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3 ways to use artifacts in the social studies classroom (and build literacy skills)

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It’s day one of our Social Studies PLC and I am pumped. It’s always a great time and I’m always learning something new. The core members of the group are from the Century of Progress Teaching American History grant project but in the last year, we’ve added a ton of new people.

New people equals new ideas. New strategies and resources. So . . . yeah, it’s gonna be fun.

We’ve settled into the habit of spending our mornings focusing on a specific topic. We’ll kick off this year the same way by spending the am talking about the best ways to use artifacts as teaching tools. There’ll be a variety of things that we gonna do including:

(Update September 11
I used some photos of D-Day artifacts as an opener for the “What do they have in common?” activity and many teachers were asking for those. I created a Dropbox folder that has those images in it if you’re interested. I got some of the images from the very cool book The D-Day Kit-Bag (get some of the images here or buy the book cause it’s just so cool) and from the from the website of the Museum of World War II.)

We’ll also be talking about what works best. What strategies or ideas seem to work best when paired with artifacts. Using an excerpt from Eyewitness to the Past: Strategies for Teaching History in Grades 5-12 by Joan Brodsky Schur, teachers will kick off the discussion with these starters:

Travelogues: Eyewitness Perspectives on a Growing Nation
Historians have an incredible array of travelogues written by those who journeyed across America at various times in our history. After reading samples from travelogues and related chapters in textbooks, students imagine themselves as a traveler with a particular purpose: explorer, land speculator, immigrant, or conservationist, for example. They describe what they see from a particular perspective while gaining an appreciation for America during a particular time period. In addition to writing, students create sketches and artwork of what they see along the way.

Letters: Arguing the Past in Written Correspondence
After reading examples of historical letters, students are put into pairs of correspondents. Students role-play by writing a series of letters to one another while holding different perspectives on the issues they are learning about from their textbooks. Correspondents might be stationed on the homefront and battlefront during a war or be supporters of opposing presidential candidates. Enclosures in their letters include family photographs or sketches and a variety of keepsakes such as news clippings about important events of the time.

Newspapers: Conflicting Accounts of the Same Events
With an ever-increasing number of documents now available online, students can easily access examples of news articles expressing different viewpoints written at various times in our history. After studying how language can slant our take on events, teams of students write their own newspapers representing partisan perspectives of key events of the day such as a Civil War battle or controversial trial. Students also generate advertisements and cartoons that put events in sociological as well as historical perspective.

Yeah. I know, right? It’s gonna be an awesome day.

23 Comments Post a comment
  1. Garrett #

    Using artifacts from the Jamestown site to learn about colonial America. It includes 5 artifacts for print or viewing on a computer.

    September 10, 2014
  2. I recently used this lesson plan about the Bubonic Plague in my World History class. I especially liked how it asked students to evaluate bias in the sources presented. As an extention I showed images of the PSA’s currently being used in Africa to educate citizens about the Ebola Virus, then had students create similarly styled warnings for Europeans in the 1300s.

    September 10, 2014
    • Jennifer #

      Great connection, Casey! Using this idea when we get to the plague in the spring🙂

      September 10, 2014
  3. Deb O'Brien #

    Alien and Sedition Acts

    September 10, 2014
  4. Lewis and Clark, artifacts, journal entries, and writing prompts. Looks cool!

    September 10, 2014
  5. Clay Mettlen #

    Here is a lesson about how soldiers were equipped in World War I. It has pictures of the equipment a typical soldier was issued and has students question how the different equipment reflect changes in technology.

    September 10, 2014
  6. Tim Carey #

    On the lesson plan is to analyze artifacts to learn about life in colonial America. I would use this in my 8th grade history class.

    September 10, 2014
  7. 19th and 20th Century Immigration

    September 10, 2014
  8. Whitney #
    This is a great website for teachers to find lesson plans on. Go to the link above and click on classroom resources. I specifically was interested in the Civil War Lesson Plans for 8th grade US history.

    September 10, 2014
  9. African American Lives Lesson 2: My Place in History

    In this lesson, students will develop an understanding of how individual experiences are shaped by larger events and trends in history. Using their own life histories as an introduction to the study of timelines, students will first chart major dates and events in their lives. They will then proceed to use segments of AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES to discover how specific events and trends in history were experienced by the PBS series’ featured guests and their families. They will also use web resources to research the experiences of African Americans during different periods of history. As a culminating activity, students will conduct research into their own family and community history, learning how the experiences of relatives and neighbors connect to local, national, and world events.

    September 10, 2014
  10. Mark Schmidt #

    I found one Smithsonian lesson plan using artifacts. It takes a different “slant” on artifacts by using contemporary items. It makes the students archaeologists and asks them to identify the items based on drawings that were done “in the field.” You could extend it by having the students do their own drawings of items or you could bury items and recreate a dig site. You could also get actual field notes from a dig site. They need to analyze what might this site might be and who would be here or who used these items.

    September 10, 2014
  11. Lori Drouhard #
    Outfitting a World War I soldier: Teaching US history with primary sources
    What do soldiers wear? Students will say a uniform and mention boots. However, many of the necessities of soldiers are often overlooked by civilians whether the items be standard issue or personal.This lesson gives students the opportunity to not only look at William B. Umstead’s artifacts from World War I, but gain insight into how and why each item was used.

    September 10, 2014
  12. Stanford History Education Group is a source I use frequently for lessons that use original documents. This link helps students analyze political cartoons.

    September 10, 2014
  13. This site has lots of information. This caught my eye over the Founding Fathers….from the Gilder Lehrman

    September 10, 2014
  14. Jackie Bohnenblust # I never got off Glenn’s site – sorry!

    September 10, 2014
  15. This looks like a great starter lesson

    September 10, 2014
  16. Class Rules

    September 10, 2014
  17. Hammurabi’s Code
    Document A may be a too difficult for 6th grade level but Documents B and C give several parts of Hammurabi’s code (possible ways to connect to religion in Catholic schools)

    September 10, 2014

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