Teaching History in the 21st century: 5 interactive strategies
“History is boring,” “there are too many dates to memorize,” “why do I care about things that happened such a long time ago?” are just a few of the questions history teachers have to deal with every day. In the 21st century, children have changed, and they need new approaches and teaching strategies. Proving your students that history is far from being boring, you can tailor interactive classes that go beyond manuals and sheets of dates and events. Let’s see five fun, interactive strategies to make history classes educational, entertaining, and engaging!
Adapting History Lessons to Interactive Teaching Principles
According to researchers in education and learning, the primary purpose of contemporary education should focus on student’s independent activity balanced by team activity, an organization of self-learning environments, and innovative and practical training, critical thinking, initiative, and more. Since history is an essential component of education, teachers should make the effort of engaging the students and entice them to understand history rather than memorize it.
To achieve such goals, teachers should rethink their view on history in general and history teaching in special. In this article, we will take a look at a handful of techniques that aim to:
- Encourage student participation in compelling manners;
- Support students to apply critical thinking upon learned events and draw their conclusions;
- Develop cognitive methods of remembering dates and events in a facile, fun, and long-term manner;
- Use teaching methods that capture/hold the student’s attention while pressing them for thinking and answering;
- Work in teams, show initiative and participate in
1. Use Media to Teach and Generate Engagement
One of the essential interactive teaching styles and principles is the use of media and technology in the classroom. The easiest way to keep students engaged in the history class is to watch a movie together. Luckily, enough, Hollywood and the cinema industry does not find history boring – on the contrary, moviemakers exploit significant events and historical periods to educate viewers and thrill them at the same time.
- If you want to teach them about Weimar and Nazi Germany, you have a handful of awarded movies that can elicit questions, debates, critical thinking, emotion, and reaction – the essential elements of interactive teaching: Wizards (1977 animated film filled with social and political commentary), The Pianist, Schindler’s List, and more.
- After viewing such a heartwarming movie, you can engage the class, ask for opinions, and make a life-lasting lesson about the dangers of totalitarianism and the real horrors of the Holocaust.
Depending on the lesson, you can pick a full movie, an animated one, a few episodes from a TV show, a documentary, YouTube videos, and more. All you must to do is make sure the class gets a genuine reaction from the movie. The more debate you elicit, the better they will learn the pieces of history you want them to learn. Before you press the Play button, make sure the movie is age-appropriate. While some make excellent teaching materials, you need to tailor the violence and the emotional burden depending on the kids’ age.
2. Field Trips
You will not be able to take the children out of the classroom every week, but try doing it as often as you can. History seems dry and dull in the lack of physical support. Luckily, you have plenty of museums to visit together with the kids to make your point, emphasize a conclusion, or help them associate abstract notions with real-life examples.
You can also take them a bit farther and organize a day-trip to memorial sites, monuments, ruins, famous buildings and landmarks that tell a particular story.
Afterward, encourage children to work individually or in a team to mix what they learned from the books with what they saw in the field to make a point or sustain an idea.
3. History is an Ongoing, Fascinating Story
Do you know who loves history even more than directors do? Writers! If you have a particular topic you want kids to understand better, connect it with the literature they read (curriculum or not).
- Have fun with The Three Musketeers while you teach a little piece of French history and engage kids in debates to separate fact from fiction;
- Get Gone with the Wind and North and South a go to discuss the American Civil War;
- Discuss the British Regency period through Pride and Prejudice’s comment on manners, education, marriage, society, relationships, and money during that period;
- Understand the Stone Age and Iron Age by reading the adventures of Conan the Barbarian; try to draw similarities among the fictional prehistoric world of Robert E. Howard and our planet’s ancient times;
- Always introduce geography (associate places with events makes learning easier) and even invite the Geography teacher for a few interdisciplinary courses.
You can always invite the English teacher to such class so you two can make an interactive, cross-disciplinary course on events, periods, and social/political evolution of cultures and countries. The English teacher will also be happy about it as such mixes will also help kids understand better the literature they study.
While it will be a bit difficult to reenact each battle you have to teach in the book, you can try stepping out of the box from time to time. Reading about fighting in history manuals is not fun, but you can have a class of active kids instead of a bored one, by making the battle/event more real.
Pick a handful of kids and challenge them to play some scenes in the textbooks. They can simulate a battle or an event. This way, you will liven up the classroom, give kids a chance to display their acting skills, have a good laugh together, and retain the essential information from the lesson.
After the theatre scene is over, you can quickly engage the entire classroom in the debate, brainstorming sessions, work in pairs, or argumentative presentations of the topic.
In education, gamification is an essential component – kids learn better and for more extended periods if they play or have fun during the learning process. You have many ways to introduce gamification in any learning environment and teaching session, but we will focus on teaching history while tackling the most dreadful aspect of this class: learning of dates.
Admittedly, learning dates is just teaching months and years. Memorizing dates is fun and easy, said no children ever, so you need to help them. Times in history are critical, obviously, but lists of number strings do not help anyone.
Welcome fun games and calendars! Let us take World War II for example:
Instead of having your kids memorize that World War II started on September 1st, 1939 with the attack of Germany on Danzig, you can start from a more easy challenge: what significant things happened in history on September the 1st? Kids will learn that the 1st of September means not only the beginning of WWII but also its end (the formal surrender of Japan in 1945) while reminding them that on the 1st of September 1715 ended the most extended rule of any major monarch in Europe (the death of King Louis XIV of France).
- And what was King Louis XIV known best for? What did he do in Europe that deserves our praise? What fiction books or movies have you seen about him? How do you feel about his times’ fashion, manners, politics, religion, and social interactions?
- You get the point – a date can turn into the most fantastic reason for debate, individual essays, teamwork, multi-media usage, reenactments, literature, general culture, and fun;
- Insert as much trivia and fun historical facts when you teach them dates.
This game of dates and calendars triggers logical transfers in between chunks of memory and information. While it is easier to remember that WWII started and ended on the same day, taking precisely six years, kids will have a more streamlined view on history itself (as many things happened in the same time).
You can continue the game by learning about important events taking place during a specific day in history, to make bridges between information and add a few more games into the mix.
- Associate the crucial historical date with an event, fact, an occurrence that has an emotional impact upon children: WWII started and ended on September 1, when I… (insert here something that the child remembers easily);
- Mix historical vital dates with fun dates: September 6, 1620, is the day when The Mayflower departed from Plymouth to sail to America. What fun thing do we celebrate on the same day? Read a Book Day! Do you know any books about Plymouth?
Keep a day calendar and a fun calendar close. Kids will learn better and, the dream of any history teacher, will remember more historical events after class is over. Integrating different types of information from various fields in a complex narrative helps people retrieve data from their memory and use complex information in problem-solving.
Teaching interactively engages both the teacher and the classroom. Do everybody a favor and have some genuine fun with history, as kids will love it like never before.
User submitted article, thanks Sean.