Category Archives: writing

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


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

Winning the RACE of writing

student-at-computerStudents + writing = frustration . . . sound like familiar?

The growing expectation of integrating writing  in our Social Studies classroom makes us as anxious about the process as our students. Why does this happen? There are a variety of factors that contribute to this fear and frustration but the most common that I hear from other teachers is

I don’t have a solid system to assist my kids with writing.

We teach a topic and then assess students by asking them to write a response or reaction. What do we get back? Continue reading Winning the RACE of writing

H.I.T. Notebooks: A Different take on Interactive Notebooks

jill weberJill Weber, 2016 Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year, has joined the Doing Social Studies writing team and will be posting throughout the year. The following is a cross-post from her excellent site A View of the Web.

I used Interactive Notebooks in my social studies class for eight years.  The majority of the students loved them.  But I had a serious love/hate relationship with them.  And after taking a long look at the pros and cons of the books and my current curriculum, I decided not to continue with the interactive notebooks last year.

While I found it a relief not having to keep up with the grading of 60+ notebooks, there was something missing from my class.  I had a number of kids ask me why we weren’t doing them anymore, and others who were disappointed that the “hands on” cutting, pasting, and creativity was replaced with more writing assignments.  I felt guilty that my answer was “because I just couldn’t keep up with all the grading.”

That got me thinking on ways that I could bring the interactive notebooks idea back without having all the copious grading that went with it.  I talked with our language arts teacher, who uses her interactive notebooks as a tool to help organize materials and doesn’t grade it at all.  I liked that idea.

But I wanted more.  I wanted a way to hold kids accountable.  I wanted them to take pride in the organization and appearance of the book.  And, most of all, I wanted it to be used as something more than a storage device.  I want it to be something they will reference throughout the year.

The Idea:
Then an idea started to take form.  An idea to use the notebook more like a detective’s note book when trying to solve a crime.

So this year, we have: the  Historian In Training Notebook or HIT books. (HIT is a cool name for a middle school activity, right? )

The HIT notebook will be designed as sort of a history detective notebook that we’ll use to identify historical thinking techniques, analyze primary sources, keep information over specific historical questions, and refer back to skills learned throughout the year.

A few examples of possible pages  . . .  Continue reading H.I.T. Notebooks: A Different take on Interactive Notebooks

Stop! In the Name of…Writing?

stoplight2In an effort to improve the writing skills of my students and better prepare them for the Kansas Writing Assessment, the Multidisciplinary Performance Task, I have begun implementing the Stoplight Writing strategy.  I attempted to use this strategy in my classroom last year, but as a last ditch effort before the test rather than a regular activity the students experienced throughout the entire school year.

This year however, my students are writing every unit using stoplight writing, and the dramatic difference in the finished products from last year to this year are extraordinary.  Last year I feared that my 7th grade students didn’t know how to write a complete sentence, this year I am finding that my expectations for the students are too low and every unit I raise the standards for their finished work. Continue reading Stop! In the Name of…Writing?