What’s the point of teaching history? Is it to memorize dates and names, learning the great deeds of great people throughout history, but never really connecting with their stories? Of course not! But…if that’s the case…why are we still lecturing, delivering just content, and using (often outdated) textbooks? 

I’m proposing a different way – one that engages students, encourages discussion, and reduces the amount of time YOU have to stand in front of the class. 


Get set. 

Primary. Sources. 

Teaching with primary sources isn’t just having students read newspapers or look at images. It’s about a different way of teaching – moving away from content-driven, teacher-led lectures and towards discussions, connections, and historical thinking. Bonus points for not having to teach out of old, expensive textbooks exclusively! 

How do you start to teach with primary sources? I’m going to talk more about how to center your classroom around this idea at Innovation in Action (December 5-6, 2019 in Madison, MS!), but here are 5 quick tips to get started!

  1. Find out your students’ interests! If you have students who really love medicine, why not let them become experts on the history of science and medicine? Students who love fashion? Time to analyze some fashion magazines! Tailoring your sources to what students already love makes them more likely to engage!
  2. Learn how to read! I mean…you know how to do that. But learn how to read like an historian, and teach your students! I highly recommend “How to Read” by Professor David Chioni Moore. Starting off your semester with a discussion on what historical reading is leads to a better understanding of how to think historically!
  3. Bring in some technology! There are tons of ways you can set the mood for a historical period, something that helps students immerse themselves in history. One of my favorite ways is to create a free-form Padlet board that I let students run – I’ll share how at Innovation in Action!
  4. Find diverse sources! Make sure your sources reflect not only the diversity you have in your classroom, but also that of our country and the world. Sources from under-represented groups, including people of color, women, and indigenous peoples help all students feel welcome to be historians. 
  5. Partner with your local community! Going on a trip to a museum, an archive, even a library can show students that primary sources live outside the margins of their history books, and can spark interests they didn’t even know they had! 

Join me on Thursday, December 5 and Friday, December 6 for sessions (a fishbowl and a general session) and resources on teaching with primary sources at Innovation in Action!