I’m just back from my second teaching visit to the International School of Dusseldorf. It is, without question, my favorite school visit of the year. Not only do I get to share my passion for turning kids on to history with a truly talented and dedicated teaching team, I also get to work with amazing young minds in a world-class learning environment.

There is nothing more rewarding than seeing light bulbs going on before your very eyes. And this happens on a regular basis at ISD!

You can read about my mandate with Grade 7 here. I also worked with Grade 6 students to give them a taste of what’s to come next year when they, too, will be asked to mash historical research up with digital storytelling to create interactive historical narratives of their own invention.

I am proud and honored to be part of such a 21st century interdisciplinary educational program. And I enjoyed enlisting my ISD colleagues in our search these past eight months for the keys to unlocking history for kids.

Here's what we came up with:

1. Share Your Passion for History

You need to be more than just knowledgeable, states Michael Chartier.

You have to be passionate about the subject yourself.
Otherwise, why should your students care?

2. Make History Personal

For history to truly come alive, says Kerri Ater, it needs to reach students on a personal level, to become part of them.

They must be stimulated to connect past characters
and events to their lives today.

How do you do that?

3. Make History Accessible

There are several ways to bring history to students:

  • experiential visits to the times and places they are studying;

  • learning games, dramatic recreations, and other hands-on group activities;

  • collecting oral histories from those who were witness to the past being made. 

But these options are not always possible or realistic. The historical period may be too far back for oral histories to be an option; the relevant site may be too far away and too expensive to visit.

That’s why Kerri finds student-led creative writing an invaluable way to make history accessible, and more vivid, to students.

Through their own writing,
students can actually put themselves in a unique place and time, adopt a voice through which they may tell a tale based in factual research,
and learn more deeply about their historical moment of focus as they engage in the creative process.


4. Make History Relevant

Many argue – I certainly do – that all present cultural, social, and political realities are linked to decisions made and actions taken in the past. History informs today always, no matter where you are in the world. Fiona Guertler agrees:

Teachers mustn’t be afraid to help students make those connections,
for not only does this transform history into something more exciting and relevant,
but it helps develop critical thinking skills as well.


5. Keep History Real

We also agreed that by using authentic and primary source materials – including such things as period music, art, food, toys, and fashion, for example – history becomes more "real" to students. It helps them to “see" it. Students of this age need to be able to “see” history, otherwise the distant past is too difficult for them to grasp.

Show them that history is a giant story
full of rich characters and fascinating settings.

6. Show History Through Story

That’s why marrying history with story seems always to bear powerful results. Asking students to use research to help craft stories of their own making is one method toward enabling this vision.

Others’ stories may also provide empathetic insights, be they creative non-fiction, biography, or historical fiction. Add to these documentaries as well as films set in historically accurate contexts.

Or put students on stage to recreate history through their own research-based dramatic reinterpretation.

Certain gaming worlds, such as those offered by Assassin’s Creed, also provide hints into yesterday, therefore inspiring student exploration today.

Whatever the medium to which it's applied, humanity’s oldest art form – storytelling – holds the capacity to teach, explain, reveal, and entertain. It is, therefore, our most profound key for turning kids on to history.

All my greatest history teachers, from grade school to college, were also great storytellers.
I agree it’s important to emphasize the stories in history –
complete with hook, character development, story arc, and relevance to today.
The greatest stories that reveal the humanity in history are found in literature.

I have found that these six keys
will unlock history in nearly any learning situation:
classroom, educational travel, cultural education, etc.

Did I miss any?
How do YOU do to turn history on?
Please click "post a comment" to the right and let me know.