Curriculum Differentiation Historical Thinking History Lesson Plans

The Evergreen Lesson, Online

Preparing to teach World History can be overwhelming, and this year’s uncertainty—for families, for schools, and for society—intensifies this. Attempting “coverage” of World History is a fool’s game in the best of times, and its impossibility is fully manifest amidst the disruption that is 2020.

The evergreen lesson is simple: putting primary sources in front of students is always useful and is the basis for quickly constructed lesson plans.

Emergency Asynchronous Teaching

Like most teachers I had a rough ride during the abrupt transition to distance learning last spring. The power of collaboration got me and many others through. The World History folks in my building put the collaborative in collaborative team, and together we got through. Thank you Ali, Bethaney, and Lomumba!


One of our go to plans was pair the explanation of some content with a primary source. Student interpretation of the source functioned as a quick formative assessment. After short readings or screencasts on imperialism in the late Nineteenth Century, students interpreted the Ganghwa Island Incident (1875), Japanese print showing Japanese troops landing on Ganghwa Island just off the coast of Korea.

Students examined the image and responded to this prompt:

Explain how the image above shows imperialism. Check your notes or resources for definitions of imperialism, and explain how you see imperialism in the image.

Students responded through a Google form, and their answers revealed the extent of of their understanding of the basic meaning of imperialism as expanding control. Teachers then gave students an opportunity to revise their answers in light of feedback. One upside of electronic assignments is eases of revision and resubmission.

World War One

For World War One the World History team simplified a more complex lesson on the global nature of the war that we have done in class. Again, students showed understanding by explaining the context of primary sources. The second page contains images for students to use to show dimensions of the war.

Like with the imperialism lesson, this was premised on some direct instruction about the contextual elements. All of use also returned a lot of work for revision in which students simply copied the caption that accompanied the image. My recommendations with the use of images like this: do not over design the process for students and insist on interpretation. Everything flows from those principals.


This fall my history classes have been synchronous , first hybrid and fully distance learning for more than a month. In my district’s version of hybrid all of the students “attended” Google Meet for class, but most were at home and some were at school. This made the transition to distance learning seamless, from a learning and instruction standpoint. The upside to being synchronous has been student-student collaboration.

In AP World History, the Evergreen Lesson makes use of the textbook (Bentley and Ziegler’s Traditions and Encounters, 5e). I’m a moderate on the debate over the use of textbooks in history classes: it’s a source, but neither the class nor the only source for it. In history classes, ditching the textbook is not sufficient to encouraging student construction of knowledge, as teachers can use slide lectures and videos to supply a single narrative for students to absorb. Used in moderation, the textbook provides background that supports student inquiry and interpretation.

In distance learning the textbook also provides the advantage of moving students eyes from screen to page; and, as a master AP World teacher remarked on twitter recently, it provides an “anchor” for students tracking lots of different classes across multiple platforms. One key to using the textbook well in class is to focus on the things that many students might skip. Primary source images and texts in textbooks provide easily accessed documents for interpretation and analysis.

Ming and Qing China

The maps and images in an AP World History textbook chapter are accessible starting points for analyzing patterns of continuity and change. I recently did this with chapter 26 in Traditions and Encounters, which covers early modern East Asia. Students worked in pairs in breakout rooms, from our class Google Meet. Each pair had an image from the Chinese sections of the chapter and their task was to find one continuity and one change. This served to introduce or review those sections of the reading and practice their analysis, and it only took a few minutes to put together by copying and pasting images onto Slides that students could edit. I monitored their work by moving between slides and in out of their breakout rooms.

Early Modern Islamic Empires

Chapter 27 in Traditions and Encounters, 5e, describes the Ottoman, Mughal, and Safavid Empires, a topic ripe for comparison. The textbook includes reproduction of seven magnificent miniature paintings from manuscripts from these Empires, including the illustration of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent below:

Miniature painting of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent on military campaign. Source: Bentely & Ziegler, 5e, chapter 27

Synchronous learning with Google Meet allows students to work in small groups With this lesson, I first had pairs of students closely examine one of images to identify details and make connections to key concepts or developments. This is excellent practice for using images as evidence and contextualization. Then, student pairs Met with another pair to compare their images. This work was completed on a Google Jamboard that was set to “everyone with the link can edit.” After class I changed the setting to view only and posted it for students to use a review tool.

The logistics of two sets of breakout rooms were complicated, at least the first time through, but the basis of the lesson is not. Close examination of visual sources is possible in every chapter. It can also open up a discussion of which visuals are primary sources, which are not, and what that means.

Students interpreting and analyzing sources is always useful, and often can be organized quickly. This was an important piece of my advice to new(er) AP World teachers during the before times, and it is easily adaptable to learning online.

By Eric Beckman

I am a veteran high school history teacher interested in decolonizing history curricula, anti-racist pedagogy, and e-learning.

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