The Stanford History Education Group has put together an amazing collection of history lessons that focus on historical thinking. Members of the group include history studs Sam Wineburg and Daisy Martin.

Their Reading Like a Historian Curriculum

features dozens of document-based lessons that teach the skills of historical thinking while improving students’ reading comprehension. Each lesson revolves around a central historical question and features sets of primary documents modified for groups of students with diverse reading skills and abilities.

Kids use reading strategies such as sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating, and close reading. And rather than simply recalling basic facts, students evaluate the trustworthiness of multiple perspectives on a variety of topics. They then must create a historical position based on primary sources.

How can these units help kids?

1. Helps establish relevant historical background knowledge and poses a central historical question

2. Provide four basic lesson structures:

Opening up the Textbook (OUT): In these lessons, students examine two documents: the textbook and a historical document that challenges or expands the textbook’s account. For a sample OUT, see the Battle of Little Bighorn Lesson Plan.

Cognitive Apprenticeship: These lessons are based in a theory that cognitive skills must be visible in order for students to learn how to practice them.  Here, a teacher explicitly models historical reading skills (sourcing, contextualization, corroboration, close reading). The full sequence begins with cognitive modeling, followed by teacher-led guided practice, and ultimately independent student practice. For a sample cognitive apprenticeship lesson, see the Stamp Act Lesson Plan.

Inquiry: Most lessons in the curriculum include elements of historical inquiry, where students investigate historical questions, evaluate evidence, and construct historical claims. Some, however, are designed around a process of inquiry, where students develop hypotheses through analyzing sets of documents. Such inquiries are best suited for block or multiple class periods. For a sample inquiry, see the Japanese Internment Lesson Plan.

Structured Academic Controversy (SAC): For these lessons, students work in pairs and then teams as they explore a historical question. After taking opposing positions on a question, they try to arrive at a consensus or at least clarify their differences. These lessons are well suited to block or multiple class periods and work best after students gain experience working with primary documents. For a sample SAC, see the Lincoln Lesson Plan.

The type of stuff that the Reading Like a Historian Curriculum provides is the type of instruction that we know is best for kids. It’s the sort of model that Sam Wineburg and others have been pushing for years.

So . . . head on over and use what fits. And then browse through the rest to begin seeing ways that you might adapt your own curriculum. Your students will leave your class with the ability to use history, not just memorize it.

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