3. Creating a Classroom Library and Archives

(This is the Lesson Plan 3 for Carol Buswells curriculum unit, “Exploring Your Community.)


A classroom at the Carlisle Indian School (Pennsylvania). The school… has 14 classrooms representing instruction in the elements of knowledge such as reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, spelling, history, nature study, the use of good English, etc. A thorough training is given in arithmetic, but no instruction is given in the higher mathematics or in foreign languages. (National Archives: Bureau of Indian Affairs, Portland Area Office)

American Indians employed a variety of methods to record and preserve their histories.

Native Knowledge 360°: Framework for Essential Understandings about American Indians, National Museum of the American Indian, 2015.



Grade 4

  • W.4.7: Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

Grade 5

  • RI.5.7: Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.



  • How do I store the materials I have found so I can find them again?
  • How are libraries and archives organized?
  • How can I create a classroom library and archives?



The students and teacher will understand the reasons for organizing their classroom materials. They will learn to organize the material they have collected according to both archival and library principles and collectively create a classroom library and archives.



For a complete listing of all materials necessary for the entire curriculum by episode, see Curriculum Materials and Resources at a Glance.


  • Something to sort, such as blocks or interactives.
  • Several copies of “Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal Systems” (See Appendix B.)
  • Several photographs of different libraries across the country.
  • Several photographs of boxes of primary sources below showing examples of records originally in the file cabinets of federal agencies and now held in the National Archives. Archival records are usually stored in acidfree boxes on shelves called “stacks.”
  • A copy of “Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal Systems” to display in the classroom. (Appendix)
  • A copy of “National Archives Records Groups (Creators)” to display in the classroom. (Appendix)
  • Three legal-sized file folders for each student.
  • Three legal-sized archival boxes (if possible) large enough to hold material created by every student in your class. Art supply and archival supply houses carry these boxes.
  • Occasionally a government, university, or other archives in your local area may have boxes that have outlived their life that teachers can have, often free of charge. If you are not able to provide acid-free boxes, three regular file boxes may be used. Plastic file boxes are also acid-free.
  • Another similar file box for storing material gathered from government and other archives. Label the box “Materials from archives and special collections.”
  • Two smaller archival boxes for filing tape recordings and video recordings or two shoeboxes. Label the boxes accordingly.
  • Dividers or index cards to mark divisions in the audio and video recording boxes, if desired.


  • Shelf space in your classroom for a small library. You may already have a classroom library. If so, use the one you have. Label ONE shelf or a section on a shelf “Books that are Primary Sources.”
  • An identified space in your classroom for your “archives.” It is best if it is not directly adjacent to the space you have designated as your library, but if that is the only space you have, it will suffice.

Online Resources

  • Samples of primary sources in different formats:
    • MAP Map of Lewis and Clark Track Across the Western Portion of North America from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean (National Archives: War Department, Office of the Chief of Engineers)

Information for the Teacher

All government archives hold the records created by that government. These records are filed by the government agency as if it were the “creator” of the documents. For example:

  • If you are a citizen of the United States, your birth certificate (a permanent document) is usually created by the state government of the state you were born in.
  • Originally, your birth certificate would have been held in an agency of that government (often the Department of Vital Statistics) in a file cabinet.
  • After a predetermined time, all birth certificates (and other records of that government) are usually transferred to the STATE archives.
  • So, if you were looking for your birth certificate, you would write to the archives for the state you were born in. This would be the [Alaska, or Washington, or New Hampshire, etc.] STATE archives.

The U.S. National Archives holds records of the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.

  • Federal agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of the Census, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Navy, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, the National Archives itself, the Library of Congress, and many more create records in their day to day business. (See National Archives Record Group List in Resources). These include reports, certificates, financial records, correspondence, judgments, related information, photos, moving pictures, patent documents, and many more.
  • Originally, these records were kept in the file cabinets of these agencies.
  • Eventually, after a predetermined time (usually from 3 to 104 years) all permanent records are transferred to the National Archives. Note: Only between 1 to 3% of all government records are important enough to be considered permanent. In spite of this, the National Archives now holds over 12 billion documents.
  • Depending upon which agency is involved, and where the agency office is located … these records will be stored for “the life of the Republic” in a National Archives facility. Currently, there are 25 National Archives and Presidential Library facilities across the United States.



  • Discuss with students the reasons for organizing materials. You may want to conduct a sorting exercise such as the following:
    • Spill out a large number of items, such as interactives or blocks, on the floor.
    • Have the students race to find a particular object and record how long it took.
    • Then have them sort the objects by type, number, or another obvious criteria.
    • Again, have the students race to find a particular object and time them again.
    • The second race should take considerably less time than the first.
  • Point out the advantages of organization.
  • Tell the students you will be discussing something very important that they can use for the rest of their lives. Explain that materials in libraries and archives are organized so materials will be easy to find. However, they use very different organization systems. You will all be learning the difference between the ways a library and an archives organize their materials so they can find them more easily.


  • Show the students your classroom library and the photos of libraries found in the records of the National Archives.
  • Give them the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal Systems handout. Ask them to figure out from the handout how a library is usually organized (by subject).
  • Put several books and magazines in a box in no particular order. Have the students put the books away in the classroom library you have prepared by subject.
  • Let them discuss where to put the books. Help them decide by using either the Dewey Decimal system or the Library of Congress system of organization.
  • Explain again what a primary source is, referring to the poster used in Lesson 1. Point out that most material in books and magazines are secondary sources because they are not firsthand accounts. The author usually gets much of his or her information from someone else.
  • Point out that autobiographies or books containing compiled material by several people who are speaking from their own experience can be considered a primary source because they ARE firsthand accounts. Point out the shelf on which you will (or perhaps have already stored) books containing primary sources. These materials can be on any topic. Following are examples of books containing primary source materials from my library:
    • The early Indian wars of Oregon, compiled from the Oregon archives and other original sources. (Victor)
    • Healing American Indians, audio CD (Folkways Records)
    • Photographs and poems by Sioux Children from the Porcupine Day School, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota (Miles and Amiotte Arthur, eds.).


  • Show the students the photograph of the National Archives stack area and ask:
    • How does this differ from the shelves of a library? (Boxes instead of shelves of books or other published material.)
  • Review the posters entitled “primary source” and “secondary source” with the students.
  • Ask if the documents they have created are primary or secondary sources.
  • Show the students the archives boxes.
  • Put “[Teacher’s name] Classroom Archives” in plain sight near the top of one side of each box to identify it as your classroom archives.
  • Have the students gather the writings about their community, research journals, drawings, photographs, and the video and audio media they created themselves in the first two lessons.
  • Give each student three file folders and have them write one of the following titles on each tab.
    • Creator: [Their own name, last name first] Textual Records
    • Creator: [Their own name, last name first] Photos and Drawings
    • Creator: [Their own name, last name first] Maps
  • Show them which material should be put into each folder.
  • Ask them to file their own material in their classroom archives in the appropriate boxes and folders, alphabetically by last name.
  • If there is enough time, using a piece of butcher paper, allow the students to create a sign for each area, marked “ARCHIVES” and “LIBRARY.”



Review these words briefly with your students and explain further if necessary. (see Glossary)

  • archives
  • creator
  • agency
  • textual
  • primary source (review)
  • secondary source (review)



You may want your emerging readers and writers to spend more time writing descriptions, drawing in their journals, and/or collecting more firsthand observations so the concept of creating a primary source is reinforced.

FOR THE TEACHER. Before assigning to advanced students:

  • Log into DocsTeach.org.
  • If you do not already have an account, create one.
  • Go to http://docsteach.org/activities/15992/detail. This is an independently teacher-created activity, not one created by the National Archives staff, about the history of and types of documents held in the National Archives. The information it contains is correct.
  • Review the activity and determine its appropriateness for your specific students.
  • Assign the activity to your advanced students. It will give them a more global idea about what an archive is and what materials are stored within the walls of the National Archives.



Frequently question the students individually and as a group to be sure they understand the basic concepts. Observe as they place items in the folders and reinforce as necessary.