The first idea comes from Great Falls teacher Jana Mora, who created her Montana Fur Trade: Four Square Primary Source Lesson Plan as part of a three-year Teaching American History professional development program coordinated by the Montana Council for History and Civics Education. Jana designed her lesson for grades 9-12, but I think it is adaptable to middle school classes as well.
Jana asked students to look at a variety of sources--journals, pictures, stories, and biographies to explore four specific areas in depth before creating a four square display with the information they uncovered.
One thing I particularly love about her lesson is her use of "jigsawing." Jana assigns groups of students different parts of Chapter 5, "Beaver, Bison, and Black Robes: Montana's Fur Trade, 1800-1860." Each group becomes an expert on their section. Then she reorganizes the groups so that an expert for each section is in each group and can teach the other group members. That way, everyone gets all the information from chapter 5 without having to read the entire chapter. This make sure that everyone has basic background while freeing up time to dive into primary sources.
Jana required each student to examine two journals and two pictures. Under the journals, the students create "dialectical journals, creating a dialogue by selecting phrases they find important or interesting and writing a reaction for each phrase. For each image students complete an image analysis worksheet she created called "Stepping into a Picture."
Each day of the project, Jana ends the class with a brief discussion, during which she asks, "What did you find out today that you didn't know or that challenges something you thought you knew?" What a great question! She also has students tie what they learned that day back to essential questions she posed at the beginning of the lesson plan. (Her questions included "How did beaver change the history of Montana?" "In what ways were the Indian people involved in the fur trade?" "What induced the shift in the marked from beaver to bison?" and "Who were the 'Black Robes' and what influence did they have on Indian living in Montana during this time?")
After all students have completed their four squares (which show the journals and pictures and their analyses), students complete peer evaluations, rotating and responding to each others' work. I love this part, too, because it engages students in even more sources and asks them to note connections and ask questions. Finally, students write a paragraph summarizing the overall significance of the fur trade and responding to the essential questions that kicked off the investigation.
Jana's lesson plan includes detailed instructions, a rubric, and list of likely primary sources, so it's more or less plug-and-play for Chapter 5 of Montana: Stories of the Land (though, of course, you'll want to check the links). But it is also a great model for other topics, because it balances
- the need to provide background information (students can't do a good job learning about a topic or analyzing primary sources without it) with
- allowing students to conduct their own investigations and
- having students spend time experiencing primary sources, which is often what brings history alive.
Do you have other successful strategies for accomplishing these (sometimes competing) goals? If so, tell me about them so I can share.