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Teach with MDL

Female student writing on chalkboard with smiling teacher looking at class, St. Paul, c. 1940. Bethel University Archives.

Minnesota educators are encouraged to explore the many digital collections available for free in the Minnesota Digital Library (MDL). Here are some activities to get you started:

Browse and Search

Browse by topic, contributor, or format

If you are not sure what you are looking for or where to start, we recommend browsing the collection. Use the Browse All button or browse by topic, contributor, or format. For example, you could look at everything in the topic category of Environment, all 800+ items in the Becker County Historical Society collection, or all of the maps - depending on your interest.

Enter search terms into the search bar

If you are looking for a specific resource, you can search MDL collections using the “Search the collection” box at the top of each page. Type your keywords in the box and select “Enter” to get a list of results. Your search term could be the name of a person, place, business, or keywords such as “flour milling” or “trains.” 

Narrow your results with Advanced Search

Consider using advanced search if you are not finding what you are looking for with basic search. Here, you can limit your results by the name of a city or county, or even by date.

Find more search tips through the “Searching and Browsing MDL" webpage.

Think Like a Historian

Look at your search results like a historian. Make observations and inferences based on clues you find in each primary source. Describe what you see and explain what is missing. Consider the item’s creator and why they might have made this item, as well as the audience they made it for. Research what was happening locally, regionally, or nationally when this item was created to understand its larger context. Use these questions and more from the National Archives and the Library of Congress to analyze a picture-a-day as a classroom icebreaker or small group activity.

Other ways to interact with materials in MDL:

  • Use documents, photographs and other primary sources as evidence to support a historical argument.
  • Read or listen to the personal experiences of people in Minnesota to understand multiple perspectives.
  • Understand change over time by comparing and contrasting historic maps, photographs, interviews, and documents.
  • Find out the ways in which major historical events or eras affected people on a local level.
  • Create scavenger hunt challenges for students to practice searching digital collections.

Primary Source Sets

Explore primary and secondary sources using MDL’s Primary Source Sets. They are designed to help students develop critical thinking skills on topics related to Minnesota’s history and culture. Using both primary and secondary sources, these sets bring together resources in new ways to help students better understand historic events in their context.

Each set includes a topic overview, ten to twenty primary sources from the MDL collection, links to related resources, and a “Think Like a Historian” section with discussion questions and classroom activities. 

Maps and Timelines

Engage with historical images and documents in the context of their actual locations or moments in time. Each online map and interactive timeline features images, documents, and more from places throughout Minnesota. These primary and secondary sources come from MDL’s contributors from all over the state.

Of interest to those teaching Minnesota history are the Minnesota History: Part 1 and Minnesota History: Part 2 timelines, which provide starting points to talk about some of the major events that happened in our state.

Online Exhibits

Discover the stories behind these resources through MDL’s online exhibits on Minnesota history and culture. These exhibits add historical context to our rich collections of digitized materials from contributors across the state. They provide more opportunities for students to engage with the materials preserved in MDL.

K-12 Resource Packs

Minnesota Digital Library curators have joined forces with eLibraryMN librarians to create resource packs for K-12 educators. Each pack includes selected books, databases, and primary and secondary sources from MDL, eLibraryMN, and EbooksMN on specific topics that support education standards. Packs are published monthly, and recent topics include indigenous representations, immigration, and civil rights.

Contact Us

If you have any questions or suggestions for educational materials, please contact MDL staff.