Curriculum

The Reading Like a Historian curriculum engages students in historical inquiry. Each lesson revolves around a central historical question and features sets of primary documents designed for groups of students with diverse reading skills and abilities.

This curriculum teaches students how to investigate historical questions by employing reading strategies such as sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating, and close reading. Instead of memorizing historical facts, students evaluate the trustworthiness of multiple perspectives on historical issues. They learn to make historical claims backed by documentary evidence.

How do I use these lessons in my classroom?

The 73 lessons in the U.S. curriculum, initial 31 lessons of the world curriculum, and 5 lessons in the introduction to historical unit can be taught in succession. But these lessons are designed to stand alone and supplement what teachers are already doing in their classrooms. Most lessons take a full class period, though some extend over several. The U.S. and world history lessons generally follow a three-part structure:

1) Establish relevant background knowledge and pose the central historical question. Each lesson approaches background knowledge differently. For some, we've designed PowerPoints, in others we use a video clip from United Streaming* to establish historical context. Many lessons ask students to read a relevant selection from their textbook and answer questions. In some we've outlined mini-lectures or included a timeline that students might reference as they read the documents. Establishing background knowledge is the first step in the inquiry process. This background frames the central historical question, and motivates students to investigate the documents that accompany the lesson.

*Note: United Streaming requires a subscription to Discovery Education.

2) Students read documents, answer guiding questions or complete a graphic organizer. Our lesson plans include documents that address the central historical question. Most lessons draw on two or more documents with conflicting perspectives. The teacher's decisions on how or whether to assign homework plays a big part in pacing the lesson. Depending on the lesson plan, students will engage in different activities as they read and interpret the documents. The Reading Like a Historian curriculum is built around four basic lesson structures:

a) Opening Up the Textbook (OUT): In these lessons, students examine two documents: the textbook and a historical document that challenges or expands the textbook's account. For a sample OUT, see the Battle of Little Bighorn Lesson Plan.

b) Cognitive Apprenticeship: These lessons are based on the idea that ways of thinking must be made visible in order for students to learn them. In lessons following this format, teachers first model a historical reading skill, then engage students in guided practice, and ultimately lead them to independent practice. For a sample cognitive apprenticeship lesson, see the Stamp Act Lesson Plan.

c) Inquiry: All lessons in the curriculum include elements of historical inquiry, where students investigate historical questions, evaluate evidence, and construct historical claims. Some, however, are designed around an explicit process of inquiry, in which students develop hypotheses by analyzing sets of documents. Such inquiries are best suited for block or multiple class periods. For a sample inquiry, see the Japanese Internment Lesson Plan.

d) Structured Academic Controversy (SAC): For these lessons, students work in pairs and then teams as they explore historical questions. After taking opposing positions on a question, they work to gain consensus or at least to clarify their differences. These lessons are well suited to block or multiple class periods. They work best after students have gained experience working with primary documents. For a sample SAC, see the Lincoln Lesson Plan.

3) Whole-class discussion about a central historical question. The final segment of the Reading Like a Historian lesson plan is the most important. Too often, however, it is dropped due to time constraints. We think it's better to eliminate one of the documents than cut such a valuable opportunity to practice historical thinking skills, articulate claims and defend them with evidence from the documents. Only in whole-class discussion can students see that history is open to multiple interpretations, and that the same piece of evidence can support conflicting claims. Students often find this activity foreign and uncomfortable at first. But through practice they gain an understanding of their role as knowledge-makers in the history classroom.

Can I start the Reading Like a Historian curriculum in the middle of the school year?

Of course! Reading Like a Historian lessons are designed to stand alone or to supplement your existing curriculum at any point. However, because the Reading Like a Historian lessons present history in a way that may be unfamiliar, it's important to introduce students to the basic concepts of the curriculum. That's why the Introduction to Historical Thinking Unit includes five short lesson plans to orient students to the curriculum and five classroom posters to remind students what questions to ask when reading historical documents.

Featured Article

This article explores a six-month intervention in five San Francisco high schools. Students using the Reading Like a Historian curriculum showed statistically significant gains in historical thinking, mastery of factual historical knowledge, and general reading comprehension. Read Article »

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I am a middle school teacher in San Diego and was fortunate enough to a SHEG workshop in 2008....
Mark Helman
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A huge thank you to the Stanford History Education Group!  Your incredible work and stimulating...
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Miami, FL
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I can't recall how or when I stumbled upon Reading Like a Historian, but it was a...

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Fort Mill, SC
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Ermelinda Sosa
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Dallas, TX
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Bobbi Young
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Colorado Springs, CO
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Teacher
Dothan, AL
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Big Rapids, MI
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I came across your site while researching to update and improve my U.S. History classes. I was...

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Teacher
Taylorsville, UT
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Nashville, TN
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Woodbridge, VA
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Nashville, TN
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Pereira, Colombia
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