What is History? Even though I teach History every day of the school year, this is honestly a question I don’t hear very often. Everyone has an idea of what they think History (and by extension, History class) should be – even if it’s not really reflective of what History teachers do on a day-to-day basis with students.
I often approach this topic with my high school students. I even used to assign an essay on the topic as part of their summer assignment. (I let up on that assignment in recent years – partially because I thought it was better to discuss as the school year began, and partly because I really didn’t want to grade those essays over the summer.)
Regretfully however, I kind of skipped right past the topic with my middle schoolers. While we would practice the skills of historical thinking over and over, I never really took the time to explain explicitly why were learning those skills.
Eventually, I decided that I needed to be more forthright. With the almost mind-boggling attacks on history as of late, I wanted my students to really grasp what exactly history is. More importantly, I found it absolutely essential to stress that idea that the ability to evaluate any source for its reliability, truthfulness, and limitations was a skill that went beyond the walls of any classroom.
What is History? – An Introductory Lesson for Middle School Students
Therefore, I developed this introductory activity. The slideshow explains the how historians write history. (I also include a minor rant about the needless separation of primary and secondary sources.) Then, I have students evaluate individual sources for their reliability with an engaging activity that gets students out of their seats. Finally, students sort several source descriptions relating to one specific topic.
This activity is easily editable and fully adaptable to meet the needs of your students. I hope you find it of use!