History Lesson Plans Based on Primary Sources

This website for history teachers consists of sets of lesson plans for U.S. and world history that are centered around primary source documents. Generally, each lesson begins with an introduction to build student background knowledge about a particular era and topic. This is done by having students watch a brief film clip, view a powerpoint presentation (powerpoints are included) or listening to a brief lecture. Two pairs of primary source documents are then presented. For each document there is a set of questions for students to work on. Also, there is a very clear introduction to the lesson plans with recommendations about use, as well as comments by users (presumably other history teachers) about the materials. All materials are free—while the site requires a “sign up to download,” all materials can actually be viewed and printed by clicking on “quick view.”

In addition to the lesson plans centered around specific times and issues, there is a section entitled “historian thinking matters” which contains lessons that are generalizable to any kind of history teaching and provide a model for teachers as to how to approach the teaching of history. For instance, one lesson, entitled “lunchroom fight,” directs students to consider different eyewitness accounts of the same event. In another, autobiography, students are asked to write the story of their birth, then consider the information that was included and not included. These lessons provide a model for thinking like a historian.

The site is appropriate for building teacher background knowledge, as a source of primary source documents for particular eras/issues, and as a model for lesson plans. Some lesson plans can also be used as is, although in most cases I would suggest modifying the lessons so as to provide students with more background knowledge upfront. The Common Core Standards place an emphasis on using primary sources to learn history, and primary sources also figure on the TASC, so using primary sources to teach is a good idea. In general, these lessons do not provide students with a lot of support in terms of literacy strategies for difficult texts, so I would recommend building up to one of the lessons over one or two class periods.

One lesson I would definitely use is the one on the Stamp Act. If students have been studying this era for two or three class sessions, they would certainly have context for the two documents used, which give the perspective of the British as well as the “patriots.”

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About Kate Brandt

Kate Brandt is a Professional Developer in the adult literacy field in New York City and she loves her job. She loves her job so much that she commutes 2 hours per day, from her suburban home in Shrub Oak, New York, to get to work. She loves working in adult literacy because she gets to work with people who are smart, kind, and dedicated.

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