Resources for Educators
By the People provides students of all ages with opportunities to explore and engage with unique historical documents from the collections of the Library of Congress.
Deciphering and transcribing these documents can build students’ skills in close reading, examining historical context, and building interpretive consensus.
Primary Source Analysis
Most of the documents on By the People are primary sources — the raw materials of history. Analyzing primary sources like these can give students a powerful sense of the complexity of the past and guide them toward higher-order thinking and better critical thinking skills.
Use the Library’s primary source analysis tool and teacher’s guide to analyzing manuscripts to guide your students through an analysis of any of the documents in crowd.loc.gov.
A note about content: The historical documents in the Library’s collections may include language or topics that aren’t appropriate for all students, or that students may find challenging to engage with. You may want to review documents before assigning them, or use some of the strategies explored in these Teaching With Primary Sources resources:
- "Dealing with Difficult Subjects in Primary Sources"
- Teaching Difficult Subjects Using Primary Sources: Our Readers Respond
- Selecting and Using Primary Sources with Difficult Topics: Civil Rights and Current Events
- Further ideas from the National Council for the Social Studies
As students transcribe a document, urge them to pay close attention to the language used in the document. What does that language tell them about the intended audience for the document? Was it a close friend or family member? A powerful person? A complete stranger? If the document is a letter, what clues can they find in the greeting and closing?
Prompt students to speculate about what the document’s author was trying to accomplish. What strategies, persuasive or otherwise, did the author use to accomplish their goal?
Challenge students to recreate the document in their own words, using today’s communication tools. What did your students say differently? What did they say that was the same?
Ask students to identify clues about the time and place in which the document was created. What do they know about what was going on at the time? How can they find out more?
Ask students to research and describe what happened as a result of this document being created. If they can’t identify what happened, ask them to speculate about what might have happened as a result of the document.
As students complete the transcription-reconciliation process, encourage them to take note of the ways they compared the differences between different transcriptions of the same document. What similarities and differences can they find between this process and the process of evaluating sources for a class project or research paper?
Educators use our Transcribe-a-thon planning documents to bring By the People into the classroom or extracurricular activites. See our detailed instructions and resources here.
Many of the Library of Congress collections featured in By the People campaigns have existing classroom resources thoughtfully created by on-staff educators. These include:
- Primary source sets
- Lesson plans
- Educator-created blogposts
These can all be searched on the Library's classroom materials page. Examples below!
Suffrage: Women Fight for the Vote
- Primary Source Set: Women's Suffrage
- Lesson Plan: Suffragists and Their Tactics
- Lesson Plan: Suffrage Strategies: Voices for Votes
- Lesson Plan: Women's Suffrage: Their Rights and Nothing Less
- Blogposts: Civil War and Reconstruction
- Primary Source Set: African-American Soldiers During the Civil War
- Video: African-American Passages: Black Lives in the 19th Century
Rough Rider to Bull Moose: Letters to Theodore Roosevelt
- Blog: Learning from Home with Theodore Roosevelt and the Library of Congress
- Blog:The Theodore Roosevelt Papers: Study the 26th President of the United States with Library of Congress Resources
- Blog: Theodore Roosevelt: A President of “Firsts”