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A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

How Teachers can tap Vast Resources of the Library of Congress and National Archives

By Rob Klindt

While many resources can supplement teachers’ lesson plans, few can match the vast collections of the U.S. Library of Congress and the National Archives.

Original 1776 rough draft of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas JeffersonThis original 1776 rough draft of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson is available at the Library of Congress.

Both offer special teacher pages with extensive digital collections of authentic documents, maps, photos, multimedia and lesson plans created by teachers. Topics include history, humanities, social studies, mathematics and more.

Oh, and did we mention all this is free to use?

Both organizations are operated by the federal government and funded by U.S. taxpayers, who are rewarded with online access to much of these collections at no charge.

World’s Largest Library

Established in 1800, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. It boasts more than 155 million items in its collection of documents, books, photographs, artworks, maps and multimedia. Because of its popularity, the LOC website is sometimes slow to load, but online users should be patient because the rewards are worth the wait.

The LOC website includes a teacher’s page with downloadable lesson plans, classroom materials and multimedia for K-12 classrooms. It also offers professional development tips and self-paced online modules for educators. 

Posted lesson plans meet Common Core State Standards and the standards of most national educational organizations. The lesson plans are searchable by state, grade and subject.

Among resources that can be downloaded from the Library of Congress for classroom use:

  • Symbols of the United States. A large collection of posters, sheet music, photographs and other documents that illustrate the United States and how it has evolved over the years. Visit the page
  • The Bill of Rights: Debating the Amendments. An interactive lesson plan where students examine and debate 12 possible amendments to the U.S. Constitution as originally sent to the states for ratification in 1789. Visit the page
  • Chronicling America. American newspapers from 1836 through 1922, fully digitized for downloading and printing. Searchable by state and city/newspaper name. Visit the page
  • Lesson plans. An extensive collection of lesson plans teachers created with Library of Congress primary sources. Topics include American history, African-American history, the Civil War, maps and geography, poetry and literature, World War I and World War II. Visit the page
  • Teaching with the Library of Congress blog. A blog written by Library of Congress educators and others aimed at helping teachers access the library’s vast collection of materials for developing lesson plans, presentations and research. Users can subscribe via email or RSS feedsVisit the page 

Public Records from the National Archives

A good companion classroom resource for teachers is the National Archives, which was established in 1934 to safeguard and preserve records of the U.S. government.

Like the LOC, it includes a teachers’ resource page featuring interactive teaching documents and professional development resources. Materials in the National Archives included government documents, films, emails, maps and multimedia created by the federal government. These materials are available for study by the public at no charge.

Among the featured documents at the National Archives:

  • Declaration of Independence. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, the complete transcript is fully searchable in a multimedia presentation that includes images of the original document and links to related educational materials.
    Visit the page
  • The Pentagon Papers. The complete report detailing the U.S. involvement in the war in Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam. Formerly classified, the full report was released in 2007 and is downloadable for study.
    Visit the page
  • The Emancipation Proclamation. A complete transcript and images of the 1863 document issued by President Abraham Lincoln that declared “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be, free.”
    Visit the page
  • A Letter from Jackie Robinson. A 1958 letter from baseball great and civil rights advocate Jackie Robinson to President Dwight D. Eisenhower responding to presidential civil rights comments.
    Visit the page
  • The 19th Amendment. This 1920 amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed all American women the right to vote in local and national elections.
    Visit the page


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