Without History, we have no future. Learning about the history of our nation and our world provides students with the necessary tools to make a difference in the world. Unfortunately, most elementary students look at History class as a boring tedious task that has no real meaning. How great would it be to have a classroom full of students who are excited, energized, and eager to learn more?
Here are four basic ideas to get you started. They all come from an interdisciplinary approach, so you will be able to fit them with Reading, Writing, Speech, Math, Science, and more. All projects will work as individual or group assignments, or as suggested extra credit projects. These are only meant as a base from which you can develop several plans. Your students will develop an interest in their history, while looking into the future.
First, students must pick an invention from a specified time period (you can work this into your current curriculum). Students will research, using the school library, internet, interviews, and public library, the inventor, the invention and the impact it made in American History. From the research, students will prepare a topical paper (according to their education level).
Second, students will build a replica of the invention. All parts and pieces do not have to work, they are just kids. However, the model should show their understanding of the invention. For example, in fourth grade I built a model of the first cotton gin based on pictures that were available at the time. I used 1X1 pieces of wood, chicken wire, a simple hand crank, and some cotton batting.
Third, students will brainstorm ideas for a future invention in the same field. Then build a model, or prepare an artistic illustration, of their invention, along with a short written explanation of its use and benefits.
This project should run an entire marking period, along with your regular class activities and lessons. At the end of the marking period, hold an invention open house where students can showcase their replicas. A short period can be allotted for students to present their individual projects. This can turn into a fair similar to a Science Fair along with 1st, 2nd, 3rd place, and participation recognition.
Students pretend they have discovered a time machine, and can travel back to any period in American History. They chose their favorite president, and conduct an interview. This can be accomplished one of two ways.
1. Each student researches a designated president. Topics should include: place of birth, family life, growing up, education, jobs held, marriage and children, when they became president, their vice president, major accomplishments as president, American events during presidency, what they did after their term, who followed them in the White House, where and when they died. Of course, students should not be limited to these topics, but this will be a great start.
Students then interview each other. Draw a portrait of their president. Write a short poem about their president. Then the class can compile their projects into a class book.
2. Students use the same topics as outlined above, but conduct research in the library and online. They use the same format for the presentation, only this time, compile their projects into a classroom newspaper.
This project is aimed at World History, and the development of civilizations. More specifically; communities of the ancient world. Students will chose a time period and nation, and then research cities, villages, towns, and empires related to the civilization they’ve chosen. They will write a brief summary of the way people lived in their community. Then, construct a model of their civilization. When projects are completed, the teacher can plan a civilization fair, similar to invention fair, where students can showcase their designs to their friends and family.
Materials will be needed for this project. Make sure you have the supplies ready. They will include: clay, paint, cardboard, small animals and people (if desired), glue, scissors, paper mache, construction paper, cardboard for bases, sticks, sand, and anything else you can think of. Students can build replicas of huts, ziggurats, pyramids, clay house, adobes, the ideas are truly unlimited.
Cultural Awareness Skits:
History studies would not be complete without including some cultural awareness. Students will become adept with cultural interactions as they learn about the diversity that surrounds them. Students will chose from a list of cultures, and research them. Some cultures to include should be: African American, Native American, social elite, Early American, and Westward frontier trailblazers.
Students will then write a short skit highlighting the cultural attributes of their chosen society. This project will work best as a group project. The groups should be 3-6 students each. Each participant should be given a specified role. These would include: fact checker, script writer, director, and narrator. However, the teacher can assign roles based on the students’ abilities and curriculum requirements.
When the projects are completed, student groups will perform their skits for the class. This project can be combined with the civilization models project, as well as the inventions project, and the class can hold a History fair encompassing all projects at the end of the year.
The thing to remember, when looking for History projects, is that children thrive on hands-on activities. The more hands-on friendly your projects are, the more your students will want to participate. The more your students desire to participate, the more excited they will be for the next lesson. And the more excited they are for your lessons, the more information they will absorb.