TACOS Anyone?

Fortunately for me, my school district sends teachers to an AP Institute every other summer put on by College Board. In 2012, I attended one in Plano, TX and enrolled in a Pre-AP U.S. History course with Rhonda Johnson (who I decided is my hero). I learned so many great skills and strategies that promote historical thinking and analyzing in my students!

I went thinking I would get ideas for my 8th grade American History course (non-Pre AP) but instead I applied almost everything to my 6th grade Pre-AP social studies class. I’m increasing reading and writing skills while (quietly and discretely) preparing these 11 and 12 year olds for AP courses in high school! It. is. awesome.

Some examples:


This is a beginner’s version of APPARTS for primary source document analyzing. With 6th graders, I use political cartoons. Usually they are relevant to current events – sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re serious, sometimes the kids have no clue what they mean – but they are still analyzing a primary source.

We also do this every Tuesday (Taco Tuesday! They love it and they know that it’s coming at the same time every week). They come in the room and the cartoon is projected on the board. My students know immediately to get their notebooks out and start “Taco-ing” before the bell rings. Here is what they are looking for:

  • (T)ime: When was this document created? I always remind them that they are not looking for the setting of the cartoon, rather when do they think the author created it? What clues in the picture can help you figure it out?
  • (A)ction: What is going on in the picture? What are people doing/saying?
  • (C)aption: Write down all the words or text that you see in the picture (captions, thought bubbles, labels, etc.)
  • (O)bjects: List everything that is visible in the picture. Watch out – the kids can get very specific on this one!
  • (S)ummary/So what?: What does this have to do with real life? What does this mean? Why is this important?

It gets us talking about current events. Kids know what’s going on in our world – even 6th graders. I feel that it’s important to study why these things happen!

Another Pre-AP strategy is to practice writing thesis statements. Now, granted some of my students can’t even say the word “thesis”, so I had to simplify it a bit.

It’s called “TAG”. This idea came from some of the reading teachers at Maize Middle School where I completed my student teaching. We use it to learn how to answer essay or short answer questions correctly. Each answer must have two sentences!!

  • (T)urn the question into a statement
  • (A)nswer the question
  • (G)ive more details 

Here’s an example: What is a peninsula?

TAGged answer: A peninsula is a landmass nearly surrounded by water. Greece is an example of a peninsula.

Sometimes we will do TAG3 (I call it TAG cubed). Instead of just writing one extra detail, they have to write three.

This is the first year where I have applied these strategies all year. By February my students knew that there were definitely no multiple choice questions coming for them on the test! If they continue this in their 7th and 8th grade Pre-AP courses, I truly believe that these kids will slice through the APUSH exam like butter.

6 thoughts on “TACOS Anyone?

  1. I did an AP Institute class with Rhonda Johnson, too, and it was awesome! Love your article, great ideas, even for extending to high school. Thank you. 🙂

    1. I really like TACO as well – it’s a great scaffolding tool as we work towards more complex documents. Thanks for the comment!


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