229.  Many of my high school students have a very difficult time reading their World History textbooks and understanding the past. How can I help?


During many of my classroom demonstrations I find that Social Studies teachers or History teachers mostly assign chapters for students to read in their hefty textbooks the night BEFORE their lesson. Students, supposedly, take notes on the contents of  the chapter and, the next day, discuss with the teacher some of the key ideas they read the night before. This method of teaching, in spite of the word "discuss," ends up looking very much like "teacher lecturing" and "teacher dictating/students note copying."

In fact, on a recent demo in a 9th grade US History lesson, I found students who could find their state on a map, and then indicated that Hawaii, over 3000 miles WEST of this particular state, was directly SOUTH of this state. The students had NO idea what they were talking about. Of course, in my demo --for three consecutive classes-- they manipulated maps until every village, town, city, capital, country, battlefield, etc., was found!

So where do I begin when planning a History lesson? I have recently planned lessons about WWII, about ancient kingdoms in East (Central) and West Africa, and on the rise of Moscow in Russia in the 1400's A.D. I always begin doing TWO key planning activities:

1. Clearly outlining, by MEANING CATEGORIES, ALL the vocabulary the students will find in the lesson.
2. Finding VISUALS, MAPS, many pictures, posters, anything that will visually show students the characters, places, objects, foods, transportation, architecture, etc., that represent the historical moments in question.  Illustrations of as many vocabulary words as possible.

I try to use as many maps and pictures as possible that appear IN ALL CHAPTERS in the textbook, especially pictures, maps and illustrations from chapters already "covered" by the classroom teacher.

Just the other day I walked into this "rise of Moscow" lesson with so many maps, so many books with relevant pictures, so many illustrations of the different peoples and cities and areas that needed to be identified, that I could hardly walk into the classroom where I had my demonstration lesson! Several students carried my complete set of materials, all found --UNUSED-- in the school library of the high school where I was providing the demonstration.

The third component of my planning activities consists of identifying HIGH LEVEL THINKING SKILLS --comparing and contrasting, applying, expressing opinions, judgments, preferences-- so the students are forced to manipulate the vocabulary, the ideas and concepts presented through the vocabulary, the concepts being introduced.  For example, I used "comparing and contrasting" in the lesson for the Eastern (Central) and Western key cities in Africa between 300 - 1490 A.D. For the "rise of Moscow, Russia" lesson, I used lots of maps to compare the different geographic areas and the many different peoples, civilizations, writing systems and religions in Russia with the present US-state where the lesson was being taught. Where, When and Why would the students prefer to live?

Throughout the lesson, as the vocabulary was introduced, the students used ALL of the maps, saw all of the pictures, compared and contrasted and decided where they would have preferred to live.

In this ANSWER I cannot provide ALL the pictures and maps I used, but the richness of the vocabulary list that follows --taken from the chapter on The Rise of Russia-- should give you an idea of how many key concepts and ideas the students mastered during the two-period-block lesson. At the end of MY lesson, I read aloud sections of the chapter that were particularly important. As I read aloud, I stopped and the students, who had been following silently the reading, read aloud ONLY ONE WORD after my pause. I continued reading aloud until my next pause. Students read the chapter sections with 100% understanding!!!!


CLICK HERE to view vocabulary from the chapter on The Rise of Russia



For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

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7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
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