Bringing History to Life in Your Classroom

Getting kids excited to learn about history can be difficult when your go-to activity is reading from a textbook. Immerse your students in the culture of a time period to spark their curiosity, because there's more to understanding history than just knowing key events and notable people. To know another time and place is to understand its daily life, which includes its: food, music, art, and even sports, as well as the science and technology of the time.

When you first prepare a lesson for a new topic in history, be sure to tap your local resources first. Start with an inventory of nearby museums. You will need to know which ones include artifacts from your period of study and which are most accessible to your students' age level. Look for student-centered living-history museums like Massachusetts' Plimoth Plantation, where history is brought to life by actors portraying pilgrims and Native Americans as they engage in their daily duties. Living-history museums are great ways for students to witness demonstrations of a previous time's way of life while also getting the opportunity to pose questions to the actors.

In addition to visiting museums, you may decide to take your class to a cultural festival or historical reenactment hosted in your community. Taking a break from learning in the classroom is always an exciting opportunity for students, but if a field trip is not possible, what guests can you invite to your classroom to provide new insights to your students? Check with your colleagues, students' parents or even local colleges and museums to see if they can put you in touch with a primary source, someone who could testify as a witness to an incident in history. Your students can prepare for a visitor by writing questions about the event or time period. You may choose to follow up a field trip or a visit from a speaker with a writing assignment about the experience. Students can create diary entries that describe one's daily life during the time period.

Another way history teachers can reach students is through their bellies! What ingredients and cooking techniques were popular at a given time and place? If you have access to a cooking lab at your school, your students can attempt to make cuisine that was eaten during the time period. Follow this with a class discussion comparing and evaluating the diets of the past with students' own diets.

The art and music of a time period can inspire creative students to have an interest in history. Consider creating a gallery for the period right inside your classroom. Have students scour the web and the school library for artwork of the time. Each student can bring an example of an art piece and prepare an explanation of the artwork's historical significance. Music can be approached in a similar way. Have students draw conclusions about how music influenced the people living when the songs were being performed.

While you are using art and music to help your students learn about history, be sure to investigate what innovations were developed for each craft. When it comes to science and technology, every time period has had its own achievements. What new discoveries and inventions were made and what influence have they had on modern times? Allow students to investigate the areas that interest them.

Creative projects and writing assignments can be fun ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned. One great way for students to demonstrate their learning and apply their writing skills is through a mock newspaper, which can be made on paper or digitally. Small groups can work together to create all of the sections one would expect to see in a modern newspaper. This student paper, however, can include articles covering man's incredible feats or natural disasters. Students can research sports or fashion to show what interested people of the time. What ads will students place in the classified section? Whose obituary will be featured? A project such as this helps students not only learn about history, but also write for practical purposes.

Students can also write and perform skits to demonstrate what they have learned throughout a history unit. Whether they cover a well-known event or create an original piece that focuses on daily life during the time, students can use their own creativity to craft dialogue and bring life to the days of yesteryear. Depending on your unit of study and the grade level of the students, you may want your class to include dialect or words and phrases used commonly during the time.

Prepare to bring your next history lesson to life with a variety of resources and activities that will engage your students. The past is rich in art, music, science, and technology. Share those riches with your class by engaging them with history in exciting ways.