Are you a social studies teacher looking for new and innovative ways to engage your students?
Perhaps you are looking for some ways to enrich your lessons, or are looking for an alternative to the typical essay or quiz. Maybe you should try having your students act as real-world historians! Many historians are experts in how to take information on the past, analyze it, and communicate it in a way that engages those around them.
Here are five ideas from the field of public history that can spark discussions and engage students with a variety of learning styles. They are mainly geared at the Middle School/High School levels, but can be altered for any age. Let us know if you are a teacher and have anything to add! What projects have worked for you?
Oral History. Students having a hard time grasping events of the 20th century? Let them hear about it from someone who was there! Give them the opportunity to interview parents, grandparents, and family friends about time periods, specific events, or themes. While it’s great if they can be creative, make sure they let the interviewee tell their story in with as little interruption as possible. Then, they can write a reflective essay or give a presentation on what they learned.
Exhibit Design. Museum exhibits are a great way to experience a history – let your students create their own to share with the class! First, have a discussion on exhibits, asking questions such as: ‘What makes a great exhibit?’ ‘How can exhibits make arguments?’ ‘What can we learn from exhibits that we can’t learn from essays?’ Explore photographs and schematics of real-world museums. Then, let them engage with their projects.
Documentaries. You probably show historical documentaries in your classroom, so your students have a good idea of what they look like. What about creating their own? Let them choose a topic related to what the class is studying and determine the best way to relate it. What primary sources should they use? Should they reenact scenes or battles from history? What about maps? They can show their completed project to the class, teaching everyone what they have learned.
Primary Source Research. Want to get the full historian experience? Tell your students to ditch Wikipedia for a while and go to the source for their next paper. No time to visit the dusty archives at the local historical society? Try digital repositories like RICHES Mosaic Interface™. They can present their research to the class or write a research paper based on what they learned.
Archaeology. Have students bring in “artifacts” from around their house in plastic bags. Split the students into groups, and the bags from one group to another. Have them pretend they are researchers with no preconceived ideas about humans in the early 21st century. What can they learn about our culture from these primary sources? What does this tell us about how historians and archaeologists work?
Have fun with these suggestions and let us know if you have any more to add!