Why Teach History?

A Website for James L. Smith

Building a History Curriculum
by James L. Smith

Good teaching requires much self-reflection. Not only should teachers know their curriculum well and always walk into a classroom knowing what they will be doing, they should also know
why they are doing it. Self-awareness makes for good teaching, and in the spirit of helping history teachers become more self-aware I present these questions for building a history curriculum. I believe these are questions that every history teacher must eventually confront, questions that help history teachers evaluate themselves and create better lessons for students.

1. Why are students taking your class?
Is it required? Is it an elective? Are they taking the class because they are interested in the subject? Are they taking the class because they have heard you are a good teacher?

2. What are your curriculum priorities?
Are you primarily concerned with following administrative standards and covering the content? Are you primarily concerned with providing historical knowledge or helping students develop academic skills? Are you hoping that students simply “enjoy” the class and learn to love history?

3. How will you decide what information to cover?
Will the textbook dictate content? Will state or district mandates decide what you teach? Will you be following an academic consensus about what students should learn in a history class?

4. What approach will you take in covering historical information?
Will you take a traditional chronological approach? Will you take a topical or thematic approach? Have you thought about teaching history backwards?

5. Which historical theme(s) will your curriculum emphasize?
Will your presentation of themes fall primarily under the category of political, economic, social, cultural, intellectual, religious, diplomatic, or some other significant theme.

6. How will you decide which topics are studied in depth?
Is political history more important than social and cultural history? Is early history more important than current history? Can you skip some topics?

7. What textbook(s) will you use?

8. What supplemental sources will you use?

9. What primary sources will you use?

10. Will you incorporate literature, film, art, or music into the curriculum? If so, what will you use?

11. How will you deliver basic historical information?
Will students obtain information primarily from the textbook, lectures, PowerPoint presentations, or some other source?

12. What teaching strategies will you use to motivate and engage students?

13. What academic skills will you emphasize?
Will your class focus primarily on developing reading, writing, or thinking skills? Are there other skills you want to help students develop, such as computer skills or social skills?

14. Will you incorporate technology into the curriculum? If so, how?

15. How will you handle controversial issues?

16. How will you evaluate students?
Will you evaluate students primarily through the products they create (written or constructed), their performances (role playing, oral reports, simulations), exams (multiple choice or constructed responses), or some other means of evaluation.

17. How will you keep learning and growing as a history teacher?

18. How will you keep yourself motivated as a history teacher?

19. What is the higher purpose of what you will try to achieve as a history teacher? What is the value of teaching and studying history?

20. What is your personal mission statement as a history teacher?

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