Teachers can preselect whole-class clips or allow student choice in perusing the options and focusing on an area of interest within a given era, topic, or film. For a quick and easy activity, look no further than the discussion questions offered alongside most clips. These can serve as primers before students watch something, as well as review discussions afterward. Students can also create and share their own essential questions based on their viewing.
For a more involved activity, teachers can use a media analysis framework. Task students with identifying a main idea, evidence or details, drawing, inquiry, and analysis of the film clip. Students can then share out on the class whiteboard prepared with each of the categories. In classrooms with 1-to-1 devices, groups of students can each focus on a different segment of a longer film (or individual group members can focus on individual segments). They can then answer discussion questions and/or use a 3-2-1 strategy to reflect on what they watched. Students within each group can have a discussion, and then teachers can facilitate a whole-class debriefing.
If classrooms use a lot of Ken Burns' work, why not encourage students to be their own digital storytellers? Students could create their own mini-documentaries or another creative showcase -- like a comic strip or book -- on a history topic of their choice. To up the ante, ask students to incorporate three methods of storytelling that they noticed Burns using, such as re-created narration or showing primary sources. This focuses students not only on high-quality research, but also on engaging delivery and presentation of the material.Continue reading Show less
Ken Burns in the Classroom is a free American history website offered by PBS LearningMedia. The site combines Ken Burns' critically acclaimed documentaries with ready-to-use teaching materials and lessons. Each documentary is available in precisely chunked and archived segments of one to nine minutes each. All of the clips can be searched by keyword, topic, era, or film. Clips include related videos, relevant teaching materials, and a Share to Google Classroom button.
For Ken Burns fans, a PBS sister site is linked at the bottom of the Ken Burns in the Classroom site, providing more research and access to more things Ken Burns.
The research and production of the film clips is unparalleled, but clever classroom activities will be needed to fully grab students' attention. However, the careful carving of the films into digestible (and easily browsed) pieces for students -- along with the printable handouts and premade lessons -- makes it incredibly easy to bring Ken Burns' work into classrooms. The activities, teaching tips, discussion questions, and handouts go beyond recall questions, but they vary in how well they encourage deep learning. In most cases, it's up to teachers to take it to next level, especially in, for instance, an AP-level class. Expect to do some further development of what's offered on the site. Teacher materials are also not scaffolded or differentiated, so expect to do some modification to fit your students' needs. Some films offer English subtitles to help with this.
One of the most useful aspects of Ken Burns in the Classroom is how well clips are organized. They're not just broken down by era or keyword; they're also organized thematically so that students can dig into concepts with or across eras. For example, the film The West is broken down into "Migration and Innovation," "Intercultural Encounters," and "Land-based Conflict." By orienting analysis according to these themes, teachers go beyond a timeline or key term approach to history, and focus more on analyzing change and continuity over time.
Key Standards Supported
Reading History/Social Studies
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.
By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6–8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.
Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.
Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 9–10 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 11–CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.