How do historians conduct research?

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How do historians conduct research?

Grade Level

High School (9-12)

Summative Performance Task

Evidence Based Argument Presentation

How do historians conduct research?

Project directors

SG Grant, Binghamton University

John Lee, North Carolina State University

Kathy Swan, University of Kentucky

Project writers

Delaware – Red Clay Consolidated School District

Kylee Holliday – Skyline Middle School

Cristina Kalesse – AI duPont High School

Joe Manlove – AI duPont High School

Rebecca Reed – District Office

Erin Sullivan – Cab Calloway School for the Arts

For more information, please contact Rebecca Reed (

Compelling Question:

How do historians conduct research?

Supporting Question I 

How do historians form compelling and supporting questions?

(D1.1, D1.2, D1.3, D1.4, D1.5)

Supporting Question II 

How do historians gather, source, and validate resources that are helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions?

(D1.5, D2.His.3 - D2.His.13, D3.1, D3.2)

Supporting Question III

How do historians formalize their arguments and communicate their conclusions?

(D1,5, D3,3, D3.4, D4.1-D4.4)



Tools for Historical Teaching Teacher Background

Research Paper Steps at:




Preliminary Research (example)

Sample topics

Graphic Organizer

Authentic Social Studies Questions



Intro to Historical Thinking

Four Reads: Learning to Read Primary Documents





Writing an Annotated Bibliography

Research Checklist



UCLA – Historical Interpretation and Analysis

Writing Strategies



Writing an Evidence-Based Argument


Gallery Walk

Formative Performance Task I 

Read the text about Jackie Robinson. Write a compelling question based on the text. What supporting questions would you ask about Jackie Robinson?

Formative Performance Task II 

Read the text about Cesar Chavez. Identify how the validity of this source would be determined.

Formative Performance Task III 

View the two sources. Why might there be different (or similar) interpretations of the same event?

Summative Performance Task: Evidence Based Argument Presentation How and why do historians, investigating the same topic, have different (or similar) interpretations of events/topics?

High School Project and Grading Rubric

This module integrates skills from the Common Core History/Social Studies 9-12 reading and writing standards and C3 Framework and Inquiry Arc into social studies instruction.  It draws upon instructional resources from various resources including:;; Stanford History Education Group; Reading, Thinking, and Writing About History; and teacher created instructional and assessment resources from the Red Clay Consolidated School District in Wilmington, Delaware. The module culminates in a gallery walk of student created evidence based argument presentations. By completing this module, students will build their social studies content knowledge as well as their reading, writing, and inquiry skills.
This document includes information to support teachers as they implement the instructional ideas in their classroom. The full instructional module should take 120-180 minutes. Additional time will be necessary for the actual student writing and researching. The guidance within this document is general in form, but includes specific information about historical sources, tools to support document analysis, instructional support, and relevant Common Core standards and C3 Framework indicators. The overall module question is: How do historians conduct research? Supporting questions include: How do historians form compelling and supporting questions? How do historians gather, source, and validate resources that are helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions? How do historians formalize their arguments and communicate their conclusions? And a final question of: How does the historian’s choice of questions and sources affect the historical narrative?
The instructional sequence in this module includes four parts.

  • Create Compelling Questions

  • Gather, Analyze, and Evaluate Evidence

  • Communicate Conclusions

  • Analyze and Compare Different Approaches Authors Take

Create Compelling Questions

How do historians conduct research? How do historians form compelling and supporting questions?
In this lesson students are exposed, perhaps for the first time, to the characteristics of solid compelling and supporting questions. Students are provided with examples of questions and are expected to identify the characteristics of compelling questions as open ended, engaging, and reflect enduring issues. Supporting questions, on the other hand, are considered the building blocks or steps toward answering the compelling question. How much practice with identifying, revising, and writing questions students will require is dependent upon the teacher’s assessment of students’ progress, the amount of time available to work with individual and cooperative groups of students, and whether students have been exposed to writing thesis or compelling questions in prior studies. The formative assessment will assist in evaluating whether additional or remedial work is required.
Once students are ready to try writing their own questions, a list of topics is shared with students. The final assessment of this module requires that students compare two presentations of similar topic/event, therefore, it is advisable to have at least two students research the same topic/event. Graphic organizers, appropriate for high school have been provided and used with success.
Common Core and C3 Framework connections
Common Core - Depending on how teachers introduce the compelling question (e.g. will students read any background material) students may have an opportunity to practice readings skills in the Common Core. The following ELA/Literacy CCR anchor standards have direct connections to this lesson:

Anchor Reading Standard 1

Anchor Writing Standard 7

Anchor Speaking and Listening Standard 1
C3 Framework – Dimension 1 of the C3 Framework requires students to take increasing responsibility for their learning so that by grade 12 they are able to construct questions and plan inquires more independently. The indicators in Dimension 1 describe the questioning and planning skills needed to initiate inquiry. The following indicators are relevant to Lesson 1:

D1.1/D1.2 – Constructing Compelling Questions

D1.3/D1.4 – Constructing Supporting Questions

D1.5 – Developing Helpful Sources

Gather, Analyze, and Evaluate Evidence:

How do historians conduct research? How do historians gather, source, and validate resources that are helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions?
This lesson continues the research process by having students research their topic. The first step in searching for sources is to determine what types of resources will best answer the compelling and supporting questions that students have created. Next students need to learn how to question the author by asking sourcing and contextual questions. The final step in this lesson is to determine the validity of the sources by corroborating sources as they pertain to the compelling and supporting questions.
Teachers will be the best source for determining how much instruction and practice students will require in order to conduct research. Included in the lesson materials are a research checklist that can be used as an interim assessment and a handout on how to cite sources using APA format for high school students.
Common Core and C3 Framework connections
Common Core - What sources are available and how much time is devoted to research may vary, but regardless of the variability, all Common Core reading standards are potentially relevant for students’ research. The module works well as a culminating activity to a particular unit of study and teachers know what accommodations and support their students will require. The following ELA/Literacy CCR anchor standards have direct connections to this lesson:

Anchor Reading Standards 1-10

Anchor Writing Standard 7

C3 Framework – Dimensions 2 and 3 are well supported by this lesson. While researching students are engaged in finding appropriate resources and making use of historical evidence. Students are involved making inferences and citing evidence from sources that support their questions, as well as identifying sources that may run counter to the arguments. These actions are found explicitly in the History Core of Dimension 2. Depending on the topic, indicators from the other core disciplines may be met. Core disciplines of Economics, Civics, and/or Geography can be applied as well. The specific topic/event is to be determined by the teacher.
Dimension 3 requires that students use various technologies and skills to find information that will help answer their compelling and supporting questions. For final product of this module, students will cite evidence and support their compelling and supporting questions with information that was gathered, gleaned and prioritized. The following indicators are relevant to Lesson 2:

D1.5 – Determining Helpful Sources

D2.His3 – Change, Continuity, and Context

D2.His4-D2.His8 – Perspectives (D2.His.7-D2.His8 for grades 9-12 only)

D2.His9-D2.His13 – Historical Sources and Evidence

D3.1/D3.2 – Gathering and Evaluating Sources

Communicate Conclusions

How do historians conduct research? How do historians formalize their arguments and communicate their conclusions?

In this lesson, using the sources that have been gathered, students prioritize and categorize the sources while making decisions about how to present their argument and information. Students will determine how to use the evidence from the sources to develop claims and counterclaims. Students will also corroborate sources and make inferences and draw conclusions. In initiating this lesson, teachers should share and discuss the product rubric that will be used. We found it helpful to have a dual columned rubric that contains a specific rubric for students to monitor their own progress and the other side for teachers to evaluate the final product.

Teachers may find it necessary to teach or review: claims, counterclaims, evidence, and/or paraphrasing. has multiple resources for teachers. The Writing Strategies unit is a research based resource that includes instructional strategies for writing with evidence.
Common Core and C3 Framework connections
Common CoreThis lesson is product oriented and aligns well to the CCSS-ELA. Through practice and experience with gathering and analyzing sources to sharing findings, students will become aware of how others use evidence to support claims. This lesson should not be conducted in isolation, but students should be encouraged to participate in peer editing and other collaborative activities. The following ELA/Literacy CCR anchor standards have direct connections to this lesson:

Anchor Reading Standards 1-10

Anchor Writing Standards 1-10

Anchor Speaking and Listening Standards 1-5

C3 Framework – In this final lesson, students are producing evidence of their understanding of social studies content and research and communication processes. Students are encouraged to revise, edit, and supplement as they create their final product. While this module does not directly address the “Taking Informed Action” indicators, this module could easily be repeated with different local, regional, or global problems as the foci. The following indicators are relevant to Lesson 3:

D1.5 – Determining Helpful Sources

D3.3/D3.4 – Developing Claims and Using Evidence

D4.1-D4.4 – Communicating and Critiquing Conclusions
Analyze and Compare Different Approaches Authors Take

How do historians formalize their arguments and communicate their conclusions? How and why do historians, investigating the same topic have different (or similar) interpretations of events/topics?

This summative task has been designed to share and celebrate the work of students who have become, in a micro-sense, mini historians. The final gallery walk should not be eliminated from this module as the activity affords students an opportunity to practice social studies discourses. Students will realize that social studies involves being able to identify and contemplate various perspectives and that bias is inherit in discourses, if not all discourses.

The teacher should take care in displaying pairs of presentations of similar event/topic so comparing the selected viewpoint of the historian is easily accomplished. Teachers may want to consider using student evaluations when determining the final assessment grade. We have invited staff and community members to participate in enjoying the products of the Microhistory module. We would encourage others to do so.

High School United States Modern History Project
United States History 1945- 2000

Historical Events and Phenomena

Examine and trace the effects of one selected topic by researching the political, economic, cultural, social, and/ or international changes it brought to the United States.


  1. Select a Topic (from list provided)

  1. Write a compelling investigative question

  1. Gather Sources: (must use at least four sources in addition to your textbook). Sources may include but are not limited to:


Web page


Magazine or journal

Newspaper article



Political cartoons

Census records

Court records

Diaries and journals





Research data







  1. Create and submit an annotated bibliography

  1. Draft your evidence-based argument

  1. Display their research at the United States History Research Fair. The attached rubric provides more detail; however, your trifold poster will need to include these basic elements:

  • Topic and investigative question

  • Works Cited/ Bibliography

  • Visual and Primary Source Evidence

  • Written Evidence-Based Argument

High School Topic List


Power of the President



Rise in Journalism


Election of 1960


Election of 1968


JFK Assassination


Korean War


Challenger Explosion


Election of 2000


Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan


Clinton Impeachment


Gulf of Tonkin


Tet Offensive


Massacre at Mai Lai




Jackie Robinson Breaks Color Barrier


McCarthy Hearings


Rosenberg Trial


O.J. Trial




Brown vs. Board of Ed


Montgomery Bus Boycott


March on Selma


Freedom Riders


Voting Act of 1965


Bay of Pigs


Rise of Berlin Wall


Fall of Berlin Wall


Moon Landing




Roe v. Wade


Nixon Visits China


RFK Assassination


Kent State




NAFTA Signing


Iran Hostage Crisis


Election of 1980


AIDs in America


S&L Scandal


Iran Contra Scandal


Charlie Wilson’s War


Persian Gulf War


1996 Olympics Bombing


1972 Munich Olympics Hostages


Michael Jackson- The King of Pop


Election of 1976



Saturday Night Live effects on politics in America


Little Rock 9


Birth Control


U2 Spy Plane


Peace Corps


Effect of Seinfeld on American culture


Star Wars: How ILM changed movies


Air Traffic Controller’s Strike 1980




Title IX


CNN 24 Hour News and its effects on American Culture


S.T.A.R. W.A.R.S- Reagan Initiative


The PC


The mobile phone


Clean Air Act


Return of Panama Canal to Panama


The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson- Impact of US


Dodgers move to L.A.


Tiger Woods turns Pro


Malcolm X


Oil rationing 1970s


Pentagon Papers published


Passage of 26th Amendment-

Voting Age to 18

Sandra Day O’Connor

1ST Female Supreme Court Justice


Doug Williams-

1st Black QB in Super Bowl


Sylvester Croom- 1st Black SEC Coach


Andy Warhol Influence

Beatles on Ed Sullivan


Bob Dylan

Cuban Missile Crisis

MLK/ “I have a Dream Speech”

Introduction of Color Television


Opening of Disneyland


Nixon/ Kennedy Debates


Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring


Opening of the first Walmart


The First Super Bowl


Oklahoma City Bombing

NAFTA Agreement


High School Topic List

Graphic Organizer

Writing your Compelling Investigative Question

  1. Begin by doing quick research on your topic. This can be done by reading about your topic in the textbook or online. Create a list of things that interest you about your topic below.

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