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How to Teach the Election Process to Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers

Teaching about presidential elections can definitely feel overwhelming. With so many components and steps, it's easy for students to feel lost or uninterested. I totally get it because I know sometimes the topic can seem pretty dry. Since the election process is crucial to our rights as citizens, I work to make learning about the process as engaging and approachable as possible. Today, I'm sharing some of the resources I use with my students to bring the election process to life!

Use these hands on and interactive activities to teach the election process to your middle and high school students this year.

Teaching the Election Process Benefits Our Students

Understanding the election process is super important for our students because it empowers them as future citizens. When they grasp how elections work, they're more likely to participate actively in their communities and make informed decisions. They'll have confidence when they become voters because they'll know how their vote contributes to the final outcome. 

In our students' minds, learning about elections is all about memorizing dates and facts. From our end, we are helping them understand their role in our democracy. By being aware of the election process, we are helping them appreciate the value of their vote and the impact it can have on their lives and society. 

Teaching the election process empowers your students to become informed future citizens.
Teaching our students about the election process also strengthens their critical thinking skills and encourages them to explore different perspectives. They will learn about the importance of looking at everything all the candidates stand for and could do. Then, they think about what matters most to them. Based on all that information, make informed choices. 

While it might seem like a complex and dry topic at first, teaching the election process is really about equipping our students. When we take time to explain the process, we are helping them grow the skills they need to be empowered, engaged, and informed citizens. Who knows? Maybe we're even inspiring some future leaders along the way!

Resources to Teach the Election Process

Let's look at the resources I use to make learning the election process engaging and accessible for my students. With the right tools, even the most complex aspects of elections can become interactive and enjoyable learning experiences. 

Will You Be Elected President: An Election Simulation Game

One of my go-to resources is my Will You Be Elected President simulation game which takes my students through the election process with them in the role of a candidate to become president! This is a digital game that I have my students work through individually so that they are the ones making the choices and they see how those choices play out. It's very interactive and brings excitement to my students' learning!

Help your students learn about the presidential election process with this fun digital game.
I assign the game digitally so that each of my students receives their own copy. Once they have it open on their devices, they click on Slideshow, and the fun begins! Your students follow the on-screen directions and choose their path. Their decisions will take them on different journeys, so they can play this game several times to see different outcomes. 

While journeying through the game, your students encounter scenarios where they must choose a response. Some choices result in "Good News," while others lead to "Bad News." The answers are not obviously right or wrong, so this helps to keep them thinking critically and not randomly clicking. If they get a "Bad News," they can recover by answering another question. The game does a great job of helping them learn more bout the election process and the Executive Branch while reinforcing prior knowledge and introducing new content. 

After the game, I have a class discussion about what they learned. We chat about what surprised them and review any questions they may have. Then, I pass out the exit tickets for them to complete. This is a great way to reinforce the material and hear more individually how students feel and understand. 

Propaganda and the Election Process

Teaching our students to analyze propaganda during election years is important for developing their critical thinking skills. One resource I use is my Propaganda in Politics resource. It breaks down the different types of propaganda that are used during campaigns and election seasons. 

I start by passing out the handout explaining the different types of propaganda to introduce the overall topic. It provides clear definitions and examples to set a solid foundation for my students. I usually begin by discussing these with my class to ensure that they all have a basic understanding. 

Use these worksheets to teach how propaganda is used during the election process in the United States.
Then, we start applying the definitions and examples by analyzing regular commercials. Analyzing everyday commercials is a fantastic way to ease our students into the concept of propaganda because they can relate it to something familiar. Once we are comfortable with that format, we move on to political ads. They look for the intended audience of the ad, where the political ad was located, and the different types of propaganda it used. 

The next activity we do focuses on political speeches. During the election process, speeches are frequently given by candidates. This activity has students listen to a political speech and answer questions about who gave it, the location, the purpose of the speech, and the types of propaganda that were used. A similar activity focuses on the debates between candidates, where they keep track of the different types of propaganda that both candidates used during the debate. 

Once we work through these activities, I like to wrap up with a class discussion to share and reflect on their experiences. Many are surprised by what they learned and how passionate speeches and debates can become. I love the moments when classmates point out something that others missed, and then they discuss it!

Political System and Election Process PowerPoint and Guided Notes

To understand the different parts of the election process, we go through a Political System and Election Process slideshow and guided notes that start with the basics and go until the end of the process. We begin with the political parties and chat about how they started, compare Republicans and Democrats, and examine third parties. 

This interactive election process slideshow keeps your students engaged with images and animations everyone will love.
When it comes to voting, the notes guide us through the expansion of suffrage, how to register to vote, and the differences between primary and general elections. We also talk about how the voting landscape is changing and will continue to change. The Electoral College, which is tricky, is explained in a way that's super easy to grasp. 

We also explore what shapes public opinion and dive into the world of propaganda, which is a good way to introduce the topic. The notes also cover interest groups and their influence on government and public opinion. I did this to make it clear how these groups operate and impact policymaking. 

I also included a section encouraging our students to take an active role in the government. We look at practice steps for getting involved in political campaigns, contacting public officials, and participating in community activities. We can empower them to see themselves as active participants in and out of the classroom for change. 

Doodle Notes for the Election Process

Growing up, note-taking wasn't my favorite thing. As a teacher, I know it's not a favorite of many of our students. Doodle pages are a fun take on traditional note-taking. Our students write down the key points while adding doodles and colors to help them retain the information!

Electoral College

To teach the Electoral College, I use my Electoral College doodle notes. These notes make learning interactive and fun while helping my students easily understand an intricate concept. 

Electoral college doodle notes make learning creative as your students learn the ins and outs of the election process.
I make sure each of my students receives a copy, whether it be fill-in-the-blank or completely blank. As we go through the materials, we fill out our notes. We talk about how the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College as a safeguard. We also discuss how electors are chosen to formally elect the President and Vice President. 

Once we finish our notes, I give them time to color and doodle on their notes. This helps to reinforce the material in a memorable way.  By doing this, we can go back through and review key points like how states allocate their electors and the importance of the popular vote versus the electoral votes. 

How to Become a President 

Over the years, quite a few students have always been surprised by how much goes into the road a presidential candidate has to go through to hopefully become president. I use my How to Become President doodle notes to clearly map out this road and explain each mile marker. 

Use these doodle notes to help your students learn what it takes to become president as they work through the election process unit.
I pass out the notes to my students, making sure to differentiate between blank and fill-in-the-blank versions. As we go through the interactive slideshow, we fill out our notes along the way! We cover how candidates announce their intention to run for President and the symbols of the two parties. I explain how candidates are narrowed down in primary elections. The notes go into how National Conventions are where delegates from each state vote based on the primary election results and the formal nomination of Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates. 

As we move towards the general election, the doodle notes and slideshow help illustrate how candidates campaign across the country, engage in debates, and use various media to reach voters. The notes also guide a discussion on the importance of voting by secret ballot and how the Electoral College ultimately decides the winner. I included videos in the slideshow to help communicate and showcase information in a different format as well. 

Political Parties

The next set of doodle notes I use in my classroom covers all my students need to know about Political Parties. Once my students are situated with their copy of the doodle notes, we dive into learning the basics of political parties. 

Your students will love learning about political parties with these doodle notes you can include in your election process unit.
We look at what influences someone to join a particular party, the structure and organization of the parties, and the difference between Republicans, Democrats, and third parties. The notes do a great job helping to develop their understanding of how political parties function and their role in the election process. 

From there, we explore how the parties are organized into committees, the role of the National Committee, and how the parties get their funding. The notes introduce students to the Political Action Committees and Super PACS and explain their importance to political financing. I build on these notes with the videos in the slideshow that provide real-world examples and additional explanations! 

Electoral College Map Activities

Next on my list of resources for the election process is the Electoral College Map Activities. We first look at the map of the 2012 presidential election. I have my students complete a map illustrating the Electoral College breakdown between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. This visual activity helps them understand how the electoral votes are distributed. We then discuss the trends we see on the map. 

Then we move to the 2016 election, where students will complete the same activity, but this time, it will be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This time, we might talk about how the New England states did not vote as a solid block for Clinton and how the South was solidly Trump. We also talk about split electoral votes in states like Maine and Nebraska and the role of faithless electors in the election. 

Use a visual electoral college map like this to show how votes are distributed as your students learn about the election process.
For a more recent perspective, we examine the 2020 election. We complete another Electoral College map to show the breakdown between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. We look at interesting trends, such as Binden winning Georgia and Virginia while Trump once again secured the majority of southern states. 

During an election year, we take this learning a step further. We would use what we learned about the trends of previous elections to make a prediction about a future election. I like to encourage my students to predict the Electoral College outcome based on the previous elections. They answer questions and create their own scenarios for the election. This helps them to see the complexities and possibilities within the electoral process. 

I also love to use this map on election day.  Students go home with the map and mark the states based on the election results.  Then in class, we predict the winner based on the electoral votes.

The Political System and Elections Review Game

When learning about political systems and the election process, there is a lot of information to cover. So I liked to find fun ways to review it all. The Political System and Elections review game is perfect before a big test! Throughout the game, students review important information about the election process. The competitive element keeps them engaged and motivated to participate! 

To start, I divide my students into groups. Depending on the setup, I either give each group a computer to play the game or project the game onto a screen. If I do it the second way, I divide the class into four teams. 

Ge everyone involved with this fun review game focusing on the political system and election process.
When we play the game, teams take turns choosing a question by clicking on a number on the board. As the teacher, I act as the judge to determine if their answers are correct. If a team answers correctly, they get to roll the dice by tapping on it to start and stop the roll. Then, they move their game piece to the appropriate number of spaces by tapping on it. 

Some numbers on the board might not reveal questions but instead, offer free rolls or cause the team to lose a turn, adding an element of surprise and strategy to the game. We continue playing until all questions are answered or someone reaches the finish square. If all questions are answered before reaching the finish, the time furthest along wins!

Becoming President and Electoral College Review Game

My students love this Becoming President and Electoral College review game! It's another great review game for the election process. Students are engaged, working as a team, and enjoying their learning! 

I divide the students into groups but different groupings than the previous game. When we begin to play, I have teams take turns choosing a question from the tumbling tower in the slideshow by clicking on a numbered block. I act as the judge to determine if their answers deserve full, partial, or no credit. Incorrect answers receive no points unless I decide partial credit is due, while correct answers earn full points. 

Your whole class will love this becoming president and electoral college review game you can use at the end of your election process unit.
To keep track of the scores, we simply tap the numbers under the team names. If we accidentally tap too many times, we just keep tapping until the correct number comes back around. There's an exciting twist with a mystery block that can cause the tower to tumble, which makes the team lose all their points. Their reactions are pretty entertaining. We continue playing until all questions are answered. The team with the highest score at the end of the game wins!

Make Teaching the Election Process Easy and Fun

Teaching the election process doesn't have to be daunting or boring. With the right resources, you can make learning about elections engaging, interactive, and fun for our students and ourselves! From simulation and doodle notes to review games and map activities, there are plenty of ways to bring this important topic to life. By doing so, we're helping our students understand the mechanics of elections and empowering them to be informed and active participants in our democracy. I hope these resources inspire you as much as they have inspired me and that they bring a new level of excitement to your classroom. Here's to shaping the informed voters and leaders of tomorrow!

Save for Later

Remember to save this post to your favorite social studies Pinterest board to start planning out your election process lessons! 

Looking for new and exciting ways to teach the election process to your middle and high school students this year? These engaging and creative resources include everything you need to teach your students about what it takes to become president, how votes are distributed, why we have a two party system and more. Use these resources during an election year or any year you want to focus on the election process in your classroom. #thehistorygal #electionprocess #electionprocessactivitiesformiddleschool #electionprocessactivitiesforhighschool #electionyearactivities

Presidential Election Game: Do You Have What It Takes to Be President?

Becoming the President of the United States is not quite as easy as just being on the ballot in November. There are multiple stages and steps to the process. Helping our students understand this process also gives them some insight into the democratic process and politics in general. But how exactly do teach all the ins and outs of becoming the President? I have just the thing! I'm so excited to share with you a new digital resource that I have made to help you and your students. Let's explore what the Presidential Election Simulation Game has to offer! Whether you are teaching a government unit or diving into the election process during an election year, this game is going to put your students right in the middle of the action.

Use this presidential election game to teach your students all about the process involved in running for and becoming a president of the United States.

Benefits of Gamifying Learning

When it comes to gamifying learning, there are several benefits, especially for our middle and high schoolers. Students are full of curiosity but often need a little extra motivation to stay engaged. That's where gamifying learning comes in, and trust me, it can make a world of difference! 

When you "gamify" learning especially with something as complex as a presidential election, your students will have more buy in and more fun while learning key concepts you want them to know.
Gamification simply makes learning fun. When our students are having fun, they're more likely to stay focused and retain information. Games naturally encourage participation, which means students are more engaged and active in their learning process. This is particularly beneficial for secondary students who are at an age where keeping attention is challenging. 

Games also provide immediate feedback. In a traditional classroom activity, students might have to wait days to find out how they did on an assignment. With a game, they get instant feedback on their choices and actions, which helps them learn and adjust. This immediate reinforcement is essential for developing a deeper understanding of the material. 

It also encourages problem-solving and critical thinking. Games often present scenarios that require them to think strategically and make decisions based on the information they have. This kind of active learning helps develop important skills that our students can take beyond the classroom. 

Gamifying the Presidential Election Process 

Keep your teaching about the presidential election fun with this interactive game..
What if you could reap all the benefits of gamified learning while teaching your students the ins and outs of the presidential election process? Well, now you can! With this Presidential Election Simulation Game, your students have the chance to explore the election process while making decisions just like real candidates. They learn about the campaigning, debates, and the Electoral College, all while having fun! The game adapts to their choices and offers different outcomes to keep them exploring different experiences. 

As they play, they'll see the inner workings of the presidential election. While doing so, they can build on their decision-making and critical thinking skills. Since it's so interactive, it's going to also grab their attention and create buy-in to focus on the task. 

What is the Presidential Election Process?

Before diving into the game, let's take a look at exactly what the presidential election process involves! Many of my students are surprised when they learn that it's more than just showing up to vote on Election Day. The journey to becoming President starts long before that. 

First, potential candidates announce their intention to run. This is usually accompanied by lots of debates. They are trying to win over voters during the primaries and caucuses. These are essentially mini-elections held in each state to determine which candidates will represent their political parties. 

The presidential election process can be complicated, but when you break it down into easy to understand steps for your students they will be able to grasp the concept more easily.
Once the primaries and caucuses wrap up, each party holds a national convention. This is where the official nominees for President and Vice President are selected. It's also a time for the parties to rally their supporters and lay out what they stand for. 

After the conventions, the real race begins! The nominees campaign across the country, sharing their visions and plans. They are hoping to win the support of as many voters as possible. It's a whirlwind of rallies, advertisements, and debates. 

Then comes Election Day, which is always the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This is when citizens cast their votes. The winner isn't decided by the popular vote alone. The Electoral College comes into play. Each state has a certain number of electors based on its representatives in Congress. In most states, the candidate who wins the popular vote gets all the state's electoral votes. 

To win the presidency, a candidate needs a majority of the 538 electoral votes available, which means at least 270. If no one reaches his number, the House of Representatives decides the outcomes. 

And that, in a nutshell, is how we elect the President! It's a fascinating process with lots of different moving parts. I love helping my students understand it all through a simulation game. It puts them in the race and really brings the whole experience to life!  

Presidential Election Simulation Explained

Behind the Scenes of the Presidential Election Resource

Every four years, we elect a President. For our students who are not voting age, voting in a presidential election seems far in the future. Many don't see the need to know about the process when they don't even get to participate. This is a great learning opportunity for the lesson of being responsible and informed citizens!

Use this digital Presidential Election Game to turn learning something complicated and a little "dry" into a fun "you choose" activity students can do over and over again.On the flip side, let's be honest, it's not the most exciting concept, whether we are the ones teaching it or the ones trying to learn it. This game helps make it more fun as it puts students in the front seat of the election process. They get to have the chance to run for President and make decisions that will determine whether they win or lose the election. 

Along this digital journey, they'll learn step-by-step about the election process. The best part? It's okay if they don't have any prior knowledge to play the game. The slides guide them through the entire process! It's also a great resource for reinforcing content if your students are already feeling like experts on the process! Once they get to the end, they'll find out if they won the election or came up short. To wrap it all up, each of them will fill out an exit ticket to reflect on what they've learned! 

How the Presidential Election Game Works

Using Google Slides or PowerPoint, you can play the Presidential Election Game with your students digitally as a whole class, in small groups, or individually.
The beauty of this game is that it's entirely self-contained, so you and your students don't have to worry about juggling multiple resources or flipping between multiple tabs. Your students will have the chance to take part in decision-based learning as they navigate through the slides as they travel through the presidential election process. 

The game comes in PowerPoint and Google Slides formats with over 300 slides. There are multiple paths, so your students can play on repeat. 

Each time they play, they'll experience something different. As they interact with each slide, they'll absorb information from the questions they encounter that reinforce what they know or explain new concepts. It's a fun and interactive way to make the presidential election process approachable! 

Time to Play the Presidential Election Game!

The Will You Be Elected President: Presidential Election Simulation Game is a game-changer for teaching the election process. By turning this complex topic into a fun and interactive experience, we make learning accessible and engaging for our students. This game helps them understand the ins and outs of elections while boosting their decision-making skills. I'm so excited to bring this resource to you and your students. So, I ask, do you have what it takes to be President? 

Grab this incredible Presidential Election Game resource to use in your classroom this fall to help teach all about the process of electing a U.S. President.

Save for Later

Remember to save this post to your favorite Pinterest board for when you are planning your lessons for the presidential election process!

Looking for a fun and engaging way to teach your students about the presidential election process? Check out my latest blog post that will put your students right in the middle of all the action. Find out how to use this Presidential Election Simulation Game to teach your students about the ins and outs of the presidential election process.  This social studies lesson is one that won't soon be forgotten. Click to read this post and bring this exciting resource into your classroom!

Memorable End of Year Activities for Middle & High School Students

As the end of the school year approaches, it's a whirlwind of emotions for both students and teachers. We're all eagerly anticipating the upcoming summer break, counting down the days until we can kick back and relax. Amidst the excitement, there's a tinge of bittersweetness, especially for teachers. 

Use these end of year ideas to end your school year on a memorable note for both you and your students as you get ready to dive into summer.

As you glance around the classroom during these last few weeks, you'll likely feel a surge of pride seeing your students working, chatting with their friends, or sharing a moment of laughter together as a class. It's incredible to witness how much they've grown since the beginning of the year. I know sometimes it can feel like we are spinning wheels when we are in the thick of it, but these moments make me realize just how far they've come. 

Nine months may seem like a short time, but within the school year, so much can happen. That's why it's essential to pause and reflect on all the achievements, big and small, that our students have accomplished. Today, I'm sharing a few ways I celebrate the end of the year with my students to make these final days memorable! 

End of Year Celebrations Positively Impact Our Students

End of year activities to celebrate our students are so impactful! They're a fantastic way to acknowledge all the hard work and growth they have achieved throughout the year. We acknowledge these milestones throughout, but having a celebration at the end helps them see all they have accomplished. Each year, so many of my students start to remember important moments they had when we take time to look back. It's fun to see their eyes light up, and a smile start to break through on their faces when they realize how they have grown! 

Use your end of year ideas to positively impact your students and show give them an opportunity to reminisce on the incredible year they've had.
 In a way, these celebrations create a sense of closure and excitement as we wrap up the year together. It's a chance to look back on all the fun memories we've made and the challenges we've overcome as a class. By marking the end of the year with special activities, we're reinforcing a positive and supportive classroom environment. 

Not to mention, these festivities help build lasting connections between us and our students and between students themselves. It becomes a time to show appreciation for each other. On top of it all, we are continuing to strengthen our sense of community before heading off for summer break. This is even more beneficial if we are in a grade level that leads into a transition time, like 8th grade into high school and high school into college. 

End of Year Ideas with Your Students

I have some end of year ideas to help you wrap up your school year with your students! These activities have brought great joy, some laughter, and a bit of reflection to my students each year I have done them. Here are a few ideas to make the last days with your students extra special! 

Yearbook Signing

There is nothing more end of the year than signing yearbooks. If you do not do a school-wide signing, then making time for this activity in your classroom is a must. 

One of my favorite end of year ideas is to have dedicated time for and end of year yearbook signing.
Even if they act like they're too cool, they love the chance to reminisce with one another. A picture might strike up a funny story that everyone pauses to listen to. A project that was forgotten about may remind them how much they've learned. 

Once they have had time to flip through and tell all the iconic stories, I give them time to sign each other's yearbooks. I have markers on hand for them to use as they sign and write messages. My rule is that they sign everyone with a positive message. Everyone may not be best friends, but they can still support each other and wish them a fun summer! 

If you happen to be at a school that doesn't pass out yearbooks until the start of the new school year, you can still experience the same type of reminiscing. Making a slideshow of pictures that highlight your class or the school year is a great alternate activity. They still get to tell the stories and remember moments from the year.

Get Outdoors

As we inch closer to the last day of school, my students are practically bouncing off the walls. Who can blame them, though? The weather's warm, the sun's shining, and even I can't resist the urge to get outside and soak it all in. So, I make sure to plan a special day where we can ditch the classroom and head outdoors for some fun and games. 

Include an outdoors sports day in your end of year ideas to give your students an opportunity to enjoy the wonderful weather and get in some teamwork fun at the end of the year.
My students have their favorites, like kickball, capture the flag, and frisbee, so those are always on the agenda. I don't stand on the sidelines the whole time. I jump right into the action with them! We run, we laugh, and we make memories. 

If you can do an outdoor event that is longer than one class period or with the entire grade level, consider a faculty vs. students kickball game. It's a riot! The kids love it, and whenever they come back to visit us, it's one of the first things they mention. It's a chance for all of us to let loose, be a little silly, and bond over some friendly competition. 

Minute-to-Win-It Challenges

Minute-to-Win-It games get everyone out of their seats and participating! I love them for that reason but also for their simplicity. We can have a lot of fun together in just a few minutes using these short but interactive games!

Minute-to-win-it challenges are a great addition to your end of year ideas and let your students have some extra fun before leaving for the summer.
Games include stacking cups at lightning speed and trying not to crack up while fellow classmates try to nudge a cookie down their faces into their mouths without using their hands, or a blindfolded jockey challenge. 

We definitely laugh as classmates try to shake out ping-pong balls from empty Kleenex boxes tied around their waists! These games are quick and wacky and guaranteed to have the whole class bonding and laughing. 

End of Year Gratitude Graffiti Wall

This one is one of my favorite end of the year activities we do. I usually hang a large piece of bulletin board paper up on a wall in my room. I'll eventually place it in the hallway if there is a good spot! On this graffiti wall, my kiddos have a chance to write out messages showing gratitude towards a teacher, classmate, or situation during the year. 

Let your students show off their appreciation with this end of the year gratitude graffiti project.
We start by brainstorming together to get the ideas going. Once we have thought of a handful, I give them some time on their own to think of other people and events they'd like to show gratitude to. Then, they are free to go up to the wall to write or draw their messages of gratitude. 

I love how this activity encourages my students to take the time to reflect on who was a light in their lives. They see how even the smallest action or statement can help turn a situation around. During a time of year when emotions are running thin, this helps to spread positivity. It's beautiful to witness how grateful so many are for what has happened throughout the year! 

End of Year Reflection Doodle Page

A must-do end of year activity I do with my classes each year is an End of Year Reflection Doodle Page. The page I give them is full of fun shapes that are filled with prompts to answer about the school year that is ending. 

My students write out the school year and their grades. Then, they write down the most memorable quote or saying. These always crack me up, and I find myself nodding in agreement! They have a chance to write down the one thing they will always remember from the year. There is space to record all of their accomplishments from the year, from athletic to extracurricular. 

An end of year reflection doodle page like this gives your kiddos the opportunity to reflect on the amazing year they've had.
One of my personal favorite groups of prompts is called This Year's Favorites. This gives them space to write down their favorite song, movie, series, book, class, and phone app. I always tell my students to keep this page, and when they randomly find it while cleaning their room in 5 years, they're going to be amazed at what their interests used to be. 

I encourage my students to be proud of themselves for what they do, so I made sure to include a space for them to write down what they are most proud of from the year. Then, they have a space to write down three things they learned. I don't limit them to just academics, so if they want to include more of a life lesson they learned, then that's fine with me! 

They then have the chance to illustrate something that represents the school year. For some, it might be a pile of books and paper for too much homework! While others might draw something sports-related or an emoji. With time left over, I encourage them to go ahead and color in any of the shapes on the paper and add their own doodles!

The completed page is a great addition to their yearbook.  It allows them to have a space for some personal memories as well as school-wide ones. Students can glue this page inside the front or back cover, or they can tape it along the spine of the yearbook as an additional page.

Time to Celebrate the End of the Year With Your Students

End of the year ideas and activities will give you an opportunity to celebrate your students and all the hard work they've put into their learning this year.
As the school year winds down and summer break calls out to us, it's essential to take a moment to celebrate all the hard work and achievements of our students. From outdoor adventures to creative activities, there are countless ways to make the end of the year memorable and meaningful. 

Whether it's laughing together during the Minute-to-Win-It challenges or recalling personal accomplishments, these moments together strengthen connections between teachers and students. So, make sure to seize the opportunity to create a few more memories with our students before we send them into summer!  

Save for Later

Remember to save this post to your favorite teacher Pinterest board to help you save time when you plan your students' end of year celebrations and activities! 

Looking for fun end of the year ideas to incorporate into those last few weeks of school? Use these amazing end of year ideas to give your students the opportunity to have fun, build on friendships, and reflect on an amazing year! #historygal #endofyearideas #endofyearideasforhighschool #endofyearideasformiddleschool #EOYideas

The Power of Primary Source Letters in History Class

As educators, we're always on the lookout for innovative ways to breathe life into history lessons. If you're like me, you understand the thrill of transporting students back in time to allow them to experience the past firsthand. However, sometimes our students perceive people from the past as distant or unrelatable. They easily dismiss their relevance because, before they know them, they are just random people who lived in times so different from our own. That's where primary source letters come into play! Today, we're exploring the captivating world of primary source letters and how they can transform your history lessons to engage your students! These letters bridge the gap between the past and the present. While doing so, they reveal how people from history are actually quite similar to us.

Use primary source letters in your history class to engage and inspire your students as they learn about important people, places, and facts from history.

Discovering Primary Source Letters

Let's kick things off by diving deeper into the wealth of knowledge held by primary source letters. These letters are authentic documents penned by individuals from the past. They offer us a direct line to their thoughts, emotions, and experiences. 
Primary source letters like these are a treasure trove of information relating to people in history which will be immediately exciting for your students to read.

Primary source letters are not just pieces of paper meant to collect dust. They're time capsules brimming with the hopes, fears, and dreams of their authors. From soldiers scribbling their thoughts on the battlefield to pioneers chronicling their journeys westwards, these letters capture what was happening during their eras. Whether it's an immigrant writing to family back home or a politician penning their next speech, each document offers us a different perspective of the past. They weave a tapestry of human experiences that cross continents and centuries. 

In a world where history books often focus on the big names and major events, primary source letters offer our young historians a change of pace. These letters shine a light on the everyday people whose stories might go untold—the unsung heroes and heroines who shaped history in their own small, but significant ways. 

Unveiling the Power of Personal Perspective

What sets primary source letters apart from other resources is their ability to offer a personal perspective on historical events. We care deeply for our students, but let's be honest... Our middle schoolers and high schoolers can often be solely focused on themselves. When you begin your lesson on important people throughout history, you're often met with an eye roll or a sigh, right? I know I can't be the only one seeing this unfold during class! Primary source letters help them see different perspectives of individuals who may be more similar to them than they think! 

Give your students an extra in-depth perspective on history from a very personal point of view with primary source letters like these.
Unlike textbooks that often present history from a distant, impersonal standpoint, primary source letters invite our students to step into the shoes of those who lived through pivotal moments in history. Imagine a Civil War soldier's trembling hand as he writes a letter home describing the horrors of the battle or a suffragette's passionate words as she reflects on her fight for women's rights. These letters offer a front-row seat to history, which allows our students to have an authentic experience of the past through the eyes of those who shaped it. 

In a world where our students are constantly searching for connections and reliability, primary source letters provide a bridge between past and present. They learn about the heartache and fear of a mother struggling to feed her family during the Great Depression or a young teen's experience living during the Roaring Twenties. In a way, the letters show our students that these were humans experiencing similar struggles or emotions they could be facing in their own lives. 

Integrating Primary Source Letters in the Classroom

You might wonder how exactly we can incorporate primary source letters into our history classes. You're in luck because below I share a few ideas I use in my classroom!

1. Interactive Readings: Stepping into History's Shoes

Make primary source letters interactive by reading them out loud to your students.
Interactive readings allow students to engage with primary source letters in an immersive way. They foster empathy and understanding for the individuals from the past. When I do interactive readings, I do my best to put myself in the shoes of the writer so that I can read with the likely feelings and emotions behind the words. For example, I may read out loud a primary source letter from the Civil Rights Movement. While I read, I want to portray the fear felt by many, the excitement felt during a protest, and the concern for the future.  My students listen to the hopes and struggles of the author and can hopefully connect them to emotions they themselves have felt and experienced.

I read aloud primary source letters a lot at the beginning of the year because of how writing and vernacular have changed over the years. The tricky wording can stump my students and often cause mental roadblocks.  However, as the year goes on, students do more of the reading on their own, with a partner, or in small groups.  

2. Dramatic Role-Play

You may have to do some coaxing for your older students, but hear me out; once they start, they'll get over their being too cool for some fun! Role-play or reenactments breathe life into primary source letters by taking on the role of those in the letter. 

Get your students involved in reading the primary source letters with a dramatic role play reading.
I divide my class into partners or small groups depending on how many people are in the letter. I then give each group their letter. Working together, they fill out the analyzing page, and then they plan out how they'll retell the letter's story through acting. 

You can give your students the choice to bring in costumes, or props. You could even put on a small production in the school library for the staff or invite a group from a local elementary school to come to see the performances. 

This approach fosters creativity and collaboration and helps them place themselves in the shoes of those from the past. 

3. Historical Debates

Use primary source letters to spark debate about specific subjects your students are studying.
Primary source letters aren't just standalone documents. They're pieces of a larger puzzle. In historical debates, I have my students use primary source letters as evidence to support their arguments. This helps them explore different perspectives on key historical events. 

Whether they are debating the causes of World War I or the impact of the Great Depression, primary source letters provide exposure to the voices of the past who lived the events. This enriches our classroom discussions and definitely deepens my students' understanding of historical events. 

Navigating Primary Source Letters

Be warned that working with primary source letters will always present challenges. Deciphering archaic handwriting, unfamiliar language, and cultural contexts may seem alien to how we write and word things in modern times. However, with anything, the more exposure and practice, the easier it will become over time. 

To help guide my students through analyzing these letters, I always have my Analyzing Historical Letters Doodle Page on hand for them to fill out. This tool serves as our compass, helping my students navigate the complexities of primary source letters with ease. With this page in hand, my students can focus on the essential details of the letter without getting bogged down by fancy wording or extra information. 

Use worksheets like these to help your students navigate primary source letters and dive deep into the meaning written on the pages.
As my students begin, they zero in on the basics. They look at who wrote the letter, when it was written, and who was receiving it. Then, they scour the letter for context clues that reveal the time period or historical event that could have occurred at the time of the writing of the letter. Whether it's a passing mention of a famous figure or a reference to a significant event, these clues lead them to a particular moment in history. 

The page also provides a space for them to jot down an interesting quote. They can also record any unfamiliar words or confusing sentences. These help to guide our class discussions when we come back together. So, while working with primary source letters may pose its own set of challenges, it's also an opportunity for students to sharpen their analyzing skills. 

Finding Primary Source Letters

There's no shortage of resources for finding primary source letters. From digital archives, exploring museum collections, or even visiting local historical societies will help build your own collection. The time it takes to find these letters is so worthwhile for enriching your lessons that will help your students buy-in to history. Here are three of my go-to sources for finding primary source letters.

1. Digital Archives

Digital archives are a goldmine for primary source letters, offering a wealth of documents at the click of a button. Institutions like the Library of Congress and the National Archives boast extensive collections covering a wide range of historical periods and topics. 

2. Museum Collections
Use websites like the Smithsonian to find excellent sources of primary source letters to include in your history lessons.

Museums are truly the guardians of history. Many museums around the world digitize their collections. This makes primary source letters accessible to educators and students. Whether it's a local historical society or a renowned museum like the Smithsonian, museum collections offer an array of letters that will help build our students' knowledge.

3. Historical Societies

Don't overlook the invaluable resources offered by your local historical societies. Our historical societies often house letters that provide a window into our region's history. My students are always amazed by the historical events that took place in our area. I find those moments so impactful because they help them see how close history touches our lives. 

Enhance History Class with Primary Source Letters

Primary source letters like these will breathe life and excitement into your history classes.
Primary source letters offer powerful tools for immersing our students in history. By diving into the personal perspectives of individuals who lived through major moments in history, our students gain a deeper understanding of the past. While doing so, they also build their empathy, critical thinking skills, and a sense of connection to those who came before them. 

So, continue to explore, engage, and unearth the stories of the past. By doing so, we can empower our historians of tomorrow to make meaningful connections with history. 

Additional Resources

Looking for other resources for primary sources? Make sure to check out the resources below!

Save for Later

Remember to save this post to your favorite history Pinterest board for planning to use primary source letters. 

Looking for fun ways to keep your students engaged as your focus on specific concepts, time periods, people, or places in history this year? Consider adding primary source letters to your curriculum. They are a great way to help students build connections with people and events in history through the words of ordinary and extraordinary individuals. #thehistorygal #primarysourceletters #lettersinhistory #usingreallifelettersinhistoryclass #highschoolhistoryclassideas

Using Primary Source Photos in the Secondary History Classroom

Ever feel like you're putting on a circus act to grab your students' attention? I'm right there with you, especially in history class. It can be difficult to bring history to life in a way that makes it seem real and not just a "story" in a textbook. A total game-changer in my classroom has been using primary source photos. These photos are my secret to transporting my students back in time and making history memorable! They help to ignite curiosity and bring those history lessons to life, creating buy-in from my students. Today, I'm thrilled to share with you what primary source photos are, why they're beneficial, and where you can find some for your next class. 

Learn how to utilize primary source photos to make the most of your middle school history class.

What Are Primary Source Photos?

So, you may be wondering what the scoop is on primary sources. These sources are the real deal, or in the words of my middle schoolers, the OGs (originals) of historical evidence. They can be anything from diaries to letters or, what we are focusing on today, photographs. They're artifacts that give us a front-row seat to history's greatest and not-so-great hits. 
Primary source photos are actual photographs which show historical evidence of things that have happened in the past.

Unlike textbooks that sometimes make history sound like a snooze-fest, primary source photos are authentic artifacts from the time period being studied. They freeze moments in time, allowing us to peek into the lives of folks and events that came before us. 

But we don't just stop with looking at the photos.  Nope!  We become history detectives as I teach my students how to analyze this valuable primary source. We've even been known to pull out the magnifying glasses as we take a trip back in time. 

These photos give us firsthand glimpses of historical moments. They help us make human connections to people from hundreds of years ago. In a way, they are our own version of time travel. These photos act as portals to the past, but more importantly, they offer a unique perspective that words alone can't share. 

Primary source photos give our young historians an up-close and personal look at the real story. Secondhand accounts and artifacts are beneficial in their own way, but primary sources truly make learning history an authentic experience. The more authentic the experience, the easier it is to create buy-in for our students!

Benefits of Using Primary Source Photos

Now that we are familiar with primary source photos, let's explore the benefits of using them in our classes! 

1. Bringing History to Life

Ever had that moment when history seemed like a far-off place that was completely out of grasp? This is often how students view it. If your students are anything like mine, they're likely trudging into class with a mindset that class will be boring or wondering what's the point of having to know this stuff. This can be tough to grapple with as a teacher!

Primary source photos bring history to life for your students.
But don't worry, there's still hope! I saw a complete shift in the way my students would come to class once they realized how history plays a role in our lives today. The drama-filled moments in history also help a lending hand. Primary source photos help me to make history vivid, tangible, and relatable for our middle and high schoolers, making the subject more approachable and enjoyable. 

My students' eyes always light up when we have gallery walks where we walk around the classroom looking at primary source photos. I post pictures around my classroom, and they walk around to each one. They enjoy seeing how life has changed from that time in the photo to the present. The differences and sometimes similarities they take note of are amazing! They identify seeing the hustle and bustle but may note that it isn't as fast-paced as ours is today. They may relate to the expressions some of the people are showing in the photos and the reasons behind those emotions. Suddenly, history becomes something they can relate to and explain instead of being some unattainable topic. 

2. Embracing Authenticity 

Textbooks are like reading a script, but a photo is like a step back in time. Primary source photos provide impactful visuals related to the time being studied. This does wonders for our visual learners but also for the skeptics who question why we need to learn history. The photos may not have one of the many filters we have today, but this makes them more powerfully authentic. Instead of reading text, our kiddos are given exposure to the events they are reading about. They are standing on the front lines, witnessing the drama in history unfold. 

3. Fostering Critical Thinking and Analysis Skills

Primary source photos like these help foster critical thinking and analysis skills in your students which become life-long skills they can use forever.
Forget the days of passive learning. Primary source photos are the catalysts of active engagement and critical thinking. When it's time to pull out photos, I encourage my students to put on their detective hats and look closely at the details. What's in the background? What emotions do their faces show us? What clues can they gather about the time and place? 

Analyzing these photos gives my students a crash course in critical thinking and observation skills. As they dissect the images, they do more than just memorize facts. They're piecing together the puzzle of the past. They help to transform our classrooms into hubs of curiosity and discovery! 

Integrating Primary Source Photos in the History Classroom

It's time for us to roll up our sleeves and get down to business by integrating primary source photos into our history classes!

1. Photo Analysis

With photo analysis, I am very intentional about the photos I choose for my students to analyze. I want the photos to be relevant to what we are talking about in class or what we will be studying. At the beginning of the year, I make sure to do these as warm-ups or bellringers so that my middle schoolers can see how I think through them, what I look for in photos, and how I communicate my findings. I also introduce them to the Primary Source Photographs Student Analysis Doodle Page.  We use this page to guide our analysis of the historical photos.  I have found it very helpful in helping them learn how to analyze the photo as a primary source.

Primary source photos like these can help students empathize with the people in the photographs leading to more critical thinking opportunities.
I first lay out an image and challenge them to be as observant as possible. No detail is too small or insignificant when analyzing a photo. I encourage them to jot down details they notice. These can be details about the clothing, expressions, the background, the actions, or even the words they see within the photo. 

For example, when we are studying the Civil Rights Movement, a photo I would share would be of people marching. They may be marching along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, or they may be marching because the were inspired by the movement. Either way, we have a snapshot into these important historical events that take us beyond our own thoughts and knowledge.

We look at the emotions on each of their faces and think through what they may be thinking and feeling. We'll zero in on the posters they are holding up high and the symbolism behind the images and phrases. As much as I wish, we could talk directly to the people in any of the photos chosen to analyze, the next best thing is being observant enough to infer and make those connections. 

2. Group Discussions

Primary source photos can help foster group discussions which leads to collaboration.
Once my kiddos feel comfortable with analyzing primary source photos, I amp up the energy by switching to group discussions. I divide my students into teams and hand each group a different primary source photo. 

As a group, they are encouraged to share their interpretations, debate the historical context, and connect the dots between what they are seeing and what they have read. 

An example of one group's photo may be a wartime photo. This particular photo could show soldiers standing and sitting in the trenches. 

I may prompt them to think and discuss the challenges these soldiers might have faced based on what they see in the photos. The goal or purpose of this exercise is to fuel their critical thinking and collaborative exploration! 

3. Research Projects with Primary Source Photos

We have looked at primary source photos as a whole class and in small groups. Now, it's time to take it up a notch with research projects that put your students in the driver's seat of historical inquiry. 

Primary source photos can be a starting point for research projects.
I assign each student or partnership a primary source photo that is linked to a specific era or event. Their tasks include diving into the background, learning the historical context of the photo, discovering any related documents to the event or time period, and presenting their observations to the class. 

One project could center around a photo capturing the space race. With this photo, my students could explore what was going on politically at the time, the types of technology being developed, and what life was like overall. All of this information weaves together to create the larger picture of our history! 

Overcoming Challenges with Primary Source Photos

I do warn my students that there might be some hurdles they'll have to overcome when searching for and through primary source photos. Below are some to share with your own students!

1. Lack of Context

A lack of context with primary source photos isn't necessarily a bad thing because it can lead to deeper questioning and critical thinking.
There have been times when I felt like I found the perfect photo to use, but when I placed it in front of my students, the blank stares told me otherwise. Especially in the beginning, they won't know what to do and they'll wonder why I am showing them a random photo of strangers. 

My tip is to always introduce the photo by giving a brief historical rundown of its relevance. If you want them to discover those details on their own, give them hints of what they should be looking for. Having the background information or the hints can help set the scene and make the photo more approachable. 

2. Difficulty Interpreting Historical Clues

You've been proactive and set the stage around the photo for your students. Remember those blank stares? Yup, they are still there! Sometimes, the clues or the parts to observe don't pop out of the photo like in others. They aren't as obvious and may take some more inferring. 

Even though it can be difficult to interpret the historical clues in primary source photos you can encourage collaboration by giving students the opportunity to discuss the photographs and really think deeply about what they are observing.When this happens, I always recommend to encourage collaboration among your students. Have them turn and talk to their neighbors or make groups ahead of time. They can share their observations, interpretations, and questions with one another. 

Everyone thinks differently, which makes things jump out more to some than others. In this collaborative setting, your students will be able to see the photo from different perspectives, allowing them to learn from each other. 

During this time, I am walking around, guiding conversations as needed, and listening to the "Oh, I didn't even think about that!"

3. Embracing Ambiguity

Not every historical photo has a clear-cut solution. This can lead to beneficial classroom discussions and debates that allow curiosity to run free. 

Embrace ambiguity with primary source photos by giving your students the opportunity to discover the historical meaning of the photographs with critical thinking.
One thing I always tell my students is that it's okay not to have all the answers. When there are no more questions, the learning is finished, but that won't ever happen because we are meant to constantly explore and be curious. 

If history was simple, everyone would pay more attention to it. It's complex, which is what draws me to the subject. Some of my favorite memories of teaching histories are the ones where students asked questions, and we went down those pathways away from the planned-out lessons I had. 

Where to Find Primary Source Photos

Now that we know the ins and outs of primary source photos, we need to know where to find valuable ones to use! Let's take a look at some of my go-to sites!

1. Library of Congress - Prints and Photographs Online Catalog

The Library of Congress boasts a large collection. Lucky for us educators, it's accessible online. As you explore their Prints and Photographs Online Catalogue, you will discover how their primary source photos span various historical periods. 

2. National Archives - Digital Vaults

The National Archives houses a digital wonderland called the Digital Vaults. Here, you'll discover primary source documents, images, and more—each fully authentic and ready to bring history to life in your classroom! 
Use helpful websites like this to find primary source photos to use in your classroom this year.

3. Smithsonian Institution - Collections Search Center

The Smithsonian's Collections Search Center opens the doors to a vast array of primary source materials, including photographs. Whether it's American history, world cultures, or scientific advancements, you'll find the visuals you need to enhance your classes! 

4. New York Public Library - Digital Collections

The New York Public Library's Digital Collections offers access to a diverse range of primary source photos. From iconic cityscapes to historical events, there's something there for each of your lessons. 

5. Getty Images - Open Content Program

The Getty Images Open Content Program offers high-quality visuals, including photographs, that are free to use and share. It's a fantastic resource for adding clear and authentic photos to your history lessons, regardless of the unit. 

6. Local Historical Societies and Museums

Don't forget to look in your own backyard! Local historical societies and museums often digitize their collections. This allows them to offer access to a unique perspective on your region's history. If you're able to, I also recommend going to these societies and museums in person. They are full of knowledge, artifacts, photographs, and passionate people willing to help! 

Primary Source Photographs Student Analysis Doodle Page

We chatted about how we use primary source photographs as a whole class and in small groups. Suggestions were given about what to look for to observe and infer. A lot of what my kiddos do involves having those verbal conversations. 

Use this engaging primary source photo student analysis doodle page to help students uncover the context clues hidden in the photos they are observing.However, over the years, I have seen how some of my students benefit from the use of a graphic organizer. The provided prompts on the graphic organizers help to guide students who may feel lost or not want to do the activity. 

My Primary Source Photographs Student Analysis Doodle Page prompts my students to reflect on and observe different angles of the photographs. It gives them an organized space to record their thoughts accurately. My students enjoy having space where they can describe what they see, how it makes them feel, who took the photo, the purpose of the photo, and any questions they may have. 

This doodle page fits with any photograph and unit you are focusing on, making it a flexible tool for your classroom. This resource transcends U.S. History, World History, Ancient History, and more.

Enhance Your History Classes with Primary Source Photographs

Integrating primary source photos into your middle school history classes invites your students on a historical journey. They bring history to life through authentic, firsthand images. Even though they may be tricky to interpret at first, using resources such as my doodle note page helps them see what was happening years and years ago. Together, we can turn history class into an experience that sparks curiosity, leads to understanding, and leaves a memorable learning moment in the minds of our middle schoolers. Time to unlock the wonders of our past, one photograph at a time! 

Save for Later

Remember to save this post to your favorite history Pinterest board so you can use more primary source photographs in your History lessons! 

Looking for ways to enhance your middle school history lessons? Use primary source photos to help students develop critical thinking skills, collaboration skills, communication skills, and more! Be sure to grab the graphic organizers to make using primary source photos in your classroom a breeze this year. #thehistorygal #primarysourcephotos #howtouseprimarysourcephotosintheclassroom #middleschoolhistory
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