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History: What is It? & Why Does it Matter?

History: What is is and why does it matter. This is an introductory history lesson for upper elementary or middle school.

One social studies question I get quite often at the start of the year is:

"Where do I begin?"

I believe that before we dive into our first unit, it's important that our students understand what history is and why it matters. If our students don't understand the importance of history, they won't feel the need to engage. I'm excited to share with you a history introductory lesson that provides an opportunity for students to analyze and corroborate evidence of YOUR story!

Here's how this lesson works:

In this lesson, we go over not only what history is, but the importance of thinking like a historian. Students will look at 3 pieces of evidence from my past (I don't tell them this!). This is a great time to talk about primary sources.

Evidence #1

The first piece of evidence is an image from my grandfather's memorial service. There are a few words on the bottom with his name, Fuad M. Teeny, as well as dates. But there's not much to this piece of evidence. Again, students do not know that Fuad was my grandfather.

History Introduction lesson for upper elementary or middle school

Thinking Like a Historian

Next, we talk about how we need to evaluate multiple sources. We cannot rely on a single piece of evidence to draw an accurate historical account. As well, we need to realize that not all sources are equally reliable.

What is history lesson. Learn to think like a historian

Evidence #2

This brings us to evidence #2. We look at a document of my grandfather's petition for naturalization. He immigrated to the United States from Lebanon, and this document lists more information about the person from evidence #1. Students will answer evaluation and context questions about the evidence. I have the question slides linked so that students can easily jump between slides.

If you are interested in using this history introduction lesson, I have made this editable so that you can add your own evidence that tells your story. I have also made the questions editable so that you can adjust to better fit your particular evidence.

Use historical thinking skills to learn the importance of history and why history matters.

Think like a historian and evaluate evidence from the teachers past

Evidence #3

The final piece of evidence is a photograph. Again, this piece of evidence is not as reliable, but we can corroborate evidence to determine the context of this photo. By using what we know from the naturalization papers and the picture from evidence #1 we can determine that Fuad Teeny is in the picture, as well as his wife, Alice Bus (listed on the naturalization papers), and at least two children, Sharon (my mom), and Steven (both listed on the naturalization papers. We can't determine the names of every person in the photo, but we could possibly conduct additional research to determine the names of the other children.

What is history and why does it matter lesson for back to school

Before you wrap up this lesson, you could have your students corroborate evidence by doing additional research. This may simply be checking dates with other documents, or may be finding additional information. You can choose how this fits with your evidence.

At the end of the lesson, I share that Fuad Teeny was my grandfather, and that the girl in the red dress is my mother. I explain that history is the story of me, but it's also the story of you, and it's the story of all of us.

From here, students can bring in their own evidence that tells their story. I do want to point out that even though I used evidence of my grandfather to tell my family story, evidence doesn't have to be from a family member. It could be evidence from a loved one or special person in our lives, or even evidence from a special event that helps tell our story.

Want to grab this lesson? You can download the entire file with grading rubric for free HERE.

If you want to learn more about editing this file for your own documents, watch this VIDEO HERE.


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