Meet Common Core Standards with Primary Sources

Underwood Typewriter
By Kroton (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I once worked at a museum exhibit where the most popular artifact among tech-armed students was an Underwood Typewriter. Many of the students had never seen a manual typewriter before, let alone used one. They were downright captivated by feeding paper, pressing keys, unjamming letters, and moving over the carriage. The most common question: “How do you fix a typo?” An early twentieth-century typewriter provided students a tangible link to the past, while inspiring questions and wonderment. This typewriter illustrates the power of primary sources.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are invaluable because they are original, first-hand materials about people, places, or events created by people who were personally involved. They come in many forms: advertisements, court records, government documents, interviews, newspapers, objects, photographs, press releases, and speeches—just to name a few. Analyzing primary sources is a great way for students to connect with history.

Primary Sources and Common Core Standards

Although primary source analysis is nothing new, Common Core State Standards have renewed efforts to incorporate more informational texts into curricula. The standards require that students be able to find, analyze, and evaluate primary sources. The benefits of introducing primary sources into lesson plans are twofold: they engage students by enlivening historical events, and they help students meet Common Core Standards.

Here are a few Common Core Standards that relate to primary sources:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Analyzing Primary Sources

A Common Core-aligned primary source analysis should cover three major steps:

  • Find primary sources on a subject of interest
  • Analyze primary sources, paying attention to key ideas & details, craft & structure, and knowledge integration
  • Apply Knowledge by evaluating and making conclusions about primary sources


Check out these resources:

  • Find: SIRS Issues Researcher offers plenty of primary sources. Students can narrow their search results to include only primary sources.
  • Analyze: Our step-by-step, Common Core-aligned guide, Understanding Primary Sources, will help students analyze primary sources.
  • Apply Knowledge: Our guide will also prompt students to draw conclusions about primary sources.

Analyzing primary sources will engage students and help them meet Common Core Standards simultaneously. And they might just have a little fun, too.

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