Methods used in History 420 Class

Throughout this course, we will discuss and actually use many different and diverse teaching methods - all of which are listed below in alphabetical order.

Analyzing Political Cartoons. Before your students try to analyze a political cartoon, it would be a good idea to use the Library of Congress's discussion of persuasive techniques as summarized below: 

Once your students identify the persuasive techniques that the cartoonist used, they then need to ask the following questions to help them interpret the meaning:

Chronological Understanding. Research tells us that students simply do not understand the chronology of history. There are at least two ways that you can introduce students to Chronological Understanding.

  1. Sentence Strip Timeline Activity. Working from a chronology you have either taken from a source or created yourself, select 10 events from the chronology that you feel are most important for students to understand about this history of the event/nation/person, etc.

2. Chronological Reading. Provide your students with a copy of a chronology you have either taken from a source or created yourself. Have your students read through the chronology and using a marker, highlight the ten most important historical events that they believe give them the best understanding of the history of the event/topic, etc. Have them get into groups of 4 where they spend 15 minutes agreeing on the 10 most important events in the chronology. Conduct a classroom discussion on the findings.

Close Reading.  This is great way to really examine a primary document - checking especially for a detailed analytical understanding. This method is different from the DBQ. In a DBQ, you are using quotes and other types of EVIDENCE to address any questions being asked. In a close reading, you are first looking at the vocabulary and trying to understand it in the context of the reading, and then you are offering an educated opinion about the reading. For example, this 1846 quote from Senator Benton not only illustrates the close reading method, but it should provide a better understanding of how many Americans thought about Manifest Destiny. Directions for the use of this quote and another other primary document are as follows:

Cold Call. This method really encourages students to come to class prepared on the days when you have assigned reading, viewing, or listening. On such days, you pose questions directly related to the assignment to all students who are present. Because you will not ask for volunteers, each student must be ready each day to engage in a collegial discussion about the required assignment. You need to weight this method heavily for it to have an impact - at least 20 percent of student grades must be based on cold call.

Critical Film Analysis.   All students need to learn how to critically watch film – full-length motion pictures, documentaries, youtube videos, etc.  Follow these steps to help them learn this important skill.

Document Based Questions (DBQs). The DBQ has become the "meat and potatoes" of many history classes and is deeply embedded in the Common Core Standards. DBQs are designed to teach students to work like historians by analyzing and synthesizing evidence from a variety of primary and secondary sources. Further, DBQs are designed to test the skills a student historian uses in interpreting historical material. As such, it does not require that a student be familiar with the event or topic that is being presented; a student will be able to respond adequately using only the data provided.

Debates: A debate is a structured argument.  Two sides speak alternately for and against a particular viewpoint that is based on a topical issue.  Unlike the arguments people might have with family or friends, in a debate, each person is allocated a time they are allowed to speak for their side of the debate and any interjections are carefully controlled.  Debates can be an informal discussion of a controversial issue such as "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," or a formal set up similarly to the one posed in the chart on the right and explained in the Education World website.

Do Now.  This activity is done at the beginning of class to have students think about a current event that happened the previous day OR elsewhere in the class when you want to assess something you have just been discussing.  It should be between 5-15 minutes, depending on the level of complexity of what you are asking students to think about.  Ask them to:

You can also have students work in groups to discuss a question.  Put students into groups, and then provide each group with poster paper and a marker.  Ask them to:

Earthday Cake – Social Justice.  This is a great way to introduce social justice.  Follow the dialog that follows:  "I brought a special dessert for you to share today - an Earthday Cake. But I have decided that rather than dividing it equally among all you, we will instead divide the cake according to population allocation of the largest continent. Note the the percentages remain the same but the number of students will vary according to the number of students you have in your class.

You can see that you are now in groups roughly equal to your population distribution. Now, I could do one of the following:

In the latter, more realistic scenario, we will divide the cake as follows: the North Americans will get 56% of the cake; the Europeans will get just over a quarter of the cake to share; the Latinos will get just under 10% to share; the Asians will get 5% to share; and and the Africans will get 2%to share. Now, you have all experienced social injustice. How and why?"

Entry or Exit Slip.   The Entry activity is done at the very beginning of class and the Exit activity is done at the very end of class.  An entry slip assesses what students learned in class the day before or in their homework and an exit slip assesses what they learned at the end of a class period.  Have students:

Habits of the MindThis strategy helps your students think very carefully about their viewing habits.  Once they understand what they are watching, how much they are watching, and why they are watching , they become critical thinkers about what they consume.

Historical Detectives. All too often it is easy for the teacher to simply give a lecture and have the students take notes - for us to be the"sage on the stage." One way to change this is to encouage our students to become historical detectives.Being a historical detective generally means students are doing their own research and making their own interpretations of historical events based upon the findings of their research. To do this, each of us must become a historical detective and then teach our students to become historical detectives.

Historical LiteracyThis activity helps students to define important vocabulary words within an historical context.  This is a great method to use when you are about to introduce a new topical unit of study. For instance, you are about to begin a unit on Manifest Destiny and you want your students to define the two words in the term Manifest Destiny and then come up with a definition within the historical context.

Historiography. This assignment will give students a clearer picture of how the telling of the same event in history has many different interpretations. Our goal here is to see what various textbooks say about a defined topic - for example, Japanese Internment during World War II. Each student will receive a textbook to use and every textbook will be different. Once you receive your textbook, take out a sheet of paper, write your name and "Historiography Method" at the top. Below it, write the title and authors of your textbook. Then, complete the following textbook analysis.

Part I: Working on your own, spend 10 minutes answering the following questions:

Part II : Working in groups of four, spend 20 minutes comparing and contrasting your findings with your colleagues by addressing the following questions (no need to write the answers down to these questions. This is discussion only)

Hook. A hook is a 2-10 minute activity that begins each class and is designed to hook our students' attention and keep them focused throughout the lesson. It needs to be creative and designed to hook - or grab - their attention. As such, it must be both relevant to the topic you plan to discuss for the day and relevant to the lives of your students. Possible hooks include documentary film clips; political cartoons; journal writes on provocative topics to be discussed; YouTube videos; demonstrations; a contemporary account of a historical concept. Your hook can often make or break your entire lesson. For a fascinating, one-day hook to introduce WWI, click here.

Icebreaker ActivitiesOn the first day of class, it is important to get your students talking to one another so that you can begin to create a learning community. Remember, you will be with these students - and they will be with each other - for at least a semester and perhaps a year. There are two options below.

First Icebreaker Activity Provide the following directions for your students

  1. Write your name on a piece of paper and write "Icebreaker Activity" under your name.
  2. Take no more than 5 minutes to write down your answers to the following questions.
  3. Find a partner with whom you can share your answers. Introduce yourselves to each other. Each of you should take no more than 5 minutes to explain your answers to your partner.
  4. Using the Venn Diagram (see below) - Write your name at the top and then add each of your names to the large circles. Fill in your answers, and then, in the middle, fill in where you are similar.
  5. Each of you will introduce your partner. Be sure to tell the class what you learned from your disscussion and what you found to be most interesting about your partner.

Discussion: Please listen carefully as each of your classmates introduces their partner. Learn as much as you can about the colleagues with whom you will be working this semester. Then, be prepared to discuss the following:

Second Icebreaker Activity - What do we Value? Provide the following directions for your students

  1. Take out a piece of paper and write your name, the date, and "What Do We Value Activity" on the top.
  2. You each have an envelop in which you will find directions for this Icebreaker Activity, 10 Values Cards, and two blank cards. Take all of these out of the envelop and take no more than 5 minutes to do the following:
  3. Get into a four groups of 4-5 students. Take no more than 10 minutes to share your rankings and come up with a consensual list of three values upon which you can all agree. Write this ranking down on your paper under the heading "group ranking." Have one member of the group write them down on the paper provided.
  4. Now, go back to working on your own with the 10 Value Cards and take no more than 5 minutes to do the following:
  5. Finally, go again to to working on your own with the 10 Value Cards and take no more than 5 minutes to do the following:.


Introductory Quiz. This is a good way to peak students' interest at the beginning of a new unit by discovering what they do and do not know about a certain topic. A good example is – what do you know about the Constitution.  You can have them take the quiz at

Jigsaw Activity (Modified). The jigsaw technique is a method of organizing classroom activity that makes students dependent on each other to succeed. It breaks classes into groups and breaks assignments into pieces that the group assembles to complete the (jigsaw) puzzle.This is a modified version of the original jigsaw activity and we will use the example of political cartoons on a certain historical topic - for example, World War II propaganda posters. You can also do this with documents, photographs, etc. but they all must focus on a particular topic.

KWL (Know, Want to know, and Learned) Activity.   This is an especially good way to begin a unit of study as it allows you to assess what students already know about the topic, what they want to know, and when the unit is finished, what they learned.

Map Drawing - Draw a map of the world/U.S.    This will help you understand how well your students understand spatial geography.

Map Making - Make your own map to a certain destination.   This is a great way to get students to understand that all mapmakers have agendas, all maps tell a story, and all maps must be read – just like books – to discovered their meaning.

Map Reading. Just like a book, every map can and must be read in history classes. In general, everytime you use a map in the classroom, be sure to ask your students to "read" it, using one or more of these questions to guide their "reading:"

Mock Trials. These are great ways to get students really excited about controversial topics and events in history. Other available resources include:

Opinion and Evidence Chart below has students first write what they think about their topic - their opinion. Then, they need to use 2-3 pieces of evidence to support their thinking.

Opinion: What do I think?

Evidence: What evidence supports my opinion?






SIGHT.  In this method, the teacher selects an historical photograph or painting for a power point and then runs students through the SIGHT :

Simulations. A classroom simulation imitates a real-world process or event. They usually model a real world environment in a simplistic way to help a learner develop an understanding of the key concepts. One of the most creative type of simulations has been put together by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's project "iCivics."

Squeeze Note Taking.  This will take between 1-1/2 and 2 days to introduce to your students.  It should be done during the first week of class to establish note taking procedures for the entire semester or year-long course.

T-Chart Activity This is especially useful with visual materials – paintings, photographs, maps, political cartoons, etc. – as well as verbal materials – songs, poems, readings, etc.

T Chart

Take Sides. This method provides two different ways to interpret an historical event.  It involves reading two different perspectives on an event and then asking students to use evidence to support one perspective.  Ask students to:

Teach In. This strategy is great; you will have students teaching each other.  One way to do this is to have students read or watch different articles/videos on the same topic.  If you have five chapters, articles, primary, or secondary documents that you want your students to understand, but you do not want them to read all five, this presents a great opportunity for a teach in. So what might a teach in about slavery look like? Let's say you have 30 students in your class and you are using the following five documents. (Note that the two documents with asterisks ** will require abridgement.)

Then, do the following:

Think/Pair/Share activity.  This can be used at any time during a class period to gauge student opinions.

Venn Diagram.  This is especially useful when you want students to examine similarities and dissimilarities of issues, historical interpretations, and various historical actions.  The actual diagram is an organizational tool made up of two overlapping circles which are used to visually compare and contrast information and to examine relationships.

Venn Diagram

Write Around Activity.   This is a more in-depth way to get your students to write about what they know or think about a topic that has not just been discussed or to as an assessment of what they and their classmates have learned on a particular unit of study. It should take at least 30 minutes.  Have students do the following: