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History Nerdfest 2017 Day One: Teaching Literacy Through History

I first met Tim Bailey several years ago when he was the Gilder Lehrman master teacher during our Century of Progress TAH project. And he was awesome. Our teachers loved his ideas and resources. During today’s afternoon #NSSSA17 session, I got the chance to learn more from Tim.

Tim highlighted several different ideas from the Gilder Lehrman Teaching Literacy Through History lesson plan database – all immediately useable.

I love a couple of his quotes:

  • Be a guide, not an interpreter.
  • Primary sources are the closest thing to time travel.

Tim started by sharing What we as social studies teachers should be doing:

  • Students interact directly with an author or speaker through primary sources without the filter of textbook with the teacher serving as a guide
  • Authentic interaction with evidence creates student ownership
  • Create an emotional connection to content with students to increase retention
  • Increase both content knowledge and literacy skills while strengthening student ability to think critically

But he suggested that while most teachers have no problem agreeing with the idea that students need to think historically using evidence. But they can struggle with the How. Especially when they’re having kids read complex text such as the Preamble.

So teachers often use strategies that don’t work, such as:

  • Popcorn / round robin reading
  • Having kid volunteer doesn’t work either. Why? Only those who like to read will volunteer
  • Picking students to read
  • Choral reading is a bit better but you always get at least one kid just moving his lips or that one kid listening for cues from the person next to them – who’s actually a worse reader than she is

Tim shared memorizing the Preamble by listening to Schoolhouse Rock. He was able to write out the Preamble for the test but had no idea what it was or why it was important. He got an A on the test.

So what does Tim think does work for helping kids deal with complex text?

  • The shared reading strategy has the teacher acting as the model as she reads and is good for low and high readers.
  • Focus vocabulary development on Tier 2 words.
  • Use text-based questions strategies to promote better textual analysis. Students have to use “what is in front of them.” Don’t go out of the text – if you’re teaching the Preamble? Stick to the Preamble. And ask both inferential and literal questions.
  • Require oral presentations based on textual evidence. Speaking builds thinking skills and speeches need to be just as structured as written arguments.
  • Lots of analysis of visual and graphic materials.
  • Lead kids through the Keyword strategy.

And a presentation by the 2009 Gilder Lehrman Teacher of the Year would not be complete without suggesting that we use the Teaching Literacy Through History database of lesson plans. You’ll find a ton of powerful and teacher-tested lessons for all grades and content.





3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Amanda Jessee #

    The TLTH database from Gilder-Lehman is A-MAAA-zing! My fifth graders love reading directly from the source, rather than a dusty interpretation through a textbook. Just finished up having them analyze and summarize the Mayflower Compact, using the TLTH lesson. Lots of scaffolding where vocab is concerned, but at the end of it, they can tell me not only what the document said–in their own words–but why it was a big deal and should be remembered as part of our national story.

    November 17, 2017
    • glennw #


      Thanks for the unsolicited review! I agree – it really is awesome stuff. And it’s free! What’s not to like? When your kids are able to do the sort of things you described? Epic win!


      November 17, 2017

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