Category Archives: historical thinking

Save the Last Word for Me discussion strategy

I was browsing through some old History Tech posts and ran across this 2016 entry. It caught my attention as several of us were chatting about ways to encourage student to student conversations. If you’ve been thinking about that issue as well, you might give the Last Word strategy a try.


I spent some some last week with a group sharing strategies around the blended learning concept. It was compelling conversation, I walked away smarter, and had the chance to meet some interesting people.

But one of my biggest walkaways was a strategy that the forum’s facilitator used to jumpstart the discussion.

He called it the Last Word. Others in the group used the term Final Word. No matter what it might be called, I thought it was a perfect fit for strengthen the speaking and listening skills of social studies students. So if you’ve used Last Word, post some comments on changes you’ve made or things you like about it.

New to Last Word? Read on, my friend. Continue reading Save the Last Word for Me discussion strategy

5 graphic organizers you’re probably not using but should be

Most of you are already familiar with the idea of document analysis worksheets. These sorts of tools are perfect for scaffolding historical thinking skills for your kids. Some of the best, created by the Library of Congress and the National Archives, have been around for years. I also really like the stuff created by the Stanford History Education group, especially their Historical Thinking Chart.

We should be using all of those evidence analysis tools with our kids. They can be especially helpful for training elementary and middle school students to gather and organize evidence while solving authentic problems. And for high school kids without a strong background in historical thinking skills, the tools provided by the LOC, NARA, and SHEG are incredibly handy to help guide their thinking.

But what about other types of graphic organizers? Are there some organizers you should be using but aren’t? Spoiler alert. Yes.

Before we jump into the fabulous five, a quick graphic organizer 101 review.

Brain research tells us that mental images are powerful tools that support cognitive tasks and that by creating unique mental pictures, our students deepen their understanding, attach new information to prior knowledge, and create new learning. Graphic organizers are “visual and spatial displays that arrange information graphically so that key concepts and the relationships among the concepts are displayed” (Gunter, Estes, and Mintz 2007).

They can present information textually, with images or symbols, or a combination of both. Graphic organizers give kids a clear strategy to gather, process, organize, and prioritize information. All things that are encouraged by Common Core lit standards, the NCSS national standards, and the Kansas social studies document.

Okay . . . what five graphic organizers should all social studies teachers be using but probably aren’t? Continue reading 5 graphic organizers you’re probably not using but should be

5 Easy Ways to Integrate Writing in the Social Studies

Today’s post is written by Cheney, Kansas middle and high social studies teacher Jill Weber. Jill is the 2016 Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year.


Gone are the days in which reading novels and writing essays belonged solely in an ELA classroom.  All subjects are now expected to (and should) be integrating and supporting the reading and writing skills that students are taught in Language Arts class.

“But, but . . . I went to college to be a history teacher, not an English teacher. I don’t know HOW to teach ELA!”

That was me. Seriously. I was ready to fight teaching reading and writing skills as long as I could.

Until I learned some simple strategies to help me.  This list is meant to help those who are struggling to add reading and writing skills into their classrooms and possibly give some new ideas to others. Continue reading 5 Easy Ways to Integrate Writing in the Social Studies

The Syllabus Can Wait! A Day One Strategy for Fostering Student Ownership

Despite the best efforts of teachers nation-wide to freeze their calendars and squeeze in as much family and pool time as they can, the school year is fast approaching.  As we begin to transition back into educator mode the plan for the first day of school begins to crystallize in our minds.  For the past several years I have utilized this activity to get my students communicating with each other, receiving invaluable guidance for myself, modelling a skill we utilize repeatedly, and setting the tone for our entire course..

After a standard intro and icebreaker I write the following prompt on the board:

“Describe an effective teacher.”

Since I have taught freshmen four of my six years in the classroom, I am keenly aware of the importance of explaining EVERYTHING.  As much fun as it is to hear a student say “no homework” as if they are the first to come up with the joke, I immediately ask students what the mission of a teacher is.  

As they come to their consensus I break up the class into groups of three.  I task each group to collaborate and develop four criteria to judge whether a teacher is effective or not, keeping in mind the mission of a teacher.  After 3-5 minutes of conversation, each group shares out their list of four.  As they share I write down every response on the board.  Normally we end up with a list of between 10-15 characteristics, since I do not write down repeat suggestions. Continue reading The Syllabus Can Wait! A Day One Strategy for Fostering Student Ownership

Detecting Bias: Quick and Easy Lesson Applications for Practicing this Essential Skill (Part 1)

In the ongoing battle between serious, fact-based interpretation of current events and the onslaught of “fake news” stories being spread throughout social media (and beyond),debate headlines 21st century social studies teachers face a daunting task.  How can we possibly help students develop the necessary skills in order navigate the confusing blizzard of information they encounter on a daily basis?  Even still, who has enough hours in the day to both cover all the required content and engage in current events activities that encompass more than reading an article and answering a few questions?

As a veteran teacher believe me, I feel your pain.  My colleague Joe Zlatnik and I have spent time the past few years talking with teachers throughout the country about how they address bias in their classrooms.  The consensus we have heard is that most teachers don’t address it since they don’t have time to teach “current events.”  With this in mind we developed a set of simple activities that can help kids practice the skill of detecting bias within the framework of US and World history courses.  I will explain one of these activities in this first part of a three part series.

Continue reading Detecting Bias: Quick and Easy Lesson Applications for Practicing this Essential Skill (Part 1)