Journalism in Action

Journalistic history site helps students analyze primary sources

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Subjects & Skills

Critical Thinking, Social Studies

Great for

Creating Media, Evaluating Media, Media Literacy

Price: Free
Platforms: Web

Pros: Student dig into tons of historical sources both creatively and critically.

Cons: Could use more support for ELLs and reluctant readers. Summative assessments can be repetitive.

Bottom Line: This is a strong resource for showing the power of journalism and research, and it'll engage most students; others will need teacher support.

Journalism in Action is a fairly independent, interactive experience, well-suited to classrooms looking to teach close reading, primary source analysis, and the history of journalism and related topics from history. If you're interested in working through the whole site, consider assigning students to work through the investigations chronologically (though plan alternate work between investigations, as the summative assessments may get too repetitive). Note that if you don't want to work through the whole site, each investigation can stand alone, and students might choose whichever topic sounds the most intriguing. Group work -- either organized by related themes or chronologically adjacent events -- could work well, especially as an introduction to using the site or when using it with middle school students or those students needing more support. Make sure to consult the Educator Guide for cross-curricular suggestions, Common Core standards, and, most important, related links to the Library of Congress for more primary sources -- great inspiration for students wanting enrichment work.

Journalism in Action is a free site by PBS NewsHour featuring over 200 primary sources for students to explore embedded in 10 case studies/investigations. The content covers key themes and events integral to understanding the role of the press throughout U.S. history, touching on historical events and topics ranging from the American Revolution to Immigration to Vietnam to Mental Health to Gender Equality. Students can create an account with just a username and password to save their progress, but there's no teacher dashboard. Individual image annotations or activities can be saved and downloaded. At the end of a case study, students can email all of the work they've completed to themselves and their teacher.

Each investigation opens with an overview, and context and is framed by an Essential Question. To get students thinking like journalists, this section (as well as the others) features varied interactive activities and questions focused on primary sources. Students can zoom in on visuals like Paul Revere's print of the Boston Massacre or an image of Bob Woodward's notes from the arraignment of the Watergate burglars. They can also annotate rare historical documents like "Interview with Jacob Riis" and an excerpt of Nellie Bly's "Ten Days in a Mad-House." Investigations end with creative assessments alternating between making a social media post, magazine cover, or newspaper article. 

Between the sheer number of primary sources students get exposed to and the wide variety of ways they interact with -- and think about -- them, this resources helps make history more accessible and real to students. It also makes the role of journalists and their importance throughout history more clear to students. 

The thematic investigations have the depth and quality you'd expect from PBS NewsHour. Each one is dense but has enough interactives and comprehension questions to motivate students working independently. It also helps that students can enter their work directly on the site. Compared to other primary source-focused resources, even others fueled by the Library of Congress like this one, Journalism in Action offers more exposure to document, video, and image study. There's a clear focus on getting students to see the full range of primary sources and to learn how to apply different lenses to them. 

As much as the site encourages self-directed learning, though, it could use more options and support for differentiation. As it stands, teachers will need to develop scaffolding solutions for students who need extra help or are reluctant readers or ELLs. Given that there's no dashboard or dialogue between teachers and students -- or among students themselves -- this can be a bit more difficult than with platforms that support back-and-forth exchanges. 

Learning Rating

Overall Rating

Students can read, annotate, analyze, and magnify tons of thought-provoking primary sources. The broad cultural representation ensures that students see themselves in history.


Each of the 10 units offers multiple ways to interact with primary sources and includes knowledge checks and an assessment. The assessment is too similar from unit to unit.


Interactive tools and varied questions bring students into the material, but they might not be enough to support reluctant learners and ELLs. 

Community Rating

Primary Sources are essential to Historical education, as is strong practice with Critical Thinking! This is a useful combo of both!

This service adds a valuable addition to the integration of primary sources in the classroom, giving students the ability to work with them in a way that questions both their biases and the biases of the source in question. It does this by asking its users to "investigate" and analyze sources, allowing them to sleuth their way to a greater appreciation of the importance of these sources, ranging from the obscure to the well-known. Thinking specifically of the SAMR framework, I believe this fits squarely into the category of "Augmentation," in how it gets students started on analyzing and interpreting primary sources in a way that uses the capabilities of technology in a way that is transformative beyond what merely placing a printout for study in class can not.

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