sources. For instance, if your class is studying the Civil War, you could show them a Civil War soldier’s journal, a letter from a soldier, a newspaper article, a battle map, etc… Then demonstrate for them that even a translation in modern type is still a primary source. You might use a transcript of the Emancipation Proclamation to make this point. Then, transition to secondary sources. Help students understand why a secondary source is considered secondary. Show them several secondary sources...a US History textbook, a biography written about Lincoln in modern times, a newspaper article that reflects on the war years later. It is important to explain that the age of the source has nothing to do with whether it is a primary source or a secondary source. Rather, students should consider who the author/creator is. A newspaper article about this year’s Broncos season can be a primary source, even though it was written yesterday, if it was written by a writer who has been an eye-witness to the season. It can also be a secondary source if the writer does not have any first-hand knowledge of this year’s team.
You might also want to touch on the idea of tertiary sources, especially if you are teaching an advanced class. This is a great place for a discussion about Wikipedia. National History Day judges tend to view Wikipedia as an unreliable source, so it should not be cited. While tertiary sources are not disallowed, NHD recommends the use of primary and secondary sources. For a definition of tertiary sources, see the “Primary and Secondary Sources” supplement. Encourage your students to use Wikipedia as a tool, not a source. They can use it to gain a "big picture" and they can use it to find a source list for their topic. Teach them to "triangulate" the information they find on Wikipedia...if they can find the detail in two other reliable sources, then they can use it. Then, they can cite the other two sources rather than Wikipedia.
On the Greater Denver Metro NHD website (www.greaterdenvermetronhd.org) under the “Student Help” tab, you will find a link to a practice set. There is also a link on the “Teachers” page on the “Helping Students Succeed” link. This activity shows students several sources and asks them to determine if they are primary or secondary. After each answer, students will find out if they are correct, and learn more about why that type of source is primary or secondary. A link to the online practice is also found here. Source type practice activity. If you wish to grade this activity, use the simplified version that is found here, along with the answer key.
If you are able to take your students to the public library for a research day, this should be done before Workshop 6 (or Workshop 6 could be presented at the library). If you do wish to make a library visit, call your library and explain what you are doing. Most libraries are happy to help students with research, and many libraries in the Denver Metro area partners with the NHDC program. If you are requiring your class to choose Colorado topics, a trip to the Denver Public Library downtown branch is highly recommended. They will work with your students, and it is well worth your time.
If you cannot make a library field trip, see if your library can come to you. Otherwise, assign students the task of going to the library before next week and checking out 3 books related to their topic before the Workshop 6 meeting date. If you have students for whom that is an impossibility, you might wish to go to the library yourself and check out materials on their subject to they will have something to work with in lesson 6.