Common Sense Review
Updated December 2014

Stanford History Education Group

High-quality, document-based lessons spark stellar historical inquiry
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Common Sense Rating 4
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 5
  • There are over seventy U.S. History lessons.
  • Students become historical investigators as they learn about key historical events.
  • Students can examine historical events from multiple perspectives.
  • Lesson plans include a wide range of materials and detailed instructional plans.
Students investigate historical questions and make claims as they analyze highly researched, accurate, and comprehensive primary documents.
Struggling readers and ELL students may need support to access text-heavy documents.
Bottom Line
A gold mine of CCSS-aligned lessons for U.S. and world history teachers; encourages reading, analysis, and collaboration.
Jennifer Sitkin
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

Students take an active role in learning history through opportunities for collaboration and discussion, the examination of multiple perspectives, and the focus on forming opinions backed by evidence.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 5

The resources follow a set structure for historical inquiry: sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating, and close reading. Activities vary to encourage critical thinking, evaluation, and the development of historical claims.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 5

The site provides extensive support for teachers to use the online lesson plans. Detailed lesson plans include materials, lecture notes, guided questions, and much more. 

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How Can Teachers Use It?

For new teachers or teachers who want to completely overhaul their curriculum to align to the Common Core, the U.S. history lessons are ready to go and provide comprehensive coverage of the content. For teachers who want to supplement their existing curriculum, the collection offers many possibilities to integrate historical inquiry, reading strategies, and primary document analysis. Teachers should definitely take time to search through the different lessons to see what would work for their classroom. The introductory unit offers students a good opportunity to practice the skills necessary to effectively participate in the various activities. The lessons vary in terms of length, student configuration, homework, etc., and may need to be adapted to fit the needs of the students. Further links to additional curriculum, assessments, projects, and much more can help expand student understanding of history.

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What's It Like?

The Stanford History Education Group website provides teachers with document-based curriculum and innovative assessments that are ready to use in the classroom. The primary collection is called Reading Like a Historian and includes more than 100 lesson plans for U.S. and world history courses. The lessons follow a set structure in which students investigate historical questions. Each lesson begins with establishing background knowledge and identifying the key question. Students then engage with the documents by comparing them, using a historical reading skill, developing a hypothesis, or participating in a structured debate. Finally, the entire class discusses the topic as students are encouraged to make claims and allow for multiple interpretations of history. In addition to the lessons, teachers and students can explore an Introduction to Historical Thinking unit that introduces the learning approach. Keep in mind that teachers need to set up a free account in order to download all of the free materials.

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Is It Good For Learning?

This collection of free, downloadable resources is a gift to teachers and students that will increase learning in the classroom. The Reading Like a Historian curriculum challenges students to think for themselves about historical events rather than just memorize facts and dates. The lessons require students to gather evidence and make historical claims as they develop their ability to become independent thinkers. Highlights of the collection include an introductory lesson that evaluates different accounts of common school conflicts, a world history lesson that explores the issue of appeasement and the evidence for and against it, and a U.S. history lesson that examines correspondence between key figures in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The strength in all of these is that students are the investigators, and they're not relying on a textbook or a teacher’s lecture to understand the event. Although some of the documents are text-heavy, there are modifications available to make the content more accessible to all students. 

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