Lesson plan

Comparing Primary and Secondary Sources

What's the difference between primary and secondary sources? This lesson will compare the two types of sources and ask students to discuss the benefits of using each source.
Need extra help for EL students? Try the Elections and Conditions pre-lesson.
EL Adjustments
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Need extra help for EL students? Try the Elections and Conditions pre-lesson.

Students will be able to compare and contrast a primary and secondary source and gather information about the topic.

The adjustment to the whole group lesson is a modification to differentiate for children who are English learners.
EL adjustments
(7 minutes)
  • Display a picture of the White House and ask students to take out their whiteboards and write as many things as they can think of about the White House, who lives there, and what it represents.
  • Allow students to turn and talk to their partners about their thoughts and have students share aloud. While they share aloud, write their ideas on the board. Confirm relevant ideas and correct misconceptions.
  • Ask a student to read the student objective and circle the keywords on the board.
  • Tell students that today they'll learn about how the President of the United States is elected by considering an excerpt of the Constitution. Explain that the Constitution is a primary source because it is a piece of information that was created or written by someone who witnessed the event firsthand or was part of the historical events that are described (i.e., the writing of the Constitution). Primary sources can be photos, journals, original documents, and newspaper articles from that time period.
  • Explain that they'll gather information from the primary source and compare it to a secondary source, or a source that is an interpretation of the events. The person who wrote the secondary source was not there to witness the events. Some examples can include books, articles, and drawings about the historical events.
  • Draw a T-chart on the board and share some examples that highlight the differences and similarities between the two types of sources (e.g., date the source created, author's tone, point of view). Ask students to share any other examples they can think of as you add details to the T-chart. Refer back to their original thoughts you wrote on the board whenever possible.
(6 minutes)
  • Display and distribute to each student the Article XII: Election of President worksheet and preview it with the students by asking questions like, "What do you notice about the text? When do you think it was written? Is the language formal or informal, and how do you know?"
  • Read aloud the text and circle some key terms that are necessary to understand the text ("president," "ballot," "electors") and model how to look at the context for the meanings. (Note: there might not be any context clues for some words, and that's another detail about primary sources.)
  • Look up some of the meanings of the words from an online dictionary. Model how to find information from the text and place it on the bubble map.
  • Leave half of the bubble map unfilled and half of the keywords undefined for students to complete later. Ask students to copy your teacher markings on their own papers.
  • Define the president as an elected official who runs the executive government. Mention that a president is elected, or chosen to be president, when the person gets the majority of the vote from the ballots, or pieces of paper on which voters enter their votes. Finally, make sure they understand that electors are representatives from each state that cast the final vote for president on behalf of the people of that state.
(15 minutes)
  • Display the online article "How the President Is Elected" and conduct the same preview you did on the Article XII worksheet. Conduct a discussion using the same questions.
  • Distribute the Concept Web worksheet and ask students to copy your teacher markings while you model completing half of the web with details from the online article.
  • Separate students into groups and ask them to finish both the concept web and the bubble map for the respective sources. When they're done, pair two groups together and ask them to present their graphic organizers to each other so that they can look for incorrect information or information to add to their own organizers.
  • Conduct a brief whole-group discussion about the similarities and differences between the two types of sources. Model using comparative sentences from the Language Frames: Compare & Contrast worksheet and display the worksheet for their reference.
  • Ask students to share their own comparatives sentences aloud while you write them on the board. Ask them to write two sentences on their graphic organizer papers where one mentions similarities and another mentions differences between the two types of sources.
  • Choose two students' answers to highlight and provide examples and non-examples before they start their independent practice.
(10 minutes)
  • Distribute the Double Bubble Thinking Map and explain how to write the topics and similarities and differences for the two sources they evaluated today.
  • Ask students to pay attention to the content surrounding a president's election from each of the texts and the way the authors wrote the text. By this time, they should know that there is more practical and specific information in the article, while the excerpt of the Constitution shows more of the rules regarding becoming president.
  • Have the students complete the Double Bubble Thinking Map worksheet on their own, referring to their previous worksheets as necessary.


  • Provide visuals and definitions for difficult words from the article and the excerpt of the Constitution.
  • Have students work in groups to gather information from both of the sources, but have them complete their own evaluations of the two sources.
  • Allow them to use the Language Frames: Compare & Contrast worksheet to help them complete their spoken and written assignments.


  • Allow students to listen to the "How to Read a Document: Source Identification" video (see related media) and complete a Double Bubble Thinking Map about the two sources from the video.
  • Ask students to share their Double Bubble Thinking Map during the closing of the lesson.
  • Allow students to use an online dictionary to look up the meanings of terms and see how the words connect to other words with a website such as Visuwords.
  • Have students use a tablet or computer to access websites about presidential elections.
(10 minutes)
  • Have students compare their Double Bubble Thinking Maps with their partners and make corrections as necessary.
  • Distribute a lined sheet of paper to each student and ask them to consider their ideas from their Double Bubble Thinking Maps and write 3–5 sentences sharing the similarities and differences between primary and secondary sources.
(7 minutes)
  • Ask students to read their writing to their partners, then come together as a whole group and answer questions about the sources. For example, ask them, "How can a primary source document be helpful? What are the benefits of using a primary source document over a secondary source, and vice versa?"
  • Allow students to share their answers in partners before sharing with the class.
  • Have a student reread the student objective and ask the students to consider the differences between the two sources. Refer to the T-chart about primary and secondary sources and ask students if they would like to add more details now that they've read the two texts.
  • Distribute the index cards for their exit ticket. Ask students to write which source they would rather use for general knowledge about how to elect a president. Have them explain their choice on their index cards.

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