Aiding Students Understanding of History through a Thematic Approach

Brian Schaeffer, '10, Leah A. Nillas

Research output: Faculty Advisor of Undergraduate Research


The chronological teaching of history is historically the dominant form of history instruction in the United States. However, the inquiry into teaching history through the thematic approach has recently come to the forefront. Themes or patterns that are used to teach history act as the vehicle for organization that students use to understand historical concepts (Davies, 2001). The purpose of this study is to understand the effectiveness of teaching history thematically. I conducted my research in a freshman level high school classroom of twenty-seven students. I taught lessons using specific themes such as: breakout of war for the reasons of World War 1, culture/school of thought for Confucianism and other religions in China, cycle of rule for the Dynastic Cycle in China, reform/mistakes for the emergence of communism in China, and rejection for present day China. I documented my teaching experience through journals and reflections, solicited students' responses through after lesson exit slips, and analyzed recordings of my teaching. My goal was to understand how the use of themes helped students learn historical events and concepts. Future history teachers can learn from my experience in using common themes in teaching history.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2010


  • Education
  • Mathematics

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