How to teach history

There is no single 'best' way to teach history. Research suggests that good history teachers know the content, use a variety of approaches, explicitly teach the skills of historical inquiry and analysis, tailor learning opportunities to suit their students' stage of development, and encourage deep understanding.

Activities

There is room for a range of teaching and learning activities in the history classroom: a story well-told by the teacher, a museum display (actual or digital), model-making, the construction of timelines, comprehension and source analysis activities, oral history interviews, site studies, simulated excavations, problem-solving exercises, role plays and debates. Activities like these can be tailored to suit students' stage of development.

Approaches

Approaches to pedagogy can be teacher-centred or student generated, inquiry based or teacher directed, completed individually, in pairs, groups, or as a whole class, and involve digital resources to varying degrees. The important thing is that learning activities relate to each other, encourage historical thinking and lead to the learning goal in a coherent way.

Resources

A variety of resources should be used in the history classroom, including documents, photographs, artefacts and people (as guest speakers or interview subjects). Historical places make great resources: museums, monuments and heritage sites (actual or virtual), particularly in the local area. Film, historical fiction, works of art, history textbooks and history websites offer a wonderful range of resources. Resources can be provided by the teacher or students.

Putting it all together

To teach for historical understanding, teachers need to

  • become familiar with the historical content and concepts they need to teach
  • understand the skills and methods of historical inquiry
  • be clear about the learning goal (knowledge and understanding and skills)
  • plan a coherent learning sequence to enable students to achieve the learning goal
  • include a variety of activities and resources appropriate for the learning goal, learning styles and the stage of development of students.

See: Planning to teach for historical understanding (PDF, 113 KB)
Planning a learning sequence using backward mapping (PDF, 109 KB)

Video discussions:

Paul Kiem: a balanced approach to history pedagogy (Video 4:20)
Paul Kiem is a secondary school history teacher and was President of the History Teachers' Association of Australia from 2007-2012.

Simon Forrest: an Indigenous perspective in history (Video, 5:04)
Associate Professor Simon Forrest is a former primary school teacher and is currently Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University.

Kate Smyth: history in the primary classroom (Video, 6:55)
Kate Smyth is a former primary school teacher and is currently Lecturer in Primary Method at Sydney University.

Resources