Breathing Life into a History Curriculum

close up of students smiling around a globe

History can be one of the most exciting subject areas for middle and high school students, but many of them can have trouble connecting to the material. Among this demographic, history may have an undeserved reputation for being stuffy and irrelevant. As an aspiring history teacher, you may be wondering how you can encourage your future students to love historical topics as much as you do. It’s time to reimagine the way in which history is taught. Here are a few ideas to consider for your future teaching career:

Reimagine historical events from the perspective of a storyteller.

One of the problems students have with history is that it appears to require the memorization of countless dates, events, places and people. But in actuality, history isn’t restricted to a timeline, events don’t occur in a vacuum and history isn’t static—new discoveries are being made all the time. At its heart, history is about telling a story. Try to think of yourself as a storyteller, and identify the most exciting or intriguing part of any given lesson plan. Just like a journalist, you can start with the most interesting facts to hook your audience before you build on the lesson. Here’s an example of history written the old-fashioned way:

  • In 1776, Benjamin Franklin arrived in France to represent the American colonies in their bid for independence from Britain. His mission was to convince the French to support the colonists. He succeeded.

Here’s the same lesson, written the way a storyteller would tell it:

  • Crowds of adoring fans lined the streets just to catch a glimpse of Benjamin Franklin’s carriage. This founding father achieved rock star status when he arrived in France to drum up support for the Revolutionary War. Franklin succeeded by establishing himself as a friend and ally which eventually led to the French government’s support.

As you can see, a storyteller perspective could serve as a more effective way to capture the attention of middle and high school students.

Connect the past with the present and the future.

Look for ways of showing your students how historical events are still relevant today. For example, immigration has always been a hot button issue. A discussion of current issues in immigration can be a great segue into historical topics, such as Ellis Island and the Irish potato famine. Similarly, you could ask your students to consider how the wisdom imparted by important figures in the past has helped shape modern America. As an example, Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing with the assembly line. Can your students think of a modern-day equivalent? (Hint: Amazon.)

Help your students develop a personal connection.

Another way to breathe new life into a history curriculum is to help students identify a personal connection. This might be a literal personal connection, such as asking your students to research their ancestral lines. It could also be less direct, such as reading the WWI diary of a soldier in the trenches. Point out that the young 18- or 19-year-old soldier was only a little older than your students.

Grand Canyon University embraces each opportunity to graduate students who are inquisitive and ethically-minded lifelong learners. If you would feel at home on a campus that embraces Christian values and you’re interested in becoming a history teacher, consider enrolling in our Bachelor of Arts in History for Secondary Education degree program. Use the Request More Information button on this page to get started!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.