Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Training Future Historians

This is a long post, mostly because I tried to give a good view of what my class looks like the first few days, but also because I included pictures.  

Each school year I start with a new crop of 7th graders who I know are about to experience Social Studies in a completely different way.  In my classroom...

  • There is no textbook to lug around.  We use one periodically, but rarely.  I keep a class set in the room.
  • Very few, if any, multiple choice questions.  A lot more writing.
  • Less and less "worksheets."  A lot of collaboration with peers.  
  • More projects.  Technology integrated into the subject.  
  • Every day vocabulary such as primary sources, contextualize, corroborate, bias, artifacts, inference.
  • Questions that don't have one right answer.  Having to defend their answers with evidence.
  • And learning to "Think like historians."

This takes training.  Students don't just come in knowing how to do this.  I take a good amount of time at the beginning of the year introducing my students to the process of historical thinking.  This is what I do...

Day 1:
Discussion about sources.  Primary vs. Secondary sources.  Sometimes there is a student who knows the difference, but they are in the vast minority.  We explore the difference between primary and secondary sources and talk about what it means to infer..  We brainstorm the different types of primary sources.  I have done this differently every year, usually by Googling "primary and secondary source lesson plans" and piecing together what works for me.  This year, I came up with these which were mostly taken from this lesson plan.

These are recorded in a notebook that is my take on an interactive notebook.  I call them HIT (Historians In Training) books.  These books are used to collect information from a variety of sources and determine the accuracy of that information.  (Click here for a post that goes into more detail on my HIT books).

Day 2:
Application of the discussion from day 1.  I usually have a variety of stations (10-12) that have either scenarios or actual objects for students to travel to, in pairs, and decide if it is a primary or secondary source.  The scenarios often come from the powers of Google.  The process of students moving through stations is a teaching strategy that I use OFTEN.  Such a great way to get kids up and moving, AND have them experience a variety of things in one class period.

This year I had 10 stations, each with a scenario card that they pasted into their HIT book and selected whether it was a primary or secondary source.

**The scenarios and base lesson plan I used for inspiration can be found here

Day 3:
Historical Thinking Day.  Students learn some big words today.  Sourcing.  Contextualize.  Corroboration.  Close Reading.  I am a huge fan of SHEG (Stanford History Education Group) and their website.  They have so many awesome lesson plans for teachers to use.  I am a frequent flier on their site!

I created these posters using PowerPoint, printed them off and laminated them together for the students to use.  The information for these posters comes from SHEG and Gilder-Lehrman (another go-to website for social studies teachers!)  Students are placed into 4 teams.  Each group spends time with each term and students are required to fill out the charts about each word based on the information they discover.  These charts are then cut out and pasted into their HIT notebooks.  We have a brief whole-class discussion on the terms and I talk about how important it is to start with "sourcing."

And we move on to an exercise in sourcing.  I call it "All Sources are not Created Equal."  Again, the premise for this activity comes from SHEG.  I took their idea and made a few changes.  I create 6 different "Historical Questions" and then provide two types of sources.  Students have to identify which sources are the most reliable based on the question.  These are set up as different stations.  Working in teams and rotating through stations, kids fill out these charts and paste them in the HIT notebooks.

**The point of today's lesson is to teach them that just because something is a primary source, it doesn't mean that it is truly accurate.  By this point, my 7th graders think that a primary source is GOLD and cannot be wrong.  This activity attempts to have them detect bias. I will have to refer back to this activity throughout the year.  They LOVE primary sources!

Day 4:
Lunchroom Fight Part I and II

**Both of these are taken directly from SHEG**  Click this link to create an account and access the lesson plan. (You'll be glad you did!)  I made no changes to this one.  The kids love it! may help provide a little empathy for the tough job Principals have when it comes to figuring out who to discipline when disputes happen!

Day 5-6ish (depending on the unforeseen variables that tend to "pop up" at the beginning of the year:
History in a Bag.  This is without a doubt my FAVORITE lesson of the whole Historical Thinking Training that I do at the beginning of the year.  I split this up into two different days.  Usually PART 1 won't take an entire class period for me (75 minute classes), so I'll tack it on to the end of the previous one.  You can read the entire lesson for PART 1 by clicking here.

Part 2 is really the one to get to.  The shortened version is that I fill a tub with primary sources that all center around one person.  Students analyze the artifacts and are able to determine who the person was, what he/she did for a living, where he/she lived, and some of his/her hobbies.  Plus, there is a fun secret fact they figure out by the end of the day.  The kiddos mention this each year as one of their favorites!  Read the lesson for PART 2 here.

And there you have it.  A new crop of 7th graders who have been trained in the art of historical thinking.  They will spend the remainder of the year using the skills they learn in these first 5 to 6 days of my class.

**I do work in a middle school that uses a block schedule, so my class periods are about 75 minutes long.  Each day can be split into two traditional 50 minute classes.  There is definitely room for cross-over between days and time to add it technology "how-tos" that are necessary at the beginning of the year.  Flexible is the way to be!**

Teachers reading this, or saving it to read for later, feel free to steal, borrow, copy, and use whatever you want.  Don't hesitate to comment or contact me through Twitter (@JillWebs) if you have questions!


  1. Thank you for sharing! It's so nice to see other history teachers using SHEG and teaching historical literacy skills, and your approach is a great resource. Best of luck this year!

  2. Great work, and thank you for sharing. I am trying to use more SHEG this year and I really like your section on the four steps: Sourcing, Contextualize, Corroborate and Close Reading. Do you have a teachers copy of what the sort of answers you are looking for on this are? I am new to the process and I want to make sure I am understanding things correctly. Thank you for the obvious passion you have in your subject.

    1. I don't actually have an "answer key" yet. I was going to fill mine in based on the discussion with the whole class at the end of the activity. I expect the answers will be shorter versions of information that shows up on the cards I'm going to pass around. I'll just make sure to hit a few "key" things on each...such as "sourcing is done BEFORE you read" and Corroboration COMPARES different sources. I will have some sort of teacher version once we have the class discussion. I am kinda waiting until I see what the kids come up with! :) Good luck!!

  3. Hi Jill, I have read some of your older posts and I am wondering if you have decided not to do the history in a bag activity this year or if you are doing it before teaching your students about historical thinking? Thanks for your response and keep up the good work! I love reading your posts.

    1. Thank you for the comment! I am planning on doing the history in a bag again this year. I decided to try it after training them to be historians, so we will actually get to it next week. I already think I like it better when I do that the first day or two of class. It just sets the tone for cool things to come. So next year I will do History in a Bag first and then proceed with the "training session." :) Have a great school year!

  4. Thanks for sharing all of this! Love how you organized it all to make it so manageable!

  5. I used your stations for detecting bias and had random staff members record themselves reading them (using the Adobe spark video app, which is super easy). Then students used Aurasma to bring the various station videos up around the room. They filled out their detecting bias sheets and as a added twist for fun, they had to guess who the staff member was who was speaking. Students got really caught up in the guessing part, almost to a fault because they were spending too much time on this, but they really seemed to enjoy it. I would happy to explain more if anyone is interested. Thanks Jill

    1. Wow! I LOVE the idea of integrating Adobe Spark into this activity! I use that program often and love it for how simple it is to create for both the students and myself. Sounds like a great day of learning! Glad you were able to use it! :)

  6. Hi, Jill! I am teaching history this year. I have taught for 19 years, but all of my experience has been at the elementary level, so jumping to 7th grade is going to be a big change for me! I was hired the day before in-service started, so I don't have a lot of time for prepping. I found you on Twitter, and I must say I love your blog, and your energy! You mentioned that you would share your lesson plans. Do you mind sharing them with me? I'll take all the help I can get right now! Thank you!

  7. Maybe I should also share my email!

  8. Would you be willing to share the document file for the posters and the HIT notebook inserts?

  9. This is awesome! I would love a copy of these files as well, if possible. I teach sixth grade ss which covers Civil War to current events and this would be a great way to start the year. Much appreciated! My email is

  10. Hi Jill! My colleague shared your blog site with me and I just love it! Your creativity and enthusiasm are inspiring! It is always a challenge to find engaging ways to present the historical thinking skills -- I will be doing the Lunchroom lesson for the first time and I am really excited! I also love your posters!! May I request your permission to print them and put them up in my classroom? I would definitely give you credit for their creation. I look forward to keeping up with your blog!

    1. Of course! Thanks for the comment, and I hope you have a great year. Don't hesitate to ask any questions, I love connecting with other teachers!!!

  11. (Apologies if this is a repeat comment. My school has issues with blogspot sometimes).

    Hi Jill! I recently found your blog and have read through most of it this week. You have such amazing resources and your classroom sounds so engaging for students. If you are still sending resources for your Historical Thinking Bootcamp, would you be able to send them to be as well? My email is

    I'm also curious how else you use the HIT books throughout the year. Would you be able to share more information about that? I'm looking to make my student notebooks more meaningful this year, and could use some inspiration. Thank you for sharing your classroom with us all here!

  12. Hi there! First Year Teacher Here. Anyway you could email me the answer key to the quiz? I just want to make sure I got everything right. My email is Thank you!

  13. I borrowed the images for the "thinking like a historian" for a bulletin board. They are super cute, and I am so thrilled to have such cute ideas.