Teaching Citizenship Through Primary Resources: A Unique Approach to Civic Education
June 28, 2016
Teaching civics to students can be a daunting task; the ideas are illusive, the concepts vague, and the vocabulary advanced. So how do we do it?? How do we, as evolving educators, teach students about the valuable topic of civic engagement, and inspire active, participating citizens? More and more, research is now suggesting we turn to the familiar tools that have been there all along: primary sources.
Why Primary Sources?
There are unique challenges to all teaching styles, whether it be student-related, or issues completely outside of our control. Primary source documents can be challenging tools to work with. One of the biggest issues is that they contain hard-to-understand language (whether due to reading level or handwriting!) Ways to combat this issue: translate the document for your students, chunk the larger piece into smaller portions to tackle, or even (gasp!) EDIT the actual document! There is nothing wrong with showing the student the actual document, and providing a “summary” next to it; this serves the same purpose, which is to get students to formulate ideas on their own from primary sources! Actually planning the lessons can also be hard. Finding primary sources to use takes time (which we are all a little short on these days!) However, once you get used to it, it becomes like second nature. Collaborate with your educator counterparts in your school and work together to create cross-curricular units that involve everyone. In the end, we all have the same goal: to educate and create active, future civic participants in the world.
You can do it!
It’s time to step up as teachers -- rise to the challenge and make a change in the way we think and educate our students about our government! Step away from the carefully planned worksheets and textbook follow-alongs, and towards critically engaging discovery-based lessons. Standards in education are changing, and the hunt is now on for “best practices” in the field: primary sources are the key you’re looking for. These documents will allow your students to discover using their own abilities, allow you to engage authentically, and will in the end, catapult our future civic participants into the future.
Need more ideas?
- iCivics has a great tool -- which is ready to use! Try DBQuest to see how primary sources can be used to gain a better understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.
- The Library of Congress has an amazing collection of primary sources, ready to use! Once you narrow your search to your particular topic, you can choose from any type of source you want: favorites of mine?? Legislation, manuscripts and photos (just for starters!)
- Lesson Plans from Stanford History Education Group - Reading Like a Historian
Natalie Jansing is a Baylor University Master's Degree candidate who currently teaches 8th grade U.S. History in Waco, Texas. She is also a mom, wife and avid traveller. She loves her students and loves history -- which makes teaching Social Studies the perfect fit for her. Follow her on Twitter: @natjansing