Using Civics Online

Civics Online is designed with teachers, parents, and students in mind. For teachers, it is a resource for materials, historical and current, related to civic education. It is also a site for teachers to find ideas for projects and activities. For parents, Civics Online is an opportunity to find guidance in and resources for working with their students around civics. There are documents available in a supported environment for use in students projects, examples of the kinds of work that can be done by students in the Civics Online environment, as well as ideas for bringing ideas of civic participation into the home. In addition, there are ties to state and national standards around civics to aid parents in their understanding of what is or should be expected of their students.

How does Civics Online support in-school activities?

Civics Online supports school related activities by providing online resources that may not easily accessible through other sources. Students and the adults working with them are able find common document related to civics education, such as the Declaration of Independence, as well as less accessible, but potentially important documents such as the text of the "Maryland Toleration Act." In addition, there are contexts for understanding the

Why use primary sources?

The underlying reason for encouraging students to work with primary sources such as historical documents, newspapers and news programming, as well as internet news sources and sites, is that by interacting with documents (actual as well as electronic) under the skillful guidance of teachers and parents, students can develop the skills, habits, and attitudes that accompany the higher-level skills required to think and act critically in a democracy. David Kobrin, author of Beyond the Textbook: Teaching History Using Documents and Primary Sources, suggests that the habits of mind encouraged through instruction utilizing primary sources include: 1) discovering the main idea in documents; 2) understanding the importance of perspective and context, including using internal and external evidence to check the validity of a source; 3) synthesis (see themes and patterns in a document); and 4) sharing ideas clearly and persuasively through multiple venues, including writing. At a time when children are bombarded with conflicting information from the media, these skills are increasingly important to ensure an informed citizenry.

While there is some overlap in the skills needed to work with textbooks and primary sources, many of the documents may be difficult for your child to interpret. A student may need background information to make sense of a document and parents can help fill in gaps the child may have. Assisting the student in researching a document is also a valuable lesson, especially in deciding whether or not a resource is valid. The parent’s wider experience can also assist the student in recognizing the patterns in and between documents.

Primary Sources

Civics Online contains a full library of digital, multimedia primary sources that apply to the study of civics. Civics Online offers three different searches for retrieving primary sources that apply to multiple grade levels and civic issues. These three searches are:

  • General Search - the general search retrieves all the primary sources in the Civics Online Library sorted by a category you choose (author, date, file type, grade level, or core democratic value). This search allows users to "browse" an organized list of our holdings as well as provides a way to print a full listing of the library.

  • Category Search - the category search allows you to define any or all of our categories and use these as the criteria for a search. Narrower than the general search, the category search only brings back primary sources that apply to the categories specified.

  • Keyword Search - the most specific search of all, the keyword search utilizes full text searching. This means the complete text is searched for the keyword you provide. For instance, if "Civil Rights" is entered into the keyword search, Civics Online brings back any primary source that has any mention of those terms.

After doing a search, notice that each primary source record provides information on that source, as well as which grade level and core democratic value are applicable to that source. At the bottom of each search page there is also the opportunity to find out additional information on any of our sources, authors, or topics by searching the Internet with Ask Jeeves. Simply type in a question like "Who is Abraham Lincoln?" or "Where can I find more information on the Dred Scott Decision?" and Ask Jeeves will provide answers for your question.


The Civics Online glossary provides definitions to key civic terms. Like the Civics Online Library, glossary terms can be searched for by one of three methods:

  • Full Listing - This lists all of our glossary terms and their definitions so users can browse for a term or print out a full listing of terms.

  • Select a Term - This option allows users to retrieve a definition for a specific term from a full listing of our glossary terms.

  • Keyword Search - Like the library, this option retrieves any glossary term and definition that contains the keyword you enter.


The Civics Online timeline allows you to trace civic events and themes through U.S. History by browsing our chronological listing of civic events. Click on any of the dates that accompany events to retrieve primary sources from our library that were published within a twenty year time-span of that date.


As a single resource, Civics Online can only provide a finite number of resources for parents. To extend the scope of the project, Civics has linked to the best resources on the web to help parents find the information they need. In our resource section for parents you'll find links to sites that provide additional primary sources, government agencies and organizations, newspapers and magazines, and the best search engines on the web.

Civic Explorations

The Civic Explorations provide a way for students to think about civic issues and use primary sources in considering the case of Elian Gonzalez. Parents might explore one of the Civic Explorations with their child or use the Civic Explorations as a model for talking about current civic events with their children.

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Civics Online
Creation Date: 2/21/2000
Last Updated: 3/20/2005