Understanding firsthand and secondhand accounts is an essential skill for upper elementary students. It enables them to evaluate credible and accurate information, understand the differences in information sources, assess reliability and biases, and aid reading comprehension. These skills lay the groundwork for students to be informed and responsible information consumers.
With some practice and guidance, students can grasp this concept, which helps them in source evaluation, research, historical analysis, reading comprehension, and media literacy.
Be sure to get the handout. It includes the printables you need to complete some of the activities.
Teaching Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts Rules and Examples
What are firsthand accounts?
A firsthand account is based on the author’s personal experience. In a firsthand account, the person writing about the event was there to see it occur.
The author will describe the event using the first-person point of view with pronouns such as I, me, and we.
In firsthand accounts, the author may include the following:
- their feelings or thoughts about what is taking place
- specific details
Examples of Firsthand Accounts
- diaries or journals
- photographs and videos taken by the person who experienced the event
- newspaper articles or news reports written by someone present at the event
- eyewitness accounts of historical events written by people who were there
- social media posts and blogs written by people who experienced an event
- letters and emails
What are secondhand accounts?
A secondhand account is based on the author’s research instead of personal experience. The author is not there to witness the event. Instead, the author completes an investigation by interviewing and reading firsthand accounts before writing.
The author will describe the event using a third-person point of view with pronouns such as he, she, and they.
In a secondhand account, the writing focuses on the following:
- key facts
- general information
- information from several sources
Examples of Secondhand Accounts
- encyclopedia entries
- biographies [an account of a famous person based on research]
- newspaper [a news report about a crime witnessed by someone else]
- magazine [a summary of a scientific study conducted by other researchers]
- a narrative told by a friend about something that happened to someone else
- a book review of a novel written by another author
Identifying Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts
- Is the passage from a nonfictional resource or a fictional account?
- Does an eyewitness tell the story of the event? Was the person telling you about the event present to see it take place?
- Where did the passage come from?
- Does the text contain opinions?
- From which point of view is the text written?
- Does the text list reference sources?
An anchor chart on Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts is a valuable tool that enhances students’ understanding and provides quick reference points. It can be a helpful visual aid to support instruction and move students toward achieving success.
Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts Video
This is an excellent three-minute teaching video. Have students watch it as an introductory lesson. The video gives both definitions and examples. The video also provides two passages about the Chicago Marathon for students to evaluate.
Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts Activities
Activity 1: Comparing Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts
The handout includes practice exercises for students. Students will read short firsthand and secondhand accounts of the following events and explain how they differ:
- Apollo 11 Moon Landing in 1969
- The Signing of the Declaration of Independence (1776)
- The Wright Brothers’ First Flight (1903)
- The Boston Tea Party (1773)
- The Great Wall of China (various periods)
Activity 2: EyeWitness Investigation
- Divide the class in half. Half of the students will stay in the classroom while the other half will take a bathroom or water break.
- During the break, a parent volunteer enters the classroom and performs a memorable or silly action. This could include dressing up like a clown and juggling balls or bringing in an unusual pet like a hedgehog. The volunteer must leave the room before the students return from their break.
- Assign the students specific roles: eyewitness, investigator, or journalist.
- Instruct the eyewitnesses to share their firsthand accounts of the event with the investigators. They should describe what they saw and experienced in detail.
- The investigators will collect and analyze the accounts provided by the eyewitnesses. They should verify facts, look for inconsistencies, and piece together the complete picture of the event.
- The journalists will use the gathered information to write newspaper articles. They should summarize the event, including important details and eyewitness quotes.
Following these steps, students will actively role-play, developing their observation, analysis, and reporting skills. The eyewitness accounts will provide valuable information for the investigators and journalists to work with.
Activity 3: Sorting
Distribute the cards with the text snippets to each student or group. Instruct the students to read each snippet carefully and determine whether it is a firsthand or secondhand account. Have students place each snippet under the appropriate sorting label (Firsthand or Secondhand). They can arrange the snippets on their desks or in a designated sorting area.
By sorting these snippets, students can practice distinguishing between firsthand and secondhand accounts based on personal experiences, senses, and direct involvement.
Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts Practice on the Web
- Use the stories on the Good News Network. The stories are inspirational. Some articles include direct quotes. Others contain videos and pictures. Select a few to share with students. Discuss if the pieces have firsthand or secondhand information.
- Sadlier School [A four-day lesson plan using Ruby Bridges is provided. You must provide an email address to download the materials.]
- English Worksheets Land [Two articles about the same event plus a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the two accounts are provided.]
- If you need some additional materials to help teach firsthand and secondhand accounts, you might like to take a look at Tall Tales on Teachers Pay Teachers:
If you missed it earlier, grab the handout with the post activities.
Teaching upper elementary students about firsthand and secondhand accounts helps them with essential skills in critical thinking, source evaluation, and understanding different perspectives. By incorporating engaging activities such as sorting snippets, analyzing primary and secondary sources, conducting interviews, and examining historical events, teachers can create rich learning experiences that foster a deeper comprehension of these concepts.