iPad Apps to Teach Social Studies: Primary Source Documents

By Monica Burns 05.26.2014 blog

There are many ways to bring Social Studies to life for students. Teachers can incorporate current events in their classroom by using timelines to help students understand how events are connected or grab their attention with video clips. Primary source documents can be the link you need to connect students to events in the past. Teens can jump into the diary of a fallen soldier or analyze photographs taken by a news journalist. There are a variety of tools you can use to access primary source documents straight from your iPad.

What are primary source documents?

Primary source documents are materials created by a person at some point in history. This includes letters, maps, paintings, photographs, and more. They give historians an idea of what life was like during a particular period in history and provide insight into the human experience at that time. Students are often used to reading secondary sources, like a textbook or encyclopedia, that gather the information from primary sources to give a comprehensive overview of an event or time in history.

Primary source documents can be analyzed using prior knowledge of an historical event and contextual clues. The Common Core State Standards ask middle school and high school teachers to include primary source documents in their Social Studies instruction. Using higher order thinking skills to draw conclusions from and make connections between different primary source documents are important parts of what students are asked to do in the real world and standardized exams.

Which resources are available on an iPad?

For teachers with access to one, a few, or a class set of iPads there are plenty of great apps that they can use to locate and share primary source documents. National Archives DocsTeach contains tons of resources for students and teachers. Teens can browse by topic or access primary source documents handpicked by their teachers. Today’s Document is another free app for the iPad. Students can view a new document each day or go back to look through the archives. This app could be used as part of an everyday routine in the classroom for a quick “do now” or discussion at the beginning of the class period.

Congressional Moments contains lots of resources for teachers including primary source documents. This free app provides information on different periods of American history including the women’s suffrage movement and the advent of child labor legislation. Abraham Lincoln Interactive Biography includes photographs and documents related to the life and presidency of Abraham Lincoln. It is truly an interactive textbook full of facts and details about this period in history. For a fun take on primary source documents check out Faking It by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Students will be asked to examine famous artwork and decide which one has been tampered with. This app includes interesting information about each piece of art.

How do you incorporate primary source documents into your instruction? Share some of your favorite activities or iPad apps below!

Monica Burns is an Education Consultant, EdTech Blogger, and Apple Distinguished Educator. Visit her site ClassTechTips.com for more ideas on how to become a tech-savvy teacher.


  1. Mustang M. G.


  2. brooklyn

    that is neat

    • Mustang M. G.

      you took the words wright out of my mouth

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