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Inside the Classroom

How to Make History Come Alive in the Classroom

History, for me, has always been fascinating. The wars, the people, the fashion, and the many ways big and small people changed the direction of their lives or even the world. I realize that sometimes means that I am the odd man out. For instance, I hear a lot of students asking why do we have to learn this? Why does this person matter? What does this mean to me anyway? One of my main answers is, it’s important! History tells us what happened in the past and shows us the way the future could go. We don’t want to repeat our past mistakes and if we have the chance, who wouldn’t want to change the future? Another way I show that this matters (and get students interested in history) is by bringing history out of the textbook. There are so many ways to make history come alive in the classroom.

Let’s explore some ways this can be done:

Virtual field trips

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These are amazing and diverse, and so many are available literally at our fingertips. Can’t travel? No problem! Bring the world to your classroom. Take a walk through the White House, view the Seven Wonders of the World, explore the Arctic, or explore a piece of literature to see where your favorite characters may have walked. One of my favorite ways to take virtual field trips is by using Global Trek. You can visit anywhere in the world by putting in where you’re traveling from and where you want to go, and you’re off! Plus, you get to keep a travel journal. Being able to go anywhere is pretty exciting. Get your students exploring, and get them out there!

Music

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Music is a huge part of not only my life, but also my curriculum. History is detailed in music all throughout different eras. Exploring the historical value and implications of music is a fantastic way to get students interested and to make history shine. Why discuss the songs slaves created to keep their hope alive and to map out their escape routes when you could have your students listen to them? Use Rage Against the Machine to explain protests, explore artists who wrote their music during tumultuous times in history to see how different people viewed the event, listen to Jay-Z to explore issues minorities can face in the United States, and more. The possibilities are endless! You could also have them make their own music. Have students rap the Declaration of Independence, write a song about the time period they are studying, or pick a song to build a lesson on. Music is a great connector, and a great way to liven up your lessons and classroom.

Dress up

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Remember dressing up as a kid? It was so fun to pretend to be someone else. This is a great way to get your students engaged in the material or to present the information in an exciting way. Come as Abraham Lincoln to deliver his Gettysburg address or as Harriet Tubman ready to help the slaves escape. The key is to stay in character! Also, get your students to dress up. They can dress up as a historical figure, as a judge to hold a trial, or anything they can think of to bring that character or piece of history to life. There are so many fun, entertaining, and controversial characters to learn about in history, so dressing up as one is a great way to have fun with the material.

Museums

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Museums are a fun way to explore history. Museums will have different displays and wonderful information on so many topics. Encourage a student to visit a museum in their hometown or see it virtually. Many museums offer virtual tours, which enable students (and adults!) to explore the exhibits at their own pace and pause to gather more information. These are excellent tools because they can help your students with their research and give them an opportunity to see some amazing museums without having to worry about the time and money needed to travel to them. Did you know you can view The Louvre right from your home? Don’t stop there! You can visit the Museum of Natural History or NASA, check out famous artwork up close with the Google Art Project, and visit many more amazing museums. Yes, museums are available online at your student’s fingertips, and taking these virtual tours is great way to explore history!

This is not an exhaustive list, but some great examples of ways to make history come alive in the classroom. There are so many great options out there, and because of advances in technology, more is available to teachers and students than ever before. Why don’t you take a walk through the Guggenheim Museum, and see for yourself all the ways you can bring history to life?

About the Author

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Chelsea Van Klaveren

Born and raised in New Mexico, Chelsea graduated from the University of New Mexico with her Master’s in Secondary Education. Chelsea also has a BA in History, where her passion for school was born. After having her first child, Chelsea knew she wanted to be a teacher. She has taught Social Studies, ELA, and Family and Consumer Science for four years in various settings. In addition to teaching, a few of her favorite things include her kids, arts and crafts, baking, reading (lots and lots of reading), coffee, music, and trying new things.