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.
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 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.
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- become familiar with the historical content and concepts they need to teach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)
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.