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Tip of the Week – History Frame Graphic Organizer

I talked several weeks ago about using graphic organizers. We know how powerful organizers can be in helping kids structure their learning. There are tons of different kinds floating around. (You can find several lists of graphic organizers over at the Sites for Teachers page at Social Studies Central.) But one of the best is something called the History Frame.

What Are History Frames?

This is one of the tools that we should be sharing with our kids because it is one that they have probably already used. Many language arts teachers having been using what they call story maps for years. When looking at literature, students are often asked to focus on the elements of the story such as setting, character, plot, and theme.

The cool thing is that historians look at these same things! Why not adapt a proven strategy and use the same sort of structure with our own students? Use the History Frame to break down specific events or events over time by asking questions such as:

  • where and when did the event take place?
  • who was involved?
  • what was the problem or goal that set events in motion?
  • what were the key events?
  • how was it resolved?
  • what’s the Big Idea / so what / the reason this event matters?

How does the History Frame work?

Characters / Key Players:
Who are the people who were involved in this? Which ones played major roles, and which ones were minor?
Setting / Location:
Where and when did this event take place?

Plot / Events:
This section can be broken down a bit.

  • Problem/Goal: What set events in motion? What problem arose, or what were the key players after? What were some effects of this event?
  • Events/Episodes: This helps kids summarize and focus on the “important” pieces of the larger picture.
  • Resolution/Outcome: How was the problem solved? Was the goal attained?


Some look at this as the “so what” or “big idea.” What have we – more specifically, what have the kids – learned from this? Jay McTighe of Understanding by Design fame talks about having kids write their own “moral of the story” after learning has taken place.

Teachers have used the History Frame to activate prior knowledge before reading or lecture. You can also use it during reading or after new knowledge has been gathered as a form of assessment.

You can download a blank template of the History Frame here.

Use it however it works best and remember to have fun!

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