At a Glance

What is it?
An application for constructing short digital movies using text, images, and narration to guide students to effectively use, interpret, and integrate primary source materials.


PrimaryAccess at the University of Virginia is a web-based tool for constructing short digital movies using text, images, and narration. The goal: to guide students in effectively using, interpreting, and integrating primary source materials.  

PrimaryAccess gives project control to teachers who select and annotate the resources their students might use to create historical narratives for a 1 to 3-minute movie, a feature perhaps particularly valuable for elementary school classes where extensive web browsing is neither authorized nor available. 

Getting Started

PrimaryAccess requires teachers to create a personal account and a class account in order to initiate a project. Producing the narrative then provides a strong active learning experience. While the how to narration is clear, educators will want to create a couple of movies themselves to help adapt instructions to their own classrooms. 

Producing the narrative then provides a strong active learning experience.

The student must research the topic, construct meaning from the selected primary documents, craft a written story that conveys that understanding to others, and finally, create a movie that uses the documents to accompany the narration in a visually compelling manner. Teachers can guide students to construct these narratives following a typical story structure, with a beginning, middle, and end.

Directions are both concise and detailed including a Teacher's Guide and How-to video. (No software downloads are necessary in order to use PrimaryAccess, nor is it necessary to download selected materials. PrimaryAccess links directly to online resources.)  To create the narrative of the movie, an external microphone connected to the audio input of the computer is requisite, although the narration may be recorded in other programs such as Audacity and saved as an MP3.


The site includes example videos, including digital stories on the Civil Rights Movement and Japanese Internment

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has also incorporated PrimaryAccess, especially for teachers, into the online exhibit 1934: A New Deal for Artists with the goal of helping students (and other visitors to the site) to assimilate and present content in the documentary movie style. Access user-created movies by following the map embedded in the Flash presentation, Picturing the 1930s.