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Not Your Usual History Lesson: Writing Historical Markers
|Grades||6 – 8|
|Lesson Plan Type||Standard Lesson|
|Estimated Time||Five 50-minute sessions|
- conduct research on local historical markers in their communities.
- analyze existing historical markers to determine what information is included.
- interview community personnel about historical information and their historical/personal ties to their community.
- write a historical marker by following class guidelines about what constitutes a good historical marker.
- Begin with a discussion of students’ past vacations or travels. Ask them what kinds of things they have seen along the road when riding in a car to a destination. Make a list on the board or chart paper. The teacher may do this as a whole class discussion or put students into small groups for discussion.
- Ask students if they have ever seen or visited historical markers. Share an image of one and move into a discussion about these:
- What are they?
- Where are they found?
- Why would people like/or not like them?
- What purpose do they serve?
- Who creates them?
- Which ones have they seen?
- Are there markers near where they live?
- Which ones do they find the most interesting?
- In this lesson, students will learn how to break down a historical marker to understand its rhetorical situation, noting the following: audience, purpose, language/word choice, location, and credibility. Give students the Understanding Historical Markers handout.
- Show students an image of another historical marker and begin discussing each item on the printout. Consider using a historical marker that is well known or one that reflects a subject the students have been studying in one of their classes. For example, The Historical Marker database includes a marker titled, “The North Bridge” in Minute Man National Historical Park: http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=18370.
Questions to consider when discussing include the following:
- Location: Where is this marker located? What state? What part of the state? Is the marker near any other landmarks? What is the weather like there? Why might we need to consider the weather?
- Audience: Who is likely to visit this area? Who will read this marker? (For example, age, nationality, education, etc.) Who do you think would not visit this area?
- Purpose: What does the marker want the reader to know? List at least 3 items and then rank them in order from most important to least important. Is there anything you think the marker did not include that it should have?
- Language/Word Choice: What kinds of words does the marker use? Are there any words you did not know or that were confusing to you? Did the marker have words written in a language other than English? Why is this important to think about?
- Credibility: Who created the marker? Does the marker name an author or a group/organization that created or funded it? Why is this important to consider? Were there any errors you noticed on the marker?
- The session will begin with a brief review of the information from the Understanding Historical Markers handout.
- Show a picture of a historical marker that is in their town, community, near the school, or so forth. Briefly review it for location, audience, purpose, language/word choice, and credibility (see Understanding Historical Markers handout).
- Ask students to think of other places in their town or community that have markers or that might need a historical marker. Brainstorm this list on the overhead or the board putting information in two columns: Has Marker / Needs Marker. Examples may include an old Victorian house, a park named for a person, a train station, a store in a downtown area, a bridge, a historical neighborhood, a statue, another school, an office building and so forth.
- Each student will pick one location that they may know something about or that they have an interest in. They will conduct research to learn more about that location using different sources, such as websites about local history, books from the school library or others that the teacher has made available in the class. Students will be responsible for taking notes over the information they learned.
- Give students the Writing a Historical Marker Assignment handout and the Taking Notes & Summarizing Information handout and review the assignment. (The teacher will discuss the section on taking notes while discussing interviews in the next session.) Additionally, introduce the rubric and allow time for students to ask questions about the assignment expectations.
- Use the remainder of class for students to begin conducting research using books or online sources and taking notes over these.
- The session will begin with each student sharing what location they are researching and one thing they have learned about it so far.
- Share with students that they will also find one person to interview about this place. This does not need to be an expert; it may be a family member or family friend who is familiar with the place. It may also be a neighbor. Help students think about people they know and would feel comfortable asking questions. Students will brainstorm who they might interview about that location (for example: museum curator or volunteer, parent or grandparent, neighbor, other relative, shop owner, home owner, etc.).
- Discuss interviewing and note-taking skills. Share that the key to a good interview is to find someone knowledgeable about the topic and to have prepared good questions for them to answer. Sample general questions to ask may include the following:
- What do you know about this location?
- Is this location important to you? Why or why not?
- Is this location important to other people as well?
- What memories do you have of this location?
- Did anything good, bad, or important happen here?
- Students will then write more specific questions based on their location: Examples may include the following:
- (For a theatre) What movies do you remember showing here? How much did a ticket cost? Was it a popular place for young people? How did you get to the theatre? How often could you go?
- (For a train station) Does the station still operate? When did it start and when did it stop running? Did any famous people travel through town and stop this station? How many people usually rode the train? What stops did it make?
- (For a city park) Who or what is the park named after? Why is it named after that person? Did it always look like this? What else did it have? Why did it change? Are there other parks like it in town? What kinds of things did people do here in the past? Why was this a popular place to go?
- Students will then draft both general and specific questions about their location. Their assignment is to conduct their interview and write their notes for the next session. If you wish, interviews may be recorded.
- Spend time reviewing the assignment description and then discussing the grading rubric. Help students understand what is important in a good marker and how they can use their information to achieve that.
- Discuss summarizing information. The key to summarizing information is to look at all of the information and discover what a reader must know to understand why that place is important.
- Students will take out their notes from their research and their interviews and review it. Using the What is Important about Your Research handout, they will make a list of the most important information about their location, noting what is important and why.
- Students then draft their historical markers by writing a paragraph for their location, introducing the reader to the place, telling them what is interesting about this location including any names or dates as needed, and telling them what is significant about it for the surrounding area and for history in general.
- Students will turn in a working draft to the teacher at the end of class. The teacher will comment and return to students at the next session.
- For homework, the teacher may assign students to draw a picture of their location or to take a picture of it, depending on access to technology. Students should bring these with them to the next class meeting.
- The teacher will return students’ drafts which will have comments about what students did. Share positive elements and offer general suggestions to the class as a whole for revising.
- Students will use the rest of class time to revise their paragraphs: by either writing them out or typing and printing. The goal is for students to have a polished draft of their historical marker that looks professional. The teacher will move around the room helping students.
- Students will include their picture or drawn image of their location with their finished draft for display.
- The teacher may wish to showcase students’ markers around the room or throughout the school. In addition, the teacher may compile students’ historical markers into a class book using ReadWriteThink’s Profile Publisher or Multigenre Mapper, or by taking students’ writing and binding in another form.
- Teachers will grade students using the Writing a Historical Marker rubric. (Teachers may also assign students to finish their assignments and bring them back the next day.)
- Students may give presentations to the class or others in the school about their locations. They may even choose to dress up as a person from the time the location was famous.
- Teachers may assign students to write historical markers for themselves about a place they lived, played, visited, etc. They may write it as though they became famous and people wanted to know about their lives.
- The class may create a website showcasing their historical markers to others in the community or even sharing with a local tourism bureau to highlight as places of interest.
- Students could write more than one historical marker and then create brochures to advertise these for visitors to their community.
- Students might write their markers as though they would be published on the Historical Marker Database website: http://www.hmdb.org/.
- Profile Publisher may be used to help students draft profiles of historical people or places.
Stapleless Book may be useful for students when compiling notes from historical markers in their state or community while planning ideas for their own.
Character Trading Cards may be another way for students to learn about creating short bits of biographical information based on historical figures and then use that to create their own.
- Students’ work will be assessed using the assignment description and the corresponding rubric: