Teaching with Primary Sources
The Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges & Universities

Teaching and Learning with Primary Sources:
Research and Practice

A Publication of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities TPS Project


Assuming Historical Roles: 
Using Point-of-View Writing and Library of Congress E-Primary Sources

Jessica Siefken, Megan Sangalli, Emily Bernardi and Sherrie Pardieck
Bradley University

During the summer of 2010, preservice teachers in a Language Arts Methods K-8 course created lesson plans for primary and middle school teaching which incorporated reading, writing, comprehension strategies, and U. S. History using the Point-of-View method for writing and the Library of Congress (LOC) e-primary sources.   The Point–of-View method poses questions to students, in an interview format, during and/or after reading stories about famous people or biographies.  Students assume the identity of the historical person or artifact and write from the person’s or object’s perspective.  Using the Point-of-View method, as part of a research project, assists students with understanding and remembering information about a person from history.  Students role play as they use inference, speculation, inquiry, and writing skills with authentic learning materials.

During the summer of 2010 preservice teachers, in a Language Arts Methods K-8 course at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, developed lesson plans using the Point-of-View method and the Library of Congress e-primary sources www.loc.gov .  They selected a person of interest from history, researched the topic, and created their learning activity.  The preservice teachers used their lesson plans as they taught during their sixteen week novice teaching experience during the fall of 2010.  This article provides information about using the Point-of-View method and the Library of Congress e-primary sources, lesson plans for teaching Language Arts and History, and the preservice teachers’ reflection of their lessons for teaching and learning in the primary and middle school levels.

Point-of-View Writing
Stories, historical pieces, and biographies can summon students to pretend they are the person or object that they are reading about.  Through literature, students can experience different events, lives, times, and places as they read.  Using their writing skills and role playing, students can bring characters to life, giving voices to their selected topic of interest (Lester, 2000).  The intent of using the Point-of-View writing method is to have students actively participate in the learning by assuming the role of the person or object that is being studied.  As students’ role play and write answers to prompts, they infer, think, speculate, and elaborate newly learned information as they bring their characters to life (Morrell, Provisor, Schadlow, & Winberry, 2001).

The Point-of-View writing method may be used with people from history, characters from stories, or inanimate objects combined with role playing (Morrell, Provisor, Schadlow, & Winberry, 2001).  The learning projects are written from the historical person’s viewpoint as students’ demonstrate in-depth knowledge about the subject matter (Tompkins, 2003).  The writer breathes life into people and things by writing from a first-person perspective using the word “I” or using the third person perspective of “he or she”.  Tompkins (2003) stated that there are four points of view that can be used and they are first-person, omniscient, limited omniscient, and objective viewpoints.  The first-person plays the character using “I”, omniscient refers to a higher authority viewpoint, limited omniscient is told in the third person, and objective viewpoints are observations of people, places, and things.  Point-of-View lessons may revolve around any of the above perspectives as they write about their selected topic of study.

Students have the opportunity to role play when they speak, act, or write about fictional or nonfictional characters (Cooper & Kiger, 2009), events, or objects as they assume the role of the person or item.  As students role play an identity, they are able to extend their learning and connect meaning to the person or object through questions, descriptions, conversations, and actions (Walther & Fuhler, 2008).  The following prompts may be used for Point-of-View writing:

  • From your reading, identify questions to ask.  What do you want to know?
  • Describe the setting.
  • What customs, traditions, or special circumstances exist?
  • Describe the person or object
  • Assume the role of the person or object.
  • How would the person or object respond to your questions?
  • What would the person or object say?
  • How do you know?

Students may write interviews, narratives, or simulated journals to demonstrate what they learned about the selected person or artifact.  The benefits of using the Point-of-View method is that students understand a time and place in history, life during that time period, and the reasons for the historical person’s decisions or actions, or the significance of an item.  Students actively participate in the new learning as they develop their writing skills and use primary sources.

Lesson Plans
Preservice teachers created instructional plans that incorporated the use of Point-of-View writing and the Library of Congress website in a Language Arts Methods class.  After creating the instructional plans, they taught the lessons during their sixteen week novice teaching course.  The learning activities focus on a person from history that was researched using the Library of Congress e-primary sources.  Lesson plans may include stories, books, or journals to accentuate the new learning experiences.  Using the Point-of-View writing method assisted learners with understanding the time and place in history, daily life during that time period, and reasons for decisions and actions the undertaken by the historical person.  The students learned about their selected person from history, role played, and created an interview, narrative, or simulated journal for the final assessment.  The following are sample lesson plans with written reflections from the lessons taught.

Abraham Lincoln:  A Simulated Journal
Jessica Siefken
Grade Level: K-2

Overview and Rationale
Students will explore the life of Abraham Lincoln through the Library of Congress website.  They will research the contents found in his pocket after his death and write a simulated journal about why he had those objects in his pockets and what he used them for in his daily life.  It is important for students to learn and understand about Abraham Lincoln and his life because he was a very influential person in the United States history. 

1.B.1a Establish purposes for reading, make predictions, connect important ideas, and link text to previous experiences and knowledge.
1.C.1b Identify important themes and topics.
4.B.1b Participate in discussions around a common topic.
IL.1.C.2d Summarize and make generalizations from content and relate to purpose of material.
IL.3.A Use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization and structure.
IL.5.A Locate, organize, and use information from various sources to answer questions, solve problems and communicate ideas.
IRA.2.6 ...show that students need opportunities to integrate their use of literacy through reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and representing visually
NCSS 1.2a  assist learners to understand that historical knowledge and the concept of time are socially influenced constructions that lead historians to be selective in the questions they seek to answer and the evidence they use;

Students will create a simulated diary of Abraham Lincoln.
Students will use the Library of Congress website in order to understand the contents of Abe Lincoln's pockets on the day of his death.


  • Internet
  • Blank paper
  • Writing utensils
  • Point-of-View Guide
  • Computer Lab


  • Show students Library of Congress website and show them how to work through the website.
  • Explain the importance of this website.
  • Explain simulated journals and show examples.
  • Show student the picture of the contents found in Abraham Lincoln’s after his death. 
  • Discuss all the pieces and why he might have used them.
  • To start the students off on their simulated journal, write a prompt on the board.
  • One object I had in my pocket was _________.  I used this for ________. (Write a First, Middle, Last paragraph for why you think Abraham Lincoln used this object.)
  • Have students work on simulated journal about the contents of Abraham Lincoln's pocket on the day of his death. 
  • Keep picture up of the contents in Abraham Lincoln’s pocket.  They might want to continue to view the website while writing the journal.
  • Students will turn in simulated journals.
  • Students may take simulated journals home and work on it for homework if they did not complete their work.

Students will turn in their simulated journal.  They will have the choice to turn it in that day or work on it at home for homework.  The simulated journal will be graded by a checklist and due the next day.

________ Student identified contents of Lincoln's pocket
________ Student used text to support why contents were in his pocket.
________ Information presented is coordinated with the LOC information.
________ Student demonstrated understanding of simulated journals.
________ Journal is neat and able to read.

Each section is worth two points for a total of 10 points.

This was a great lesson teach around Presidents’ Day in February.  I think when I taught the lesson it went very well.  The day before I taught it, I taught a lesson on Abraham Lincoln.  This helped to get my students interested and ready to learn more about him.  When teaching this lesson, I definitely needed to explain more about a simulated journal.  Most of my students were able to finish the journal from using the prompt, but they became a bit confused about putting it into Abraham Lincoln’s words.  Many of my students put it into their own words.  I expected this because it is a difficult skill to learn.  In the future, I will spend more time developing the concept of simulated journals, speaking from another person’s point of view.  I allowed my students to complete it either way but gently encouraged them to complete it in Abraham Lincoln’s words. The next time I teach this lesson, I will make sure to spend a whole lesson on simulated journals, showing my students many examples and explaining it thoroughly.
Introduction to Christopher Columbus:  Point-of-View Journal Writing
Megan Singalli
Grade Level: 1-2

IL. 1.B.1a Establish purposes for reading, making predictions, connecting important ideas, and linking text to previous experiences and knowledge.
IL. 1.C.1b Identify important themes and topics.
IL. 4.B.1b Participate in discussions around a common topic.
IL.1.C. 2d  Summarize and make generalizations from content and relate to purpose of material.
IL.3.A Use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization and structure.
IRA.2.6 …show that students need opportunities to integrate their use of literacy through reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and representing visually.
NCSS 1.2a  assist learners to understand that historical knowledge and the concept of time are socially influenced constructions that lead historians to be selective in the questions they seek to answer and the evidence they use.

Students will identify facts from a story.
Students will write 6 facts about Christopher Columbus.
Students will write in the view of Christopher Columbus.


  • Christopher Columbus Book By Marion Dane Bauer
  • National Geographic Hand out: Exploring the Americas
  • Library of Congress website www.loc.gov
  • 16 Ship worksheets
  • Crayons
  • Colored Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Other Christopher Columbus worksheets
    • What’s wrong with the pictures
    • Land Ho!
Anticipatory Set
Ask the students; does anyone know what happens on Monday and why we don’t have school? If they do not know, tell them it is because it is Christopher Columbus Day and then show them a picture of Christopher Columbus.  Explain that he is a very important man to know about because he helped discover America. 


  1. Read Christopher Columbus book by Marion Bauer.
  2. Discuss the book and facts within the book.
  3. Instruct students to return to seats.
    1. Pick up ship papers and National Geographic
  4. View information in the LOC website.
  5. Read National Geographic Hand outs.
  6. Discuss how to tell a story
    1. Emphasize how they use first person tense, “I”, “me”, or “my”
  7. Give example of point-of-view writing with Christopher Columbus.
  8. Instruct students to write six facts about Columbus in the sails.
    1. Remind them to write in his view
  9. Observe their writing.
    1. Check to make sure they are writing as if they were Columbus
  10. Color their picture and cut it out.
  11. Allow students who finish first to pick up other sheets about Christopher Columbus to work on.

Figure 3.  Student handout for writing six facts and coloring.

Check students’ comprehension by reviewing the facts the students wrote in their sails.  Check their grasp of point-of-view writing by reading their sails.  Use checklist below.

  1. The student wrote six facts about Christopher Columbus. _________ (6 points)
  2. The student wrote each fact using the point-of-view writing. __________ (6 points)
  3. The student colored their picture. _______ (3 points) 
    I thought this was a great lesson! The students were able to discuss information about Christopher Columbus after we read both stories and were very engaged in writing their facts, since it was very interesting to them and they wanted to write.  The students also were able to write using the Point-of-View method.  I thought it was great how I related it to “telling a story” since all the students at this age love to tell stories.  This helped them understand the concept better because it was relatable information.  Some of the students were acting like they were “sailing their ship” while they were completing the activity.  I observed them totally enjoying this learning activity!  Using the Point-of-View method helped them to immerse themselves into the Christopher Columbus character as they were role playing and acting out the motions of being on the ship.  I would encourage teachers to allow their students to “act out and become” Christopher Columbus as they work with their journal writing.

One thing I would have changed, with this lesson would be to have the students act out parts of the story during the book reading.  I think this would have helped them to participate and understand the story better.

After the students finished their ship with their writing and coloring, I had them cut it out and I made a bulletin board with all the ships on it.  The bulletin board had water and the ships were all sailing.  I also attached clouds to the bulletin board that said, “First grade sails far as Christopher Columbus”.  The students really enjoyed seeing their work posted in the classroom!

Although some students struggled, many of them flourished during this activity.  Their imagination was set wild when they thought about how they were on a ship and traveling the ocean.  The students who were struggling only needed a little extra guidance with writing the sentences and story.  After I was able to work with them, they understood the concept and were able to participate and complete the activity with the rest of the class.

I used a simple checklist with this assignment because it was a new concept for the students.  I thought this was appropriate since the students had so little prior knowledge.  After this concept is introduced numerous times, other assessments can be added.
Becoming a Naturalist: What did you see?
Emily Bernardi
Grade Level: 7-8

  • Students will sharpen their observation skills while exploring and observing the environment outside.
  • Students will use an excerpt from Birds of America and the observations they made to write a description of the observations from the point of view of John Audubon.


  • IL.1.C.2d: Summarize and make generalizations from content and relate to purpose of material.
  • IL.3.A: Use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization and structure.
  • IL.5.A: Locate, organize, and use information from various sources to answer questions, solve problems and communicate ideas.
  • IL. 16.A.3b: Make inferences about historical events and eras using historical maps and other historical sources.
  • IRA 2.6 ...show that students need opportunities to integrate their use of literacy through reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and representing visually.
  • NCSS 1.2a  assist learners to understand that historical knowledge and the concept of time are socially influenced constructions that lead historians to be selective in the questions they seek to answer and the evidence they use.

Materials: Excerpt from the Birds of America, Excerpt from Audubon’s field journal, Field Journal “What Do You See?” observation sheet, writing utensils, computer, and information from the Library of Congress www.loc.gov .
Procedure: Open the lesson by asking the students why Audubon is famous. Emphasize Audubon’s observations and sketches he would create while exploring the land in America.

  • Hand out excerpt from the Birds of America, field journal observation sheet, and instructions for the homework writing assignment they will be completing.
  • Library of Congress-information about John Audubon.
  • Give the students time to read over the two excerpts from the Birds of America and Audubon’s field journal.
  • After they have finished reading, discuss the connection between the journaling Audubon completed and his finished published works. Audubon would take the notes he took while observing nature to write his final draft for the Birds of America andhis other published works on nature.
  • Lead the students in discussion of the types of observations and information Audubon included in his work. As students list possible observations, write a list on the board.
  • For the main activity, students will be filling out the field journal handout while they spend 10 – 15 minutes walking around outside and observing the environment around them.
  • Ask students for examples of the observations Audubon might record as he was exploring (i.e.: thoughts and sketches of objects and scenes observed, notes on birds, animals, plants and geographic features observed). Remind students that Audubon would also collect items to include in this collection.
  • Assignment-using the excerpt from the Birds of America, Audubon’s field journal, and the observations they made while observing the environment outside, students will write a journal entry from John Audubon’s the point-of-view. The journal entry should be written as if the students were John James Audubon. They should include information on the observations they made, why they chose to observe that scene or object, what they like about it, and describe the setting or outdoor environment. The entry should also include information on John Audubon’s daily routine, such as travel, meals, etc.
  • Once the assignment has been explained, take the students outside for the observation activity. During the activity, the students will make observations individually. After observing the outside environment, return to the classroom and discuss the students’ observations.

Figure 4.  Photograph of John J. Audubon and a painting from his book, The Birds of America (1750-1820).


Highest (A)
5 points

4 points

Sometimes (C )
3 Points

Rarely (D)
2 Points

Never (F)
1 Point


Point of view

Maintain strong POV throughout

Often using correct POV

Sometimes use correct POV

Little use of correct POV

POV not apparent



Every idea is supported with detail

Most ideas are supported with detail

Some ideas are supposed with detail

Few ideas are supported with detail

No ideas are supported with detail



Organizes details clearly and is meaningful

Organization is evident, generally focused and meaningful

Some organization, but may lose focus and meaning

Inconsistent organization

Lacks organization



Highly original

Somewhat original

Somewhat original

Originality not evident

Originality not evident



Clear grammar and mechanics. Clear sentence structure. Appropriate vocabulary

Few fragments and run-ons. Some mechanical errors. Appropriate vocabulary

Fragments and run-ons. Noticeable mechanical and spelling errors. Basic vocabulary

Many fragments and run-ons. Ineffective vocabulary. Mechanics and spelling interferes with reading/meaning

Unclear sentence structure. Ineffective vocabulary. Mechanics and spelling interferes with reading/meaning






















Figure 5.  Assessment rubric for journal entries.

The following are student worksheets to assist with organizing information:

Field Journal: What Do You See?

Setting (location of observation):                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
Observations: What Do You See?
(Wildlife, objects, shapes, colors, physical features, action, sketches)






Other (insects, snakes, etc):


What action do you see?





Questions and notes:


Why did you observe this?


Why was this happening?

Simulated Journal Entry: John James Audubon
Writing Prompt: It is the fall of 1828, and you are John James Audubon. You are exploring the land in Central Illinois. What observations did you make? What was the setting like, what types of animals and plants are around you, and what actions in the environment did you observe? Why did you observe this? What do you like about it?
Journal Entry:

Figure 6.  The following text is an excerpt from one of John Audubon’s Field Journals printed in the 1890 memoir entitled, the Life of John James Audubon, the Naturalist.


This lesson went very well. Before teaching the lesson, it is important to assess the students’ understanding of Point-of-View and Point-of-View journal writing. Some students had a difficult time grasping the concept of writing from someone else’s Point-of-View. I also realized that I needed to spend more time on what they will be doing outside while making observations. In a large group, we worked through an example of making observations and asking questions from which many students benefited from this mini lesson. Creating a list of questions, for students to ask themselves while observing, will provide more direction. Explaining how they need to ask why something is that color, why did that happen, why are there not as many animals/birds/insects at this point in the season?  These are important questions for students to ask themselves. 

It is important to ensure that students know to consider factors such as weather, temperature, time of day, and seasons. I would also emphasize observing details like colors, textures, and other items in the environment surrounding the item being observed.  Also, I would make sure I spent more time going over the Library of Congress e-primary sources used and the focus of Audubon’s journal writing. The area that most students struggled with, while writing their journal entry was using the appropriate writing style and vocabulary. Pointing out specific phrases and words that commonly occur during that time period should be addressed for journal writing.

Preservice teachers unanimously agreed that using the Library of Congress e-primary sources with the teaching and learning process was extremely valuable for their students’ learning experiences.  They stated that Language Arts methods and strategies, History, learning objectives, standards, and goals could easily be incorporated into lesson plans.  Primary sources accentuated the learning of new information and helped to make the information “come alive” or become a meaningful reality.  Using the e-primary sources allowed their primary and middle school students to work with original historical figures and artifacts which assisted the meaning making process.  Students looked up information, viewed visuals and enlarged the visuals to accomplish a detailed analysis and understanding of their topic.  Additionally, in one of the lessons, middle school students were able to make comparisons between past and present outdoor environments.  The preservice teachers concurred that students should have opportunities to practice and develop their writing skills using the first-person tense and the simulated journal writing format.  During the lessons taught, students were able to learn new content, develop many skills, and apply information by assuming the role of a historical figure.  
Using Point-of-View writing and the LOC e-primary sources assisted students’ understanding, remembering, and applying content through role playing as they studied historical figures, worked with language arts methods, and demonstrate their learning for assessment purposes. The Point-of-View method helped students to develop their writing skills and actively participate in the lessons as they learned about their selected person of study.  They developed an understanding of a time and place in history, culture, and why people made decisions and acted the way they did during their lifetime.  Students extended their learning by actively participating in the new learning, using inferences, problem solving, speculating, communicating, and developing their inquiry and writing skills as they connected meaning to primary source materials.

Coloring Pages Kids Boys .com  [On-line].  Available www.coloringkidsboys.com

Cooper, J.D. & Kiger, N. D.  2009.  Literacy:  Helping students construct meaning (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Lester, J. (2000).  Re-imagining the possibilities.  Horn Book Magazine, 76 (3), 283-289.

Library of Congress   (2006).  [On-line].   Available www.loc.gov

Morrell, A., Provisor, C., Schadlow, B., & Winberry, K. (Eds.).  (2001).  Reading and writing in the content areas.  Los Angeles, CA: Canter & Associates, Inc.

Tompkins, G. E. (2001).  Literacy for the 21st century (3rd ed.).  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson     Education, Inc.

Walther, M. P. & Fuhler, C. J. (2008).  Making every book count.  Book Lin.