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#nche2016: Using the story of Angel Island to build elementary historical thinking skills

angel island book cover

One of the cool things that is happening around the country is that more and more elementary classrooms are focusing on integrating history into their instruction. But there are always questions about what this can look like. During this session, Lisa Hutton from California State University, Dominguez Hills shared some ideas of things teachers can do to support historical thinking skills with grade school kids.

The idea? Use foundational knowledge / specific historical events to build the historical thinking and literacy skills. She used the engaging and powerful story of Pacific and Asian immigrants during the early 1900s who transitioned through Angel Island off the coast of California.

Lisa started with her historical inquiry process model:

Historical Inquiry Model

Lisa suggests that we can use fiction and nonfiction resources to help build context and foundational knowledge before asking kids to look at other pieces of primary and secondary evidence. This can be a powerful way to connect social studies and ELA literacy skills.

A few book suggestions for this topic:

The next step should always be to create a series of spiraling compelling questions as part of the process of historical inquiry.

  • Why do people come to California?
  • What were the greatest challenges immigrants faced in coming to California in the 1800s?
  • What was it like to be detained on Angel Island?

Suggest using images and photos as a great way to start the inquiry process.

  • What do you see?
  • How does this image help you answer the question: What was it like to be detained at Angel Island?
  • What do you wonder?

Lisa also shared what looks like an effective thinking tool for helping kids analyze a textual primary source. She called these historical thinking tools. I like this idea of handing kids these sorts of scaffolding pieces:

elementary historical thinking cards

historicla thinking cards

She talked about modifying primary sources to make them more accessible to elementary students. I am all about this idea. I know some argue against this but seriously . . . doesn’t it defeat the purpose of having kids think historically if they can’t actually read and understand the evidence? The Stanford History Education Group has some nice suggestions about how to go about doing this.

She also suggests using a lot of detailed timelines around the room to help build background and context.

This sort of thinking is a great way to connect the past with contemporary issues. And this specific topic is a natural lead-in to current conversations about immigration and even topics such as Trump’s call for wall building. This is not just hypothetical concerns. Kids across the country are thinking and talking about these issues already. Using the past to help them understand the present seems like a natural fit.

She had lots of sweet handouts and she is very willing to share her stuff. Contact her directly to ask for them at lhutton@csudh@edu.



5 Comments Post a comment
  1. In my opinion, History is our most important subject.

    April 22, 2016
    • glennw #

      I couldn’t agree more!


      April 22, 2016

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  2. Tip of the Week: 8 great elementary social studies teaching ideas and one great conference | History Tech

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