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FYS-101 Information Literacy Lessons 2023-24

This guide contains the information literacy lessons for the SNHU First Year Seminar FYS-101 course offered on campus for the 2023-24 academic year.

What are Primary Sources?

Meet in Collection Teams

  • Given your initial discussion of your team's primary sources Collection, what would your team's definition of a primary source be? 
  • Be prepared to share your team's definition.

Whole Class Debrief

  • Each team briefly shares their definition of what makes a primary source
  • How are your Collections examples of primary sources that meet your definition?

Primary vs. Secondary Sources 

Watch the Primary vs. Secondary Sources video This link opens in a new window below as a class.


Class Discussion - Primary Sources

  • What new criteria for what makes a primary source did you see in the video?
  • Is Never Caught a "primary source?" Why/why not? What kind of source is it?
  • How/why are primary sources used in Never Caught to tell a story?

Reflecting on your Primary Source - Individual In-class Worksheet

Your instructor will pass out the "Reflecting on Your Primary Source In-Class Worksheet." (Available for download below if required for accessibility) Write brief answers to the questions about the individual primary source you are researching from your team's Primary Source Collection. You will use this reflection to help you locate both another primary source related to your Collection topic and secondary sources related to your Collection's primary source. (Primary Source Collections This link opens in a new window are also available by clicking on the tab in the left margin of this LibGuide)

Searching for Primary Sources


  • To deepen our recognition of primary sources by searching for them
  • To understand the nature of a primary source will necessarily reflect limited perspective, and it is critical to view history from more than one perspective to fully understand it

Whole-class discussion:

These two primary sources below offer perspectives on slavery in the United States.

  • How is slave life on a plantation pictured differently between the painting on the left and photograph on the right?
  • What might be valuable about having both of these primary sources instead of just one?
Painting of Washington's plantation
Black and white photo of child picking cotton on a plantation

Instructor Demo: Searching for a second primary source on your topic 

Using Google - Let's search for another primary source about slaves on plantations.

Here are some helpful tips to modify your initial Google search:

Tip #1
  • Add the phrase "primary source" in quotation marks after your search terms/keywords (from your Primary Source Reflection worksheet)
  • How are our results different from our first search when we add the phrase "primary sources" in quotation marks?
  • Of course you may always add a word for the actual type of primary source after your search phrase - think of the examples from the video: Diary, journal, newspaper ad, interview, song, artifact, etc. 
Tip #2
Tip #3
  • Look at the source names and URLs for each result in your results list - libraries, museums, archives, universities, and historical societies are often good places to find primary sources
    • Do you see any of these types of places (Ex: Library of Congress) in the Google results list?

Finding a Primary Source Assignment

This assignment is designed to demonstrate your understanding of what we have learned about primary sources.

  • This is a MAJOR assignment in your final project. You will be graded individually. 
  • Download the document below, follow these steps and answer the questions.
  1. Using Google or a search engine of your choice, find another primary source related to the issue/event/person/topic you are researching for your team's Collection. (Use the Hints from today's lesson!)
  2. Briefly describe the primary source you found (Ex: photo, diary entry, song, newspaper article, etc.)
  3. How do you know what you found is a primary source?
  4. Describe your search process:
    • List the search terms/phrases you used in Google:
    • How did you modify your search to get better results? Did you try Google Images?
    • Why did you choose the primary source you found over other results in your search?
  5. How do you know your new primary source is related to the issue/event/person/topic you are researching for your team's Collection.
  • Upload this completed assignment to the Finding a Primary Source Assignment in your FYS101 Brightspace course.

Evaluating Primary Sources

Analyzing your new Primary Source 

Meet in Collection teams

  1. One person in your Collection team creates a document in your shared Group folder
  2. Each person shares the new primary source they found and adds their link to the group document.
  3. Each person discusses these questions with their team:
    • How do you know you found a primary source?
    • How is it different than the primary source you are researching in the Collection?
    • What does your new primary source add to your knowledge about your Collection theme?
  4. Add notes to your group document about each new primary source and what it adds to your group's knowledge about your Collection theme and any efforts to recognize, resist or repair injustices associated with your Collection theme. You will use this new knowledge when you search for secondary sources about your topic later.


Share highlights of your team's new information learned from the new primary sources each person found.

  • Did your team find new primary sources that really developed your thinking on your Collection theme?
  • Did your team face challenges finding primary sources that developed your thinking on your Collection theme?  Either finding additional primary sources or in making sense of them?”

Evaluating a Primary Source

Whole Class

Today you will be evaluating the primary source you found for homework using the questions on an in-class activity sheet. (Available for download below if required for accessibility) Before you dive in, let's model evaluating a primary source together. We will use the painting shown below by Junius Brutus Stearns from 1851 that we discussed in prior  classes.

Scan this QR code and read the article on the website about this painting: QR code for Washington Plantation painting 

Painting of George Washington's Plantation


Let's try out some of the questions you will attempt to answer about your primary source using the painting of George Washington's plantation:

  • Do you think a painting is a primary source? Why or why not?
  • So far we have been working with a definition of a primary source as one created at the moment of an event in the Information Cycle. What about the date of this painting complicates our definition of a primary source? Was this painting made at the time Washington was living at Mt. Vernon? Do you think Stearns might have had "first-hand experience" with plantation slavery?
  • What relevant historical issues were going on in society at the time this source was created (generally)?
  • Based on what you read, can you tell who it was created for? If so, who? Can you tell who it was NOT created for, or would not have access to it?  (Ex: What type of primary sources might enslaved people who weren’t literate or didn't have oil paintings on their walls create about this same issue/event/person/topic for themselves?)

Think back to the first time we saw this painting in our class. Some thought it was a depiction of the cruelties of slavery. Some recognized the paternalism.

  • How have we gone even further today in thinking about this primary source?
  • How is this kind of disciplined evaluation and analysis critical for understanding any primary source?


Your instructor will pass out the "Evaluating a Primary Source In-Class Activity" sheet. (Available for download below if required for accessibility) Independently answer the four questions focusing on the new  primary source you found about your topic.

Whole Class Discussion

How do we "evaluate" a primary source? We actually "analyze" the context of when, who, and why the source was created as best we can discover.

Discuss these questions as a class:

  • What did you learn from this exercise?
  • What surprised or challenged you?
  • What piece of information was difficult to discover about your primary source? (Got a 'stumper' to share with the class?)
  • How do we decide whether a source is accurate, truthful, or believable, particularly a primary source that is one person's interpretation/perspective? 

Homework for next class

  1. Download the "My Information Evaluation Strategy" document below
  2. Complete it
  3. Save it to your device
  4. Upload it to Brightspace for the next class.