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The Debrief

Social Studies Matters: Current Events Connections

Tiana Miller-Leonard
Mar 23, 2020

As someone devoted to social studies education, I am constantly asking myself the same two questions: How can I make history relevant to learners; and how can I help learners contextualize the world around them? When I was a student, the teachers who did both made social studies feel real and important to me. They pushed me to think about the world in new ways, and inspired me to pursue learning about history and about the modern world.

I designed the History Comes to Life Collection on Newsela Social Studies in order to provide an engaging solution to those two key questions that are always on our minds, as social studies educators. No strategy more effectively responds to both needs than bringing together historical primary sources and current events. While primary sources confront students with the experiences, challenges, motivations, and ideas of generations past, current events force students to engage with the realities of their present. When studied together, they allow students to make connections between the past and the present, they provide indispensable context for modern-day issues, and they make historical problems feel real and human, rather than abstract words on a textbook page. In other words, primary sources and current events make history come to life. 

Newsela is uniquely positioned to bring primary sources and current events together. Every day, Newsela publishes new articles on current events, both about the United States and the rest of the world. Newsela Social Studies also offers a rich archive of primary sources from United States history to world history, including texts like personal letters, speeches, legal documents, newspaper articles, and much more. The history comes to life collection brings the two together, with all the instructional supports teachers need to use them in their classrooms. 

The history comes to life collection is made up of three units: the United States, then and now; past and present around the world; and civic ideas over time. Each unit is broken into high-interest themes, such as immigration, science and technology, and resistance to oppression, with every theme framed with a compelling question. Themes are then further broken down into instructional sets, which are combinations of primary sources and current events articles, and provide student-facing supporting questions that relate to the compelling question of the theme. Teachers will also find a suggested implementation guide that includes details about why each of the texts were included, as well as 2-4 activity ideas that support using the curated texts in the classroom. Suggested activities focus on developing social studies reasoning skills, like compare and contrast, causation, and change over time and include exercises like close reading activities, paired-text activities, essay prompts, debates, and group projects. These activities are intended for flexible use in the classroom, as homework, or as formative assessments, rather than as strict step-by-step lesson instructions, and also include printable worksheets that teachers can use to scaffold learning.

As Newsela’s historical archive grows, and we continue to publish more and more articles on current events, we will also continue to grow the collection so that it remains relevant and responsive to the major issues of the moment. We truly believe that this collection will make history come alive for students as they explore the past from the lens of the present, and vise versa. The preview below provides an example of what teachers can expect to find as they navigate the collection.

History Comes to Life: Primary Sources and Current Events collection

Explore the three units that comprise the History Comes to Life collection: The United States, Then and Now; Past and Present Around the World; and Civic Ideas Over Time.

Link: https://newsela.com/subject/social-studies/2000002787/493972/2000000860

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Theme: Social Movements

One theme focused on in the collection is Social Movements, a complex topic in American history. The instructional sets within this theme explore social movements from different angles, broadening the conversation from the modern day to encompass the larger picture of movements in U.S. history. 

Link: https://newsela.com/read/primary-source-bracero-jose-interview/id/28146/

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Instructional Set: A Long History with Mexico

This instructional set pays a special focus to the history of the Mexican-American border and the people who have crossed it. Students will read current events that highlight the present-day administration’s policies towards Mexican immigration, and they will contextualize them with accounts of people who lived in Texas when it was still part of Mexico, as well as workers in the Bracero program who were recruited to immigrate.The text below is a primary source interviewing José Parra, who participated in the on the Bracero Program 1940s and 1950s.

Link: https://newsela.com/read/primary-source-bracero-jose-interview/id/28146/

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