Saturday, June 14, 2014

Some historical thinking sentence starters

This is an attempt to construct some sentence starters that help to scaffold historical thinking, reasoning. In the comments, please suggest others or revisions to mine. In addition, once I am satisfied with the list, I will try to categorize the sentence starters.

1. Based on this evidence, it appears that_________________________.

2. This statement reveals (suggests) that _____________________________.

3. We must consider these words in the larger context of ___________________________.

4. When placed into context, this passage takes on a different meaning. Now we see that ______________________________________.
5. When we compare this text to _______________(another text), we see that a tension exists between _________________ and ______________________.

6. Internally, there are some tensions evident in this text. For example, ________________________________. 
7. This text must be placed into a larger context. That context is ________________________. In light of this context, we can assert that _________________________________.

-If we do not take these words literally, then we can take these words to suggest that ____________________________.

8. This source tells us about __________________________.
9. This story/account is told from the perspective of ____________________.
10. The creator of this source appears to be sympathetic to the idea that ___________________.
11. The author created this source in order to ___________________________________. He expected it would be read by _________________________.
12. I am reading this source with the following question(s) in mind:________________________________________________________
13. This source reveals how people thought about ___________________________
14. This source provides some insight into the nature of __________________________.
15. Before reading this source (excerpt), you should know that at the time this source was created ______________________________.
16. This source is a response to __________________________________.
17. The author of this source was ______________________. Some of the preexisting ideas, assumptions that this person had were ___________________________, which would have shaped how he saw the events he witnessed.
18. The author of this source stood to benefit from _________________________.
19. This source triggers the following emotional responses in me _____________________________. (Are these the  emotions the author was trying to elicit?)
20. The ideas contained in this text can be corroborated when juxtaposed against ___________________________________ (another text).
21. Are the actions depicted in this text accurate? How do we know?
22. This source tells us something about _________________________________________.

Impt to consider
Who wrote the document?
Who read the document?
Having read the document, how do I feel about it?
Having read the document, what are we to make of it? Is it reliable? If so, in what ways?

*Many of these sentence starters have been pulled from @thathistorian's podcasts, where he models historical thinking and source work.

Some other big ideas to consider/notes to myself...
Our creations/artifacts both reflect AND shape how we think.
Stereotypes both reinforce and shape ideas (often damaging) about groups.
Meaning needs to be decoded.


  1. This offers a solid resource. I like the way your work demands students to look at documents in a "macro" sense. As you seek to add more and put your work into categories, you might want to provide prompts that dissect documents more in looking at particular lines or phrases. An example of this would be, "When [author] says '___,' it shows ___."

    Early in a school year, I could envision pairing a document that works particularly well with about three of these phrases to students and allowing them to choose which of the phrases they wanted to use to generate their responses. As the year goes on, you could "release" more of these options and give students access to these through a document or course website.

    It will be fun to hear how this "legwork" of yours helps to support quality work! Thanks for writing this, Joe!

  2. Patti, thanks for the feedback! I am going to spend some time this summer working with sources, trying to capture some of intellectual moves that are made when dissecting individual sources and working with source sets. As much as I can, I am going to try to generate new sentence starters and test/refine some of the ones listed above. I think your tip about carefully introducing these tools or scaffolds is important. Otherwise, students could easily miss the point. The worst case scenario is for lists like this to be treated like worksheets. For them to be tools, they need to be introduced and used with care.

  3. Joe, these are great starters, and it's great to have a such a set in one place to work from - thanks for the collegiality!
    (Have been meaning to read through the blog carefully for ages and am only just getting to it - thus the comments :D )

  4. Thanks, Alexandra! Do you have a blog?

  5. You should check out the best practices presentation on the new style AP MC questions presented at the AP US below..need a collegeboard username but do not want to post someone else's intellectual work with out permission but has some great stems...

    Here are a couple of samples dealing with contexulization
    Contextualization Stems
    • The excerpt/cartoon/artwork/etc. best reflects which of the following historical patterns/trends/etc.?
    • The excerpt/cartoon/artwork/etc. was most likely a reaction to which of the following events/processes/ etc.?
    • The idea/development/event in the excerpt was most directly associated with/serves as evidence of which of the following occurring in the United States at the time?
    • The idea/development/event in the excerpt most strongly suggests which of the following about that time?

  6. Hi Brandon,

    Thanks for the tip! These look excellent. I will check them out.