The Notables: Making Significant Historical Personalities Come Alive

The study of significant people in history can be an engaging, meaningful, and integrated learning experience for upper primary school students. In this article I describe a project, The Notables, which immersed my Grade 4 students in a series of social studies and language arts activities designed to help them understand the concept of significance, learn about historical people and events, and develop important research and presentation skills.

In the study of history, key historical concepts such as significance, causation, continuity and change, and evidence are “essential to historical enquiry, the generation of hypotheses, and the appropriate selection, deployment and organization of historical details” (Ashby & Edwards, 2010, p. 35). These concepts are “tools for doing history, for thinking historically” (Seixas, 2010, p. 16). This means that helping young students understand the concept of significance can help them learn about the past. It can help them structure their learning to fully appreciate the role and contributions of key figures in history. 

The Notables project uses the concept of significance to integrate language arts curriculum objectives (e.g., developing nonfiction reading skills, research skills, and presentation skills) with key primary social studies objectives, such as students being able to organize information, convey information for particular purposes and audiences, and appreciate the importance of key groups and individuals in their communities (Singapore Ministry of Education, 2008). The concept of significance helps students focus their reading and research, organize information, and understand the role key people have played in  their history.

The Notables has been adapted and used successfully with primary students ages 8-12 years old in various international schools. The activities described in this article were implemented with 9-10 year old students at the Singapore American School but can be modified to fit in any curriculum that requires students to learn about historical figures.


An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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