Historical Thinking Concepts

By , January 2, 2013 7:10 pm


Historical thinking, or discipline-based thinking, is part of the Ontario curriculum. I love it because it promotes critical thinking, meshes well with inquiry teaching, and focuses on learning rather than memorizing. 

Each historical thinking concept has guideposts. For our culminating activity we will focus on continuity & change and causes & consequences. Here are some guideposts and vocabulary lists:

Continuity and Change Guideposts:

  1. Continuity and change are interwoven – they overlap. They are not opposites. They can happen at the same time, just like you as a person can remain the same in some ways (eye colour) and develop and change in other ways (height, even hair colour).
  2. Different groups of people experience progress improvement in their lives) and decline (worsening in their lives).
  3. There are turning points in change, either in pace of change or direction of change.

Continuity and Change Vocabulary Starter List:

Change: evolution, revolution, stray, develop, speed up

Progress: benefit, improve, develop, advance, innovate

Decline: suffer, harm, spiral down, reverse, slow down, regress, collapse, slide

Continuity: same, tradition, holdover, hang onto, preserve, perpetuate

Causes and Consequences (PDF overview)

Causes and Consequences Guideposts:

  1. There are usually multiple causes of an event, not just one.
  2. Causes can be long-term (underlying/background), medium-term, or short-term (triggers).
  3. Consequences can be unintended (mostly) or intended.
  4. Causes can be the result of the work of individuals, groups, and /or social forces (isms). (Like the three points of a triangle).

Causes and Consequences Vocabulary Starter List:

Cause: contribute to, lead to, have its origin in, act as roots, force, establish

Consequence: result in, end up as, lead to, affect, influence, impact

Historical Perspectives Guideposts:

  1. There’s a big difference between the worldviews of people today (beliefs, values, motivations) and the worldviews of people in the past. Recognizing this gap is crucial. Otherwise, we’ll assume they thought or acted like us.
  2. Avoid presentism (imposing our own standards or values on the past). Just because technology might have been different in the past, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t highly advanced for its time.
  3. When you interpret primary evidence, you must look at it within the historical context of its own time and from the historical perspective of who created/wrote it.
  4. Different groups of people had different views on events. Some people may have dissented from (disagreed with) the mainstream views of society.

Historical Perspectives Vocabulary Starter List:

nouns: point of view, perspective, view, worldview, outlook, angle

verbs: experience, believe, value, consider, think, see, perceive

I’m so excited about HTCs (not that squirrel over there).

HTC Tracking Sheets – use these to chart your own progress on each concept




CHY4U_HTC_Tracking Sheet_Contin-Change


Primary Source Evidence

Use the SHEG chart in your unit 1 handouts to help you learn how to read (interpret) PSDs. It’s from the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) who produce some of the best materials for historical thinking.

The National Archives (a US governmental body) also has an excellent set of worksheets to help students interpret various kinds of primary source documents.

They all follow these four steps:

  1. Meet the document.
  2. Observe its parts.
  3. Try to make sense of it.
  4. Use it as historical evidence.











“Historical Thinking” is a movement within the teaching of history. It has many variants in terms of the specific skills each focuses on. Here are a few, starting with the Canadian version that my students are familiar with.

The Historical Thinking Project – Canadian

  • establish historical significance
  • use primary source evidence
  • identify continuity and change
  • analyze cause and consequence
  • take historical perspectives
  • understand ethical dimensions of history

America’s History in the Making (Annenberg Foundation, Learner.org). Uses American topics to teach skills through interactive exercises. – American

  • placing artifacts in time
  • analyzing artifacts
  • reading maps
  • evaluating primary source evidence
  • curating an exhibit
  • balancing sources (this is my favourite interactive – I have gone through the Kent State example)

 Historical Thinking Standards (National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA)- American

  • chronological thinking
  • historical comprehension
  • historical analysis and interpretation
  • historical research capabilities
  • historical issues-analysis and decision making

Teaching History .org (National History Education Clearinghouse) – American

  • Multiple Accounts & Perspectives
  • Analysis of Primary Documents
  • Sourcing
  • Understanding Historical Context
  • Claim-Evidence Connection

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