10 Elements of Engaging History Studies

Most educators realize that there is something wrong with the standard history text.

In no area of curriculum is there more disenchantment with textbooks than in history and the social studies.  Disenchanted people include not only certain segments of our population who disagree with points of view in the books, but they include, also, educators who are concerned with their effectiveness for teaching.

You CAN Teach Your Child Successfully, Ruth Beechick

As historians will tell you, there is obviously something wrong with the way history is approached when even A students walk away disliking and most students not knowing, understanding, or caring about the subject.

Here are 10 elements of engaging history studies you can add to your mix — even if you are using the standard history text!

1. An interesting spine.

Rather than concern ourselves with dates, places, and names at an early age, younger children can simply read stories.  There are several history spines that contain stories for younger children (see below).  Older students may find that a well-written history text makes a good spine, but there are many wonderful literary history books to choose from, as well.

Make sure the spine you select is age-appropriate.  If you are cycling through chronological history more than once, you will have an opportunity to choose books at three or four different levels.

If you have no choice when it comes to your history text — think of it as your spine.

2. Biographies.

In the younger years, you may find that you don’t need a spine at all, cycling through age-appropriate biographies instead.

Middle and older students can choose well-written biographies to supplement their spine.

3. Primary source documents.

There is truly no better way to get to know the individuals who make up history than to read their own writings.  Likewise, the documents that make up history are invaluable for understanding history’s course.  There is no substitute for hearing from those who lived at the time, those who had a hand in forming the laws and customs of nations, and those who were eyewitnesses to world events.

4. A notebook.

When pulling together our own history studies a notebook becomes the organizing tool.  You’ll find our tips and recommended resources for creating a notebook below.

5. A timeline.

Though probably unnecessary at a younger age, creating a timeline can still be considered beneficial when it comes to developing the habit of adding names, places, and people encountered to a notebook.  By the time the older student has cycled through centuries of history, he will have amassed an incredible resource!

6. Maps.

Where in the world did this event take place?  Find out!

7. Historical fiction.

Yes, historical fiction can be overdone.  But one or two well-written books can provide the flavor that makes history something students enjoy pursuing.

8. Virtual field trips and other interactives.

Sometimes, you just gotta see it in person.  These days students can visit historical locations at the click of a mouse.

Well-written interactives also abound that put the student in the place of the participants of an event, many times making difficult decisions.  These interactives provide a depth of understanding.

9. Copywork and narrations.

No multiple choice or true/false test.  Just tell me what you know.  A student who frequently narrates the information he has read will be more likely to get more from the material.

Copying famous quotations, biographical passages, and other material not only furthers interaction with history, but by the time a child has finished his course of study will result in an incredible and meaningful reference.

10. Projects.

Yet another way to wrap up a study of a person, time, or place.  These can take the form of illustrations, constructions, inventions, plays, skits, speeches, performances, written papers, outlines, animations, or videos, among other creative ideas students may come up with.

Additional Resources
10 Ways to Use Notebooking: #6 History

10 Ways to Use Notebooking: #6 History
When using the notebook as an organizing tool, we incorporate many of the elements mentioned above.  More ideas, resources, and many notebooking options.


Interactive Map Maker {Free}
A hands-on way for a student to interactively create a map for his project or notebook.  (And remember, he who does the work remembers the most!)

Animated Atlas of the United States {Freebie}
An interactive way to see the United States expand from the original 13 colonies.


Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans by Edward Eggleston
Perfect spine for the young student and the basis for our free history studies.

The History of the United States: Told in One Syllable Words by Josephine Pollard

The History of the United States: Told in One Syllable Words by Josephine Pollard
Another spine option for the young reader.

Beacon Lights of History {Free eBooks}
Well-written series for the older student.

All Through the Ages

All Through the Ages by Christine Miller
Wonderful resource for finding other books about an individual, place, or time period.  Read our entire review.

American Historical Documents {Free eBook}
Part of the Harvard Classics series, includes 47 original documents dating from 1000 (The Voyage to Vinland) to 1904 (Convention between the U.S. and Panama — regarding the Panama Canal).

Printables & Notebooking Pages

A beautiful set of maps is included in this free download from Knowledge Quest.

10 Ways to Use Notebooking: #6 History

10 Ways to Use Notebooking: #6 History
Rather than relist all of our favorite history notebooking pages, we’ll just provide this link that you can visit (scroll to the bottom).

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