3 ways to use artifacts in the social studies classroom (and build literacy skills)
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’re 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 Google 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 website of the Museum of World War II.
- chatting about the You’re the Historian web site, a cool historical thinking exercise designed for upper elementary kids.
- a “What do they have in common?” activity using artifacts from here, here, and here. (Download the graphic organizer that Whitney uses with her kids here.)
- a cool History in a Bag strategy.
- a discussion of how to use what I call Personal Primary Sources and how they can be tied to our state standards and benchmarks.
- some action research by reading a few articles about artifact use including one that highlights the life of a World War II soldier, another that describes a few literacy strategies for using artifacts, and the NCSS Inquiry Arc.
- a search for online lesson plans that focus on artifacts. Teachers will get started by looking at ideas from Learner.org, artifactsteach, and the Library of Congress. Check the comments – teachers will be posting what they find below.
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.