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Teaching with Historic Places

Heritage Education Services

Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) uses properties listed in the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places to enliven history, social studies, geography, civics, and other subjects. TwHP has created a variety of products and activities that help teachers bring historic places into the classroom.

Using Historic Places to Teach

TwHP in a Virginia classroomBeacon Hill Historic District, Boston, Massachusetts

Historic places have powerful and provocative stories to tell. As witnesses to the past, they recall the events that shaped history and the people who faced those situations and issues. Places make connections across time that give them a special ability to create an empathetic understanding of what happened and why. As historian David McCullough explains in Brave Companions, experiencing places "helps in making contact with those who were there before in other days. It's a way to find them as fellow human beings, as necessary as the digging you do in libraries."1

It is not necessary, though, to visit a place to feel its connections to history. Through a variety of materials and activities, Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) enables teachers and students to learn from places without leaving the classroom. By examining and questioning readings, documents, maps, photographs, and by engaging in activities, students connect these locations to the broad themes of American history.

TwHP has posted on the Web a number of resources for using historic places to teach, either during a field trip or in the classroom. They include:

Classroom-ready TwHP lesson plans free for downloading;
• Instructions on how to use a TwHP lesson plan;
Reaction from teachers who have already used TwHP materials;
• An Author's Packet with guidance on how to create a lesson plan;
• A guide to selecting historic places for classroom use;
• A worksheet on how to learn from historic places;
• A worksheet on how to analyze photographs of historic places;
• Information on using the National Register to identify and obtain information on historic places.

Places can help students connect the history all around them with national events and themes. A TwHP lesson based on the courthouse in St. Louis, for example, shows how people there debated a railroad route that would have national impact and how the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision started with a local case. Studying this building will help students understand the importance of their local and state courthouses, as well helping them grasp the significance of historic places generally. Local sites often make a stronger impression on students than those more famous but farther away, thereby sparking their desire to learn more.

Places help students develop skills as well as knowledge. Students learn to observe, gather facts, compare and contrast, synthesize and analyze, evaluate sources of evidence, develop and test hypotheses, and draw conclusions. Places are therefore well-suited to help teachers meet both state and national curriculum standards in social studies, history, geography, and other subjects. One of the ten themes in the Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, for example, is "People, Places, and Environments." The National Geography Standards use an understanding of the characteristics of and relationships among people, places, and environments as one of the marks of student achievement.

Ultimately, teaching with and about historic places benefits everyone. Educators have one more means with which to engage and excite students, students acquire knowledge from and an appreciation for cultural resources, and society gains a better-educated citizenry.

¹Brave Companions (New York: Prentice Hall, 1992), 2.