Skip to content

History Nerdfest 2017: Using SHEG templates to create your own historical thinking lessons

We all love the Stanford History Education Group. Great lessons. Aligned assessments. Perfect balance between process and content. Focus on historical thinking skills. And just this week, a rebranding of the site and the addition of civic literacy tools.

But what happens if you can’t find what you need for your content in their list of 132 US and world history lessons? Go back to the lecture?

Nope. I’ve been preaching for years that we should be using the structure and process of those 132 lessons to create our own. Extra work? Sure. But if you follow the SHEG model, you know that what your kids are going to get is good for them.

But it can be daunting. What are the steps? What should go where? How should I create the questions? What documents to use?

Some of those questions were answered Saturday when SHEG superstars Joel Breakstone and Brad Fogo shared a bit about the process they use when creating lessons. I’ve tried to capture their thoughts about what goes into building a reading Like a Historian lesson.

They used some work they’ve been doing in Newark, New Jersey to highlight the process.

Every SHEG lesson has five components that support historical thinking. Structure of a SHEG lesson:

  • historical question
  • develop content knowledge
  • sets of modified primary sources
  • scaffolds for learning
  • requirement to make historical claims suppported with evidence

Steps in developing a SHEG lesson:

  • indentify topic / historical thinking skills to teach
  • develop your own subject matter knowledge
  • draft the question
  • begin to locate and excerpt documents
  • revise your question based on these documents
  • add headnotes and refine midifciations
  • develop guiding questions and graphic organizers
  • pilot your lesson
  • revise as needed for next time

What are some specifics?

When developing subject matter knowledge:

  • read secondary sources
  • visit local archives, libraries, and museums

Their example was on the Great Migration 1910 – 1920s specific to New Jersey. So they begin to think about the push pull factors. This is an example tying local events to a larger historical narrative.

So in their example there are lots of possible pieces of evidence: worsening conditions in the South, economic factors, population shifts from census data

Their historical question?

Why did African Americans move to Newark in the early 20th century?

Characteristics of a good historical question:

  • grounded in historical scholarship and debate
  • open to different / multiple perspectives
  • points students to documents / evidence
  • interpretive (open ended) and evaluative (invites judgment)

Types of questions:

  • Causual
    • What caused X to happen?
  • Explanatory
    • What happened at X?
  • Evaluative
    • Was X a success?
  • Descriptive
    • What was it like to live in a particular time and place?

We also need to think about “grain size” when designing our question:

  • What caused the Great Migration? (big)
  • Why did African Americans migrate to Newark? (medium)
  • How did social organizations in Newark support African Americans who to moved to Newark? (small)

Be sure to think about what kinds of documents students would need to answer each of these questions. Brainstorm the possible documents and evidence that you would put into the lesson plan.

What makes an effective document set?

  • Rich historical information – source and context
  • Addresses the question
  • Illustrates different perspectives
  • Includes different types of evidence
  • Presents conflicting or connected arguments
  • Is engaging and accessible (modified)

Ask yourself as you’re creating the set:

  • How does each document help students address the central question?
  • How does the evidence relate to each other?
  • What types of critical reading & thinking skills do the documents require students to practice and improve?
  • How do we make documents accessible to students? (This means not just modifying the actual docs but also limiting the number of docs that you provide for students.)

I wrote a quick article a couple of years ago that highlights the process of modifying primary sources to make them more accessible for kids. It’s a great place to start. You might also find this Teaching History article helpful.

If you want to see a bit of what they created for Newark, you can also find some of their resources here.

One of the phrases from Joel and Brad that caught my attention was something they call the “problem space.” It describes the learning that happens when you create a great question, accessible evidence, scaffolding questions and supports, and the student thinking that happens as a result. I like that.

(And FYI – the Stanford History Education Group just updated its website. New look but more importantly, they’ve put all of the Beyond the Bubble HAT assessments on the same site. Even more importantly, they’ve added an incredible new section that focuses on online civic literacy skills. This is an awesome new tool that you definitely need to check out.)





6 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think the URL is .edu, not .org. Can’t wait to check it all out, thanks!

    November 20, 2017
    • glennw #

      Ah, man.

      Thanks for noticing! Trying to write while listening is obviously too hard for me.


      November 20, 2017
  2. thanks. Really useful!

    November 27, 2017

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Tip of the Week: 32 New SHEG Civic Literacy Teaching Tools | History Tech
  2. “Just Google It” Using SHEG Lesson Plans – Social Studies
  3. Joel Breakstone & his SHEG civic reasoning tools just rocked #kssscon2018 | Doing Social Studies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: