Website review by Stacy Zeiger, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2013


Historical texts, interactive activities can promote critical thinking

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Subjects & Skills
Social Studies, Critical Thinking

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Pros: By viewing primary source documents, students learn about history firsthand, rather than through the lens of a textbook author.

Cons: Hard-to-read texts make completing many activities difficult.

Bottom Line: This text-rich app encourages students to conduct their own analysis of history, but the formats and graphics may prevent them from making a thorough analysis.

You may use DocsTeach to supplement the textbook with primary source documents. While the app itself features multiple pre-created activities, the real value lies in the ability to create custom activities for your students. After creating an account at, you have the opportunity to select texts to apply to one of the interactive graphic organizers. When you create your own activities, you can also add additional details for students, making it easier for them to understand how to complete the activity, letting them know which details to pay attention to, and providing them with a final analysis of, or takeaway from, the activity. Students then receive a code to allow them to complete the activity using the app.

The option to add discussion questions or short writing prompts to the end of the app allows you to further bring home the meaning of the texts. It also works as a way to quickly monitor student understanding.

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DocsTeach by the National Archives brings the online archives and activities to the web and iPad. Students and teachers can search activities by time period and movement or enter a classroom code to access materials and activities chosen by the teacher. Review of the historical documents is tied to a collection of interactive graphic organizers designed to give students a purpose as they read through the texts. After reading or skimming the texts, students drag and drop text icons into boxes on the interactive graphic organizers. The app uses accurate digital images of historical texts, so many of the texts appear on yellowed paper and feature the original handwriting and formatting. Students have the option to zoom in and out of a text, but texts that are already difficult to read may not be improved by making the images smaller or larger.

After completing a graphic organizer, many activities provide students with a few discussion questions or a short writing prompt. Students are encouraged to respond to the questions and email them to the teacher.

Instead of relying on highly engaging, interactive graphics and sound effects, DocsTeach takes a simpler approach. Students access history in its original form, through primary source documents, and analyze that history using a series of drag-and-drop graphic organizers. These organizers are focused on the critical-thinking skills that most standards, including the Common Core, require: making connections, evaluating evidence and drawing conclusions, understanding cause and effect, and sequencing events. Unfortunately, many of the activities do not leave room for students to form and defend their own analysis of the materials. Instead, they must come up with the "correct" analysis. With many of the activities, it is also not immediately clear what students are supposed to do with the texts they are given, leaving them to drag and drop the text icons until the app determines they've gotten all the answers correct.

Overall Rating


While the activities help students interact with the text, they must read or skim a large volume of texts. Some may quickly become uninterested or even frustrated.


Students take primary source documents and use them to complete activities to help them develop a better understanding of a particular period of history or historical movement.


Although unclear instructions and hard-to-read texts can frustrate students, teachers can offer support in the form of instructions and custom activities.

Common Sense reviewer
Stacy Zeiger Homeschooling parent

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Featured review by
Joe T. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Cabell Midland High School
Ona, United States
Makes primary source documents relevant for students.
It's a good tool to bring primary source documents to life. Documents relevant to the topic are used in a way that requires students to think critically about their significance in a way that students don't overtly look at as a learning moment. The topics are limited and could use further exploration and development, but what there is already is well designed and researched.
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