Teaching Pedagogy Sources: Primary and Secondary Sources Primary and Secondary

Sources Primary and Secondary

Category : Teaching


Sources: Primary and Secondary





  • Understand the meaning and use of various sources in teaching-learning process
  • Familiarise with the idea and concept of primary and secondary sources with their meanings and examples
  • Elaborate on how do primary and secondary sources develop critical and analytical skills and abilities in learners



A source is a mean through which one will be able to know about any concept, fact, or information. Source facilitates the conceptual clarity about any idea or information. It also legitimates the authenticity of the given idea. Historian makes sense of the prevailed idea based on the various available sources. Researchers also explore and elaborate about the research area based on various kinds of resources. Similarly, resources are also very significant for a teacher to facilitate the learners' ability to learn with authenticity.

How knowledge will be accepted by the large community of society or the person of concerned field will depend on the available sources; these sources will prove that knowledge. Overall, one can say the authentication or validity is important for knowledge and it comes from the resources that are used to prove a particular knowledge.

In the subject like Social sciences, the use of sources becomes more important as it culminates proves from the resources available. There are various kinds of sources available, which facilitate the teaching of Social sciences; however, these sources can largely be classified in two categories: primary sources and secondary sources.



It is an important source that facilitates learning and research. It provides first-hand substantial proof or evidences about any persons, facts, events, and ideas. Primary sources can also be known as records in original form related to history, economic, politics, sciences, and so on.

Such sources are prepared largely by the people involved in the task and procured it in the form of written, audio, video, or any other forms. Therefore, it can be said that primary sources are the sources in the form of physical objects and documents that were created during a specific time. These evidences are available during that particular time when these primary sources were prepared or written or available. This is the reason why they provide authentic information about the particular time on any significant event. It is important to know here that these sources will always be original and authentic, and therefore, it will always be same because they have already taken place.

It is not necessary to continuously write primary source on the spot; however, they can also be prepared or written as proceeding of the event in the form of memoirs or oral history. It is important to keep in mind that primary sources can be of only one perspective and there may be other perspectives that may or may not get a chance to be written. Particularly, in history, the question 'Whose history?' is a very fundamental question, which raised not only various questions but also variety of questions on the prevailed concept of history. However, it is also true that primary source provides strength to the researchers' work as it makes possible to understand what happened during a specific period of time.


Examples of Primary Sources

Primary sources are crucial for any research to provide authenticity. There are many examples, and moreover, categories about primary sources such as printed publications, personal records, visual materials, visual materials, oral histories, and so on. Along with these sources, sources such as diaries, poetries, personal interviews, government documents, autobiographies, photographs, artefacts, historical speeches, deeds, census records, and arts are also included.


Why We Need to Use Primary Source

It is a fundamental question to be asked that what is the need for using primary sources when we have number of secondary sources, which are easily available? Further, simple answer to this question is that primary sources not only make the learning authentic but also make a learner to think critically and analytically, which promote thinking skills, asking questions, and searching forthe answers of their questions. Primary sources take a learner to the journey beyond what and when to why and how.

Primary sources are doors to the past events without any kind of intervention and manipulations with originality and authenticity about the people, events, documents, stories, autobiogra phies, and so on. When learners are engaged with primary sources, they provide them chances to develop a sense of understanding history and method of history, which gradually promote higherorder thinking skill (HOTS), critical thinking, and reflective abilities.

Teacher can help learners to use and understand the primary sources in many ways:

1.         Teacher may decide about few sources that are associated with the objectives to be achieved.

           2.         Teacher can provide them enough time and opportunity to engage with the primary sources with respect to the objectives.

           3.         Let them compare the sources and provide the tool to analyse the primary source with respect to the objectives that need to be accomplished.

There may be many such ways to use the primary sources in classroom in order to make learning more interesting and authentic.



Secondary sources can be understood in the form of interpretations, discussions, analyses, syntheses, and critiques of primary sources. These are not primary sources; rather, these are secondhand description or account of any event. These are one or more steps distant from primary sources. In other words, we can say that secondary sources are summarisation of primary sources with analysis and interpretation. These are not primary but are very useful and reliable. It cannot talk about the lived experiences but it helps to understand what people must have felt that time. Secondary sources include or represent many perspectives on one primary source, which strengthens the researcher's idea and knowledge and provides multiple ways of analysing single information. It is also important to understand that every primary source cannot be presented everywhere; in such a situation, secondary sources become a good tool for knowing. It provides experts' opinion about any event to evaluate it. It also saves time of a researcher or knower to know many views in little time. We can understand it easily by these given lines:

I told you. 'I' become am a primary source. If you will tell it to anybody, you will become a secondary source.


Examples of Secondary Sources

Similar to primary sources, secondary sources are also important source of information. There are many examples of secondary sources such as biographies, books, reviews of books, articles, newspaper articles, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, textbooks, charts, and graphs.


Why Use Secondary Sources

All kinds of sources are important in teaching Social sciences, whether they are primary or secondary. Both the sources are important at their own place. Secondary sources are also important in terms of interpretation, discussion, analysis, synthesis, critique, and so on. The following are some of the reasons of using secondary sources:

1.         It helps to understand the various perspectives about various events and concepts or historical position.

2.         It provides space to understand the multiple perspectives about a single event.

3.         It helps to develop one's own perspective.

4.         It takes little time to become familiar about any event or concept.

5.         It helps to analyse one event from one perspective to different perspectives.

There may be more reasons to be used and these resources make teaching-learning process more useful, effective, and critical; however, there are few things that need to be asked about any sources whether they are primary or secondary, such as written by whom? It is about what? When is it written? Where it is written?, and What is the reason for its writing?



There may be many ways of using sources in classroom teaching. However, certain points need to be kept in mind, such as engagement, critical thinking, developing a specific temperament, knowledge construction, and HOTS. Under these broad categories, one may choose their own way of doing it. The following gives a brief explanation of these points:

1.         Engagement of learners with source

2.         Developing critical- and inquiry-based temperament

3.         Development and construction of knowledge

4.         Evaluate the ability of using HOTS on various sources


Engagement of Learners with Sources

It is necessary to start with the learners' previous experiences and to engage them with the sources that are to be used in the class. This can be done by asking learner to observe the sources and deal with the question like 'Who made these sources?'. If it is a primary source, then question like 'When and where it is created?' needs to be asked. In this entire process, learners seek all the important and necessary details. It is necessary to ask them 'What were you expecting to find in the source and what actually you found?' and 'What kinds of ideas, concepts, and facts have been given there?'. Both primary and secondary sources motivate learners to relate available sources with other sources. Finally, engagement must lead towards certain important and fundamental question about the sources and their relation with the objective to be achieved. This engagement will facilitate and trigger learners' thinking about various unsaid ideas and questions.


Developing Critical- and Inquiry-based Temperament

Developing critical- and inquiry-based temperament and attitude is essential in a Social science learner. By using primary and secondary sources appropriately, a teacher can facilitate learner to engage with critical thinking that is based on inquiry approach. These abilities help learners to not only deal effectively with the sources but also critically evaluate them. However, 'Will it happen?' is an important question. This can be done with very simple process where teacher may ask learners to infer regarding the provided source such as 'Who created it, why it is created, and for whom it is created?'. Inferences such as 'What must have happened in a given time period?', 'What may be the reason for creating these sources whether primary or secondary?' and 'Is there any biased stere'otypes or one-sided perspective that emphasised?'.

It also has to be kept in mind that any one source cannot provide complete information, and therefore, there is need to know and analyse more than one source at a time to have a better and effective understanding. In this process, they have to see the relationship among the sources to be used and what they already know. Let learner evaluate his/her idea about any past event and he/she must search some other sources, whether primary or secondary, which are in contrast or opposite from the available sources.


Development and Construction of Knowledge

The whole paradigm has been shifted from the idea of teacher teaches, the learner learns. In such a situation, it is important to provide enough opportunities to learners to engage in the process of knowledge construction. For this inquiry and questioning, the existing knowledge would be an effective process, where learners will be able to understand, compare, comprehend, and conceptualise any idea, event, or fact with multilayer analysis. This entire process will put them on the path of knowledge construction, which is based on logical conclusions, evidences, and various sources. This will also facilitate them to develop their deep understanding about the concept.


Evaluate the Ability of Using HOTS on Various Sources

At this point of time, ask learners to summarise what they have done so far. This summarization can be in the form of synthesis or analysis with appropriate reason. Further, let them talk and share how they have reached at the present point. This summarisation is not an end, rather it must raise questions for further investigation with same or different sources.


Summing up

Teaching-learning process can be strengthened by using various kinds of sources that can largely be divided into two categories: primary and secondary sources. There are various categories under both kinds of sources. Primary source provides first-hand substantial proof or evidences about any persons, facts, events, and ideas. Primary sources can also be known as records in original form related to history, economic, politics, sciences, and so on. Primary sources may include printed publications, personal records, visual materials, visual materials, oral histories, and so on. Along with these sources, sources such as diaries, poetry, personal interviews, government documents, autobiographies, photographs, artefacts, historical speeches, deeds, census records, and arts are also included.

Secondary sources can be understood in the form of interpretations, discussions, analyses, syntheses, and critiques of primary sources. Biographies, books, reviews of book and articles, newspaper articles, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, textbooks, charts, and graphs are the examples of few secondary sources.

Both the resources have their own importance. The combination of both can provide better opportunities to learners to engage, learn, and construct, which will also promote critical and analytical abilities in learners.


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Sources Primary and Secondary

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