Category Archives: best practice

Who Has Influenced Mankind? Let Your Students Be The Judge Of That – The Historical Hall Of Fame

adam-topliffThis week’s post comes to you from Adam Topliff: I teach 8th Grade Social Studies & Civics at Wamego Middle School in Wamego, KS.  I love all things Hamilton!



Spring Break History Nerdfest for the Topliff Family took us to lovely Kansas City and man, it was amazing.  We took in the Negro League Baseball and National World War I Museums, looked out over the city atop the Liberty Memorial, and got our fill of great KC BBQ. (Thanks Arthur Bryant’s!)  As we took in all of the great stories at the museums, my family and I discussed all the powerful stories of people who have impacted the story of us.  So many people of our past never have their story told, primarily because they may not be seen as the big names of history.  

Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy are names that will show up in every text book, but they are not the only influential people that have shaped our history.  The story of us is filled with millions of ordinary people that might not have stories that flash off the page, but they are just as critical.  This important part of telling history became the backbone for a project I created called The Historical Hall of Fame.

A decade ago, in my first year at Wamego Middle School, I was looking for a long term project that would engage my students in one of the most difficult times of the year, after state testing and weeks before the end of the school.  Being a fairly new teacher, I struggled to find something that my students could manage. I wanted to help them engage in historical thinking, research, and some form of presentation of product.  I started thinking about how we have all sorts of Hall of Fames that honor athletes, inventors, rock stars and teachers, so why not have a Hall of Fame that honors people that have contributed to the story of mankind?  I went to work brainstorming, developing, and constructing what came to be known as the Wamego Historical Hall of Fame.

The project centers around the students getting the chance to nominate someone they believe is worthy for induction into this Hall of Fame.  This can be anyone from any time and place.  The nomination should be someone they feel has impacted or continues to impact mankind.  I developed a mission statement that was used to be the focal point of the Hall of Fame.

“Honoring People of Greatness,  Past And Present”

Upon selection of their nominee, students go to work doing authentic historical research on the person they nominated. Since they get to pick the person they want to nominate, they are already very hooked and want to learn more and build a case for why this person is worthy of the honor.  This is independent research, conducted by the students on their own, teaching an essential skill of how to conduct research.  Part of the nomination process includes the filling out of a nomination application.

The nomination process also includes an argumentative essay expressing why the nominee is worthy of selection.  This is a great time to work with your ELA colleagues on the art of persuasive writing, something we in the Social Studies world want our kids to be able to demonstrate at a high level.  Technical writing is also included by asking the kids to develop a resume’ for their nominee.  We can cover some elements of resume’ writing, but this might be chance to work cross-curricularly with your business skills teachers.

The culmination of the project is nomination presentation day.  Each student develops a 3-5 minute nomination presentation that they deliver to our Hall of Fame judges.  (Think of Shark Tank or a mock interview.)  The students go in one at a time and try to persuade the judges that their nominee deserves to be in the Historical Hall of Fame.  This really challenges kids to think about how to most effectively persuade people in a restricted time.  Students are free to create their own method of presentation.  If you have techy kids, they might use presentation software or video editing programs. Performing Arts kids might put on a dramatic performance. Again it is up to them.  Students are able to showcase their own talents.

People outside of the school serve as our judges. This includes college professors, teachers from other school districts, local business leaders, and best of all,  high school junior and seniors. Kids who once participated in the project themselves often give my students the best feedback.  The judges are provided a rubric and are given the chance to ask questions and engage with the students about their nominee upon the completion of each presentation. Through this, we engage in an important “soft skill,”engaging with others in an academic conversation.  Many times this part of the project is where we see some of the greatest moments of growth.  To see a student who could barely talk in front of the class be able to walk into a presentation, command a room of strangers, and make a powerful argument about the influence of their nominee is one of the most remarkable outcomes of this project.

The last element of this process is the selection of inductees.  The judges’ scores and the graded essay are combined to reach an induction score.  Students who earn the top ten induction scores from all the nominations have their nominee inducted into the Wamego Historical Hall Of Fame.  We hold an induction ceremony and the students are awarded with a certificate, their nominee’s name and their name are listed on our wall of honor for the Hall of Fame, and they are formally recognized in our local newspaper, as well as the district Board of Education meeting.    

What started as an end of the year filler has turned into one of the most beloved projects each year. To give students the opportunity to take ownership, to develop research, to sharpen technical and persuasive writing, and to create a product that allows them to shine in their own way looks great on paper. However, the best reward is to see kids gain a new understanding of someone that helped shape the story of us.

If you have questions or want more information about the Historical Hall of Fame, please feel free to email me at


Election Analysis – Living Room Candidate

Megan Nieman is a high school teacher in McPherson, Kansas and a member of the Kansas Council for the Social Studies executive board.

I realize that we are several months past the 2016 election but the great thing about teaching social studies is there are an abundance of political elections that we can discuss throughout the year! I learned about the Museum of Moving Image site, Living Room Candidate, about seven years ago. I’ve used it here and there when talking about presidential elections and campaigns but as I recently began teaching a modern American History course, the site has become an excellent supplement to my curriculum.

It has every presidential campaign advertisement starting from 1952 to present. It is interesting for kids to compare ads from the 1950s and 1960s with ads from the 2016 election. Living Room Candidate also provides lesson plans on the power and effect of advertising. Continue reading Election Analysis – Living Room Candidate

Using dialogue poems to compare, contrast, highlight perspective

montana-hsMartha Kohl works at the Montana Historical Society as an Education Specialist and publishes an awesome site with great teaching ideas called Teaching Montana History. Like most blogs that focus on state or local history, you can always find strategies and ideas that can cross over to other content and areas.

A recent Martha article titled “Writing Dialogue Poems to Compare Points of View” is like that. The idea of using poetry to connect emotion with content can be powerful and something social studies teachers should try more often. In her article, Martha shares an idea that she read over at Tarr’s Toolbox. And it is such a great idea, we asked to cross-post it here. Thanks, both Martha and Russel – you guys rock! Continue reading Using dialogue poems to compare, contrast, highlight perspective

Dueling Timelines: Combining “Big Events” and “Big Ideas”

As we are currently in the midst of coaching clinic, teacher workshop, and summer institute application season, time always seems to be lacking.  That is partly why I am taking the easy way out by showing the slides of a portion of a presentation I gave in New Orleans in 2015 on innovative uses of classroom space.

This section of that presentation presents an option for using two timelines, uniformly color-coded based on unit, to help students simultaneously grasp the chronological progression of events and see how the relationship between ideas and historical agents are dynamic and ever evolving.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions or thoughts, or if you would like more information on this lesson application!

Continue reading Dueling Timelines: Combining “Big Events” and “Big Ideas”

Argumentative writing prompts, scaffolded tasks, and using evidence

citation-neededWe want our students to grapple more with content, to think historically, and solve problems. One of the ways we can support this behavior is by asking our kids to think and write to support a claim using evidence.

Here in the great state of Kansas University basketball, our standards and assessment use the term “argumentative writing” to describe the process of supporting claims with evidence. That phrase can sound a little too much like some of last  year’s presidential debates or this month’s childish Twitter wars but . . . asking kids to create an argument and to support that argument really is a good thing. We want them to be able to look at a problem, gather and organize evidence, and use that evidence to create a well-supported argument.

As many of us move from a content focused instructional model to one that instead asks students to use that content in authentic ways, it can sometimes be difficult knowing how to actually have them write argumentatively. But there are resources available to help with your lesson design.

We’ve gone back to an earlier post from our partner blog History Tech to cherry pick some of our favorites. Pick and choose the ones that work best for you. Continue reading Argumentative writing prompts, scaffolded tasks, and using evidence