Primary and Secondary Resources

Contributor: Elephango Editors. Lesson ID: 10127

Have you met Dr. King? Do you know anything about him? What was his impact on history? Primary and secondary sources give a full picture. Learn the value of both, and write a short story!


United States, Writing

learning style
personality style
Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today."

This excerpt is from one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history. It is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

  • Have you heard it?

He gave the speech in 1963, but most people today have heard of the speech and could probably even recite some of it to you.

  • How do so many people know about this speech?

People know of the speech because many sources tell about it.

  • There is a video of Dr. King giving the speech.
  • There are first-hand written documents from people who were there.
  • Some newspaper articles and textbooks talk about this speech.
  • An internet search returns countless resources related to this speech.

There are two main types of sources or resources used to explain events in the past.

The first is called a primary source.

  • What does primary mean?

Think about primary school. Primary school is the youngest or the first grade of school. So, a primary source is just that — it is the first source, meaning a person at the event is creating the information.

The primary resource represents the details that document the event, describing the event first-hand.

A video of the speech, a diary entry of a little boy listening to it that day, and a newspaper article written by a reporter at the event, are all examples of primary sources.

  • Can you think of another primary source?

A photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr., in front of the Lincoln Memorial that day would be a primary source.

  • Would an interview with a spectator be a primary source?

Yes, this is another example of a primary source because it is a first-person account of the event.

  • Why do you think primary resources are important ways to learn history?

They give us the feeling of what that event was like.

Watch the following video for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech.

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  • How does listening to that video make you feel?
  • Did you notice how many people were gathered together to listen to his speech?
  • Does that make it feel like it was an important speech?

A lot can be learned about a historical event by investigating the primary resources.

Another resource that describes an event is a secondary source.

A secondary source provides a bigger picture of an event rather than one person's perspective of the event.

A secondary source is recorded after the event. For example, textbooks are a popular secondary source. The authors of the textbook research and write the secondary source relying on the information presented within primary sources.

The newspaper article Martin Luther King: the story behind his 'I Have a Dream' speech is an example of a secondary source. Although it has direct quotes from MLK and others who witnessed the speech, it was written in 2013 by someone who was not present.

With secondary sources, you can have a broader understanding of the events, like why they happened and what effect they had.

Read this "I Have A Dream" encyclopedia entry.

  • Why is the encyclopedia a secondary source?

Are both sources important to history?

Yes, both types of sources are important because they help carve the pictures of historical events in our minds.

Review exactly what primary and secondary sources are with the following video.

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Continue on to the Got It? section to do some digging for sources!

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