Education Materials for K - 12 Teachers

The Smithsonian Institution Archives has online versions of its primary sources available to teachers, including diaries, letters, and photographs. The lesson plans and resources below provide ideas about how to use primary sources in the K–12 classroom. There are no restrictions on the use of these materials in the classroom.

Online Teaching Resources

Henry Family on the Smithsonian Grounds, by Peale, Titian Ramsay, 1865, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-12181.

Stories from the Smithsonian

A look at interesting primary source documents and images from the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ collections including eyewitness accounts of the Civil War around Washington, DC, by Mary Henry, who lived in the Smithsonian Castle, and Solomon G. Brown, the first African American employee at the Smithsonian; Snowflake photographs by “Snowflake” Bentley in the late 19th century; and James Renwick’s architectural designs for the Smithsonian Castle. Includes sample primary source exercises for use in K-12 classrooms.

School Children Viewing the First Bison at the National Zoo, by Johnston, Frances Benjamin 1864-1952, 1899, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2003-19498.

Historic Pictures of the Smithsonian

Browse through historic images of the Smithsonian’s museums and research centers, and learn about its history through pictures.

Smithsonian Institution Building Exterior Line Drawing, by Unknown, 1892, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2011-2247 or 60988 or MAH-60988.

From Smithson to Smithsonian: The Birth of an Institution

Follow the development of the Smithsonian from James Smithson's curious will, to debates over the Institution's founding, the building of the US National Museum, and the Institution's 150th anniversary in 1996.

Lesson Plans

Northeast End of Bow Lake, Canada, 1918

Guide to Smithsonian Expeditions, 1878-1917

Learn about Smithsonian research expeditions around the globe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Louise Hoover's Painting of Joseph Henry, by Hoover, Louise Rochon, 1933, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 84-2074 and 31052-E and 94-12563.

Joseph Henry: Father of the Weather Service

Learn about the Smithsonian’s first Secretary, Joseph Henry, and his role in creating the first weather observation program in the United States in the 1840s. 

Engraving of the Rotunda in the United States National Museum, by Unknown, 1886, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 95-20346.

Tour the Smithsonian’s Museum in 1886

Visit the Smithsonian in 1886, view the giant squid in the Castle, see dinosaurs and George Washington's uniform on display in the new museum building, now the Arts and Industries Building, and get to know the staff in the late 19th century.

Visitors in Front of the U. S. National Museum at the Turn of Century, by Unknown, c. 1900, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-10677.

The Smithsonian at the Turn of the Century

Take a look at the Smithsonian Institution in the year 1900. Visit its museums, zoo, and research labs, and wander through its exhibits at world’s fairs.

Mary Henry, Daughter of Secretary Henry, by Unknown, c. 1855, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 82-3258.

Education Resource Package

A teaching resource package which includes downloadable lesson plans, primary source documents, and images from the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ collections.

Field Book Lesson Plans

Use the field notes of Smithsonian scientists and naturalists to work on observational and analytical skills.