Funded by a grant from the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program, Exploring the Writing Process with Primary Source Materials complements classroom writing instruction with activities using primary source materials from the Library of Congress’s digital collections that inspire, motivate, and empower students to write. Using primary sources coupled with complimentary learning materials, students will learn more about the steps of the writing process, including journaling, drafting, revision, editing, collaboration, and publishing. Exploring the Writing Process with Primary Source Materials offers teacher-created lesson plans as well as student exercises that can be incorporated into class curriculums or be used for individual study.

The American Writers Museum is a national museum celebrating writers located in Chicago

Lesson Plans for Teachers

Our downloadable lesson plans invite students to study primary sources from the Library of Congress’s digital collections to further their exploration of the writing process. Lesson topics in this collection include journaling, drafting, revising, editing, collaboration/corresponding, and publishing. Each lesson includes direct links to primary source materials on the Library of Congress’s website, lesson instructions for students, and accompanying student hand-outs that can be used for in-person or virtual learning. 

Young students on a field trip at the American Writers Museum in Chicago, IL

These lessons may be used individually or together in order to model the writing process. Our lesson plans are teacher-created and align with Common Core State Standards as stated in each lesson. For these lesson plans, the assumption is made that students can define what a primary source is and what an artifact is.

Get Teacher Instructions and Student Handouts

Lesson Topics


Author Highlighted: Langston Hughes

Primary source: Drafts of Langston Hughes’s poem “Ballad of Booker T.,” 30 May-1 June 1941.

Collaboration / Correspondence

Author Highlighted: Woody Guthrie

Primary source: Letter from Woody Guthrie to Alan Lomax, September 19, 1940

Tips and Exercises for Students

Primary sources are original documents that provide information about a time or an event as the event is occurring. Primary sources are fantastic learning materials because they share unique knowledge and perspectives. We as learners are able to study times, places, and events through the eyes and reactions of people living at that time. 

Primary sources exist across many subjects, including American literature, and can include materials like journals, drafts, and letters. 

Learn more about finding and using primary sources here
A teen girl on a field trip looks at an exhibit at the American Writers Museum

Discussion Prompts

The following prompts are intended to help students critically think about the writing process. Prompts discuss various stages in the writing process, including journaling, drafting, and revision. Prompts can be used to facilitate discussion within the classroom or by students working independently. Each prompt is also accompanied by an optional primary source from the Library of Congress’s digital collections that teachers and students can use to further deepen discussion.

Journaling Prompt

Journaling is the act of writing down your thoughts and feelings. What does your preferred method of journaling look like? What kind of language, images, or other expressions do you like to use when brainstorming? What tools do you like to use when journaling: a notebook with pen, a word document, social media, etc?

Optional Primary Source: Woodrow Wilson’s speech notes, in shorthand, for his “Fourteen Points” address, [8 January 1918].

Some Questions to Explore: What are your initial reactions to seeing this journaling style? Are there any new communication styles that you would like to try in your journaling? 

Draft Prompt

A draft is when an author puts their ideas into words and is a crucial step of the writing process. What are the benefits of writing a first draft? Writing several drafts is a fairly common practice as well. What are the benefits of writing a second draft? What can you learn about your writing idea and the writing process when comparing drafts?

Optional Primary Source: Carl Sagan’s second draft for Contact.

Some Questions to Explore: What do you think still needs to be worked upon in the second draft? What kind of revisions would you do if this was your work? How can you see the work evolving from draft to draft?

Revision Prompt

Writing tools today have changed how we draft and revise our works. For example, writing errors and revisions printed on a typewriter crossed out and corrected with pencil or whiteout, and to get an error-free copy meant one simply had to re-type again. Today, a writing error in a word document can be easily corrected with the delete or backspace button on a keyboard or touchscreen. If you misspell the word “cat” as “cta”, you can immediately fix your mistake, and the mistake is not preserved. What are the advantages of our new editing and revision systems? Can you see any disadvantages?

Optional Primary Source: Letter and corrected reprint of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain, My Captain” with comments by author, 9 February 1888.

Some Questions to Explore: What can we learn about the resource when comparing the final edits to the original version? What might we have missed about this resource if we were not able to read the original work at all? Why is it important that we learn about the original work?

Editing Prompt

There are many different editing websites, apps, and other technological tools today that intend to help writers edit their works. For example, Google Docs allows for comments to be posted in a shareable word document. Editing websites and apps, like Grammarly or Hemingway App, are designed to identify mistakes and areas of improvement in a work. Have you used editing websites or apps in your writing? What are the benefits of this type of editing in technology? Do you see any disadvantages, or is there anything that you wish that you could change about editing websites or apps?

Optional Primary Source: Draft of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible, ca. 1895.

Some Questions to Explore: Many citations or edits have been taped directly into the draft. What is your reaction to that editing style? Can you see any similarities between that style of editing and our editing tools today? Do you think an editing style like that could work for your writing style – why or why not?

Writing Exercise

Now, it is your chance to engage in the writing process! You will follow the steps listed below to take your writing idea from a concept to a finished paper. Remember to look through the discussion prompts and other resources on our site for assistance or inspiration in your journey.

For this exercise, you may pick any topic that you would like to write about. This could be your chance to develop an idea for a story that you have been thinking about for a while, to start working on an assignment, to help battle longstanding writer’s block, or simply be an opportunity to try writing something that you have never tried before.

Step One: Journaling

Time to brainstorm! Jot down your ideas freely. Do not worry about formal sentences or paragraphs at this stage. Feel free to use writing tools and journaling styles that work best for you. You may include pictures, doodles, emojis, or anything else that may help get your ideas flowing.

Step Two: Drafting

Using the ideas from your journaling, compose your first draft. Do not worry about spelling or grammar at this stage, and do not be concerned if your writing does not sound “perfect.” You will be able to change anything that you do not like in future steps. The most important part of this step is to get your ideas onto paper, into a word document, or any other writing tool that you have chosen.

Step Three: Revision

Read over your first draft with a careful eye. Think about what works about your writing and what needs to be improved upon. Is there anything that is difficult to understand? Is your tense consistent throughout your work? This is also the time where you can correct any spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes. Make a note of your revisions using the method of your choice, such as using a red pen on a printed or handwritten copy.

Step Four: Editing/Collaboration

Revisit your first draft, and now update your work to include your revisions. Give a copy of your revised draft to someone else to read. This can be a friend, a parent, a guardian, a teacher, or anyone who is interested in reading your work! Ask this person to provide feedback on your work. What are their opinions about your work? What kind of suggestions or changes do they have? What do you agree or disagree with? How could hearing a reader’s feedback improve your writing?

Step Five: Final Work (“Publishing”)

Go back to your revised draft and now incorporate your collaborator’s feedback. You have your final copy!

Step Six: Studying the Writing Process

Compare your journal entry, first draft, revised draft, and final copy together. What do you see about the progression of your idea? How did your idea change as you went through each writing step? How did the stages of the writing process help take your rough idea to the finished product?

Content created and featured in partnership with the TPS program does not indicate an endorsement by the Library of Congress.