Personalizing History: Telling Stories through Objects

Personalizing History: Telling Stories through Objects

One of the hardest things to do when teaching social studies and history is to ensure that students don’t see these subjects as a distant list of events, people and dates. In my role as educator in the Ohio History Connection, one of my main concerns it to create programs and activities that connect the past with the present, and in some cases, how this knowledge can help us transform the future.

The first step is to show students that they are part of history because history is happening right now, which means that their stories matter. I work really close to Trevor Rhodes, our Content Coordinator for Ohio as America,  and for one of the first sections of the new version of that curriculum we added an activity that he called “Life in a Bag”.

When I was deconstructing our previous Museum in a Box program to improve its quality and relevance, I decided to add one lesson plan that would be the basic introduction to all Boxes, independent of the specific topic of the Box. Those would be for teachers that wanted to use the program to reinforce or introduce primary and secondary sources, help students improve their observation skills and explain how historians can use sources to piece together a historical narrative. Among the activities in this lesson plan, I decided to utilize a simplified version of the “Life in a Bag” activity. You can find the worksheet for the activity here.

Museum in a Box – Underground Railroad

As you see in the worksheet, the idea is to put students’ front and center, and give them the agency to tell their own stories while applying content knowledge. There are many possible adaptations for this activity but a very simple way to adapt according to grade level is to increase the number of objects and the depth of the presentations. Another way to incorporate complexity to the activity is to allow students to put together their “collection” and let other students analyze them and try to tell their peer’s stories without any initial introduction, only basing their ideas on the provided collections. Then each student can talk about how their peers’ narrative might be on or off point from their original story.

We hope this resource is useful to you or that it serves as inspiration for new ways to make social studies learning more hands-on and student-centered. If you have other ideas, feel free to share them below in the comments. This is a great way to support your fellow subscribers in their teaching practice.

Our next blog post will come out in a couple of weeks and we will be focusing on ideas to engage with Ohio History Connection’s Wild Ohio Week (January 25-January 30). We will provide some resources and activities to support the learning about plants and animals in our state. Stay tuned!

Posted January 5, 2021

Subscribe to Our Blogs