Use Web Quests to Help Students Identify Primary and Secondary Sources

Young learners need meaningful digital learning experiences that can help them navigate websites safely and appropriately and set a foundation for the rest of their academic career. Create this engaging experience with a web quest that helps students to identify primary and secondary sources.

What is a Web Quest?

Through a web quest, students can find relevant information that relates to a specific topic that reinforces their learning and develops their internet research skills.

Identifying primary and secondary sources is an essential skill that allows students to validate quality research. Students will need this skill as they progress through their academic career to help them avoid plagiarism and also garner misinformation as it relates to their research and inquiry process. It is important to help students understand the difference between a primary and a secondary source. A primary source is a firsthand account of an event. The information was either recorded, created, or written as the event took place. Some examples that you can encourage students to research are diary entries, letters, or speeches. A secondary source is an account of an event after it has happened. These accounts sometimes synthesize and support information found in primary sources. News and media articles are the most common types of secondary sources.

Developing a web quest can help your students validate a primary and secondary source. A web quest can contain many working parts, but essentially it is a virtual research lesson within itself. The main parts are generally introduction, task, process, evaluation, and conclusion.


Classroom Activity

While you can create a web quest for any United States history, world history, or global studies unit, a great web-quest example is to research the causes and effects of World War II. You can use the following text to guide this example: World War II The Beginnings.

Here is an example lesson for your students:



Begin by asking an essential question that will peak your students’ interest in the introduction to the lesson. A few possible examples are below:

  • Which incident caused the beginning of the Second World War?
  • Was it when Japan invaded China in 1937 or when Germany invaded Poland?
Task (Student as a News Reporter)

Read the following to your students:

"You will be an investigative reporter during this time. You must gather research on the start of the war and report major events to the public. You have received information from various sources that have identified incidents that may be leading to a major conflict. You must research to determine if the information is a credible source, determine if it is a primary or secondary source, and make your report."



The first task will be to identify on the map the countries that were involved in World War II. Tell your students to record their findings in a journal. (Here are a few examples of additional exploratory questions you can give your students: “In which country did the initial conflict start?”; “Which countries were identified as the Axis powers?”; “Which countries were identified as the Allied powers?”)


Based on the components of the web quest and the information you want to assess, you can create several evaluation methods. An evaluation method for the task component of this web quest could be an oral presentation to the class, with a peer observation. Students can evaluate one another on speaking skills, presentation of information, and depth of knowledge of the content being presented.

A rubric can be created for the process and conclusion sections of this web quest.



Once your students have gathered all of the pertinent information for this topic, it is now time for them to complete an assessment activity. Have your students complete an essay on the information they found to answer the initial question, “How was the Second World War initially started?” Using the information they found and identifying whether the information was from a primary or secondary source, students should be able to write a well-formulated essay that focuses on historical precepts they secured from their research. Students can also present their research in a PowerPoint presentation, storybook, or any interactive electronic platform.


While some schools have moved back to in-person instruction, many districts are using virtual techniques and making a pivot to hybrid or fully online learning. A web quest is an optimal activity for distance learning, but it can also be an exciting lesson to use in the classroom. Web quests can be used for exploratory learning in the area of social studies and language arts.

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Royde-Smith, J. Graham, and Hughes, Thomas A. (2021, March 14). World War II. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Sheree Turner, Ph.D. is a Master Teacher Leader in an urban school district in Atlanta and a 27-year veteran educator specializing in English language arts (ELA) and social studies. She is certified in middle grades social studies, gifted-learner endorsed, and reading endorsed. Her area of interest is ensuring social studies does not become extinct in the 21st century classroom.