The Library of Congress is a vast source of material that covers a broad range of topics and seemingly has primary source material for everything.  This glut of material may seem daunting to new and experienced teachers alike, which leads to difficulty choosing what to use in the classroom.  To help alleviate these issues, the Library of Congress offers many lesson starters and sample lesson plans on their website to help get the ball rolling in the classroom.  Here are a few of these sample lessons, hopefully they can inspire you in your future classroom activities. 

Billy the Kid: Perspectives on an Outlaw

Link to lesson plan here

This lesson relates to the westward movement in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Students analyze the role that gunfighters played in the settlement of the West and distinguish between their factual and fictional accounts using American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940

American Lives in Two Centuries: What is an American?

Link to lesson plan here

In 1782 Jean de Crevecoeur published “Letters from an American Farmer” in which he defined an American as a “descendant of Europeans” who, if he were “honest, sober and industrious,” prospered in a welcoming land of opportunity which gave him choice of occupation and residence.  Students will look at life histories from the interviews of everyday Americans conducted by Works Progress Administration officials between 1936-1940 to see if his definition still holds true in this country 150 years later.  Students will conclude by working toward a modern definition.  

Mark Twain’s Hannibal

Link to lesson plan here

Writers are influenced by their environment including their family, community, lifestyle or location.  One such writer was Mark Twain.  In this project the learner will become familiar with and analyze life around Hannibal, Missouri, during the latter half of the nineteenth century using various resources to determine what effects this location had on the writings of Mark Twain.

The Great Gatsby: Primary Sources from the Roaring Twenties

Link to lesson plan here

In order to appreciate historical fiction, students need to understand the factual context and recognize how popular culture reflects the values, mores, and events of the time period.  Since a newspaper records significant events and attitudes representative of a period, students create their own newspapers utilizing primary source materials from the American Memory collections.  

The Conservation Movement at a Crossroads: The Hetch Hetchy Controversy 

Link to lesson plan here

The debate over damming the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park marked a crossroads in the American Conservation movement.  Until this debate, conservationists seemed fairly united in their aims.  San Francisco’s need for a reliable water supply, along with a new political dynamic at the federal level, created a division between those committed to preserving the wilderness and those more interested in efficient management of its use. 






Library of Congress Scavenger Hunt

Link to lesson plan here

In a lesson created by our own head of the Teaching with Primary Sources department here at Rockford University, Dr. Deb Dew takes classrooms on a guided journey through the digital archives found on the Library of Congress’ website.  This is a fun and interactive lesson that can be used with either students or groups of other educators in order to get familiar with the website. 


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