About the Site

The Digital Collections for the Classroom (DCC) project makes primary sources from the Newberry’s collection accessible and useful for educators, students, and families. The site offers a variety of free, high-quality resources: 

  • Inquiry-based Lesson Plans and Activities are designed for grab-and-go classroom use.  
  • Collection Essays written by subject specialists introduce topics and provide curated primary source sets.  
  • Skills Lessons teach students foundational historical-thinking skills necessary to analyze primary sources.  
  • Resources that explain the pedagogical concepts behind our lessons.

Learn about other Newberry Teacher Program’s other offerings here.

About the Newberry

Founded in Chicago in 1887, the Newberry is a world-renowned independent research library which offers readers an extensive non-circulating collection of rare books, maps, music, manuscripts, and other printed material spanning six centuries. The Newberry is dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge, especially in the humanities, and supports a variety of activities from free exhibitions and speaker events to fellowships, undergraduate seminars, and genealogy orientations. Through its Professional Development Programs for Teachers, the Newberry offers content-based seminars to Chicago-area teachers. Led by local scholars, these seminars allow teachers to reconnect with their academic interests, deepen their knowledge, and explore current scholarship in a collaborative setting. Digital Collections for the Classroom complement many of the Newberry’s professional enrichment seminars for teachers.

About the Classroom Materials

Why Inquiry-Based Learning?

The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind, is curiosity. —Edmund Burke
Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. —Zora Neale Hurston

Getting a student to ask a question is possibly the greatest success an educator can have. Curiosity—the desire to know—is educational gold, and inquiry-based instruction mines a child’s curiosity. A recent internet meme declared that a four-year-old asks 437 questions a day. If you do the math, you’ll find that isn’t true. It isn’t even possible. But a lot of people believe it. Why? Because questioning is a child’s natural state. And a good teacher works every day to connect the child’s desire for answers with the information that we as educators believe they need to survive in the world and live satisfying lives. In fact, most pedagogical theories, at their base, are explorations of how to make this connection.

When students are actively involved in the learning process—as opposed to simply receiving information through listening or reading—they retain more, understand more, and, importantly, enjoy learning more. In their article “Questions that Compel and Support,” S. G. Grant, Kathy Swan, and John Lee cite several recent studies to this effect:

Reports increasingly show how teachers make inquiry the centerpiece of their instructional practices. Even better are those studies that show students—all students—benefitting from inquiry-based instruction. Inquiry can be as effectively pursued with elementary students as with their secondary peers and is as valuable for academically challenged students as the academically gifted. Moreover, studies of large-scale, standardized tests show a positive correlation between high scores and inquiry-based instruction.
In these Classroom Materials, our goal is to provide teachers with material from the Newberry collections that will inspire students to ask questions. We offer teachers ideas and some background so that they can help students generate–and answer–those questions, explore the material, and pursue more knowledge if they wish.

Critical Thinking

The natural corollary to inquiry-based learning is, and always must be, critical thinking. These lessons and activities ask students to be aware of bias, including their own; to make inferences and be prepared to explain them; to draw conclusions and be prepared to defend them. They offer students practice in close examination, analysis, and evaluation. They encourage drawing on previous knowledge and synthesizing information from a variety of sources.

We want to maintain the rigor and scholarly integrity the Newberry Library is known for, and we want the material to be accessible to a wide educational community.

There are materials in the Classroom Materials appropriate for all grade and proficiency levels. Because we know that a teacher’s time is often limited, we have created a variety of types of materials. Some of the materials are “grab-and-go” activities. Teachers can take ten minutes to look the material over before entering the classroom and then run with it, confident that it will be academically sound and tied to their curriculum. These can be used to warm up a class as they come into the room, or as an introduction to a new unit in the textbook. On the other hand, some of the lesson plans are quite detailed and could form the basis for their own several-day unit of study.

Many college teachers report that they have to teach entering students the basic skills of information acquisition-—including research and critical thinking—remedially. And it’s not easy. The habit of inquiry, and the skills that make it fruitful, are like a language—much easier to acquire at an early age. It is our hope that these Classroom Materials will help you help your students to learn that language.


The Newberry Digital Collections for the Classroom project is generously funded by the Grainger Foundation. Additional funding has been provided by the Mellon Foundation, National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution – Chicago Chapter, and Terra Foundation for American Art. We receive invaluable advice and assistance from Newberry librarians, the staff and scholars associated with the Newberry’s research centers, university faculty who lead Teacher Programs seminars, and K-12 educators who contribute written material, advice and suggestions, and their participation in the Newberry Library’s educational programming.

Special thanks to Sophia Croll, the team at Newberry’s Digital Initiatives & Services, Catherine Gass, Hilary Mac Austin, Kathleen Thompson, Charlotte Ross, Kara Johnson, and all of our DCC authors for their contributions to this project.
Site design: Nick White and Jen Wolfe