Gilder Lehrman Reconstruction Seminar Resources

Edcamp Social Studies will be held November 22nd

Are you doing something amazing in your classroom that engages students and helps them to learn more? Do your students love social studies and love learning in your class? Or, perhaps, you feel stymied or frustrated by the current state of our education system? Do budget cuts and dwindling resources leave you little choice but to teach in isolation?

Bring It!

In order to be prepared, it’s best to bring along the following to an EdCamp

  • An open mind
  • A positive attitude
  • A willingness to collaborate and share
  • A couple of your colleagues
  • EdCamps are NOT about formal presentations. They are about conversations and they are fully participatory.
  • A concept or idea that has worked really well in your classroom that you can share and about which you are prepared to guide a discussion.
  • Ideas about things you’d like to learn – you don’t need to teach everyone else if you lead a session, you can just as easily lead a session by asking others to teach you. In other words, practice the inquiry-based practice in leading a session.
  • EdCamps are not techno-centric, however, it is a good idea to bring a laptop or other device as many people will be filling backchannels and Twitter streams around the conversations taking place. Conversations can be centered around tech and non-tech ideas and concepts.


You can expect:

  • Passionate educators sharing their tricks & techniques
  • Collaboration with others like you in learning new tools, content, etc. together
  • Instantaneous excitement, networking and camaraderie
  • Rich, meaningful conversations that will last far beyond the construct of the day
  • A blank schedule at the start of the day. You’ll be encouraged to sign up for a session you’re willing to lead and the schedule being built from it. This is participant and teacher driven.
  • A rule of two feet, or as fellow organizer, Shawn McCusker would say, the ability to “go where you grow” – if a session doesn’t meet your needs, you keep moving to one that does.
  • A smackdown – at the close, participants have one to two minutes to share a favorite tool, lesson, website or concept in a highly energetic fashion. The resources are curated and shared with all participants and beyond through Twitter
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NCSS Education Is Online

The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)  is pleased to present the 2014 Social Studies Professional Development Series. They have extensive webinar and workshop offerings focusing on the C3 Framework, Common Core Strategies, Technology Integration, Using Primary Sources, Geographic Connections, and Grant Writing in preparation for your 2014-15 school year! Attendees can receive a certificate of attendance upon request for your professional development needs.
NCSS webinar and workshop offerings continue to grow. Please check out their listings at
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Attention #Sociology Teachers at #NCSS13

If you are attending #ncss13, the American Sociological Association is sponsoring a 4 part symposium of sessions.  Feel free to attend 1, 2, 3, or all 4 of them.  They are also participating in a panel discussion on Saturday.  For more information, see the following:

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The Kennedy Half Century, a free online course

I wanted to take a moment to let you know about The Kennedy Half Century, a free online course taught by Larry J. Sabato, the founder and director of the renowned Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. November marks the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. In this 4-week online course (open to all – at no cost) you will learn the compelling story of how JFK’s life, administration, and tragic death have influenced the general public, the media, and each of the nine U.S. presidents who followed over The Kennedy Half Century.

You may have heard of “The Kennedy Half Century” – Larry also has a book coming out this fall. It’s being released in conjunction with the online course and a PBS documentary!

Enrollment opens for Professor Sabato’s free online course “The Kennedy Half Century” (Charlottesville, Va.) — Enrollment is now open for Prof. Larry J. Sabato’s free online course about President John F. Kennedy’s life, administration and legacy.

The four-week, massive open online course (MOOC), “The Kennedy Half Century,” will begin on Oct. 21, with two hours of video instruction each week by Prof. Sabato. The course is available through Coursera, an educational website that partners with some of the world’s top universities, including the University of Virginia, to provide free online courses. Anyone can register for the course at

The MOOC is one of several initiatives the U.Va. Center for Politics is unveiling this fall in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Prof. Sabato’s latest book, The Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy, will be released in October as the class begins. Also in October, the Center will premiere a one-hournational PBS documentary on the same subject, which is being produced in partnership with Community Idea Stations. The Center for Politics and Community Idea Stations recently received an Emmy Award for their previous documentary, “Out of Order,” which is about political dysfunction in Washington.

A trailer for the “The Kennedy Half Century” class is available here.

“The University of Virginia Center for Politics has long been committed to providing accessible educational tools about American politics and government. This free online course about how JFK and his legacy have influenced the public, the media, and each of the nine U.S. presidents who followed President Kennedy is one way we can deliver high-quality instruction, at no charge, to a large audience,” Prof. Sabato said.

The course begins with the early legislative career of John F. Kennedy and progresses through the 50 years since Kennedy’s death, focusing on how each president, Lyndon Johnson through Barack Obama, has used JFK to craft their own political image. The class offers more than eight hours of video consisting of 40 lessons averaging 10-20 minutes each in length. Each week, there will be at least two new hours of content, including historical footage from each of the 10 presidential administrations of the last half-century. Prof. Sabato will focus four lessons around Kennedy’s assassination as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of 11/22/63.

New portions of the class will be posted to the Coursera page each week. Students who complete the course do not receive university credit, but they will receive a statement of accomplishment. More information about the course’s specifics, including a syllabus, is available at

Online learning is not new to the U.Va. Center for Politics, which has provided online education tools through its Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI) since 1998. YLI conducts regular mock elections for students, as well as an interactive legislative simulation called E-Congress.

“For the last 15 years YLI has developed and distributed free civics education lesson plans using the Internet,” noted Prof. Sabato. “Today YLI reaches more than 50,000 teachers and millions of students throughout the country and around the world.”

* * *
Founded by political analyst and Professor Larry J. Sabato, the U.Va. Center for Politics ( is a nonpartisan institute that seeks to promote the value of politics, improve civics education, and increase civic participation through comprehensive research, pragmatic analysis, and innovative educational programs.

Author Bio
Larry J. Sabato is the founder and director of the renowned Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. He has appeared on dozens of national television and radio programs, including 60 Minutes, Today, Hardball, and Nightline. He has coanchored the BBC’s coverage of U.S. presidential returns and inaugurations, and has authored or edited more than a dozen books on American politics, including the highly praised A More Perfect Constitution: Why the Constitution Must Be Revised — Ideas to Inspire a New Generation. His other books include Feeding Frenzy, about press coverage of politicians; The Rise of Political Consultants; and Barack Obama and the New America. Sabato runs the acclaimed Crystal Ball website, which has the most comprehensive and accurate record of election analysis in the country. In 2001, the University of Virginia gave him its highest honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

For more information please visit or, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter

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Evernote as a Portfolio: Promotes Lifelong Learning!

Thanks to Justin Stallings, my blog has featured a bunch Evernote blog posts (see the previous posts listed below). Evernote is by  FAR one of the best tools I use on a daily basis in my classroom: from lesson plans, to file sharing, to assignments, to bookmarking…. the ideas are endless. After co-hosting #sschat a follower asked me to explain how I had my students create digital portfolios using Evernote.

Why a portfolio? 

A portfolio is really useful way to store projects, writing samples, and student-centered learning. It can be used by students, parents, and teachers to document progress and learning in the classroom. Portfolios allow students to reflect, share, and document their own learning. This summer I planned a really awesome senior project where my students took a problem with the government, researched it, conducted their own research, and presented a solution. The cumulative project was a portfolio documenting their progress: including a research paper and a documentary film about their topic.  You can view the project here. This summer I transitioned from the idea of doing a paper portfolio to a digital one using Evernote as the primarily system for creating portfolios in my classroom.


Why Evernote?

As I was researching options to create digital portfolios Evernote naturally came to mind due to its ability to sync with any device,  as well as be accessed from any internet browser. The Evernote app allows students to easily capture and document their portfolios from any device including iPods, iPads, or their mobile device.  Evernote is free, has an app for every device, and is easy to use. Check out Evernote.


How do you use Evernote as a digital portfolio?

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Evernote as a Lifelong Learning Tool

One of the best features of using Evernote is that it allows students to take their portfolios and share them with the world! Evernote allows the student to be in control of their own learning in terms of sharing, documentation, and ultimately reflection. Instead of digging out files from a basement, my students will be able to digitally carry their milestones and accomplishments with them. They can watch as they progress into lifelong learners and the ownership placed on the student. It is a very valuable process to observe and as a teacher it is so rewarding to see your students be excited about their learning. 


Previous Evernote Blog Posts

Please see Justin’s posts in the Evernote for the Social Studies Series:

Part 1: Evernote for the Social Studies: What is Evernote

Part 2: Evernote for the Social Studies: Evernote in the History Class

Part 3: Evernote for the Social Studies: Evernote and Skitch

Part 4: Evernote for the Social Studies: Lesson Planning with Evernote

Part 5: Evernote for the Social Studies: Evernote and Study Blue

Evernote for Educators Livebinder

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Virtual Book Clubs to Join this Summer!

#sschat Book Club: The Book of Learning and Forgetting  

The #sschat book chat will begin on Mondays immediately following #sschat (8pm EST) using the hashtagbooks #ssbook. Please feel free to add questions or ideas to this document. Dan Krutka  will lead the chats, but the chat will be open enough to address concerns, questions, and ideas of others participants. Please “insert” “comments” on the side of this document under the correct week.

  • Week 1: Monday, June 24th at 8pm EST —Reading 1: Sections 1 and 2 (pp. vii-39)    Key Topics: Introduction to two visions of education, the classic view of learning and forgetting
  • Week 2: Monday, July 1st at 8pm EST—–Reading 2: Sections 3 and 4 (pp. 41-102) Key Topics: The official view of learning and forgetting, repairing the damage

Book Club: Mindset 

Two years ago Justin Staub first read Carol Dweck’s MindsetEvery summer I re-read her work and consider how it will change my professional practice. Because of my growing connectedness and sharing via Twitter, he has been asked to lead a Mindsetmindset book study this summer. So, here are the details he has worked out so far. Please add comments to this post or to the Schoology group if you want to adapt how we run our book study.

Who: Justin Staub will moderate most book study sessions. He has no specific experience except having taught in a growth mindset school for two years and putting Dweck’s ideas into practice. He is privileged to work with colleagues who have all read the book and embody the growth mindset.

What: Twitter chats (#mindset13) and reflective discussion posts via Schoology. Create a free account and join our group discussion page.

When: June 24 – August 12 2013 with weekly Twitter chats on Mondays at 3PM EDT.

Where: On Twitter, using the hashtag #mindset13. Also, collected reflections will be posted on an open Schoology group. Please create a free account and join us there.

See you during our Chapter 1 discussion on Monday, June 24, at 3PM EDT! For more information visit his blog post


#TLAP Book Club: Teach Like a Pirate 

Welcome to the Teach Like a Pirate online book club taking place throughout the summer of 2013!  You can buy the book here. The goal of this book club will be to discuss the ideas from the book as a global community, collecting ideas from 7197369other educators, and having conversations about their applications in education. We will do this on Twitter, using the hashtag #tlap, and we will meet every Monday evening at 8:00 CST for one hour.  Since this hashtag already has a large following, the discussions are sure to be lively and include many people from around the world! For  more information visit the blog post

Weekly Readings (Tentative Schedule):

  • June 17, 2013: “Part 1: Passion & Immersion”: Introduction – page 18
  • June 24, 2013: “Part 1: Rapport & Ask and Analyze”: pages 19-54
  • July 1, 2013: “Part 1: Transformation & Enthusiasm”: pages 55-71
  • July 8, 2013: “Part 2: Crafting Engaging Lessons (Part 1 of 2)”: pages 75-106
  • July 15, 2013: “Part 2: Crafting Engaging Lessons (Part 2 of 2)”: pages 107-141
  • July 22, 2013: “Part 3: Building a Better Pirate”: pages 145-176
  • Discussions will continue after July 22nd, but the questions will not be focused on specific pages in the book.


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Critical Thinking and Primary Sources in the Classroom with #sschat

This past Monday we had a wonderful #sschat that was about Primary Sources, Critical Thinking, and the “So What” of History. The chat was led by Michelle Grasso, who is a wonderful global history teacher at Haldane High School in Cold Spring, NY. Last night was an engaging discussion with hundreds of teachers about connecting primary documents, critical thinking, and history to our students lives. You can view the entire chat archive here. This was the first #sschat that had a live video in addition to the twitter chat. Please check out the video created from @teachercast below.


Here is the collaborative resource document from the #sschat.

What is #sschat?

#sschat is a wonderful online community dedicated to connecting social studies educators from around the world. According to Shawn McCusker, “#sschat is a collaborative group of social studies teachers who work together to create materials, discuss teaching, integrate technology and problem solve. We learn together and talk about the direction that education is moving, talk to experts, crowdsource materials and share our best lessons.” I agree with Shawn in that #sschat has developed into a place of sharing, collaboration, and a professional learning network.  According to Shawn, “Imagine if some of the most passionate teachers you know were to get together and share the best materials they have. That’s #sschat.” We meet on Twitter every Monday night at 7 pm est. If you would like to join us just follow the hashtag #sschat. New participants are always welcome to join the conversation. You can also visit our archive of chats found here. I hope to see you Monday!

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TeachersFirst for Free Resources

TeachersFirst is a website I learned from a fellow teacher who works with my mother in Montville, NJ. TeachersFirst is a non-for-profit website that features lesssons, units, and web resources designed to help teachers. The website features practical and user-friendly teacher resources. The website is busting with free tools and teaching ideas that are simple to use and implement into your classroom. The website also offers free professional webinars. In January the website is offering webinars on Google Docs/Forms and a session on simplifying and organizing your life. It is a great resource I highly recommend checking it out today. 


You can Sign Up (Free) at the TeachersFirst website.



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Turning lessons into life-changing lessons with Dave Burgess on #sschat Mon. 12/17

I have had the privilege of meet Dave Burgess in Denver, Colorado;  Washington, D.C., San Diego, California; and Seattle, Washington. I have also had many conversations with Dave on Twitter through #sschat and #satchat. I guess you could say I would be a in the “Dave Fan Club,” if there was one. Dave is truly a teacher who makes me want to be a better educator. He is inspiring, entertaining, and a good friend.


What Makes Dave Special?

Dave is not only passionate about his job and students, but passionate about life. He is a highly sought after for professional development because of his creative, entertaining, and outrageous style. His workshops inspire teachers and help them to develop practical ways to be creative and engaging in classroom. I  have implemented numerous ideas from his workshops into my classroom; as well as thought of my own ideas inspired by Dave’s presentations. I wish we had more Dave’s in the world!


I am honored to announce that Dave Burgess will be hosting #sschat on Monday, December 17th at 7 PM EST.  Please join us for an engaging and inspiring discussion on “Turning Lessons into Life-Changing Lessons.” 


More about Dave

He is the author of the book, Teach Like A PIRATEBesides dressing like a pirate at conferences, Dave is a full time teacher at West Hills High School in San Diego and a semi-professional magician specializing in stand-up comedy magic. He was a 2001 and 2012 Golden Apple recipient in the Grossmont Union High School District and the 2007/2008 Teacher of the Year at West Hills. He has been voted a faculty standout for sixteen consecutive years in categories such as: Most Entertaining, Most Energetic, and Most Dramatic. He specializes in teaching hard-to-reach, hard-to-motivate students with techniques that incorporate showmanship and creativity.

You can contact Dave at or visit his website.

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How I became an Edcamp Junkie?

This year has been a wonderful year of professional development, growth, and reflection. I had the unique opportunity to attend and present at the National Council for the Social Studies Conference in Seattle, Washington, a summer institute through Gilder Lehrman on 9/11 and American Memory held at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum (not yet open to the public), and an interesting opportunity to learn more about the Hudson Valley through the HELP program at my district. While all of those experiences were exciting and educational, I can’t but help to reflect on how the EdCamp movement has changed my expectations of professional development.


What is the Edcamp model? 

According to Simple K-12, “It is a new grassroots movement happening all around the United States, is something you don’t want to miss.  This movement is spreading like wildfire, quickly transforming the way teachers learn. EdCamps should not be confused with traditional education conferences; these are events organized by local groups of educators who strive to create an UNconference environment that encourages participant-driven discussions in an informal area.  There are several benefits of attending EdCamps, including: free attendance, flexible agendas, group brainstorming sessions, local networking opportunities, and much more!”


My Edcamp Transformation 

Edcamp Social Studies: I was first introduced to the Edcamp model by my wonderful #sschat professional learning community when they organized Edcamp Social Studies #1. The conference was held in Philadelphia, PA on March 24th, 2012. I learned innovative and creative ways to improve my practice. The Edcamp Social Studies unconference was such an amazing experience that it “set the bar” for other Edcamp’s.


This summer I attended EdCampNYC #2, Edcamp Leadership # 3, and Edcamp Hudson Valley # 4. All of these Edcamp experiences were amazing in that they helped to expand  and reinvigorate my teaching methodology and repertoire. It is important to remember we are all learners – teachers and administrators as well as students and we must constantly adapt and reflect on our own teaching and learning.


EdCamp NJ: This weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to attend Edcamp NJ #5. What made this Edcamp different was that it was much larger than previous Edcamp’s.  Edcamp NJ was one of the best Edcamp’s I attended this year. Besides being very well organized, sessions were streamed so people across the United States could participate remotely. This encouraged a new form of collaboration and participation.


Now that I am officially an “edcamp junkie” I was able to recognize and reconnect with some amazing educators from previous Edcamp’s, blogs, or twitter chats. It was a also an inspirational experience to meet educational leaders such as Brad Currie, Salone Thomas-El, Jeffery Bradbury, Danielle Hartman, Kevin Jarrett, Scott Rocco, and so many others! I got to connect with educators such as Hannah Walden, Katie Baker  that I am now following on Twitter. I was able to meet people for the first time in-person even though we have been communicating on twitter for a few years.  Here is a Evernote file of what I learned at Edcamp NJ. Blog posts will be forthcoming!


How has the Edcamp model changed my expectations?

1. Invite Me to the Table: I love Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I remember, Involve me and I learn.” Just like this quote, I want to collaborate, I want to participate, and I want to be apart of the “fight” to improve education. I am no longer satisfied with traditional methods of professional development and I often WANT to use the “rule of two feet” at other conferences. The Edcamp model has taught me that I should no longer be passive learner at professional development, but to be apart of the discussion and collaboration to improve education.


2. The Power to Change: Edcamp conferences have made me more reflective of my practice. I have the ability to transform my classroom, school, and the field of education (even in a small way). I can bring about change through collaboration with others. My mother, a 13 year veteran teacher was also inspired by Edcamp NJ. Even through she was an Edcamp and Tech Newbie, she left with the same feeling of excitement and desire to share/implement like I did.


3. I am not alone.  The field of education can be a very isolating experience. Twitter as well as Edcamp has turned my professional experiences from isolation to inspiration. I have a unique and wonderful opportunity to connect with dynamic educators from around the world everyday!  My PLC  has expanded and reinvigorated my expectations for myself and my students. My professional Learning community, twitter, and the Edcamp model has helped to make me into the teacher I am today and it will continue to shape me into the teacher I want to be tomorrow.


Here is a Evernote file of what I learned at Edcamp NJ. Blog posts will be forthcoming!


For more information about Edcamp Movement please visit the Edcamp wiki

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30 Storytelling Tips For Educators


This is a guest post written by Julie DeNeen from InformEd and Open Colleges.


Storytelling has been around as long as humankind. It is one of the most effective ways to communicate an important truth to another person. It is a connection point between two people. It gives meaning, context, and understanding in a world that is often filled with chaos and disorder.


Because of this, educators must use stories if they hope to reach their students. Stories will stay with people much longer than facts or statistics. If a teacher becomes an excellent storyteller, he or she can ensure that any concept they teach will be remembered for years to come.


Stories don’t just work well for narratives; they can be used to illustrate scientific or mathematical processes as well. Take for example the difference between learning a formula, and the ability to solve that problem in the context of a real-life example. Stories bring information, knowledge, and truth to life.

1. Every Part Must Be Essential

When you compose your storyline, be it a fictional story to teach a lesson, or a non-fiction example, make sure that each part of the story is essential to the ending. Each character, point, or principle must somehow relate to the main point you are trying to drive home. Anything that does not affect the outcome in some way (directly or indirectly) can be hacked off the story.

Let’s take for example, a story about the planets. You may be trying to help students memorize the order of the solar system. Any tale you concoct to help illuminate the facts must be related to the planets. It is not the time to talk about black holes, supernovas, or even the size of each planet.

Keep the main thing…the main thing.

2. You Must Have a Hook In Your Opening

In writing, it is called an inciting incident. You hook the listener in by presenting a problem that encourages them to keep listening. You can use this tactic in any lesson.

Creating a world in which it is taken away reveals the ultimate importance of the process you are describing.

For example, if you are teaching the concept of photosynthesis, start your story by imagining a world in which all the flowers didn’t have leaves. You create a problem that the story (in this case photosynthesis) solves. In many cases, students don’t realize how many principles they take for granted (gravity, light, etc.).

Creating a world in which it is taken away reveals the ultimate importance of the process you are describing.

3. Draw a Theme Out of Your Story

Stories have a depth of meaning when there is a theme. However, it isn’t always easy to write a story with a theme in mind. Rather, write the story first- with all the points you want to cover. When you’ve finished, stand back from the story for a moment to see if you can draw out a theme.

This is especially important when your story relates to incidents in the past. History can be a boring subject without a lot of real-life application. Themes help connect the past with the present, and ultimately the future. Don’t be discouraged if once you find your theme, you have to rework and rewrite the story.

This is common.

4. Keep It Simple

Complicated stories aren’t necessarily better. If your audience is young, simple is obvious. However, even older audiences can be profoundly impacted when you take a complex idea and reduce it to a nugget that can be remembered.

Scientific principles like gravity and electricity can be difficult for young minds. Using analogies can help. For example, to explain an electrical circuit, describe how a train can only move along tracks that are connected to each other.

A broken track means the train must stop and electricity is the same way.

5. Maintain Eye Contact

Eye contact is one of the most important non-verbal ways to connect with other people. It not only helps keep a student’s attention, but it also conveys a sense of confidence and truthfulness.

Imagine telling a story while looking at your feet. What kind of emotions would your students feel, even if the story were light and upbeat? Always look directly into your student’s eyes. You will connect with them and keep their attention longer.

6. Use Vivid Language That Kids Can Understand

Storytelling in classroom

Some psychologists argue that telling stories is one of the primary ways humans learn.

Even if you are teaching science or math concepts, pick a word or two that your student’s haven’t heard of before. Describe and define the word first, and then use it throughout the story.

For example, if you are talking science, identify the word “energy” and then use it several times during your story. By the end of the story, they will have learned the concepts of the tale plus some vocabulary.

Popular television shows use this method. Dumbing down the vocabulary will minimize the power of your story. It is similar to reading a text in a translation. When someone wants to study the content more carefully, they first learn the original language it was written in to understand more fully what the writer was trying to convey.

You want to use the right words, which may mean first having to explain them so students can follow along.

7.  Use Movement

Movement can be used in multiple ways. As the storyteller, you can paint pictures with your body- using your hands, feet, legs, and head. Similarly, you can ask the student’s to perform movements during certain parts of the story.

This will help activate their memory and keep their attention focused on what you are communicating.

8. Use Dramatic Pauses

People often talk more quickly than the brain can process. If you pause at crucial moments in the story, you give your students the chance to think critically about the piece of information you have just given. Don’t be afraid to pause, especially at a tense moment.

Popular television shows use dramatic pauses (or cliffhangers) to rope the audience back into the story. When it seems that the problem is unsolvable, it is the right moment to pause, giving your audience a chance to think up the solution themselves.

9. Change Your Voice With Different Characters

It helps to make characters more memorable when you give them personalities. Part of that includes changing your voice with each character. Without visual props, the voice is one of the only ways to bring the character to life.

If you can have multiple instructors acting as different characters, this is the best option. But sometimes, it isn’t possible. If you are re-enacting the Civil War, stand tall and speak deeply when you are President Abraham Lincoln. When you are speaking as an African American slave, change the volume of your voice and use an accent.

Maybe slump your shoulders over to take on a look of oppression.

10. Make Your Ending Strong With an Important Take Away Point

The ending is the last thing your students will hear. Whatever points and/or principles you think are most important, put them at the end. If it doesn’t make sense to wait until the end, simply add them AGAIN at the end- to drive the point home.

If you can make the ending one sentence, this is even better. Use alliteration, repetitive words, or a singsong cadence to help make it memorable. For example, if you want your students to remember that equality is the theme of the history lesson, come up with a phrase like, “The Civil War taught Americans that everyone is free to live, free to pursue their dreams, and free…to be free.”

It is easy to remember that “freedom” is the central theme.

11. Tell The Truth, Even When It’s Difficult

Adults are tempted to lie to children when the situation seems too complex or mature for younger audiences. However, telling the truth is always preferable, even if you have to adapt some of the details and adjust your language for younger audiences.

Kids are notoriously smarter and more intuitive than adults realize.

For example, suppose you are teaching a lesson on the Holocaust. If you are speaking to a younger crowd, you might be tempted to gloss over some of the horrors because it is too scary. However, rather than describing the disgusting acts in detail, you can explain the “horror” in a way that gives a tone of seriousness, without the graphics.

“The Nazi’s made some terrible choices and killed millions of people. They hurt them very badly and there was a lot of pain and suffering,” is better than saying “The Nazi’s weren’t very nice to the Jewish people.”

Kids are notoriously smarter and more intuitive than adults realize.

12. Make The Character Relatable

The main character of your story must be relatable to your students. You want them to “root” for the character’s choices and decisions. If the main character is a dud, the student’s won’t care if he or she succeeds or fails.

One way to do this is to make the character “feel” real. He or she shouldn’t be perfect, but have weaknesses and talents just like we all do. Juxtapose next to the hero (or heroine) an arch nemesis that rivals your protagonist. Student’s love to root for the good guy in a story.

Keep in mind; it doesn’t have to be human. For example, when you talk about pollution, make recycled paper the good guy, and aerosol cans the enemy. Anything can have a good and evil counterpart.

13. Have Your Story Provide An Answer To a Problem

Every story has theme or meaning. When you can tell a tale that provides a solution to a problem, there is higher likelihood that the story will take on a deeper meaning when it solves a problem in real life.

When you are trying to communicate boring facts (like multiplication facts for example), they don’t take on meaning until you create a story in which the protagonist must know those facts in order to divide her gifts up among her family members.

All of a sudden, the solution to the story- lies in the principle you are trying to convey.

14. Know Your Ending Before You Begin

Before you tell a story, know the ending. Know where you are going so your story doesn’t go down rabbit trails that distract the listeners.

Good storytellers when they begin to formulate their story, start at the end and work backwards. As you prepare, pick the ending first. Write it at the end of a timeline. Then think about the point that comes right before the end, then the point that comes before the point that gets to the end. Keep working backwards until you arrive at the beginning of your story.

15. Appeal To Their Senses

When preparing your story, activate as many senses as possible. Humans have five senses; sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. The more a story activates the senses, the more memorable it becomes.

For a lesson in geography, you can use a visual map first. Add a song to help memorize the countries or cities. Use props that the students can hold. Maybe you can offer a food from each locale, to activate touch and smell.

It may seem like more work, but ultimately- the principles learned will not soon be forgotten.

16. The Story Should Be “Trustable”

It is called “cheating” when a storyteller automatically twists the laws of the universe to make the story work. Don’t offer coincidences that magically solve the problem. Whatever world or situation your character is in, don’t break its rules just to end the story.

According to Pixar (a very well-known storytelling production company), coincidences can be used to get your protagonist into trouble, but should NEVER be used to get them out of trouble.

17. Invite Interaction

At certain points in the story, open up an invitation for questions. When your students are able to offer their predictions, they are more invested in the future and ending of the story to see if they were right.

It drives home the idea that stories have multiple solutions.

Depending on the subject, you may want to enlist your student’s help in solving the problem. Perhaps you could tell the first half of the story and ask them to write or act out an ending that solves the problem. Students can work in groups and learn from others who may have chosen to solve the story a different way.

It drives home the idea that stories have multiple solutions.

18. Make The Stakes High Against The Goal

Stories with a happy ending must first overcome obstacles. Before you get to the end of the story, you want to create dramatic tension that makes the listener think, “Will the character reach his or her goal?”

A good story knows how to use tension. Whatever the hero wants makes it difficult for him or her to get there. If the African Americans want freedom, build up the side of the story that showed a dismal outlook (i.e. the North had several setbacks, etc.)

19. Use Props

Almost any story can benefit from props, no matter what subject you are teaching. Don’t introduce the props all at once, but bring them out one by one during poignant parts in the telling. Enlist the help of your students. You can have them hold the prop, use the prop, or even let them use it in a way that creates another problem in the story.

Magicians often do this in their show. They ask someone to come to the front and help with juggling. Then, the magician allows the helper to “accidentally” break the plate that the magician plans to put together. This can work well in math. If you have a student manipulate a prop (like for example breaking several pretzels), you can then showcase the mathematical principles of fractions and division.

20. Create The Extraordinary Out of The Ordinary

A story doesn’t have to be dramatic in order to drive home a point. In many cases, taking a mundane event and looking at it from a different angle is just as profound.

In many cases, taking a mundane event and looking at it from a different angle is just as profound.

For example, if you are talking about accepting other cultures, try this tactic. Pick a common ritual (like men shaving their faces), and tell the story from the angle of a character from another world that has never seen such a thing. Better yet, treat the students like they are from another world.

“Did you know that I saw someone put a knife to his face the other day?!” Use different vocabulary words (like knife versus razor). “Then, he smeared this unknown substance all over his face and used the sharp edge of the knife to rub it off!” Your students might be shocked when you reveal that you were simply talking about shaving. Then you can go into the idea and philosophy behind prejudice and discrimination against other cultures that are unfamiliar.

21. Set The Scene

It is crucial to create an environment for your story. Are you in the woods, on the beach, in a little apartment in the city, or on a different planet? Describe the surroundings, the weather, or the pre-existing conditions.

Use rich detail so the student’s can picture the environment in their imaginations. Field trips are such a fantastic way to get into a different environment, but it isn’t always possible. Words, descriptions of smell, sounds, and sights will make the story more meaningful.

22. Use Music

Music is an excellent way to learn and memorize long lists. If you are teaching the fifty states, a song with a catchy rhythm will help solidify the memorization process.

Songs have long been used throughout history to help cultures preserve traditions and historic events. What could be impossible for the human brain to do without music (like memorize the periodic table of elements) becomes possible when you create a song with a recurring chorus.

23. Create Fun Sound Effects

If it is a stormy night, enlist the help of your younger students by asking them to each be in charge of a “sound effect”. For the older students, you can easily round up effects on the computer that will help paint a richer scene.

Sound is one of those senses that the world doesn’t pay as much attention to when constructing buildings and classrooms, but it can be more psychologically powerful than sight. Make sure your story has a strong auditory component.

24. Have Your Students’ Retell It Back To You

Once you are done with your story, have the students form groups and re-tell the story in a different way. Perhaps, you can assign them the task of summarizing the story in a sentence or paragraph. Maybe you ask them to use the principles and create their own story context.

The important part about this concept is to get the student’s involved in an active way. They’ve spent some time listening; now it is time to put it into action.

25. Draw Real Life Connections

Stories around campfire

Stories are not just for children.

If your story teaches abstract concepts, find real life examples that make the information more meaningful. Math formulas are meaningless until they are building a computer from scratch and need to use the principle in order to continue to the next step.

If your story teaches abstract concepts, find real life examples that make the information more meaningful.

If you are trying to teach a history lesson (i.e. WW1), put the events in a different context. Imagine it now in the present day, with the present governments. How would the scene play out in 2012 versus 1914? All of a sudden, history will feel much more “real” and alive.

26. Use Repetition

This tip works well with younger students. Oftentimes, storybooks have a repeated phrase throughout the story (i.e. “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I am). Do this when you start, in the middle, and at the end. Pick an important concept and repeat it over and over, even if you think you are being redundant.

You can describe the same concept with different words if you wish.

27. Write Your Story In One Sentence Before You Begin

In order to keep your story simple and focused on what’s important, narrow it down to one sentence. Start with the beginning, and then add the middle, and the end. In the sentence, you should get the main purpose of the story, as well as the competing concept that threatens the story’s goal. Some people might think, “I can’t narrow down my story to one sentence!”

Yes you can.

It will force you to iron out the most crucial points. Once you do this, expand the sentence into a paragraph. Then expand each sentence in the paragraph to its own paragraph. Continue onward until your story is complete.

28. Avoid Detours

Simplify, simplify, simplify. Cut out characters, scenes, and information that do not somehow work towards the goal of the story. If you aren’t sure if something is crucial or not, tell it to a friend or fellow teacher, and remove the parts in question.

If the story still flows well and has meaning, then it wasn’t necessary.

29. Create a Timeline

Write a timeline of events for you to keep track of the order. You can even put up an empty timeline on the board, and as you tell the story- add the important events as they happen.

Combine the idea of props and interaction into your timeline. If it is a history lesson about the major events in WW2, have a student paste (or write) the event along the timeline, as you tell the story. When you are done, the timeline will be filled out, and act as a visual prop for your students.

30. Don’t Give Away Too Much

When you tell a story that has some mystery, you invite the listeners to try to figure out the solution for themselves. When they do, chances are- it will be more memorable and long lasting.

Read a few mystery novels and watch how the author leaves crumbs. The key is to give enough information so the student can solve the problem, but not so much that it is obvious. If you leave no trail of hints and clues, then it will be frustrating and impossible to solve.

 Read a few mystery novels and watch how the author leaves crumbs.

Stories are meant to bring meaning, feeling, and context to concepts that are dry and lifeless by themselves. Invite your students into the storytelling process. Give them enough to understand and follow along, but not so much that you are spoon-feeding. Add drama, props, effects, and set the scene, so the listeners are drawn into the story; its characters, problem, and ultimately, the solution.


Julie DeNeen has her bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of New Haven. She spent several years working for a local Connecticut school at the district level, implementing new technologies to help students and teachers in the classroom. She also taught workshops to teachers about the importance of digital student management software, designed to keep students, parents, and teachers connected to the learning process.

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Apply for the Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar Today

Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminars span a range of historical topics, from colonial times to the present. Led by eminent historians, Teacher Seminars are held at major educational and historical institutions and feature content that is intellectually rich and academically rigorous. This year, new coursework and assistance will help align seminar content with Common Core State Standards.

Submission deadline:  February 15, 2013 


I attended the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History on 9/11 and American Memory last summer. The seminar was absolutely amazing! We learned from experts  about how the United States and the world have dealt with tragedy and loss with events such as the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, Vietnam, and 9/11. We worked with the amazing team of 9/11 memorial experts who are involved in the planning of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Fire Chief and 9/11 survivor Jay Jonas, and experts in the field of memory such as  the seminar leader David Blight.


Our seminar took a personal tour of the 9/11 museum that is NOT open to the public. Even though it is still under construction, we could instantly observe the beauty, sacredness, and careful planning involved in creating the museum.  I am so impressed with the planning and extensive collection the 9/11 historic site, website, and museum will offer to visitors and generations to honor the victims of September 11th, 2001. I would HIGHLY recommend any of the summer seminars but I particularly enjoyed the 9/11 American Memory session.


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My Presentation at NCSS 2012 in Seattle

I presented at the National Social Studies Conference in Seattle, Washington on November 16th, 2012. What an amazing experience! I love sharing ideas and resources with other teachers. My room was packed with about 20 people standing in the back. My mom who was in the back of the room said people kept trying to come in but there was no room. I made a webpage on my blog with all the resources I used today so please click on the Mobile Devices tab. Here is the video of my presentation or see below.


  • National Council for the Social Studies Presentation: Handout
  • National Council for the Social Studies Presentation 
  • Mobile Device Expectations in my Classroom: Handout
  • Introduction to Technology in my Classroom: Handout 
  • Like I mentioned in the session I said I would post this QR code lesson.
  • Here is also a previous blog post about Breaking the Ban.


Here are the comments from my session using Socrative as a review assessment: 



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