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Using the Web to Learn Research and Presentation Skills

Photo, 2010 National History Day, February 16, 2010, heraldpost, Flickr
Question 

Are there any good websites/digital content out there that offer(s) a step-by-step "how to" on conducting historical research and presentations for 6-12th grade students?

Answer 

There are a variety of resources out there for helping students to get started on historical research. Some are quite detailed and younger students will need help identifying the most pertinent information to their research. Others give a brief overview of the research process, but also include links to resources to support that research. Below are a few sites we thought would be most helpful. But be forewarned, these sites are not necessarily designed for students to use without the guidance of a teacher, and you may need to modify their resources for your students (especially if they are middle schoolers).

There are a variety of resources out there for helping students to get started on historical research.
  1. William Cronon’s Tutorial on Historical Research: This website, created by an environmental historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison provides a great overview of the historical research process, with expanded sections giving additional guidance for each step of the process. The guide goes into great depth, and was originally intended for college students, but advanced high school students will find it useful. In addition, much of the material on this site will help teachers to be aware of pitfalls many students face during the research process (such as relying too much on internet search engines to find sources).
  2. DoHistory.org: Here, the most useful resource is the history toolkit. The toolkit contains a rather lengthy but thorough overview of the historical research process and some great material on how to use primary sources. Perhaps the most useful part of this history toolkit is its specific instructions on how to use particular categories of primary sources, such as oral histories and graveyards. It also contains a tutorial on how to decipher 18th-century handwriting.
  3. Digital History has a brief, but more accessible overview of the historical process that you can find by clicking on "do history through. . . " under "Active Learning" on the left-hand menu. This overview distills the process down to three basic steps: Identifying a historical problem, Discovering and evaluating evidence, and Drawing and presenting conclusions. While explanations of these steps are brief, links are also included to a variety of pages that give suggestions for types of sources one might investigate, or background information on particular historical topics.
  4. National History Day: This website gives a brief overview of the research process in eight steps in the " Classroom Connection" section. It also offers for purchase a more elaborate, detailed version of those eight steps. Additionally, under "Conducting Research" in the contest section, the site provides an overview of different types of sources (primary, secondary, tertiary), and guidance on creating bibliographies, as well as links to several databases of online historical sources.
  5. Historical Thinking Matters: Click on the link to "Why Historical Thinking Matters," and you can view an interactive presentation that introduces how historians read and analyze historical sources when researching a topic. This can be used to model for students how to approach primary source documents during the research process.

You may also want to check out some entries here at the Clearinghouse, including this one about using search engines effectively, this one about using Wikipedia, this feature on using primary sources, and this one on crafting and writing research papers.

 
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