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Resources for Teaching Historical Thinking in the Classroom

Posted by Lindsay Gibson
23 October 2012 - 12:33am

I  recently presented a one-hour workshop at the British Columbia Social Studies Teachers' Association Conference entitled Rights and Responsibilities: Thinking and Acting Locally and Globally. My presentation Resources for Teaching Historical Thinking in the Classroom focused on introducing teachers to seven new resources that will help them institute historical thinking in their classes. I chose one historical thinking resource from each of the following categories:

  1. Introduction to historical thinking (print, digital)
  2. Primary source collections (print, digital)
  3. Historical thinking lesson plans
  4. Historical thinking online game
  5. Assessing historical thinking


  1. Introduction to historical thinking (print)

Of the recent books that introduce teachers to historical thinking The Big Six Historical Thinking Concepts ( written by Peter Seixas and Tom Morton. Each chapter describes one of the six historical thinking concepts and provide teaching strategies and model activities designed to help teachers institute them in their classes. Each chapter begins with a discussion of how a prominent historian has utilized one of the six concepts when writing a book of popular history or historical fiction. The book also comes with a DVD-ROM that includes modifiable Blackline Masters, graphics, photographs and illustrations from the text and additional teaching support.


  1. Introduction to historical thinking (digital)

The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2) has produced a collection of six Take 2 Thinking About History videos designed to introduce students to the six historical thinking concepts included in the framework of historical thinking outlined by Dr. Peter Seixas of the Historical Thinking Project ( Each visually engaging six–minute video explains the meaning, rationale and three or four key dimensions of each historical thinking concept in the context of an historical topic or event in Canadian history. These videos can be streamed for free from the newly launched TC2 website (   


  1. Primary source collections (print)

In 2011 acclaimed history educator Charles Hou, (creator of the Begbie Canadian History Contest) published the long-anticipated third installment in his Great Canadian Political Cartoons series, entitled Great Canadian Political Cartoons, 1946-1982. The period of time focused on by the book was a golden age of political cartooning in Canada and presents the work of some of Canada's best cartoonists. The book provides an inclusive view of Canadian history, focusing on issues such as aboriginal affairs, Canada-U.S. relations, feminism, human rights, labour, multiculturalism, nationalism, regionalism and separatism. The book is published by Moody's Lookout Press is available for purchase online at the website listed below     


  1. Primary source collections (digital)

Recently, The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2) launched History Docs, a searchable collection of carefully selected sets of primary and secondary source documents about important peoples, places, things and events in Canadian history. Each of the 50 sets of History Docs includes the following:

  • 7-10 pre-selected, age appropriate primary sources that have been modified to help students interpret and analyze them.  
  • 3-5 secondary sources (excerpts from textbooks, historians’ articles and books or websites) that show how secondary sources are constructed from primary sources.
  • Critical reading and historical thinking tools and strategies that help students develop the tools to thoughtfully interpret and analyze the primary and secondary sources.
  • An overall question about an important historical problem or question that is a significant part of the curriculum and focuses on one or more historical thinking concepts.
  • Clearly and concisely written historical background about the topic. 

Multiple sets of History Docs have been created for the following topics: Aboriginal history, Chinese-Canadian history, Confederation, Immigration, New France and Acadia, The road to Confederation, World War I, World War II, Canada and Quebec, the Interwar years. Some sets are available for free download, while others are part of a subscription service. For more information about History Docs go the website:


  1. Historical thinking lesson plans

The website Komagata Maru: Continuing the Journey is a comprehensive portal for understanding the Komagata Maru incident through a variety of materials such as government documents, oral histories, timelines, private archives, artistic endeavours, and interviews. Part of this website includes five lesson plans for teachers that utilize resources on the website in order to go deeper in the understanding of the Komagata Maru ( The aim of the lesson plans is to provide students with an understanding of the Komagata Maru incident, including the context in which the ship arrived in Vancouver; exclusionary national policies; and how South Asian communities have developed and progressed in Canada over the last 100 years.


  1. Historical thinking online game

The Chinese Canadian Stories Project website includes widely accessible learning materials created by teachers for teachers, along with a range of digital resources that use the latest technology and that capture the energy, passion, and curiosity of students of all ages. Classroom learning materials include short videos, whiteboard tools, teachers' guides, and immersive online adventures that help students re-imagine the past (

One of the classroom learning materials included on the website is an interactive adventure game called Pages from the Past: Golden Opportunities ( This game focuses on historical perspective taking about the values, aspirations and life choices of four fictional Chinese individuals at different times in the past.

Students are introduced to Quon Lum who came to Canada in 1858 seeking gold. He introduces students to four members of his family using his family scrapbook. Each family member has had to make many difficult life decisions, and although they have been happy with their lives in Canada, Quon Lum wonders if they always made the best decisions. He asks students to help his family members consider the wisdom of their choices and to give advice to them at two key points in their lives. To give the best advice students must first, identify each family member’s beliefs, values and attitudes, not the students' 21st century perspective, by carefully reading and listening to the clues in the scrapbook. If students offer good advice, Quon Lum will give them gold pieces from the Fraser gold rush that can be used to help each character on the journey.


  1. Assessing historical thinking

One of the major difficulties faced by advocates of historical thinking is determining how to assess students' historical thinking abilities. How can teachers assess whether their students are progressing as historical thinkers? Developed by the Stanford History Education Group (, Beyond the Bubble unlocks the vast digital archive of the Library of Congress to create a new generation of history assessments.

In an era defined by endless calls for accountability, history teachers have few assessment options, either multiple-choice tests or Document-Based-Questions (DBQ's). This website offers easy-to-use formative assessments that capture students’ knowledge in action rather than their recall of discrete facts. The History Assessments of Thinking,” or HATs offered on the website

  • Take only a few minutes and are easy to score
  • Come with rubrics and samples of student work
  • Promote academic literacy
  • Provide windows into students’ thinking

These HATs provide direction for teachers to assess historical thinking. Although the website focuses on American history topics and sources, Canadian teachers can adapt their own sources to the question frames and assessment rubrics offered on this website.  

How do you incorporate historical thinking concepts into your lessons?