Turning Students Into Historians

Teaching History is so full of useful resources that it can seem overwhelming. The website is divided into three main sections: Teaching Materials, History Content, and Best Practices. You’ll find quality lesson plans reviewed by other teachers in Teaching Materials. History Content is where you’ll find engaging resources to deepen your own content knowledge. In Best Practices, you can learn how to teach historical thinking and turn your students into historians.

Probably the most useful place for adult education teachers to begin is the Teaching Materials section. Lesson plans can be downloaded and include reviews by other teachers. Virtually all lessons are built around primary sources.

I chose the lesson plans below because they didn’t need much adaptation to be used with my HSE students. They also provide useful models of teaching history:

Jamestown, the Starving Time from the Historical Scene Investigation website. This website presents history learning as a series of mysteries to be solved. Students read a number of primary source extracts as well as analysis by forensic scientists to try to determine what really happened in Jamestown during the “starving time.”

Propaganda and World War II from the American Social History Project website. In this lesson, students work in groups and are assigned to look at the war propaganda of one particular country, then report out on their findings.

Differing Versions of the First Thanksgiving from The Learning Network website (New York Times) Students read textbook excerpts about the First Thanksgiving as well as listening to a Rush Limbaugh version and a version from a Native American perspective, considering how the story is interpreted differently based on political viewpoint.

The Triangle Fire: From Industrialism to Progressivism. This lesson provides pre-reading, reading and post-reading activities to help students consider the issues raised by the Triangle Fire.

Also under Teaching Materials are a series of teaching guides, which can be used with most historical materials pertaining to any era. Teaching Guides are one to two page step by step guides that help teachers introduce best practices in teaching history. Some examples include:

Teaching Materials also has resources for Teaching English Language Learners with many useful activities for scaffolding content-based lessons for English Language Learners.

Teaching History is useful for building teacher background knowledge both on content and pedagogy. There are useful lesson plans from a variety of history-based websites that focus on primary sources. Most texts and lessons are appropriate for the HSE level. Some lesson plans can be used as they are; others will need to be adapted. Because the site can be overwhelming, I recommend checking out some of the lesson plans and teaching guides listed above to see if it constitutes what you are looking for. Try these resources and please share your experience below.

Rate this resource

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.

3 thoughts on “Turning Students Into Historians

  1. This is a wonderful resource for teacher with little or no knowledge of teaching areas out of their content areas.

    Was this comment helpful?
  2. This website is awesome.

    I found some additional fantastic resources under the “Best Practices” tab. They break best practices in teaching history into four categories (1) Examples of Historical Thinking, (2) Teaching in Action, (3) Using Primary Sources, and (4) Teaching with Textbooks.

    I really like the Examples of Historical Thinking section, which you can search by topic and/or Time Period. It has teachers/students/historians modeling historical thinking. For example, I looked at a great one called “Slave Receipts”, which has four videos (each about 3 minutes long). In each video historian/teacher Tom Thurston analyzes actual slave receipts and talks us through his process. You learn both background knowledge and a structure for historical thinking. To help make the latter explicit, all of the pages under “Examples of Historical Thinking” have a section at the top called, “At A Glance”, which describe the 2-3specific historical thinking skills being modeled. For example, in “Slave Receipts”, we see examples of close reading, drawing on prior knowledge and placing an artifact in a larger context. If we are explicit with students about what historical thinking is, these videos could be a great resource to ask students, “Which of the aspects of historical thinking do you hear him using? Give an example.”

    I also liked both the “Two Blues Songs” and “John Brown’s Body” entries (also under “Examples of Historical Thinking”), both of which talk about ways that music can be a really important source of the past.

    Was this comment helpful?

Add Your Comment