The use of primary sources has become increasingly common in history classrooms. Educators and researchers have been broadly pushing for this years. Specifically, this has been part of a call for the explicit teaching of historical thinking skills alongside prioritized content. Interestingly, the largest barriers to increased use of primary sources in the classroom that I have witnessed are not student reading ability, but a lack of teacher training and experience as well as access to materials.
"Doing Inquiry" can be easy, and does not always have to involve huge projects. Embedding small protocols and activities that introduce the various components and stages of inquiry help scaffold towards the larger projects that empower students and enrich traditional curriculum. I've learned that inquiry should not be a "special activity" but a frequent, even daily, classroom routine. Here are some strategies I have found success with.
My unit design process for a thematic course involves overcoming several challenges: content and skill selection, assessment design, and leaving space for inquiry, scaffolding, and differentiation. A healthy dose of backwards design alongside the four non-negotiables of my own process end up making things work.
Seeing the methods and philosophical traditions that uphold the creation of narrative is an important lesson for any student of history. Interpretation is an act that is debated and ever-evolving, and it provides great opportunities for practicing historical thinking. There are some great entry-points into historiography in most curriculum that will deepen students' ability to analyze alternative viewpoints and get them discussing ideas and modes of thinking instead of fact. In my experience, students respond to such a compelling challenge.
Here are a few games I have had success with in the classroom. Two support review of academic vocabulary and one is great for general language practice and critical thinking.
Rather than try to teach everything, a thematic approach allows me to focus on the key concepts, essential questions, and enduring understandings that are central to understanding the development of the United States. These serve as a magnetic poles around which students can make sense of the content that is taught. I would argue this helps instruct historical significance while also preventing students from getting lost in a cacophony of historical details.