History and Memory Lesson 3: Sources

What are Primary and Secondary Sources?
Andy Warhol, Flash-November 22, 1963 (detail), 1968, ©AWF (click image for full size) 

John F. Kennedy and his collective memory legacy are introduced in this lesson. Students learn firsthand how collective memory is passed on through generations by examining their own knowledge (or lack of) regarding JFK’s presidency and assassination. Students interview a person who lived through JFK’s assassination and present them to the class.

Suggested Time Frame:

Introduction and Discussion: 30 minutes
Evaluation of Students’ Sources: 10 minutes

Total time: 1 class period  


  • Students will define and distinguish between primary and secondary sources
  • Students will understand classification systems and how they are used by historians
  • Students will categorize diverse materials as primary and secondary
  • Students will evaluate the reliability of sources
  • Students will compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of sources


The following handout is included in the Lesson PDF:

Sources HandoutCompleted "What Do You Know?" Handout from Lesson 2 


  1. Review students’ answers to the question, “Where did you get your information about JFK?” from Lesson 2.
  2. Ask students to identify what sources they think historians consult for information.
  3. Define source:
  4. Source (n.) one that supplies information, a firsthand document or primary reference work.

  5. Present how historians classify source information they gather into two categories: primary and secondary.
  6. Primary sources: firsthand accounts or actual records that have survived the past. For example: oral histories, interviews, photographs, film, video, artifacts, tools, weapons, inventions, uniforms, tombstones, music, fine art, advertisements, journals, letters, diaries, census data, land surveys, maps, blueprints, architectural drawings, etc.

    Secondary sources: secondhand sources are accounts of the past created by people interpreting the event some time after it happened. For example: textbooks, historical essays and books, film or television documentaries, and text labels in a museum.

  7. Evaluate the reliability of sources using the questions historians ask:
  8. - What type of source is it?

    - Why was it created?

    - Who created it?

  9. Discuss the types of primary sources used by historians and their strengths and weaknesses when considering reliability.
  10. List your sources for information as discussed in Step 2 of this unit. Categorize these sources as primary and secondary.
  11. List each source's strengths and weaknesses in terms of accuracy and reliability.

Warhol Education Rubrics

Click the Warhol Rubric headers below to reveal associated rubrics to which this lesson applies.

Critical Thinking