Thinking Like a Historian with Newsela

Empower students to think like a historian using Newsela
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Thinking Like a Historian Screencast

About This Strategy

Students understand history best when they're able to think like historians: when they're able to ask the same types of questions historians do, draw the same types of parallels historians do, and make the same kinds of connections historians do. However, this line of thinking is often foreign to most students. When students use the Annotation and Write Prompt features of Newsela along with Stanford History Education Group's "Historical Thinking Skills Chart," they are provided with scaffolds to think like historians. The scaffolds included on the "Historical Thinking Chart" have students focus on Sourcing, Contextualization, Corroboration, and Close Reading to better understand historical documents. The combination of Newsela Annotations, Write Prompts, and the Historical Thinking Skills Chart results in deep analysis and the ability to truly think like a historian.

Before Reading Implementation Steps

Teacher Preparation and Planning:

  1. Select an appropriate Newsela Text Set. The selected Text Set should be related to the current unit of study.

  2. From the selected Text Set, take screenshots of the images and/or graphics from one or two of the articles. Use these graphics to model the use of the Historical Thinking Skills chart, as in the resources section.

    • Display the first image, and allow students approximately 1 minute to take notes on what they see.

    • Then, display the questions on the second slide. Allow students 2-3 minutes, in a group, to address those questions and share out responses.

    • Display the next slide, which includes the caption. Again, give students approximately 1 minute to take notes, then 2-3 minutes to discuss the next slide's questions. Complete these three for as many images as desired, until students understand the questions.

  3. Share the Historical Thinking Skills Chart (in resource section below) with students, so they see the full chart and what they'll be reading for.

  4. Group students and assign each group one section of the Historical Thinking Skills Chart to address while reading the selected Newsela text or Text Set.

    • Newsela PRO users can have students answer the chart's questions on the article, using Newsela Annotations.

    • Non-PRO users can use a notetaker sheet, like the one in the Resources section.


Student Preparation:

  1. View the Historical Thinking Skills Chart and in order to understand the questions that are being asked.

During Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Assign the Newsela article or Text Set. When creating the assignment, decide whether to provide it at the Newsela Recommended reading level for each student or adjust the reading level to a particular grade for all students.

  2. Students should read the article independently, annotating for answers to the questions on their assigned section of the Historical Thinking Skills Chart.

    • PRO users may create annotations on the article.

    • Non-PRO users may choose to use the Notetaker Sheet.

      • Students should take notes on the "Questions" column of the Notetaker Sheet.

After Reading Implementation Steps

  1. After reading, students should share their answers to the chart's questions in their groups and come to consensus on a response to each item.

  2. In groups, students should then use the "Prompts" column of the notetaker sheet to write a one-paragraph summary of what they learned about the document by using these questions.

  3. Each group should share their summary with the rest of the class.

  4. Students should complete a reflection on the Historical Thinking Skills Chart.

    • Newsela PRO users might consider editing the Write Prompt to include the reflection questions.

    • Non-PRO users can use a Reflection handout like the one in the resources section.  

  5. Completion of this strategy should be a springboard to independent student completion of Document-Based Questions (DBQs). To learn more about Document-Based Questions consult the Document-Based Questions Using Newsela strategy in the BetterLesson Lab.

Recommended Newsela Texts or Text Sets

Primary Sources

  • Grade Level: 6-12
  • Content Area: Social Studies

African American Leaders at the Turn of the Century

  • Grade Level: 9-12
  • Content Area: English Language Arts, Social Studies

Understanding Seminal US Texts

  • Grade Level: 9-12
  • Content Area: English Language Arts, Social Studies

Aztec, Inca, and Maya

  • Grade Level: 6-8
  • Content Area: English Language Arts, Social Studies

EL Modifications

Due to limited vocabulary exposure, EL students may need support with more analytical tasks. Teachers can provide this support by chunking the use of the chart and providing language supports throughout the strategy to help EL students experience success.


  • During the initial exposure to the Historical Thinking Skills strategy, strategically assign EL students to the "Sourcing" group. The questions in this section of the chart are more accessible to EL students because their answers can be found without much analysis. After students have experienced success with the "Sourcing" section, move them up to the "Contextualization" section, and so on.

  • Teachers may provide correctly completed examples of the Historical Thinking Skills Chart as a model for students who struggle with language acquisition.

  • On the Notetaker sheet, teachers may choose to provide a paragraph frame, rather than individual sentence stems, for the paragraph summary.

  • Teachers can provide anchor charts to focus student thinking, as in the Resources section.

Teacher Tips

Aimee Tolleson
BetterLesson Instructional Coach
  • Teachers are the best gauge of next steps for their individual students. After completing one section of the Historical Thinking Skills Chart with a group, teachers may decide that students need more practice and might choose to assign a different section of the chart with the same article. However, some students may have the stamina and understanding to complete the whole chart with a group or even on their own. Teachers should pay special attention to student understanding and need before overwhelming them with the entire chart on their own.

  • To gain diverse perspectives, teachers may assign a topic and then allow students to search the Newsela Library for an article with which to complete the Historical Thinking Skills chart.

  • For students who struggle with the Close Reading section of the chart, teachers might consider having them practice with Newsela's Cultivating Close Reading Texts Sets, linked in the Resources section.

Consulted Resources

In developing this strategy, the resource linked below from the Stanford History Education Group was consulted.