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Gram’s Trunk

In this lesson, students discover the interpretive nature of history by interacting with historic objects.

Photography, Untitled, 15 Feb 2011, Barbara Dieu, Flickr CC

Sometimes teachers begin teaching historic narratives without introducing children to the nature of history. "Gram's Trunk," a lesson from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, provides a story and activities teachers may use to introduce their K-8 classes to history as an evidence-based, interpretive discipline. A simple-to-use, single-view resource, "Gram’s Trunk" focuses on family artifacts as historic evidence. In the central story, a grandmother shows her trunk of saved family items to her grandchildren. The story illustrates that choice, storage space, and personal values all play a role in determining whether evidence is saved or lost over time. The accompanying activities engage children in researching family history and confronting concepts such as perspective and local and national contexts.

The last resource on Gram’s Trunk is a photo analysis guide. Because it engages children in the essential analysis skills of sourcing (identifying who took the photo, when, where, and why), contextualizing (in this lesson, children are asked if the photo illustrates a historical theme, period, or event) and generating questions for further investigation, the guide is useful with photos on any historic topic. It is also easily adaptable for whole-class discussions with grades K–2.

Even if lower and middle elementary teachers do not have class time to dedicate to individual family research activities, this lesson is worth checking out. Its child-friendly introduction to the nature of history and guide to photo analysis are worthy additions to the elementary teacher's resource cabinet.

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Historical Content Is historically accurate?

Accurately illustrates some core components of doing history.

Includes historical background?


Requires students to read and write?

This depends on the instructional activities the teacher selects. The story and photo analysis activities may be conducted as whole group discussions. The family research activities require reading and/or writing.

Analytic Thinking Requires students to analyze or construct interpretations using evidence

This depends on the instructional activities the teacher selects. The story and photo analysis activities may be conducted as whole-group discussions. The family research activities require reading and/or writing.

Requires close reading and attention to source information?

The lesson does not require this, but the photo analysis includes rigorous scaffolding to engage students in analysis.

Scaffolding Is appropriate for stated audience?

The story may be a bit too precious for grades 5-8 but the family research activities are more appropriate for those older grades, as they require fairly extensive reading and/or writing.

Includes materials and strategies for scaffolding and supporting student thinking?


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

No emphasis on assessment, but does include possible answers for a photo analysis activity that may serve as a model for assessment.

Defines clear learning goals and progresses logically?

Stated goal is to motivate students to investigate history. Another goal might be to introduce students to the nature of historical evidence and how to interpret it.

Includes clear directions and is realistic in normal classroom settings?