Primary Source Instructional Tools

Primary Source Instructional Tools

The goal of these instructional tools is to provide educators with high-resolution images of primary source materials from The Huntington’s collections, along with didactics that support using the materials in flexible and dynamic ways across multiple grade levels.


The Reformation

Why, and how, do people repurpose ideas and images of the past to help give power to their ideas in the present?

Considering how words, written or spoken, can be sites for engagement and debate, we can better understand how even the most highly publicized ideas and images of our day will become relics for reinterpretation in the future.

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Visual Voyages

Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin

Through the recognizable names of Columbus and Darwin, focus is made on the period from the late 1400s to mid-1800s. Explore what this period means for scientific and artistic engagement around Latin American nature. Look at the full range of contributions in knowledge making during this period.

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The Rule of Law

What does it mean to live under the rule of law?

Inspired by The Huntington’s exhibition Magna Carta; Law and Legend, 1215-2015, celebrating the Great Charter’s 800th birthday, this set of primary source materials and related prompts supports student development of content knowledge and fosters close reading, writing and public speaking skills.

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Inspired by the deepening interest of educators to work with primary source material in all classrooms, The Huntington has developed a framework for Primary Source Modules. The goal of these instructional tools is to provide educators access to high-resolution versions of primary materials from The Huntington’s collections, along with didactics that support using the materials in flexible and dynamic ways across multiple grade levels.


Primary sources are the raw materials of history; they are the texts and objects from the past that were a part of a person’s lived experience. They can unlock the mysteries surrounding what life was like at the time they were created. When students develop the skills needed to closely examine and analyze primary source material, they gain a more powerful sense of and deeper insights into history. The Huntington has created these instructional tools to support educators as they guide students toward higher levels of analysis and critical thinking.



The modules are designed to be as flexible as possible. Each selected source is provided in high-resolution, suitable for printing, classroom projection, or detailed, zoomable online exploration. Modest contextual information (drawn from museum gallery labels) accompanies each source but deliberately limits the degree to which “front loading” of information occurs, reinforcing the need for students to gain understanding through close reading, interactive exercises, and discourse. Finally, each source includes a series of text-dependent questions, prodding students to examine the source to draw conclusions about the prompts. The prompts can be used to introduce open-ended assignments, such as generating outlines, writing journal entries or essays, debating, or group discussions. Sets of primary objects are presented under an overarching compelling question that ties them together; by completing the module as a whole, students can extend their proficiency in looking closely at historical documents and successfully making connections to, and gaining meaning from, historical events. An organizer is included in each module to provide a roadmap through the material. Look for the icon to download.


Extended Learning

Each module includes opportunities to develop College and Career Readiness skills. Using primary documents, students will learn to identify the skills needed to decipher materials and the value of possessing those skills. The emphasis is on discerning where sources come from and the importance of verifying and validating professional descriptions.


Suggested Uses

  • The Extended Learning Module can be a stand-alone lesson to teach College and Career Readiness.

  • Teachers can have short daily discussions around each primary source, extending conversation over the course of a week.

  • Teachers can lead longer class discussions by working through the prompts and sources in one session.

  • Teachers can focus on one primary source, revisiting it with different tiered questions for deep-reading exercises.

  • Students can write journal exercises about each primary source and set of prompts

  • Journal entries can serve as short, focused writing exercises or be revised into a longer paper that addresses the Compelling Question.

  • By taking notes during discussions, students can create an outline for a longer paper that addresses the Compelling Question. Students can also build an outline from their journal exercises.

  • Prompts can be used as questions for an in-class, moderated debate centered on the Compelling Question; students must draw upon primary sources to support their arguments during the debate.

  • Students can be divided into groups, each of which is responsible for an in-depth reading of a single primary source. The class can then reconvene for a larger discussion centered on the Compelling Question.

To receive an update when new modules are added, please send an email request to