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Today’s post comes from Elizabeth Dinschel, education specialist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

I have thought often about the time I realized that I loved History. How do we, as teachers, convey our excitement for history to our students? Students are pushed into tech, science, and math-based careers because “history does not make money,” so how can teach them otherwise?  How can we make them value history? Personal experience.

Portrait, Lou Henry Hoover 1928

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is opening an exhibit, America’s First Ladies, on April 16. Leading up to this day, I had spent many hours researching First Lady Lou Henry Hoover. We offer a Lou Henry Hoover Badge for the Girl Scouts that requires an archives activity. Naturally, I spent many hours sifting through Lou’s papers and I tasked an intern with reviewing my research. Weeks later C-Span was filming onsite for their First Lady series and naturally I was asked what items in Lou’s papers were the most interesting. I revisited the Lou papers, specifically her catalog of the White House.

Plate XIII, Lou Henry Hoover’s Catalog of the White House

The White House caught on fire in 1929. Lou Hoover was terrified that they did not have a description of the items in the White House. She hired an assistant and numbered, described, and photographed every item in the White House. The next First Lady to undertake the cataloging of the White House was Jackie Kennedy. Why is any of this important? What makes this more interesting to our students?

rug close up

Close up of rug from Plate XIII

While re-studying the catalog to share with C-Span, I discovered a rug in Lou’s office that was probably overlooked. The rug said, “To the United States with Eternal Gratitude From Hamme Belgium 1915,” Wilson (or Belgium) Rug #6 in Lou’s catalog. Herbert and Lou Hoover worked tirelessly as the leaders of the Commission for the Relief of Belgium, the topic of the Museum’s 2015 exhibit. So, I contacted the White House to learn more about the rug. To make a long story short, the rug is missing and was replaced with an oriental rug after the Truman renovation.

In the process, I worked closely with the White House and was invited to be a guest during my recent trip to Washington, DC. My historic research and Lou Henry Hoover brought me to the White House. I walked the same halls of Presidents and First Ladies from our country’s past. I had an amazing experience that most people will never get. When I tell my students that I was at the White House because my research led me there, they get excited. They want to see the catalog. The catalog is no longer just a collection of photos and stories to them, it is an opportunity.

It is not just this experience that is noteworthy, there are so many others. If we do not share the value of history with our students, they just see dates and books. Connecting our students with primary source documents gives them the opportunity to explore the stories and build their own. Sharing our stories as teachers and historians ignites passion and inspiration in our students. We see them taking the opportunity to conduct primary source research in National History Day and they are sharing their experiences with us!

I always tell my high school students about the time I fell in love with history. I was a junior in high school and I did an oral history interview with a holocaust survivor. I have done hundreds, if not a thousand, oral history interviews in my time. I tell my students, “explore your passions now because it can only help you.” Make history relevant and exciting by sharing your research stories. Encourage them to visit archives, incorporate their primary source research into their school projects, participate in National History Day, and use archival research in everyday life. Our adaptive learners are willing to look up the primary sources, if they know where to access them and how to use them—so let’s show our students where to find primary sources and let’s keep history relevant!

All of the photos are courtesy of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. 

DocsTeach logo

Once you register for a free account on—our online tool for teaching with documents—and log in, one of the things you can do is choose primary sources and pull them together into an activity using one of the DocsTeach tools.

Your students will be able to engage in your activity online at a direct URL such as Your activity will have a teachers guide too, like the one at

Your finished activity might even be borrowed by other teachers on DocsTeach.

Get started by exploring the tools.

Navigate to ACTIVITIES and click on Create. Explore the seven available tools. Be sure to click on …more to:

  • read about the learning objectives that each one can help you meet,
  • find teaching tips, and
  • explore examples of activities created with a particular tool.

DocsTeach Tools

Decide which tool you will use. But read on before you start creating your activity.

Gather primary sources for your activity.

Navigate to DOCUMENTS. Browse by historical era or type of document to get a sense of the kinds of primary sources and topics you can find. Search using keywords, turning filters for historical eras or types of documents on or off.

As you find a document that you want to use in your activity, bookmark it by clicking Star This next to the document. Star all of the documents you want for you activity (as well as any you want to bookmark for other activities).

Open the activity-creator.

Navigate back to ACTIVITIES and click on Create. Click on Create an Activity for the tool you’ve chosen to use. The activity-creator will open and begin to guide you.

Pull in your documents.Find documents to use in this activity

  • After you’ve clicked Continue, click on Find Documents. You’ll recognize the next screen as the same one where you explored documents earlier.
  • Browse to your Starred Documents (under Recommended).
  • For each document you want in your activity, click on the plus sign next to it.
  • When you’ve finished, click on Back to Activity in the top-right corner of your screen.

Drag your documents into your activity.Arranging documents

How you arrange your documents will depend on the tool you chose. Follow the instructions in the activity-creator. You may need to write a question, write hints, pair documents, etc. Continue through to the next step by clicking NEXT.

Write an introduction and conclusion for your students.

You will be prompted to “enter introduction text” that your students will see right away when they open your activity. See the box that pops up to start the activity Birth of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an example.

Make sure you:

  • identify the topic,
  • provide any necessary historical context,
  • give direction and instructions so that students know what they are expected to do, and
  • are general enough that if a teacher borrows your activity, it will make sense to his/her students too.

You will also be prompted to “enter conclusion text” that your students will see after they’ve engaged in your activity and clicked on I’m Done. See the “I’m Done” section in Birth of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an example.

The conclusion effectively wraps up the activity for your students. You can include further instructions for classroom discussion or participation, or follow-up questions for students to answer in an email to you. Write questions that will require students to carefully analyze and think about the documents they saw and to reflect on what they learned while doing the activity.

Continue through to the next step by clicking NEXT.

Prepare a teachers guide for yourself and teachers who may borrow your activity.teachersguide

You will provide information about how to teach with your activity in the last step of the activity-creator. Keep in mind that this will generate a teachers guide for any teacher who finds it on DocsTeach. (For example:

Complete all fields:

  • Activity Title — Plainly state the topic and/or what students will do in your activity. (Check that there isn’t already an activity on DocsTeach with your proposed name.)
  • Activity Author — Include your first and last name.
  • Choose the most appropriate selection from the drop-down menu for: Historical Era, Primary Historical Thinking Skill, Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • Synopsis — Write a brief overview of what to expect. Teachers should be able to read this and quickly decide if the activity is appropriate for their classroom and curriculum. It’s helpful to include key vocabulary and names.
  • Author’s Notes — Explain how to teach with this activity.
    • Indicate where the activity fits into the curriculum and why a teacher might use this activity.
    • Give an appropriate grade-level range.
    • List the approximate amount of time needed to complete the activity.
    • Provide a step-by-step approach for using your activity in the classroom.
    • Write as if you’re writing a note to yourself or writing a lesson plan.
    • Note whether the activity is meant for a full class, a small group, or an individual student.
    • Include historical background that other teachers might need.
    • Don’t be so specific to your own classroom that others can’t use it.

Preview.Save and View

Once you’ve filled in all of the fields, click on Save & View to preview the teachers guide for your activity. Click on the large screen shot of your activity or on Start Activity to open your activity in a new window or tab and preview it as one of your students would see it.


Review your activity and teachers guide. Check that there are no spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors. Make sure the instructions are clear and that the activity can stand on its own: that anyone accessing the activity knows what they’re being asked to do.

Once you’re done reviewing the activity itself, close the window or tab and return to your teachers guide. Click on Back to Activity to return to the activity-creator. Make any changes you want, and continue to preview and edit your activity as needed.

(Your activity is now saved in your ACCOUNT, where you can access it at any time.)


Once your activity is ready for your students, and your teachers guide is thorough and clear enough for other teachers to use, it’s time to “publish.” You will be able to share your activity with students by giving them the unique URL; and your teachers guide will be visible to anyone who is logged into DocsTeach or who has that unique URL.

In the last step of the activity-creator, click on Publish.


We might feature your activity.

If your activity is thorough, clear, follows the standards set out in this guide, and meets a curricular need on DocsTeach, we might feature it so that it is available to anyone who browses or searches for activities, even if they aren’t logged in. Typically, activities that fall into this category were created by National Archives staff. See the Featured Activities on (or any of the URLs in this guide) for examples.


Students can reflect on the lives of soldiers during the Civil War by analyzing photographs taken by renowned photographer Mathew Brady in this new learning activity on The holdings of the National Archives include over 6,000 photographs taken by Brady and his associates during the Civil War era; 16 are included in this activity.

In The Civil War as Photographed by Mathew Brady, students will choose 3–4 photographs for analysis and create charts listing the people, objects, and actions in the photos; determine what they can infer from the photos; and identify questions that the photos raise in their minds.

Colors of 23rd Infantry, N.Y, ca. 1860 - ca. 1865

Colors of 23rd Infantry, N.Y, ca. 1860 – ca. 1865

Wounded soldiers under trees, Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg. After the battle of Spotsylvania, 1864., ca. 1860 - ca. 1865

Wounded soldiers under trees, Marye’s Heights, Fredericksburg. After the battle of Spotsylvania, 1864., ca. 1860 – ca. 1865

After comparing and contrasting their findings in small groups, they will list adjectives that they think describe the life of a soldier during the Civil War. The follow-up class discussion can explore the questions:

  • What motivated these men to put up with such difficult circumstances?
  • If there had been television or the internet, would the Civil War have lasted as long as it did?
  • How did soldiers cope with the death of their friends and fellow soldiers?

We suggest teaching with this activity during a unit on the Civil War in grades grades 6-12. Approximate time needed is 90 minutes. The activity can be found under the Civil War and Reconstruction era or directly at

Pontoon across Rappahannock River, Va. (alson cavalry column.), ca. 1860 - ca. 1865

Pontoon across Rappahannock River, Va. (alson cavalry column.), ca. 1860 – ca. 1865

In our newest activity on, students analyze a petition signed by over 50% of the native Hawaiian population against it becoming a part of the United States.  Petition Against Annexation of ??? challenges students to use context clues within this petition to figure out which specific territorial acquisition this petition relates to in US History.

Petition against the Annexation of Hawaii

We suggest teaching with this activity in units related to US imperialism, manifest destiny, and the growth of the United States. Students should have some background related to the issues that led to the United States taking a larger role in the world at the turn of the 20th century.  Students in grades 6-12 may complete this activity individually, in small groups or as a full class activity.  Approximate time needed is 15 minutes.  The activity can be found under The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930) or directly at

The sole document used in this activity is a selection from a single page of an over 500 page petition sent to Congress from native Hawaiians.   More than 21,000 native Hawaiians—out of a population of less than 40,000—signed this petition opposing the annexation of Hawaii.   Their actions contributed to the defeat of a proposed annexation treaty.

Begin by asking students to read and analyze the petition from the native inhabitants of a future territory against the US annexing their homeland.  Since this activity uses the Focusing on Details: White Out/Black Out Tool, the specific name of the territory is obscured and students must use clues from other parts of the document to determine which territory it is.

Ask the students to examine the document and answer the following questions:

  • What type of document is it?
  • Who wrote the document?
  • To whom was it written?
  • What is the date of the document?
  • Why do you suppose it was written in two languages?
  • What was the purpose of the document?

Based on the evidence, ask students to offer hypotheses about which annexation in US history this petition is about. After discussing their educated guesses, inform students that this is a petition against the US annexation of Hawaii. Inform students that this petition contributed to a defeat of a proposed treaty to annex Hawaii. As a result of the petition, only 46 Senators in favor of the resolution to annex, less than the 2/3 majority needed for approval of a treaty.

Hawaii DT 2

Tell students that victory was shortlived, however as unfolding world events soon forced the annexation issue to the forefront again. With the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in February 1898 signaling the start of the Spanish-American War, establishing a mid-Pacific fueling station and naval base became important to the United States. The Hawaiian islands were the clear choice, and this time Congress annexed the Hawaiian islands by Joint Resolution (which requires only a simple majority) on July 12, 1898.

The activity will encourage classroom discussion whether or not the US should have annexed Hawaii.  Since lawmakers initially listened to the will of the Hawaiian people, but changed their minds following the outbreak of the Spanish-American War (something that had nothing directly to do with native Hawaiians), ask students if they believe our annexation was a justified action.

  • If this petition was signed by over 50% of the native population, do you think the United States should have annexed it? Why or why not?

This activity is adapted from an article published in Social Education by Wynell Schamel and Charles E. Schamel.



What Are Your Summer Plans?

by on March 18, 2014

Today’s post comes from Kris Jarosik, education specialist at the National Archives at Chicago.

Consider spending a week at the National Archives conducting research in original records!


Primarily Teaching participants at work in the textual research room in Chicago

The upcoming Primarily Teaching Summer workshop will be held in several locations this year including: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C.  During this week-long, professional development event you will have the opportunity to not only learn research insights as they pertain to the holdings of the National Archives, but you will also be able to create activities for your classroom and others. By identifying primary sources for digitization and inclusion in DocsTeach within specific case studies and the NHD theme – Leadership and Legacy in History, you will ensure teachers across the United States have access to records from our stacks.

Learn more and apply online.

Please note that the Washington, D.C. and Chicago sessions are almost full.