How to Create the Best, Engaging History Class

Are you struggling to get your students to connect with their history? Follow this EPIC formula to engage students and get them excited about history!
My first year in the classroom history was the subject that didn't get done. I couldn't find a way around it. As a self-contained teacher, I tried to fit it all in, but I didn't have the organizational skills, the time management, or the know how to make it work.

There were WEEKS I did not manage to get to history. I mean, when you are being held accountable for three of the five subjects you teach we all know where our focus would be. This doesn't make it right--but it is the truth.

As the years went on history became more and more of a focus within our classroom, because I enjoyed it more and my students LOVED it! Through a few easy to follow routines we were able to take our history block from total blah to an epic experience for all!

Give Context to History Through Literature

Often students have no idea how to even begin wrapping their minds around a time period. When you are ten years old a century ago might as well be five hundred years, because you weren't there for it. by beginning each unit of history with a historical read aloud students are able to develop a context for their thinking. 

Are you struggling to get your students to connect with their history? Follow this EPIC formula to engage students and get them excited about history!A bonus to using a read aloud is you can make cross curricular connections with the literature during your English Language Arts block. We all know integration is key, especially in self-contained classrooms, because otherwise it doesn't all fit. 

By using a historical book you tap into students background knowledge and give them cues as to what is to come. Many times our students know about historical events, but don't have all the facts. This process helps them to bring their knowledge to the surface. 

Send Students Back in Time

Many, if not most, time periods our students are interested in lend themselves to demonstrations or simulations. One of my favorite ways for students to engage with their history is to take part in dice simulations

These simulations put students in the shoes of a person at a certain point in history. They go on a journey as their person recording what happens at each station, which is determined by the roll of a die. This unpredictability can lead to frustration, excitement, and most vital of all, empathy. 

After students have completed the simulation they write a narrative from the point of view of their historical person. These narratives are ALWAYS a powerful learning tool which allows students to form deep connections with the time period they are studying. 

In addition to dice simulations, you can also find online simulations and experiences that can be provided to students to let them walk a mile in the shoes of a historical figure. The important thing to remember is when students build connections to their history they are more likely to remember it. 

Are you struggling to get your students to connect with their history? Follow this EPIC formula to engage students and get them excited about history!Bring in Primary Resources

Let's face it, textbooks and photographs of historical items are boring. Sometimes they are the best we can do, but other times we can knock it out of the park! 

For example, when learning about the Alamo your students could look at pictures of items used during the battle, or you could apply to borrow a Trunk of Primary Resources. I mean, is there any question which students are more likely to remember?

Providing experiences through history for our students is what makes it stick! 

Make It Interactive (Notebooks) 

Picture a spiral notebook FULL of notes from the year. Now picture a neatly tabbed and organized notebook with unique activities for each unit of study. Which one do you want your students using?

Interactive notebooks are a GREAT way for students to become more immersed in their history. They allow students to organize their learning in a way that makes it easy to refer back to. 

Along with their academic benefits, students enjoy interactive notebook activities WAY more than regular note-taking! 

Check out interactive notebook activities for Texas History and United States History. 

Mix It Up!

If you are doing the same thing every day, with a new time period your students are going to HATE history. Instead, try your hand at using cooperative learning strategies such as jigsaw for students to share the information with one another. 

Are you struggling to get your students to connect with their history? Follow this EPIC formula to engage students and get them excited about history!This strategy takes teachers out of the spotlight and places students directly in it! Each student is responsible for learning and sharing key concepts. This positive interdependence allows students to flourish and share their knowledge with one another. 

In the end, no matter how you choose to spice up your history block to make it engaging for your students remember it has to work for them!

Wrapping Up

Our students want to learn about history, and now may be the most important time for us to wrap our minds around teaching it in an accurate, but engaging way. Remember to keep history engaging:
  • Use literature to frame historical periods to allow students to establish context
  • Provides experiences for students to connect their learning and establish empathy
  • Use primary resources whenever possible
  • Interactive notebooks are a GREAT way to organize student learning
  • Try new teaching and learning strategies to keep the classroom fresh and novel

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5 Best Ways to Top Your Grading Pile

Are you drowning in grading? Check out these SMART strategies for keeping up with grading and conquering the paper pile!
I can see it now, clear as crystal. My students have just gone home and I return to my classroom at the end of the day to find huge, overflowing stacks of papers seemingly everywhere. They are toppling off of the turn in bins, piled on the small group table, and scattered across the floor. It has never been more tempting to scoop them all up and place them in the safety of the recycling bin.

Seem familiar? I have encountered this scene more times than I care to admit, but it seems no matter how much I tried to stay on top of grading it always caught up to me. Not going to lie. There were a few items that did happen to end up in the recycling bin, but that wasn't truly an answer.

Instead I slowly had to figure out smart strategies that would keep the papers from piling up, and me from going insane. These strategies helped to tame the grading beast, allowed me to offer more prompt feedback to my students, and helped our classroom be a little less flammable. 😏

#1 Only Collect What You Truly Want to Grade

There is a lot of practice that goes on in the classroom, and when you ask yourself if you should be grading practice I hope that your answer is no. When we work with our students we are helping them to build mastery and don't want to assess every single thing they do. This can be detrimental to our students' self esteem as well as our workload. When it comes to practice allow students to check their work informally with you, a partner, or an answer key. This doesn't mean that you don't "look over" their work, you just don't formally grade it. 

When it comes time to collect a grade on a concept collect those papers and grade them as soon as possible. This means that instead of a week's worth of practice and then an assessment, you just have the single assessment to grade. This cuts WAY back on the amount of grading and allows you to get it done more quickly providing prompt feedback to your students. This also provides you with the data you need to build small groups for reteach. 

#2 Use Technology to Your Advantage

There are new apps, Chrome extensions, and other items being released every day to make our lives a little easier. Take advantage of these items! 
In this post I detail how I used Google Forms to collect answers from students using task cards. This could be adapted to just about any item that students complete. After I wrote this post I was introduced to Flubaroo,  that actually checks the answers for you! Woo hoo, mega time saving potential right here! 

#3 No More Lengthy Assessments

Let's face it, many of the assessments that we give our students are way too long. You only truly need three questions on a concept to know whether a student has reached mastery or not, so why are we giving assessments that are forty plus questions long over one concept? 

These lengthy assessments serve as a point of frustration for our students and for us, because they don't want to answer fourteen questions over place value, and we don't want to grade them. Why not take a look as your assessment and pair it down to what is necessary. 

I understand that our districts give us assessments that must be completed, and there isn't a lot that can be done there, but I am talking your own in class assessments or checks for understanding. 

#4 Stay Organized and Consistent

Grading never truly bothered me until it became a monstrous task because it piled up. When I would go through the turn in tray and find multiple assignments per subject is when my knees got a little weak. 

Then I started a new system. After each assignment was turned in I would take a binder clip and clip those papers together. This served a couple of purposes, the first being that when students went to place their next assignment in the tray it wouldn't get accidentally shoved in with another assignment, and secondly it was a really easy visual for me to glance over and see how many binder clips, and therefor assignments,  had accumulated in a given subject area. 

Along with the binder clip system I tried to make time to grade every day. By setting aside about ten minutes a day, I preferred to do this first thing in the morning when I got to school, I was able to stay on top of grading instead of having a heaping pile waiting for me when it was time for progress reports to be submitted. 

Another way I saved time was by always having grading with me. This was especially useful when it came time for meetings, because let's face it, waiting for a meeting to start is like watching paint dry. Participants slowly drift in, and if you are on time you generally have a solid five to ten minutes before the meeting begins. By having a little something with me to grade it kept me from getting antsy and felt like I was accomplishing something. 

I am NOT however proposing that you grade through the entireties of meetings, as that is where your attention should be. 

Are you drowning in grading? Check out these SMART strategies for keeping up with grading and conquering the paper pile!#5 Make Grading Enjoyable

I know what you are thinking, "Is that even possible?" I am here to tell you that it is, or at least more enjoyable than just sitting at your desk making marks on a paper. 

There are a few ways that I have found to make grading a bit less of a hassle and more of an experience that I can live with. 

The first is smelly markers. I am a big fan of Mr. Sketch because the scent lasts and the colors are vibrant. Their chisel tip is my fave. You can grab your own from my affiliate link

My next tip to enjoying grading is all about your environment. Sometimes at the end of the school day my classroom is the last place on earth I would want to be, so a change of scenery made all the different. I would take my stack to our library, which had huge windows that let in a lot of natural light. This was an instant mood lifter for me. On particularly heavy grading days I would treat myself to a Blizzard from DQ or a Sonic drink to get me going. 

I am not normally an advocate for taking grading outside of school, because frankly most of the time I did this it just meant that it went for a car ride while I felt guilty that I was not getting it done, BUT from time to time I would go get a pedicure and grade my little heart out while getting pampered. 

Regardless of how and where you choose to grade, just remember to make it work for you, don't wait until the day before grades are due, and don't overdo it! 

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Benefits of a Daily Warm Up You Need to Know

The benefits of a daily warm up you need to know! Do you use a daily warm-up with your students? Have you tried one? Find out why daily warm-ups can be a real game changer in your classroom!
The bell rings and students hustle to their seats, fearful that they will be the last one and get called out in front of their peers. On their desks they find their first bright white warm up of the year. I wait silently in the corner for the magic to happen, but instead students just ignore the paper and start chatting with friends. This was the moment that my principal walked in. I felt flush with emotion, but mostly I was mortified.

My first year teaching using a warm up was pretty worthless. I was using a warm up that didn't seem to fit the needs of my students at all, and it was a waste of time to be honest. I didn't take the time to set my expectations, and I certainly didn't show them that I valued it. Instead, it was something I did because I was told that I had to, not because it had any benefit for my students. It was the worst.

Using a daily warm up in the classroom can be a wonderful thing, but they can also be a real pain. Constantly making sure copies are made, students are engaged, and ensuring that the time is well used can really put a strain on a teacher.

Then I started to think of warm ups as an integral part of our day. When I placed importance on them, and used them consistently my students saw their value as well. I quickly determined a few key benefits of using a daily warm up that I wish someone would have told me on day one.

They Provide Focus and Structure

By starting each day or lesson with a daily warm up you are telling students, and yourself, that it is time to focus in on the subject matter at hand. Whether you are starting the school day or switching gears from one subject to another, a good daily warm up can serve as this transition and allow students' minds to get in gear. 

We all need a little more structure in our lives. Students and teachers alike can have a hard time functioning when not in a structured environment. By starting every day or lesson with a daily warm up completed in the same way a little bit of structure is gained while maintaining the novelty of new content each day. 

They Start Conversations and Spark Interests

A great daily warm up will stretch the brains of your students. Yes, they absolutely include spiral review from your content area, but sometimes they also include a little something, something that your students don't already know. 

These questions or prompts provide students with the opportunity to explore the content either through research, conversation with their peers, or a class discussion. It is often these questions that may spark an interest or passion in students that they want to pursue further. 

The benefits of a daily warm up you need to know! Do you use a daily warm-up with your students? Have you tried one? Find out why daily warm-ups can be a real game changer in your classroom!They Work Like Glue

It is said that you have to hear something three to five times before it sticks. By using daily warm ups you will go over the same content that you are teaching again giving it another chance to stick with your students. 

Daily warm ups also give students to stick together information learned in different units. For example, you may be studying European Explorers in history when a warm up question comes up over Native Americans' way of life. Students may make connections between how their way of life changed, or you could introduce the conversation. This helps history units to be more cohesive and less of separate time periods. 

They Are Like a Time Capsule

I love, love, love to have students keep their daily warm ups from the whole year whether they do it in a journal, or I print them out, hole punch them, and put them in a bradded folder. This is because it gives me (and the student and their parents) the opportunity to see how far they have come in a year. 

Whether warm ups include a daily word problem, a journal prompt, or answering questions there is sure to be growth throughout the year, and it is simply amazing to have it all at your fingertips! 

Pro Tips for a Successful Daily Warm Up

  1. Get Organized-
    I prefer to print and bind (usually in a bradded folder) a years worth of warm ups before school even starts, because simply it is one thing less I have to do during the crazy times. This also means that I won't be struggling for content throughout the year.
    I have also printed one copy of a warm up to use with the projector and had students complete warm ups in their journals. This works too!
    The moral of this story is to make sure you have your whole year's worth of warm ups covered so that you are running around like crazy looking for daily content!
  2. Value the Time-
    Warm ups are worth it and should be treated as such. They do not have to take a long time, but the time you spend on them should be valued and not rushed. 
  3. Structure, Structure, Structure
    Take the time up front to show students your expectations. I find it best to do the first week (or two) together and show students that again, this time is valuable and worth it. 

Ready to Get Your Daily Warm Up On?

If you are ready to get started with your warm up routine I have daily warm ups for you available in U.S. History, Texas History, and Word Problem of the Day! Click on over to check them out for yourself!
The benefits of a daily warm up you need to know! Do you use a daily warm-up with your students? Have you tried one? Find out why daily warm-ups can be a real game changer in your classroom!  The benefits of a daily warm up you need to know! Do you use a daily warm-up with your students? Have you tried one? Find out why daily warm-ups can be a real game changer in your classroom!The benefits of a daily warm up you need to know! Do you use a daily warm-up with your students? Have you tried one? Find out why daily warm-ups can be a real game changer in your classroom!

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