Reading Like a Historian: Contextualization

Title: “Reading Like a Historian: Contextualization”

Source: (11 minutes)

This video focuses on helping students read documents like a historian by focusing on contexualization. In the particular classroom the video follows, the teacher has been working throughout the year to help her students read like a historian by working aspects like sourcing and contextualization. In this particular lesson, the teacher asks students to contrast the ideologies of Gandhi and Ho Chi Minh by looking at primary documents.

To begin the class she starts with a warm-up to access prior knowledge and to put students in a situation to think about how to fight back against an oppressive regime. Students were given the prompt asking how they would respond if the school day as extended to 5 PM and all students were given 5 hours of homework per night. The teacher prompted them to think about the French Revolution and resistance during the Industrial Revolution to get them thinking. Afterwards, the students shared their answers and then compared them to Gandhi and Ho Chi Minh. This engaging warm up served primarily to tie the lives of students to the lives of their historical subjects.

The next step was to get into document analysis. The first document was guided and the second document was completed in pairs. Before working on the documents, the teacher prompted students to remind her about what context meant. Making sure the students remembered that historical context was everything happening in that general time period so they could bring that information to the documents they would read.


One of the most interesting things I saw the teacher do in this video was that she helped students think of context on a large scale and a small scale. With a graphic organizer students had a big circle called “Big C” and a small circle, “Small C.” In the “Big C” students wrote about what has happening in the broad time period, so global events, long term events, etc. In the “Small C” students wrote down what was happening more locally in the month, day, or week the document was produced. Both times students shared aloud before going deep into document analysis. This was helpful for students because it allowed them to access prior and outside knowledge to build context and to construct a picture of the time period in which the source was produced.

The lesson ended with an engaging exit slip which tied into the content learned and the warm up. Students responded in a paragraph about how Gandhi or Ho Chi Minh would have responded to the situation presented in the warm-up. They were also required to use the vocabulary words of the day in their response.

I already plan to use exercises like this in my future classroom, but there were aspects from this video I will borrow in the future. First, I really like the “Big C” and “Small C” organizer because it allowed students to think globally, nationally, and locally about a time period. I think this is important to remember because history doesn’t just happen from above, but it also happens more frequently from below. Thinking about context on a smaller scale can help students see that major historical events can often be caused by smaller regional and local trends (ie: Serbian resistance and World War I). Second, I noticed the teacher used popsicle sticks with student names on them to call on students. But instead of choosing them herself, she allowed students to pick sticks out of a cup and call on their classmate. This is a small strategy, but I think it served to keep students more engaged in the classroom.


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