Is this on the test? Integrating American history into language arts

By Jenny Wei

There are only so many hours in the classroom day, and high-stakes testing is encouraging teachers to adapt their classroom practices to support their students on the examinations.

If you’re a teacher trying to integrate more history into your language arts classroom, here are some tips from creative teachers I’ve met:

Writing historical fiction: One member of our 2008 Teacher Advisory Group, a local middle-school teacher, likes to use historical artifacts as the starting points for writing exercises. She introduces a bit of history and a historical artifact, then asks her students to rewrite history from the perspective of that (anthropomorphized) artifact. Try it out for yourself by telling the story of the Emancipation Proclamation from the perspective of Lincoln’s telegraph key .

FeaturedExample of a featured artifact from Smithsonian's History Explorer Web site.

Illustrating historical fiction: While showcasing the site to teachers during a recent workshop, I shared part of The Price of Freedom: Americans at War online exhibition and collection search as an example resource. One of the teachers I was speaking with became very excited because she was teaching My Brother Sam Is Dead in her language arts classroom, and she could engage the visual learners in her class by showing some of the guns discussed in the book. Are you reading historical fiction with your class and looking for some realistic illustrations?

Adjectives, figurative language, and other ways of describing: When an object is added to the collection here at the museum, staff write a thorough description of the object for the records. When we asked how teachers would use the Featured Artifact on the homepage of Smithsonian’s History Explorer, some language arts teachers thought they would use it as a descriptive warm-up. They would ask students to describe the object (or parts of it) in as many ways as they could, making use of the historical description and the artifact image. If you’re teaching similes, metaphors, riddle poems, or just trying to build vocabulary, check out this week’s Featured Artifact with your students.

Language arts teachers, what other suggestions do you have? Or do you know an innovative teacher who is incorporating American history into math or science? Write us a comment with a suggested activity, or send us a tweet on @explorehistory.

Jenny Wei is an education specialist at the National Museum of American History.