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Evaluating the Validity of Information

Students learn to assess the validity of a historical argument as they evaluate the implausible theory that the Chinese discovered America in 1421.

Zheng He, ship

TV presents a great deal of historical information these days, but not all of it is valid or trustworthy. Unfortunately, many students lack the tools needed to assess historical information they see on television. This skill-building lesson presents students with some of the tools needed to assess the validity of an argument made through a persuasive, high-quality visual medium.

In this two-day lesson, students assess the validity of a claim integral to the argument that the Chinese discovered America in 1421. Retired submarine commander Gavin Menzies presents this argument and the evidence to students in two short video clips highlighting the resources available to ancient Chinese sailors to make seven epic ocean voyages during the Ming dynasty.

The lesson is clearly structured and guides students through steps they should take to evaluate historical claims. Helpfully, it includes a student handout that clearly explains the criteria for assessing the evidence of a historical argument. For example students are prompted to look at the qualifications of the person making a claim and to evaluate the persuasive techniques being used. A second handout has a worksheet to help students use the criteria to evaluate specific aspects of Menzies's argument.

Student learning is assessed both through classroom discussion and a culminating essay that prompts students to provide a reasoned evaluation of the claim that the Chinese had the naval capacity to travel to America in the 15th century. The lesson includes a detailed rubric to assist your evaluation of these essays.


The lesson requires that students view two online video clips. Teachers must either have the audiovisual tools needed to project the video clips from a computer or enough computers for student viewing. Teachers may use this lesson from Teachers Domain without registering for the site. However, registration is free if you want to do so.

See this website for historians' discussions and counterpoints to Menzies' improbable thesis.

Teachinghistory.org Lesson Plan Rubric
Field Criteria Comments
Historical Content Is historically accurate?

The process of examining historical evidence is presented accurately.
However, see this website for additional information and arguments disputing Menzies' thesis.

Includes historical background?

The lesson provides clear criteria for assessing historical accuracy but provides little historical background about the specific time period under investigation.

Requires students to read and write?

Students write a final essay, but the lesson does not require significant reading.

Analytic Thinking Requires students to analyze or construct interpretations using evidence

Lesson requires students to analyze the evidence.

Requires close reading and attention to source information?

Requires close attention to the arguments made in a historical video. Attention to the source of a historical argument is an integral part of the lesson.

Scaffolding Is appropriate for stated audience?

Appropriate for grades 6-8. Could easily be adapted for grades 9-12.

Includes materials and strategies for scaffolding and supporting student thinking?

Provides a well-written student handout of criteria for assessing the validity of a historical argument. A table to help students apply these criteria to Menzies's theory is also provided.

Lesson Structure Includes assessment criteria and strategies that focus on historical understanding?

The lesson provides a solid essay prompt and a clear rubric for assessing the essay.

Defines clear learning goals and progresses logically?

The lesson progresses logically toward the goal of making students think about historical evidence.

Includes clear directions and is realistic in normal classroom settings?

Directions are clear and procedures are realistic in most settings.