Happy new school year! I have four sections of ELA and two sections of Ancient History this year, and I am loving only having two preps! I’m trying to post more information for you here on this blog platform since it holds more links than Instagram, and is sometimes easier to reference than a YouTube video. But check out both of those platforms for daily tips as well!
Here are 6 of my favorite resources to use in my history classes:
I started using Flocabulary about six years ago to teach the Bill of Rights to my 8th grade students with a rap song. Since then they’ve added every subject area to their site that you could ever need, including Social Emotional Learning and Financial Literacy. I currently use their Ancient History units, the Week in Rap current events videos, and of course all of the amazing English curriculum in my ELA classes.
For years I paid for a subscription and had a teacher account. I played their videos for my students and printed quizzes and Read and Respond assignments for my students. They absolutely loved the videos and learned concepts so quickly because they could memorize the songs. The quizzes and other activities were such high quality and so convenient that it was worth it to me to pay monthly for the subscription.
Now I have a school-wide subscription which is perfect since all of our students have Chromebooks. My students each have an account, so they can watch the videos as many times as they need to, and I can assign quizzes and activities for them to do online. No more printing and making copies! Talk to your administration about purchasing a school-wide subscription because it can be used in every single content area.
Our favorite feature is the Week in Rap, and we won the Shout Out contest last year! Check out this video to see how it works!
Newsela takes current news articles and levels each article so that is accessible to students at reading levels all the way down to 2nd grade. You can assign the same article to whole class, and if they are on a personal device, no one will know if they are reading it at a different lexile level than their neighbor. It’s so great for differentiation!
This is another resource that I’m able to use in both my English and history classes, but I especially love it for history. All of the articles are from reputable news sources, so I like to send my students here to do research. Newsela has amassed thousands of articles now, and also partnered with Biography.com to provide more history content. They have text sets and primary source documents that are perfect for building background knowledge.
I also love using Newsela for writing instruction. See this video for more information on how to use it for revision and editing.
Newsela has both a free and a paid version.
iCivics is free but I donate to them once a year because I absolutely love what they are doing. They have incredible, engaging games that teach students complex topics about civics and government. Your students can argue Supreme Court cases, run for office, and be a virtual immigration officer. This is another site that works especially well if your students have their own device, but I also love to pair them up and have them work together on one device.
This summer I had the opportunity to attend a week-long training with Facing History on Race & Membership in American Society. It was incredibly powerful, and I loved learning the strategies and content firsthand. If you want to give your students a solid foundation in topics such as democracy, immigration, anti-Semitism, and human rights, check out this free site. All of their resources are based in primary source documents and solid historical research, and they have dozens of impactful and effective teaching strategies for reading, writing, and thinking. If you only have the time and resources to go to one teaching conference this year, make it one by Facing History and Ourselves.
Here is a video about my experience at the training.
Document Based Questions (DBQs)
Start bringing your administrators cookies this week so that next week you can ask them to purchase some DBQ curriculum for your department. If your school is in the process of phasing out history textbooks, make sure that they understand that this curriculum is much cheaper than textbooks, and several teachers can share one set. I would gladly teach all of my content through DBQ’s and give up traditional curriculum.
Document Based Questions are the closest curriculum I’ve seen to what real historical work is actually like. Students are presented with a historical question, engaging (and often conflicting!) primary source documents, and tasked with making a claim that they will defend with evidence. The curriculum provides detailed note-taking, outlining, and writing instructions, so if you have no experience as an English teacher, you’ll still be fine. I find that students like this kind of purposeful research so much more than traditional memorization and multiple-choice tests, plus they learn those dates and places so much more quickly in context. Students truly put content into practice, and they learn skills about consuming information that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
Additionally, if you teach high school, DBQ’s are excellent preparation for AP tests. They’re also excellent preparation for college, and democratic life in general.
Stanford History Education Group (SHEG)
This project by the Stanford History Education Group is quite similar to DBQ’s but it is free once you make an online account. I use the Reading Like a Historian section the most often, which contains quite a few inquiries based in ancient history. Like DBQ’s, these text sets provide conflicting primary and secondary source documents, which are incredibly fun to teach because students have to decide which evidence is the most credible. The research and investigation is purposeful because students are trying to solve a mystery. My 6th grade students especially like the unit about how Egyptian pyramids were built, and they build historical research skills in addition to knowledge about ancient Egypt.
If you teach English and history together, or if you collaborate often with your English department, this would be excellent curriculum to take on as a team.
My fellow history teachers, I hope these resources are helpful to you! We are teaching during an exciting time when historical thinking skills are beginning to be valued over trivia, and WE get to pass on those skills. It’s an honor and, truthfully, a whole lot of fun!
I just started teaching ELD in middle school in January after being a classroom elementary school teacher for 6 years. Let me tell you, you have been are an incredible resource! Having an elementary school background, I am worried that I am not pushing my students to do the highest level/quality work that they should be. I want to do a PBL research project, but I am having difficulty finding the proper resources for them. Do you have any recommendations/suggestions?