Tips for Teaching History

For history teachers, trying to get your students attentive while you’re discussing about the past or something that doesn’t interest them at all can be challenging and frustrating at times. It’s hard to be passionate when you’re facing blank stares or students busy doing something else. If you’re at your wits end with trying to make history more perky and lively without burning yourself out, here are some suggestions you could do in your class to keep students attentive all throughout the lesson.

Overwhelming Curriculum

There are tons of information in a history class or textbook. This doesn’t mean that you have to go through every single one of them. You can consult with an experienced teacher to weed out the useless information from the important ones. For instance, when you’re talking about the colonization rush between Spain and Portugal, you don’t have to delve the details about the number of ships, the crews, their calendar and all that minor details. Instead, you can focus on why they did it and what was the result from that race.

If you are required by the school to use a school-sanctioned textbook, then reread the entire material and scrutinize it. Remember that students will be reading it, so even if you go through the entire book they might not understand what it meant or its significance. Read the book beforehand then guide the students on which parts are important and will be discussed, and which ones will be left out.

Of course, you can’t just start cutting materials from the textbook all by yourself. You have to consult with your supervisor or school head to make sure your good intentions are well placed. Keep in mind that each school has their own standards when it comes to education and you shouldn’t cut corners just to make things easy for you.

Use the Classroom

What makes history so boring is that students are left to their books and imagination for the duration of the discussion. As you drone on and on about historical things or the smallest history details, they have to keep themselves amused in some way. What you can do instead is to utilize the different areas of the classroom. For instance, you can place maps or timelines in different parts of the room so that even when they are staring at something else while you’re discussing, it will still yield good results.

Don’t Assume

A lot of mistakes history teachers make is that they think that since a student is at this level, they must know certain topics or historical information by heart. You should always remember that students have their own different learning paces. Some students might be able to retain that information clearly, while others might need a review of sorts just to jar their memory. Jumping into the content and discussing immediately without affirming the student’s stock knowledge will leave them confused and might cause them to think about something else instead.

Use Your Skills

Simply reading off the power point presentation won’t make your class interesting no matter how well-designed or how attractive your power point presentation is. You need to get the students engaged and involved in the discussion. In these situations, you can use the skills you already developed to get the students off their cell phones or notebooks and on the edge thinking about the lesson.

For example, if you are very good with theory and classroom content, then you can further branch out into using or learning new teaching styles. You’ll feel out of your element, but since you’re already familiar with the content, you can just wing it. It also works the other way around – if you are a very entertaining and creative teacher then you can read up on the curriculum so that you can incorporate it seamlessly into your class.

Make Assessments Count

Students always complain that history tests are just about people, places and dates. They just memorize these things and they pass. On a teacher’s point of view, it can be an educational catastrophe. The students grow up without realizing the importance of these events and how they lead to the present events.

When you’re making the exams, make sure that it involves the reasoning skill of the students. They don’t need to know “who did it and where” as much as “who did what and what happened because of that”. After all, that’s what you are looking for, to assess if the student has understood the lesson and not simply memorized it without understanding.

Be Involved

It might take a whole deal of time, but you as the teacher should be involved in ways to connect with the class. You might watch late-night talk shows, browse trending websites, or simply talk to the students to know what their interests are. This will give you material to compare it your history lessons with. On the student’s side, hearing phrases or names which they understand can catch their interest long enough for you to pitch in the history lesson. Sure, it might lead to awkward examples on your part, but this will give the students even more material to talk about and get them to listen to you.


Instead of overwhelming your students on the first day by talking to them about the different eras in terms of years, try to break the lessons down in terms of themes. For example, you could tell them that for next week you’ll talk about the discovery of America, after that the colonial era, then the American Revolution and so on and so forth. This will pique their interest and also give them a good idea about what happened during that time instead of focusing on when it happened. Using themes to guide your lessons will be interesting to students since it is in the form of a story and not just chronological events – it might even help them retain information well after your class.

Create Evolving Lesson Plans

During your first year as a history teacher, you might be required to write lesson plans. These lesson plans will be your guide as you go about in teaching the curriculum. Teaching history will also require you to do some extensive research regarding the lessons or teaching strategies.

However once you have your lesson plans in place, it can be easy to just refer to them the following school years. You should not depend on it entirely and you shouldn’t keep it as it is for the upcoming years. Remember that teaching styles will also change. A pen and paper test might not be as effective now as it was decades ago. With that in mind, always try to make modifications (not the entire lesson plan) to keep up with the evolving times.

Teaching history places a huge responsibility on the teacher. The students need to know about history so that they will understand society as it is today. However, you have to make the classroom more active and personal. Using these tips for teaching history, you will not only get the students to learn about history, but you could also evolve as a teacher.