Holiday Primary Document Scavenger Hunt

Presented by: Mary Charters

Subject Area(s):

Grade Level(s):


Learning to use primary documents need not be dull and tedious for students if they are introduced to it using this fun scavenger hunt that requires them to examine a variety of documents, read for information and activate prior knowledge.

Goals & Objectives:

Students will learn that primary documents come from all walks of life, how they can enhance their understanding of a certain time period, and how to evaluate documents by activating prior knowledge. The message that any photo or document used in a project needs to be attributed to its creator is also imparted, reinforcing the all-important anti-plagiarism message.


A collection of documents from the American Memory Collection of the Library of Congress and a handout with questions to be answered.


American Memory Collection of the Library of Congress


In preparation, search the American Memory Collection by going to .

You can enter "Christmas" as a search term, or for a 'Haunted Halloween' hunt, enter terms such as 'tombstone,' 'graveyard,' 'cemetary,' 'coffin,' etc. Choose 12-15 assorted documents which would be on an appropriate level for 5th or 6th graders. Print the documents and prepare bibiographical information for each, which you will put on the back of the document. Mount the documents on construction paper, put the bibliographic information on the reverse side, laminate and decorate appropriately for the holiday.


For a "Haunted History" Halloween Search, you can mount the documents on tombstone-shaped gray construction paper as Doris Waud of Fyle Elementary School in Rochester, New York did.


For Christmas you can tape small candy canes to the edges of the documents. Number each of the documents in a prominent place on the front. Set the documents out on display stands in the Media Center or classroom. Introduce the activity to the students by reviewing the questions and specifically, any terms that may need to be defined. Explain that although there is bibliographic information on the backs of the documents (and why it is there), the answers to the questions on the handouts come from examining the front. All documents should remain on the stands during the scavenger hunt. Tell students to begin and give them approximately 30 minutes to complete the activity. Circulate amongst the students and scaffold students who appear to be struggling by asking leading questions. At the end of the allotted time, collect the documents and review the answers with the students. Be sure to spend time discussing strategies they used or could have used to complete the activity. If the classroom teacher so chooses, he/she may follow up by using the documents as writing prompts for a writing activity.


Students are observed. If a writing activity is used as an option for a closing reflection, classroom teacher decides upon criteria for grading.

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