planningSpotlight Challenge: Making It Work

How do you go beyond answering questions and writing paragraphs without taking more time?

According to Wineburg, Martin, and Chauncey (2012, ix), "facts are crucial to historical understanding, but there's only one way for them to take root in memory: Facts are mastered by engaging students in historical questions that spark their curiosity and make them passionate about seeking answers."

Explore the following three examples from Wineburg's new book (2012, ix) that examine how history can be made exciting by asking engaging questions.

Try It!
What are your favorite big history questions? How could they be connected with documents?

The Problem. Students will only pay attention in 5-10 minute segments.

The Solution. Break your big questions into smaller concepts. Develop concept-focused lectures that focus on one idea and an example:

The Problem. Class projects take too much time!

The Solution. Focus your efforts on the essential questions and don't get bogged down with technology.

Example. How Laws Are Made


Comics are a quick and easy way for students to share their understandings. It's easy to incorporate original images and artwork along with historical primary source materials.


If you have funding, purchase Comic Life. It's worth the subscription costs.

Or, consider online tools. For those services that don't provide an option to print or save, consider creating a screen shot.

You don't need use Comic Life or online tools, consider other software in your school. For instance, use the speech bubbles in Microsoft PowerPoint to simulate a conversation among famous historical figures. Keep the project simple by working in small groups and using existing technology tools.

Let's explore three examples:

Explore some comic examples:


Try It
Brainstorm assignments that could include a comic element as a product. Discuss the pros and cons of comic projects.

Interactive Images

Turn static documents into interactive images by using existing software like PowerPoint as well as interactive online tools like SpeakingImage and Thinglink.

In PowerPoint you can add "Action" buttons. If you want them to be transparent, set the fill and line color to No Fill and No Line.

Explore examples of online interactive image projects:

Focus on interesting and unusual primary sources. Look for images with lots of images, text to interpret, and a title to examine such as Chain of Events in American History (poster) (1887): shows images from discovery to 1980s.

Glogster also works well for this type of assignment. Use the search tool for lots of examples such as The Constitution.

Try It!
Discuss a primary source document that could be used for an interactive images project. What would the assignment look like? How would it be assessed?


Explore the Government: Who Takes Care of What infographic. What can students learn from infographics?

Explore some others:

Find infographics using Google Images. Do searches for infographics and timelines.

You don't need to create whole infographics. Show students At the National Conventions: the Words They Used. Ask them to create two Wordles for famous speeches they want to compare.

Diana Laufenberg's class create infographics to tell the stories of the top ten worst man-made environmental disasters in American history.

She began with three essential questions:

Laufenberg suggests exploring infographics to get you started thinking about man-made disasters:

Explore websites with suggested top ten lists:

Involve students in creating criteria for evaluating infographics:

Although young people often embrace technology, it can also be overwhelming. Establish structured environments for young people to explore, create, and share. Use online creation tools

Go to my Library History course for a page on making infographics.

Try It
What infographics will you look for in Google Images?

Map Projects

Explore existing map projects available on Google Maps.

While you might not be reading "How They Croaked" by Georgia Bragg in class, students may be checking it out on their own. We want them going to Google Maps to locate the death site, exploring Find-A-Grave, and analyzing the diagram of relationships.

How They CroakedCroaked Map

There are many mashup websites that combine history and mapping. Explore some examples:

You can also make your own. The Digital History project incorporated Library of Congress primary resources into a mapping project related to Dec 7, 1941.

The Civil Rights Digital Library contains maps linked to primary source documents. Students could connects these with books they are reading such as The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963.

Go to Google LitTrips to extend the idea to include trips associated with books.

For any book students are reading, ask them to use Google Maps to locate the area and create their own map adding primary sources.

Assign students different readings and use a map to bring the experience together. For instance, read different historical fiction books related to the Civil War. Maps the locations.

NASA's Outline Maps provide a great starting point for student projects. Bring them into Google Draw or other programs.

Explore tools for creating your own maps:

Try It!
Brainstorm a way to incorporate more opportunities for map making into your social studies classes.

Online Tools

Online tools are available for a wide range of history activities


Timelines are particularly useful in history teaching. Try an online timeline maker.

There are many other online tools for helping students organize and share ideas.

Think about how social media tools course be used. For instance, an academic librarian created LIKE pages for two former students. Read the Wired Campus article. You can "like" their new pages at Leola Lewis and Joe McDonald.

The That a Man Can Stand project used blog postings as a way for students to share their understandings. They also published their own book. Lulu and Createspace are good options for publishing.

Try It!
What could you publish with your students?

Oral Histories

Start by exploring the many online sites that organize oral histories. Spend some time with students evaluating the approach taken by the interviewer.


Use one of the many only analysis sheets: Library of Congress, History Matters,

Apply online tools to conducting Oral Histories: American Folklife Center, Listening to History Lesson

Check out Great Depression Cooking on Youtube and the Cooking with Carla website. Use the Greatest Engineering Achievements page to stimulate question ideas.

Use primary source documents to add interest to an oral history project. Use Stixy to organize ideas.

What else can you do with people in history? Read The not-so-famous person report for ideas.


Go to my escrapbooking website for lots of examples of integrating primary sources into projects.

Video Production

Video production doesn't need to be time consuming or expensive. Follow these rules:

Focus on primary sources and show lots of examples. Visualize a primary source document using animation or video. Watch Gettysburg Address.

Create a music video based on a primary source document. Connect history with music through music videos from History for Music Lovers with songs like Renaissance Man or French Revolution. Make your own! Use the new YouTube for Schools if you don't have access.

Show student productions for inspiration.

Incorporate primary sources including historical video.

Make It Meaningful

Seek ways to make learning meaningful through personal and local connections. I'm working on the diary of my GGGGGrandfather William Preston. He was a private under Captain Dearborn and part of the Quebec Expedition in 1775 commanded by Col. Benedit Arnold. It's exciting to compare the diary of one man with what was happening at this time period in American history.

How will you make learning exciting for your students?

American Revolution

Benedict ArnoldBenedict ArnoldValley Forge


Hoodless, Pat (2002). History and English in the Primary School: Exploiting the Links. Routledge.

Mallett, Margaret (2010). Choosing and Using Fiction and Non-fiction 3-11. Routledge.


| eduscapes | IUPUI Online Courses | Activate | 42explore | About Us | Contact Us | © 2013 Annette Lamb