Greater Denver Metro NHD



Differentiating between primary and secondary sources is an important skill. But once students can tell the difference, they must learn to analyze each type of source material. We will begin with secondary sources. This may seem backward, but researching from secondary sources first allows students to gain an understanding of “the big picture.” Secondary source material can also help students know what primary sources they might look for.


If you are able to take a research trip to your local library, this would be a great time to do just that. Students will be able to experience the lesson first-hand, and then explore sources for their chosen NHD topic. You could also engage the services of your school media specialist and present this lesson in your school library. If you choose this option, share the lesson with the librarian ahead of time so he/she can be prepared. You might even provide a list of topics your class is working on so the librarian can find sources.


If you are not able to take your students to the library, contact your local library and see if they will come to you. Or, require your students to visit the library on their own prior to this lesson. At the very least, visit the library and check out several books your students could use.



Choose a demonstration topic and have several secondary sources ready to show your students. (This is an opportunity to use your current classroom curriculum within an NHD workshop). During the mini-lesson, you are going to demonstrate different ways to use a secondary source. As you demonstrate each source, show students where to find the publishing information and show them how to record this information of their research log, note cards, or digital log. Emphasize the importance of this.


Explain analysis to your students:


What is Analysis?

The critical reading of sources and understanding their context:


When were they produced?


Who produced them?


Where were they produced?


And, for what purpose?


Identifying bias.


Identifying and understanding

different or conflicting perspectives.


Synthesizing your own conclusions based upon the available sources.
















Begin with a few non-fiction sources about your subject. Use at least one book, but you could also show magazine or journal articles, chapters from a compilation books such as text books, documentary films, etc. Show your students that they should read at least 2-3 books on their subject. This way they can compare the authors’ perspectives for consistency.  Students should look for confirmation of information from more than one reliable source. If their project is about a person, encourage them to read a biography about their subject.


Many students will feel overwhelmed by the idea of reading 3 large books. Consider having them look in the junior non-fiction section. There are often great books about historical events and important people that won’t be as over-whelming as larger texts. Show an example of this.


Continue by showing students how to use the table of contents and index to find specific information from a book. They may only need to read a chapter or two rather than the entire book. Consider a student who is doing a project on Jackie Robinson. They might find a book on the history of Major League Baseball. While some students might find it beneficial to read the entire book, many will find it overwhelming. They might instead just look for a chapter or two in the book about Jackie Robinson or the integration of the Major Leagues. Demonstrate this. Point out that if they find a reference to their topic in the index, they should read that information in context. In other words they should read a few pages before and after the mention to understand the meaning.


Demonstrate for students how they might find an idea in a book that leads them to new research possibilities. Let’s go back to the Jackie Robinson topic. Using a biography about Robinson from the junior non-fiction section, one will come across the name Branch Rickey. The student could then take this name and do further research that would be beneficial to the topic. Encourage students to keep a list of other ideas or names to research.


Also demonstrate to your students that they might find information in compilation books. Again, they will not need to read and take notes on the entire book. Instruct them to record the title of the chapter as well as the title of the book they are working with in their notes. Again using the Jackie Robinson topic, they might find a book titled Heroes of the Major Leagues. The student should be able to find a section on just Jackie Robinson.


Work Time:

Allow students to explore the library for information about their own topic. Often your local librarians will be more than willing to help by pulling material ahead of time.  However, if you have the time, it is beneficial for students to learn how to locate materials in the library.


Group work: you will have students who are planning to do a group project when the time comes. At this stage, each member of the group should be researching individually, but they can certainly share sources and discuss what they find. Encourage students who wish to work as groups to all check out materials, and share them as they continue their research.



For the next workshop, students should be ready for a progress check for a grade. They should have chosen a topic, written a working thesis statement, acquired _____ number of sources to show you, and taken notes on ______ number of sources (you choose the numbers according to the ability level of your class. This also lends a great opportunity for differentiation for students who are not on the same level as the class in general.)




**As students begin to take notes, this is the time to discuss plagiarism. Direct quotes should be recorded in their notes with quotation marks and the name of the speaker. Anything a student copies word for word must be credited to the author. Be sure that your students understand that plagiarism will cause disqualification from any National History Day contest.


How many sources should a student use?

·        There is not a required amount, but a minimum of fifteen (with at least ½ primary) is recommended.

·        Students should use diverse sources and not rely on only one type of source (i.e. sources found on the internet.)  The strongest projects’ sources include:  articles, films, interviews, internet, books, museums, etc.

·        Research should be balanced. Students should consider differing perspectives and biases of their sources.

·        Students should not pad their bibliography with sources that were not useful.

·        Some topics, particularly those before recorded history or those written about in foreign languages, are challenging to find sources. 

·        It is sometimes easier (and more fun) to research a topic that relates directly to local or state histories.  Available resources may include: historical sites, historical societies, museums, archives, colleges/ universities, and personal interviews of community members.



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