Engagement is at the heart of Universal Design for Learning. This page offers a number of strategies specific to the study of history and the social sciences. Allow students to engage with course content in a variety of ways–always with the focus on the needs of your particular learners. Some students require consistent classroom routines. Yet alternating routines offers rewards for those students who thrive on novelty. Such students will benefit from self-directed, independent learning. Collaboration and peer support in group assignments can be structured to support both groups. Having students move around the room in teams as they examine primary documents allows them to hear a variety of perspectives in an organized fashion. Tying in course content to the students’ lives is crucial. When students are able to make personal connections, the material comes to life and soon the classroom is full of learners who are motivated and feel purposeful.
The strategies presented here encourage a variety of activities to engage students in the study of history. These activities can be used at various points during the lesson. Students with different learning styles will benefit from the teacher using a mix of these activities throughout the school year. Each strategy is flexible and can be used with many primary source sets.
Teacher adds speech bubble to photo at Accessing Inquiry face-to-face course.
Add dialogue bubbles to photographs or other depictions with people, and ask students to come up with what the people may have been thinking or saying. This technique allows students to be imaginative and playful, and invites them to take the perspective of someone in another historical time and situation. Have students act out their bubbles to really make the source come to life.
See how Talking Tableau is used in our Model Lesson: Puerto Rican Identity
Timeline of Primary Sources
Students can take a set of primary sources and guess the correct chronological order. The challenge is for students to create a story out of the primary sources from start to finish. Students use higher level thinking skills and collaboration to better understand the historical context. Students can share their answers with each other and look for common themes.
See how the timeline activity is used in our Model Resource: Disability History
Provide students with two maps of the same location from two different times in history. Students complete a graphic organizer to determine what is different about the city or town based on the two maps. Students then examine the reason for the changes that have been made over time. These map activities are great for teaching industrialization, urban development, and migration.
See how Map Analysis is used in our Model Lesson: Mapping Industrialization in Springfield
- Civic Engagement, service-learning and other community projects offer a means to engage diverse learners in authentic work that profoundly motivates because it matters in the larger world. Local History Projects are an opportunity to pursue civic engagement by finding information about issues of historic and contemporary interest to the students’ own community. Projects can allow students to try out, sharpen, and show off skills that include yet extend beyond conventional classroom skills. Learn from Emerging America’s decades of direct experience leading civic engagement projects in its Windows on History program.
- Arts Engagement Projects – Projects that invite students to express the content they are learning in an art piece, whether that piece is a script for a radio drama, a visual display, a physical enactment of an idea in a skit or tableau, or a spoken word or music piece are all effective ways to engage a class. Art projects can deepen emotional investment, provide choice, and allow for differentiation. Integrating arts into the classroom can also uncover areas of strength and build confidence and pride in some students whose understanding is showcased in a new format. Take a look at the Monument Making project described in the linked Facing History video (4:36 minutes). Students completed a study unit on the Holocaust by designing and constructing a memorial sculpture that was made of cement casts of their own clasped hands.
- Differentiating Instruction for Special Education ELL Students. American Museum of Natural History. Includes an authentic learning experience for students at a natural history museum.
- An arts integration e- library offers teaching tools for elementary students developed by Enchanted Circle Theater.
- “Get it Off the Page.” Kaitlin Tower, Orlando, Florida. Social Studies and Special Education. Discusses inclusion classes with a particular focus on autism spectrum students. Includes an exciting technique called where educators find ways to make materials more hands-on and allow for kinesthetic learners to access the information. Video. (5:00 mins.)
- Teaching Special Education History Using Writing-to-Learn Strategies. Ray Marik, Seattle School District.
- Olympics: Past and Present. Provides a clear outline of the types of lesson plans that function well for a wide range of learners and include modifications. Sage Publications.
- Co-Teaching–Teacher Education. Purdue University. Video. (13:05 mins.)
- Culturally Relevant Pedagogy Using Primary Sources
- Video instructional modules with classroom examples from the Minnesota Historical Society:
- Culturally Relevant Pedagogy webinar (27:15 mins.). A second grade teacher describes the three components of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Presentation describes analyzing primary sources, making them familiar, and relating them to the students’ lives.
- Incorporating visual and performing arts into lessons helps students to relate personally to academic subject matter, broadens the range of modes of expression, and empowers student voice. The University of the Arts has posted many teacher-developed lessons from its courses on the arts and primary sources. http://tps.uarts.edu/teacher-resources/lesson-plans
- Higher-Order thinking through creative assignments: Jennifer Gonzalez, in an essay available in writing and as an audio podcast, offers useful distinctions of the thinking involved in various creative classroom tasks. In the latter half of her essay, she provides an analysis of a Bill of Rights lesson and ways creative tasks can engage students in higher-order thinking. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/higher-order/
- Graffiti Board. Facing History offers an introduction and classroom example of the ways a Graffitti board can engage students who don’t always feel comfortable speaking up in class. Video. (6:07 mins)
- Gallery Walk. Having students write responses to an image, and build upon one anothers’ comments anonymously as they write their responses offers a silent form of classroom discussion. Facing History video. (8:09 mins)
- Social Justice Books – Selections of children’s and teen literature organized by topic areas, including Disability and Immigration.
Emerging America built this digital resource to provide ongoing support for K-12 teachers of history, social studies, and humanities to challenge and nurture struggling learners. Sign up for the fully online Accessing Inquiry for Students with Disability through Primary Sources course.