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Friday, October 24, 2014

Analyzing Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts

Compare and contrast a firsthand and secondhand account of the same event or topic; describe the differences in focus and the information provided. 

I'm not going to lie. This was a scary standard for me to tackle.  It's one of those that you Google, and almost nothing comes up.  Sure, pulling out nonfiction resources is fairly simple if you have a great library, but not much exists to explicitly teach this skill.  And this is a skill that needs explicit teaching!  The Common Core not only asks us to teach Point of View, but they definitely want us to take it a step or two further...and this skill is definitely taking it further!
I started by using a few passages that I have used for years--even before Common Core.  My students LOVE learning about European Explorers, so I pulled some primary sources from my English major days.  Here are the excerpts I use to introduce firsthand accounts.  They aren't fancy, and they absolutely require discussion and some explanation on your part, but they always hook my students.  You can download these Firsthand Accounts of European Explorers for free HERE.
I read these aloud to them while they read along.  We talk about the information we can get from these accounts, and how an encyclopedia might give us different information.  We also discuss how the extra information I included on the sheets (to help give them background information) changes or alters their view of the firsthand account.  I explain that the extra information I give is technically a secondhand account, or a secondhand source.  They almost immediately understand the difference.

Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts Foldable
What would a lesson be without something in their interactive notebooks!?  After creating the anchor chart above, they put that same information into their notebooks.  You can download my template free HERE.

I LOVE using task cards in interactive notebooks.  It's a great way to provide proof of learning.  I have created these Analyzing Firsthand and Secondhand Account Task Cards, and I am so excited about them!  Each of the sixteen cards has two different accounts of the same event.  One is a firsthand account and one is a secondhand account.  I have also included guiding questions to helps students firmly grasp the goals of the standard.  The questions help students compare and contrast the two accounts, understand how the focus is different depending on the source, and discern the differences in the information provided.

Complete several of the cards together, first.  Annotate the cards as you would a close reading resource (Did you know that almost ALL of my half-page reading task cards are perfect for close reading?) and dissect them well.

The students can then glue one of the task cards into their notebook and answer the guiding questions using the individual student question prompt sheet.  The resource also includes a recording sheet if you don't use interactive notebooks.  After we have completed the task cards together and in the notebook, they are perfect for small groups and to put in your literacy centers, too!

You can find these Analyzing Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts for Comparing and Contrasting Multiple Accounts of the same event in my Teachers Pay Teachers store HERE.

Do you have any other ideas for teaching this tough skill?  Please share them in the comments!


  1. I love this! This is coming up for me soon and I was thinking about how I would teach this. I was going to use our SS curriculum, but this is such a great way to step out of the box and really get them to understand. I think I understand it much better too, lol! It is on my wishlist, so I can be ready when it comes up on my pacing guide. Thank you so much!

  2. Wow!!! These task cards look amazing!! I love how you use them in your notebooks, this is something I will be doing in the near future. Thank you, as always, Mary--I am always ecstatic when I see you have a new blog post!

  3. First of all, thank you for sharing this! I am trying to find resources for this skill for my sub while I am out on maternity leave. Do you have any additional resources you have found that you would mind sharing?

  4. Just to let you know - this is the first time I have ever actually caved in and PAID money for materials on teacherspay teachers - Well Done! Awesome Stuff! Thank you!

  5. Good morning Janine. I absolutely love your task cards. This is the first time also that I have paid for someone else's work. I am a fourth grade SC teacher and currently have the task of writing the ELA curriculum for my district's Extended Year Program. I loved your cards so much that I want to include them in a lesson so that teachers can pre-teach firsthand and secondhand accounts prior to teaching a thematic unit. Will you be so kind to allow me to include your cards as a resource for one of my lessons? My district is strapped for money and many of us, teachers, have volunteered our time to write various curriculums for each grade level and content area, so I would have to purchase licenses for many that I cannot personally afford. Of course I will give you all of the credit and cite the sources. Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Jen,

      Can you please send me an email at so that we can chat? Thanks!


  6. Forgive me, Mary, I entered the wrong name for you.

  7. You topic is very great and useful for us…thank you
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  8. Love this... would love to see some point of view materials... as that is a tough skill for my students as well.