History: Developing a Research and Writing Heavy Approach Pt. 1

This post will be part of a series about writing, especially supporting the study of history in your homeschool, co-op, or small school.  I’ll be contributing to this series bit by bit.


The first installment will focus on “Observation and Analysis.” Upcoming posts will follow-up, and will focus on the steps which I call Practice and Play,” “Research and Writing,” and “Review and Reinforce.” Together these posts will propose an outline of how to develop a research and writing heavy approach to the study of history. The opportunity to develop a research and writing heavy approach is what is offered by the History Portfolio.


“Observation and Analysis” is characterized by appreciation of the form and structure of a written work, but also, simply, careful attention to facts presented. In terms of teaching writing, I think careful “observation” is a great place to start because even before we can “imitate” good writing, we first have to notice good writing. We have to look at it carefully. We have to study it. The following suggested activities have been used in my homeschool and in my co-op classes.


Suggested MULTI-LEVEL activities include:


Level 1. Play a “who, what, where, when, why,” game. After reading aloud, ask comprehension questions. This gives the students the opportunity to contemplate the material presented, and try to recall some of the names, dates, events, etc, which were mentioned. This activity involves, or encourages, careful listening, but also gives students the opportunity to gather their thoughts and verbally respond. It focuses on comprehension not interpretation.


Highlighting Keywords

Level 2. Using a highlighter marker, highlight the important words in the text. Look for: Proper nouns, dates, and new and unfamiliar terms. If highlighting important words, keywords, from 3 paragraphs of text, for example, aim to highlight 5 – 8 words per paragraph. This activity fits into the theme of Observation and Analysis because identifying important words within text involves comprehension, not interpretation.


Level 3. Highlight the topic sentence and concluding sentence in a well written paragraph. Observe that the details can be found between the topic sentence and the last sentence. *Paragraphs that list events in chronological order may not have a clear topic sentence. Nor will paragraphs that simply continue the same topic as the preceding paragraph. But, choose your examples well, and you’ll have a nice activity.  A free, downloadable, activity is found below. 


Level 4. Using highlighter markers, highlight the topic sentences in 3 or 4 paragraphs. This time, use a longer selection to study.


Try out these activities with the free pdf.

Level 5. Copywork: Choose well written sentences, paragraphs, quotes, primary source documents, etc. for copywork. Choose a short or long selection based on the age and ability of the student. Copywork ties the copier to the original work very closely. Copywork is not imitation. To imitate implies just a bit more distance from the original than with copywork. I would say that writing down keywords from sentences, but then removing or covering the original source, and, from memory, composing sentence much “like” the original is imitation. I would place “imitation” in the theme I have called Practice and Play, and that will be the topic for another day. Copywork fits perfectly in with the theme Observation and Analysis because copying is a way of getting to know the original even better.


Level 6. Hide and Seek: These ideas can be quite varied. Examples are: find the words meaning _____, find the verbs, or find the 2 letter phonogram that makes the E sound. Also, a multi-level activity could be to find specific keywords within text. For example, select a paragraph, and choose 3-5 keywords which you feel are challenging words phonetically, but also quality in terms of vocabulary as it relates to the historical time period you are studying. Write those words down on a sheet of paper or dry erase board. Give your youngster just one well written paragraph, have him or her find those 3-5 words which you have chosen, and have him or her highlight them with a highlighter or light colored pencil. You can make this more challenging and multi-level by discussing the words, rules for a complete sentence, etc. More challenging still… play “hide and seek” using more than one paragraph.


An example of Hide and Seek for the little ones.

Level 7. Study a famous speech, for example: the Gettysburg Address. Again, this is about careful observation and analysis. Look at the number of paragraphs, the topic of each paragraph, powerful passages, stylistic devices such as alliteration or metaphors. This is also a very multi-level activity.


The suggested activities are great to use at home or in co-op, especially when used alternating with constructing paragraphs and composing sentences. I hope they are useful to you. I think of this list as sort of a “bag of tricks” to pull from when I need to build a lesson on any certain historical topic.


If you would like a FREE pdf of the activities pictured above, use the “Add to Cart” button. When you request any of my freebies, I will add you to my mailing list. So, watch for occasional newsletters from homeschooljourney.com.


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