What is the best way to teach World History? Should it be a balance of lecture, Power-Point, and projects; or is there another way I can teach the objectives and keep my students engaged? This is...

What is the best way to teach World History? Should it be a balance of lecture, Power-Point, and projects; or is there another way I can teach the objectives and keep my students engaged? This is my first time back in the classroom since 2009, as well as the first time I have taught World History.

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Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, it is my opinion that today's students have been PowerPointed to death, and the only time I use it at all is when I want to show charts and graphs, for example, when I teach economics, since these are much tidier than anything I could draw on the board. 

Second, lecture needs to be sparing. I am assuming that you are teaching at the high school level, but even at the college level, I am judicious in my use of it, using no more than perhaps 15-20 minutes of almost straight lecture in an hour and a half class.  I try very hard to focus on inquiries, to force the students to do the talking. 

Third, you are now asking me, "What's left?" What is left is, as Dewey said, "to begin with the child." Every student will be drawn to some aspect of history, and good lesson planning capitalizes on that. You will find that some students are fascinated by wars, others by the various characters who occupy history. (I had a student who was a self-made expert on the history of military weaponry. He taught us to a large degree.) You may find that you have a class composed of various ethnic ancestries, and that is a great way to engage students, in their very own history. Depending on what area of the country you live in, it may be that your area was settled by Dutch, Spanish, French peoples or people of German or eastern European descent. Many communities in the United States have one or two dominant ethnic groups. This makes a more natural entree into the histories of these peoples. Sometimes students will have artifacts handed down that they can share or discuss with the class. The way to engage any student, though, is to begin with the student.

One means I use with most courses I teach is to have students listen to or watch the news (a reputable source), and share what they have learned.  For a World History course, for example, perhaps while you are focusing on European history, some discussion of the European Union would be interesting, to see where Europe has been and is now, and what seeds of discontent have been sown by history. The colonization of Africa had consequences that reverberate to this day. What is in the news that allows us to understand this? This helps make history more alive to the students, allowing them to make a connection between then and here and now. 

And speaking of connections, one resource I have found most valuable is a book called The Timetables of History, by Bernard Grun.  This is a collection of charts, side by side entries, year by year, in seven different columns: History/Politics, Literature/Theater, Religion/Philosophy/Learning, Visual Arts, Music, Science/Technology/Growth, and Daily Life. This incredible volume shows how each of these categories does not occur in a vacuum, that all are connected in a way that is history. The book has the additional advantage of having enough categories to provide a way of engaging most of your students, in one way or another.  One who is interested in technology might be enjoy learning that technology is not just digital, that the Gutenberg press was the latest thing in its day.  Another might be engaged by the rich history of music.  And this notion, that there are so many aspects of history, leads me to my next thoughts, about projects. 

Projects and presentations, both group and individual, in class and out of class, are a wonderful means of engagement.  These can take so many forms in a World History class.  Who can do a model of the pyramids? Who can calculate the labor involved?  Can a group investigate the art of the Renaissance?   Who can investigate the viability of the theory that Gypsies are descendants of the Indian subcontinent?  What about our use of DNA today? Does this inform us about the migrations of early man at all? You can provide so many options for projects and presentations, enough for every student or group to make an engaging choice.

If you have the wherewithal, field trips for World History are great, too. In my World Cultures class, we visited two Indian temples, for example. A good museum is likely to have ample resources that will provide students with visual, audio, and tactile experiences in history, both ancient and modern. Covering some content both before and after a field trip helps to consolidate learning. 

I think also that using literature in a history course is a great help. Perhaps you could put together a reading list for the students, who would then choose amongst various kinds of readings. This might include novels or even the mythology of a particular people.  Mythology is often a good choice, since it often incorporates geographical and cultural elements that are reflective of the people. Each student would be responsible for presenting the reading, not necessarily in a boring book report, but perhaps with drawings or models or dressing in the setting in the book (if appropriate!)

To me, teaching history is all about making connections.  You must connect with each student, provide an environment in which they can connect with another, and then help them make the connections in history. Whether it be people or battles or music or daily life, it's all connected, and it all resulted in them. 

Consider that your hiatus is a good thing, allowing you to bring a fresh eye and new energy to the course. You will soon be bubbling over with ideas. 

muharana eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Something to remember about today's students: they're digital natives. If you've never heard of that, start Googling. Or read the article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants by Marc Prensky.

It's somewhat dated by now, but Prensky was the harbinger of things to come early on.

What it all means is that just lecturing and doing presentations is no longer enough. Today's kids think and learn differently--brain research has proved that.

So they want more "hands on" experiences, and they want to have lots and lots of different ways to learn. They're also a lot more independent, if allowed to be. And when they're not allowed to be, they can be very, very difficult. Their worlds and therefore their minds move FAST. And it can be difficult for teachers to keep up.

You'll need to use cell phones--if your school allows that--tablets, podcasts, videos (some that you make yourself) and more. You can even do instant polls, "meet ups" and more online--you no longer have to buy special equipment to do that. A cell phone, Smartboard or classroom workstation will do, if you have a way of "projecting" the screen so that everyone can watch.

Presentations are often animated now, via things like Animoto and Prezi and Storybird or can be downloaded from sites like Slideshare. You can make nice ones with PhotoStory, too, which is a Windows program you can download for free. There are even sites that allow students to write and publish essays that the world can read--Medium is one of the best, but there are dozens now.

And today's teachers also have to start thinking seriously about "gamification." Here are some sites you should use to get more information about all of the above:

Edutopia: http://bit.ly/1KDxjD9

Teaching Channel: https://www.teachingchannel.org/

Game-based learning resources on Edutopia: http://www.edutopia.org/made-with-play-game-based-learning-resources

That's a good start, but not nearly the whole story! Just wanted to piggyback on the previous answer.

mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I love the answer above.  The one thing I would suggest is that you help students see what is happening at the same time all over the world.  For example, what is happening in Argentina while World War II absorbs the US and European nations?  What is the result of World War II on South American countries or Middle East countries?  As one important event in American history, the attack on Pearl Harbor meant what to other countries?  Connections are critical as the above answer shows you.  Group work is less scary for students to present material or lead a discussion when you give them a list to choose from which will accomplish your objective.  When I say group work, I don't mean one bright student does all the work.  I made them write in different colored ink and sign their work so that  person could answer questions about their contributions. Good luck as I found teaching fun even in my 35th year.

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