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DocsTeach.org - A Great Resource for Social Studies Teachers

In its own words, the goal of DocsTeach.org is to help teachers “bring history to life for your students.” The site is an offshoot of the National Archives website, a government-sponsored collection of vital historic and legal documents from different eras of our country’s history.

DocsTeach.org features primary source documents specifically chosen for their value to teachers, to help them enliven classroom discussions and activities with primary source documents. Its offerings are not limited to print documents; it also includes images, charts, graphs, audio and video. Creating a free account will allow users to bookmark favorites and access a larger selection of activities.

The site has a well-organized home page.

Choosing Documents

Documents are well-organized by era, beginning with 1754, Revolution and the New Nation, up to 1968-present, the Contemporary United States.

Documents cover all phases of history

Clicking on “The Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930” reveals over 1,100 documents, including childhood photographs of former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford. Many of the options include what you’d expect to find in a collection of archives, including rulings from the Supreme Court and reports to government officials.

Early 1900s Supreme Court Ruling.

However, there are also items which would be considered less historically notable but still important, including a page from Ernest Hemingway’s high school notebook, complete with teacher comments.
A page from Hemingway’s notebook.

Finding Activities

The site includes activities created and shared by other teachers, which will be helpful to teachers who are new to using primary source documents. There is a significant amount of activities, which, like the documents, are organized by era. However, they are also organized according to National History Standards, which were developed by the National Center for History in the Schools. This will help teachers who want to approach planning from a more standards-based perspective.

Activities created by other teachers are available.

Selecting a historic era on the Activities page will lead to several activities based on specific documents. Teachers can also find activities by historical thinking skills, such as chronological thinking and historic comprehension.

There are many approaches to finding great activities.

An activity focused on the expedition of Lewis and Clark includes documents, a synopsis of the activity, instructions and learning objectives. The author of this activity also addresses Bloom’s Taxonomy; this particular activity emphasizes analyzing.

A project featuring Lewis & Clark.

Creating Original Activities

Teachers also have the option of creating their own activities. There are numerous options, allowing educators to choose a focus based on a history standard, like historical analysis and interpretation, or a skill, such as interpreting data. Creating an activity is broken into a series of steps, which include choosing documents, writing a synopsis and developing instructions for the activity. Teacher-created activities go into a pool that can be accessed by other teachers.

The process of creating activities is very user-friendly.

Additional Features

The creators of DocsTeach.org have correlated the site’s contents with Bloom’s Taxonomy, helping teachers to identify activities which address a range of thinking skills, from basic to complex. Teachers who choose to create a free account can bookmark documents for future use. It also includes tips and ideas to support the process of studying historic documents.

Steps to studying documents.

DocsTeach.org is a terrific resource for social studies teachers who’ll appreciate the vast assortment of well-organized historic documents.

Written December 11, 2012 by Tracy Derrel


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