History: Developing a Research and Writing Heavy Approach Pt. 2

This post is the second installment in a series about writing, especially supporting the study of history in your homeschool, co-op, or small school.


This installment will focus on what I call “Practice and Play”. The previous post,Observation and Analysis,” laid out the proposition that the first step in “knowing” something involves careful observation of, and familiarity with, a revealed, delineated, and knowable subject. Once the component parts of a subject are revealed, and these parts are carefully observed, it is then possible to play with these parts and gain familiarity, proficiency and confidence, This next step, which I call Practice and Play is the focus of this post.


The word “play” is often associated with a game. In order to “play” a game, one must first know the rules…the component parts of that game. To “play” requires a base of practical knowledge. Playing the game of hockey, for example, requires that certain skills be acquired, and that the basic rules of the game are understood. And, in order for the rules to have been understood, they must first have been revealed! Using a different example, that of sorting an overfilled and unruly closet, similarly, we must first reveal the contents. Playing with the contents could mean that we could move the contents from one location to another, sort the contents in various categories, and rank the items in each category based on various criteria. It is this activity of moving around, and engaging in, the component parts of a subject that we can call “play.”


But, a very clear distinction must be made between playing with the parts, … and building a new closet that is fundamentally different. Or, the distinction must be made between organizing and reorganizing the contents of a single identified closet vs. comparing the contents of one closet to the contents of someone else’s closet, or furthermore, synthesizing the contents of one closet with the contents of several other closets. This step beyond Practice and Play, which I call  Research and Writing, addresses this next level involving comparing and contrasting, and synthesizing information, and  evaluating information from multiple sources. This will be the third post is this series.


Upcoming posts will focus on the steps which I call 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.


“Practice and Play” is characterized by using a single source for research, and by interpreting and restating what was learned from this source. The following suggested activities have been used in my homeschool and in my co-op classes.


Suggested MULTI-LEVEL activities include:

I. Outlining and Writing using a single source, read aloud


Level 1: Orally ask for important keywords, write them down on a dry erase board, and use the list to practice narration or as a copy work activity.

Level 2: Orally ask for important keywords and write them down on a dry erase board, as above. But, now sort this list into groups, or topics. State the topic for each group, and label the group. *This is another good place to stop and practice narration, relying on the keywords to remind and provide a comfortable starting point.

Level 3: Orally ask for important keywords, write them down on the dry erase board, sort into group, and label each group with the stated topic. But, now create an outline using Roman Numerals and letters, I. A, B, C, D, and II. A, B, C, D, etc. Add the stated topic next to the Roman Numeral, and add the details (Rank the details in order of importance, preference, or chronology). Compose sentences together from the keyword outline and have the children complete the writing activity as copy work. Or, depending on the age of your group, allow children to compose sentences independently.

Level 4: Challenge: Add an introduction and conclusion. Edit for sentence level organization and style, such as by varying the length of sentences, combining sentences using clauses, and by using a thesaurus to improve word choices.


II. Outlining and writing using a single written source


Level 1: Provide a single written source, one paragraph in length. Have the student highlight three words per sentence. Use the highlighted words to practice narration, or use the words as copy work.

Level 2: Provide a single written source, three paragraphs in length, and provide an outline with Roman Numeral I, II, and III for the topic of each paragraph, and A, B, C, etc for details. Add exactly as many lines for details as there are for sentences. Have your child write in the topic at the Roman Numeral, and details for A, B, and C, etc.

Level 3: Provide a single written source, three paragraphs in length. Have the student create an outline and fill in a topic for each of the Roman Numerals I, II, and III, and details for A., B., and C etc.


III. Unscramble


Level 1: Cut apart the words from a single sentence, and have the child reassemble.

Level 2: Select and copy a paragraph from a single ready-made source like Student’s Friend or other. Separate the paragraph into individual sentences, cut apart,  and have the student reassemble them into a logical order. Challenge further by using three different paragraphs with three clearly defined topics.

Level 3: Throw in a curve ball by throwing in an off topic sentence or two.


IV. Sorting


Level 1: Provide a mix of keywords and have the student sort them into three topics.

Level 2: Provide a mix of keywords and have the student sort them into three topics. But now, have the student identify the topic of each collection of keywords. Then, have the student fill in a prepared outline form.

Level 3: Provide a mix of keywords and have the student sort them into three topics. Identify the topic. Have the student prepare an outline with Roman Numerals and letters…. I. A. B. C. II. A. B. C. III. A. B. C., etc. Fill in the outline with topics, and with details ranked into an order they could appear in a written paragraph.



Each of these multi-level activities fall into the category of what I refer to as “Practice and Play” because the activities each rely on a single reference source. When students research and evaluate information from multiple sources, synthesize similar details, edit out irrelevant information, identify conflicting opinions, compare and contrast, and ultimately present personal opinions, the student has moved on to the next step, “Research and Writing.” I’ll be covering that in a future post.



No comments yet.

Leave a Reply