Engage Students in Your History Lesson

Photo by  Dario Veronesi

I recently got back in touch with an assistant principal who I worked for 10 years ago, and he said that she still remembered how I taught the Industrial Revolution. That shot me back to one of my favorite lessons where students were participating in my social studies lesson, and having fun while doing so. In this post I will address three resources that set me up for success as a high school social studies teacher.

Make History Come Alive

TCI is a curriculum company that specializes in making lessons that will get students physically acting out parts of lessons. When I taught the Industrial Revolution lesson reference above, the History Alive curriculum instructed me to give most of the students the role of factory workers, and they sat in a long row of desk completing repetitive actions. One student was a foreman that put increased pressure on and yelled at the factory workers. A handful of students acted as strike breakers. They would jump in and take over the job of any factory worker who wasn’t performing up to the standards of the foreman. This type of lesson stood in stark contrast to the lecture style of a traditional history classroom.

This lesson was done in my completely analog classroom in a different time when most students did not come to class with any type of device. I was happy to be able to teach using History Alive more recently and enjoyed how their reading materials are now web-based and interactive. This allows a teacher to flip their classroom to spend most of the time on kinesthetic and interactive learning activities. I also really liked the Spanish-language reading option for the online materials. I used to teach Spanish to the same students that I taught history to. I was able to reinforce the content of both classes with the History Alive curriculum.

Focus On Multiplicity Of Voices

For two years I was responsible for teaching U.S. history to 11th graders who had all just immigrated to the U.S. from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America. How did I get them learning English and interested in the history of their new country of residence? The Choices Program from Brown University helped me to bring a dose of excitement (and controversy) using primary sources.

In each unit, groups of students are given sections of the population to represent for a pivotal time in history. Each student is given a role to play, and is supplied with primary resources to act in character for the time period. This preparation is all for a town hall debate were sides play the part in representing their sector of society. A secondary lesson that comes from this curriculum is how controversial so many periods in history have been. This gives students perspective for interpreting their current-day society. The curriculum also made me very happy for how it excited students who were still learning English.

Teach For Tolerance

Any (history) teacher knows that teaching often involves navigating controversial topics so that every student can feel comfortable in your classroom. History teachers have the privilege of diving into present day controversial topics as they relate to the content and standards that we teach. Teaching Tolerance, from the Souther Poverty Law Center, offers free curricular materials to teach civil and human rights.

The documentary film series comes with teacher guides that allows a busy professional to lead a lesson without being an expert in the topic. I would use the Oscar-winning “Mighty Times: Children’s March” to teach my students of the potential that people their age have for making a positive change in society. This served as a way to teach the Civil Rights Movement, and also was an introduction to a possible service learning project.

What are your favorite materials?

Depending on the specific population you are teaching, and the resources that you have available, your favorite materials will be different. The three resources that I discuss above have been my “go-to” materials in three different schools, but how I used them was a bit different for each population. If you have other resources that you love for teaching history to get students falling in love with your content, I want to hear about it. Reach out to me using this contact form.

cultureBryn Hafemeister1, c