Not Your Usual History Lesson: Writing Historical Markers
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In this lesson, students will develop their understanding of writing and local history by creating their own historical markers. They begin by studying historical markers in their own communities and then draft content for an unmarked historical location.
This lesson was adapted from from a forthcoming book from Pearson by Tim Taylor and Linda Copeland.
- Sample pictures of historical markers
- Access to resources about local history
- Writing a Historical Marker Assignment & Rubric handouts
From Theory to Practice
Summarizing information is a key skill for students at all grade levels. Repeated practice at summarizing and synthesizing information prepares them for writing assignments in any class as well as for giving presentations, writing research papers, conducting interviews, and keeping journals or logs, for example. NCTE/IRA Standards explicitly refer to conducting research and synthesizing data, emphasizing their importance for good communication practices.
Similarly, researchers describe how summarizing “…links reading and writing and requires higher-level thinking…Summarizing helps students learn more and retain information longer, partly because it requires effort and attention to text” (Dean 19). The more practice students have in younger grades with summarizing, the more successful they will be in various communication contexts later on. The generality of this lesson makes it appropriate for grades 6-8 but may also be tailored to meet standards for grades 9-12.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Projector or interactive whiteboard to display images of historical markers and students’ work
- Computers with internet access for class research (not needed if using books or textual resources)
- Digital cameras (optional)
This website provides a catalog of historical markers and information. It showcases photographs, inscription transcriptions, marker locations, maps, additional information and commentary, and links to more information. Viewers can add markers to the database and update existing marker pages with new photographs, links, information and commentary.
This marker is listed as an example in Session 1. This site provides a picture of the historic marker in place and enlarges the content so it is readable by viewers of the site.
This site offers historical marker information organized by city and state for easy searching
Stoppingpoints.com provides travelers with historical marker information as well as other points of interest. It is less comprehensive than The Historical Marker Database or the Historical Marker Society of America, but it may afford some different examples.
In his article, author William Lee Anderson III shares information about the history of historical markers in the United States. This article is a good resource for teachers to learn more about historical markers before the lesson. It may also work well as a class reading for the students.
This site provides a list of important questions to ask when considering creating a historical marker.
- Research information and prepare any handouts/overheads showing pictures of a variety of historical markers in your town or greater community.
- Research other historic areas or buildings in your town, noting ones that are historical but that do not already have a marker designating them as such. Select 5-10 to use as class writing practice or for students who have difficulty finding topics of their own. Photocopy, print or record website information for sharing with the class.
- Gather books, articles, and other resources describing the history of your town or community. Collect copies of materials for the classroom, make copies available for student use in the school or town library, and/or prepare a bibliography of web sources and post in the classroom or on a class website.
- Secure cameras (digital or camera phone work best) for students to photograph their historical sites or provide pictures for them (optional).
- 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: https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=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 notetaking 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.