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From the Front Page to the History Books

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Students analyze the similarities and differences between news coverage and historical accounts of four major events to understand the role/importance of journalism as the first rough draft of history.

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GRADE LEVEL: Middle to high school

TIME: 60–90 minutes, plus discussion

MATERIALS: Copies of the From the Front Page to the History Books worksheet; access to the four front pages from the EDCollections Headlines That Changed History poster (either printed copies or via devices; links below and in artifact gallery); internet access (optional); teacher key (download)


  1. Make copies of the From the Front Page to the History Books worksheet, one per student.
  2. Review the front pages on the poster. For additional background, read the artifact page on of each front page: Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today, The Afro-American, and Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News.

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Overview PDF DOC
Worksheets PDF DOC
Extensions PDF DOC
Full Packet PDF DOC

To request a large print or Braille version, call 202.292.6650.


  1. Ask your students to answer some warmup discussion prompts: Journalism is often referred to as the first rough draft of history. What do you think this means?  Where do reporters get the information they use to report? Where do historians get the information they use to chronicle/analyze/explain the events of the past?
  2. Hand out copies of the From the Front Page to the History Books worksheet, and tell students they are going to explore a primary source to determine if they think journalism should be considered the first draft of history and why. Students may work individually or in small groups.
  3. Give students 15 to 20 minutes to look at one of the front pages from this poster and fill in the left column of the chart with the key facts about their historical event that they can find on their front page and the questions that are not answered.
  4. Give students access to the library/internet and allow them 15 to 20 minutes to find information to fill in the right column of the chart with key facts about their event from a historical source and any answers they can find for the questions they posed in the left column. Steer students toward encyclopedia-like sources that offer a concise summary of the event.
  5. Ask students to follow step 3 on the worksheet, underlining facts that are the same and circling those that do not match up, then underlining the questions for which they found answers and circling those for which they did not.
  6. Give students 15 to 20 minutes to respond to the questions in step 4 on the worksheet, analyzing their chart findings.
  7. Use the post-activity discussion prompts to begin a class discussion about news versus history and what they discovered during the activity.
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  1. Which facts did you find were the same in both sources? Which were only found in one or the other? Why do you think this was the case?
  2. Which of the questions you wrote after reading the news source are still unanswered? Why do you think that is?
  3. What is the role of a reporter? What is the role of a historian? Compare and contrast.
  4. How much time must pass before news becomes history?
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  1. Choose a contemporary news story. You may want to choose from the headlines you find by looking through the Newseum’s online Today’s Front Pages exhibit ( Fill in the left side of the chart using a source about this story. Then imagine you’re living 50 years in the future and can read a historical account of this same event. Create a list of key facts that you think would appear in that account. Then underline the questions you think you’d be able to find answers to 50 years from now, and circle the ones you think you would not. Write a paragraph explaining the decisions you made filling in the right side of the chart.
  2. The First Amendment protects freedom of the press. Why is a free press important in our society? Research freedom of the press and write a short essay about the role of the press and how our understanding of history might be different if there were no freedom of press.
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