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Your rules for teaching history? Part I

Several years ago, Lee Formwalt put together a short list of what he called “Seven Rules for Effective History Teaching or Bringing Life to the History Class.” I printed the article out when it was published and tucked it away, Photo by to pull it out someday when I could actually use it.

Of course, it got buried under all of the other articles I printed out for later use and was lost in the pile.

It emerged from the layers of my desk yesterday during a massive cleaning project undertaken here in the ESSDACK office.

While re-reading it, I was reminded of a brief post I wrote last fall that listed a few of the requirements for a good history teacher. And while there are some similarities, last fall’s post focused on the teacher, not so much on the strategies and techniques used as part of instruction.

Formwalt’s list is a bit different in that it shares:

the various ways that I had stimulated the interests of my students.

In other words, those techniques that are the most effective in engaging kids and ensuring transfer of content. And rather than sharing all seven in one long post, it might work better in smaller chunks.

Rule One: Enthusiasm & Passion

Everything else flows out from this. The first and most important technique to getting kids excited about history is to be excited yourself. Formwalt says that the Greek origins of the word enthusiasm related to “the spirit in you” or something inspiring “zeal and fervor.” You have to love history, you have to constantly work to learn more about it and you have to be willing to share this with students.

If you do it right, it should look something like this!

Rule Two: Rely less on textbooks

I couldn’t agree more. I know that it’s difficult moving away from the text but there are so many others things out there. Nothing wrong with letting the text guide the structure and planning of your course but be willing to use other, more emotionally charged resources guide the learning:

For example, when you study American slavery, have your students read Narrative of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave and/or Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives, Ida B. Wells’s Southern Horrors, and W.E.B. Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folks shed much light on post-Civil War America while Melba Patillo Beal’s Warriors Don’t Cry provides a very moving account of an African American high school student’s experience of integrating Little Rock’s Central High School.

You can find lots of resources for locating fiction and non-fiction over at Social Studies Central. But whatever you use, make sure that it’s something that you enjoy as well. When you enjoy it, the kids will notice!

Tomorrow? Rule Three and Four.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. It seems like these rules were written before the wide availability of some of the amazing classroom tools for tech teachers and yet technology can help make this happen… I am glad the list starts with passion enthusiasm! In classrooms that don’t really work, that is almost always a missing component… great post!

    August 5, 2009

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Your rules for teaching history? Part II « History Tech
  2. Your rules for teaching history? Part III « History Tech

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