Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Who Am I? Help Students Explore Their Identity

57188443 - brand new green shoes from above on asphalt with who i am sign

Being an English language learner, in middle school, was a really difficult experience. I had many questions about my identity, and who I was as an individual. This was a result of the language shift, but a culture shift played a huge role in this complex narrative that played in my head as well.

As a result of this experience, it was so important for me (the teacher) to create a safe classroom culture where students can explore, discuss and more importantly, express their identity. One of the important benefits from being able to discuss one’s identity is for students to feel confident in who they are as individuals. At the same time, identity exploration in the classroom can help students to also develop an appreciation for diversity in their communities and ultimately be more empathetic for others.

A teacher can help to facilitate an activity in the classroom that focuses on identity expression by using prompts to get the conversation started. For example: ask students to explore some theme questions that deal with identity, such as “Who am I?” “What do I care about?” “What do I want others to know about me?”.

One of the hardest things for many of us to answer is “Who am I?” Help students explore this question by having them do an Ingredients of Me activity. We did this in my class, and my students’ answers looked a bit like this. This activity helped my students explore what they care about, who is in their immediate life, and what they do on a daily basis.

Sharing our answers with a small group allowed students to understand who their classmates are, and what responsibilities they had outside of the classroom. However, what’s so special about this activity is that students started to see how many things in common they had with their peers. They started to have side conversations about their interests.

Exploring identity in the classroom should be practiced regularly throughout the year. The teacher can take the above activity and extend the conversation by asking other questions focused on the theme of identity and knowing oneself. Examples of questions to explore with your students include:

  • “What was the hardest thing you’ve ever encountered? How did you deal with it? Who helped you along the way?”
  • “What inspires you? What drives your motivation to keep going?”
  • “What is the most important thing in your life?”
  • “What are the most meaningful relationships you currently have in your life?”

Here are additional resources for teaching about identity:

Watch a middle school class explore the theme of identity as they read and respond to the cultural and social experiences of characters in a variety of texts in Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 1, “Engagement and Dialogue.” Students learn to define their own identity and share their personal stories as well. Also, in workshop 8, students examine media representations of various cultural groups and how writers and artists from those groups represent themselves in their works. Students then represent themselves using photography and essays, and exhibit their work to the community.

Another way to discuss identity is to explore how people define themselves through their possessions. In Essential Lens: Disaster and Response collection, see the “Belongings from Home” activity. Students use the activity to analyze photographs of relocated farmers during The Great Depression. Some of the encamped people have musical instruments because this is a core of their identity, for example.

It’s important for students to explore their own identities in a safe learning environment, as this will help them to be more empathetic towards their own peers. Exploring identities in the classroom can dispel stereotypes and perceptions that we often have about specific groups of people, and instead allows us to build stronger relationships with each other.

Share your experiences, as well as additional activities and resources, on this topic in the comments.

Image copyright: badmanproduction / 123RF Stock Photo

What Does it Mean to Lead a Worthwhile Life?

Students develop argumentative and writing skills while working on a unit on ethics and justice. From Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

Students develop argumentative and writing skills during a unit on ethics and justice, from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

We hear from many teachers who are thinking about how to engage students in their communities and how to develop their students’ sense of citizenship. One way to do this is to ask students to identify issues they see in their communities and propose solutions. Another is to highlight professionals who work or have left a legacy of work for the advancement of social justice and community development as inspiration. Also, at a more personal level, teach students to consider how they may act positively and respectfully with other people both online and in face-to-face situations. Look to the following resources for ideas and activities to develop your students’ sense of community and agency, their problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and to introduce them to career paths that contribute to the greater good:

Start with a discussion about our behavior and attitudes towards others. In preparation for reading “The Children of Willesden Lane,” a memoir about a young pianist’s journey on the Kindertransport, history teacher Sheila Huntley engages her students in a discussion about what it means to be an outsider or outcast, and how the students’ actions and words can affect people. Students posit reasons we don’t always act when we see a wrong and what it takes before we act. Watch and read about the lesson in the series Teaching “The Children of Willesden Lane,” “Introducing the Universe of Obligation.” If not reading the book, you could structure this discussion around your content instead.

In Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 7, “Social Justice Action,” students read immigration stories, and participate in a discussion about social justice and taking action for change with the author. Students then develop a sense of agency as they write and revise persuasive letters to raise public awareness about the issues they’ve examined.  

In Making Meaning in Literature: A Video Library, Grades 6-8, program 6, “Dramatic Tableau,” watch 7th graders envision how they might respond in the situations that the characters find themselves in as they read The Watsons go to Birmingham, 1963. “Helping them to look at characters as people and try to personalize and make connections is something that I have found really is helpful and I know is an important thing to do.” –Dr. Jan Currence

In this lesson from Social Studies in Action, “The Individual in Society,” students are asked the following question: What role can an individual play in creating a just society? The teacher sets up a dilemma – a fictional nation on the verge of racial and ethnic strife – and students must ponder solutions using the viewpoints of different philosophers they have studied.

Democracy in America, program 5, “Civil Rights: Demanding Equality,” looks at guarantees of political and social equality, and the roles that individuals and government have played in expanding these guarantees to less-protected segments of society, such as African Americans, women, and the disabled.

The video for Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, “English in the Real World: A Sports Journalist,” demonstrates the interactive relationship between content knowledge, literacy practices, and social justice action in the workplace. Students often wonder how the work they do at school relates to their own lives and ask questions such as “How is this relevant to my life?” or “How can English be used to change the world?” Also see examples of math, social studies, and science applications. These videos can help students answer these questions and consider the types of careers that will inspire them and perhaps have a positive impact on the world and their community.

Explore the story of human resilience and perseverance. In the Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum video “Lives,” meet five people who illuminate the lives of others through photography.

Common Sense Media has K-12 curriculum for teaching digital citizenship skills. Students can build skills around critical thinking, ethical discussion, and decision making that they can apply to their online activities and relationships.

We welcome additional links to resources and ideas on this topic in the comments section.

What’s in a Debate

53793166 - render illustration of donkey and elephant icons on podium fronts, and us flag as a background.

Copyright: hafakot / 123RF

It happens every four years. Just when you think you’ve had it with the political campaign season, with the endless ads and diatribes, the presidential debates come along and breathe new life into the process. The debates offer a departure from scripted party-speak. Although the candidates strive to remain “on message,” responding to an opponent’s comments requires a good measure of spontaneity and wit. We watch and listen in the hope that it is our candidate who will deliver the zinger that will long be remembered.

Presidential debates make for fascinating viewing; they are also a launching pad for introducing students to a host of topics. From history to current events, civics to media literacy, debates–presidential and otherwise–provide teachers with endless possibilities to enrich learning.

Television: Altering Perceptions

In 1960, television changed forever how Americans would perceive presidential candidates. In America’s History in the Making, unit 20, “Egalitarian America,” you will find photos of Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, who starred in the first televised debates. The photographs underscore the impact that visual images can have on communication. How can appearance and body language influence the message a candidate hopes to deliver?  Those who watched the debate on television thought that Kennedy won the debate; those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon was the victor. What accounts for these differing reactions? Do the photographs offer clues?

You may want to conduct a similar activity in your classroom. Pick a short segment of a recently-held presidential or vice presidential debate. First, have students listen to the debate. Who won and why? Now, have students watch the segment on television. Have any opinions changed? Why or why not?

Examine History

There are many historical topics your students can debate. One helpful feature in the America’s History in the Making series is found under the Interactive tab. In the Balancing Sources exercise, you examine events from major eras of American history. You then select several sources to represent different perspectives of the historical event. For example, examine issues related to the transcontinental railroad. In what ways does the summary reveal the many issues related to the expansion of the railroad? How might you use this kind of activity to help students prepare a debate for and against expansion of the American railroad system?  Can this approach be used for all debate topics?

Activate Students’ Learning

Use the debate format in the classroom to give students opportunities to defend their positions on an issue. In preparing for debates, students must research and organize information. They also hone their skills in critical thinking, persuasion, public speaking, and teamwork.

In Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 7, “Social Justice and Action,” Laura Alvarez, a teacher at Melrose Elementary School in Oakland, California, uses debates to help her students grapple with issues that affect their lives. Alvarez helps her students conduct their research and gives them a five-step, debate-prep list:

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Identify someone who could address this problem.
  3. Write a thesis statement that states your opinion about the problem and its solution.
  4. Brainstorm arguments to support your opinion.
  5. Brainstorm counterarguments.

Alvarez understands that many of her fourth- and fifth-grade students may have strong opinions about the issues they discuss, but she ensures that students learn to support their opinions with logical evidence. Take time to review the instructional strategies most appropriate for middle school students who prepare for a debate. In what ways do these strategies help ensure that students are fully engaged in learning?

Bring Digital Literacy and Citizenship Skills to Your Class

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Ms. Ferrales students participate in a class discussion on the Haitian Revolution in Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

Before my class started blogging and creating digital stories, they had many questions regarding online use of blogs, social media platforms, and YouTube. Some students, rightfully so, were concerned about their privacy. Some students were more concerned about their communication and the digital footprint they would be leaving. As a result, before we were all comfortable with displaying our work digitally, we needed to address these concerns.

When it comes to digital citizenship, there are several elements (including elements of digital literacy) that are important to discuss and understand. Mike Ribble identifies 9 digital citizenship elements. In my classroom, I found myself covering the following:

Privacy/Security Many of my students were concerned that their blog posts would be read publicly. We had a conversation about ways to keep our work private on YouTube and blogging platforms. Of course, it still exists digitally; however, it’s important for them to know that they have options to keep their work private and to only share it with specific people.

I encourage students to make their work public, because that’s one of the ways we’re able to leave a professional digital footprint. As long as their work is professional and appropriate, it benefits them to share it publicly to create their digital portfolio and open themselves up to make professional connections.

In terms of security, students needed to familiarize themselves with options to keep their personal information private. It was also necessary to learn about virus protection, spam filters, and block options.

Digital Communication When it comes to communication, many students will be wary of writing and publishing online for the first time. Students are mostly concerned about being vulnerable with their thoughts and ideas, as well as their writing and composition. Encourage hesitant students to share their work with their peers before they publish. This will help alleviate some stress about other people reading their work, since it’s already been read by someone they know.

Encourage struggling writers to try out different platforms and see which ones are more comfortable for them to use. Many students might prefer the idea of micro-blogging, as opposed to blogging, and that’s perfectly fine. There are platforms such as Tumblr and Instagram that work really well as micro-blogging tools. Podcasts are another great platform for students to express their thoughts. In Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, “Writing for New Media,” watch as journalism students learn to consider the multiple perspectives of their audience and the importance of data collection while creating podcasts on the topics of their choice.

Digital Etiquette Just as there are etiquettes we need to adhere by in real life, there are ones we should follow in the digital world. It’s important for students to learn and understand that anything they put out in the digital world should exemplify their behaviour in the real world. Ask students this: “Would you say this to someone face to face?” If the answer is “no”, they should rethink publishing it.

Having a discussion about what digital citizenship means helps students to see that our presence digitally is no different than in real life. Our identities, work and behaviour need to always model professionalism as they tell the world more about who we are than we may realize. It’s also very vital for educators to remind students that once something is published, it has its own permanent place online, even with the delete option. This fact should not intimidate us or students, but it should be a reminder to only put work out there that shows that we’re good citizens.

For an example of how to bridge discussion skills from the face-to-face classroom to an online community, watch Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, “Designing the Classroom to Support Understanding.” Students practice respectfully and confidently discussing their ideas about controversial topics in the classroom and take those skills with them to online discussion forums for homework.

How are you teaching digital literacy and citizenship?

What Students Can Learn From Scientific Studies (Topic: Genetically Engineered Crops)

DNA_GE interactive

Learn about the process of genetic engineering and how it is used to develop new medicines in the DNA interactive.

The Issue: Genetically Engineered Crops

Since the first genetically engineered (GE) crops were approved for commercial use 20 years ago, debate has raged over whether they help or harm the environment, and whether foods that contain GE crops are safe to eat. (This concern is the driving force behind campaigns to require mandatory labeling for products that contain GE crops.)

In May the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a multi-year study that reviewed several decades of evidence on these questions from studies conducted around the world. The study was carried out by 20 experts from fields including biology, medicine, crop science, ecology, law and sociology.

Broadly, the report concludes that there is “no conclusive evidence” that GE crops harm the environment through effects such as out-competing other species and reducing biodiversity. It also finds “no substantiated evidence” that foods from GE crops are less safe than foods from non-GE crops. But the study also raised some concerns. Notably, some insect pests and weeds have evolved to be resistant GE crops or to weed-killers, which makes them much harder for farmers to control.

In the Classroom

The National Academies report is an excellent focus for discussions with high school biology and environmental science students about genetic engineering and concerns over genetic modification of plants. The study’s website allows readers to search findings and recommendations from the report and see the evidence that the committee reviewed on each topic – for example, the effects of GE crops on biodiversity on farms, or the evidence supporting or refuting linkages between eating GE crops and developing cancer, food allergies, or other health problems.

Unit 13 of Annenberg Learner’s Rediscovering Biology course, “Genetically Modified Organisms,” provides a detailed overview of how scientists genetically modify different types of organisms. The expert interview with Rebecca Goldburg, senior scientist with the advocacy group Environmental Defense, summarizes major concerns about environmental impacts of GE organisms. And Annenberg’s Genetic Engineering interactive shows how human understanding of genetics has evolved and enabled us to modify organisms.

The study is also a good peg for discussing how scientists tackle problems that cross boundaries between different fields. To analyze the impacts of GE crops and recommend ways to manage them, experts need to understand many different areas, including genetics, plant breeding, ecology, insects, environmental health, sociology (to assess how using GE crops affects farmers and rural communities), and law. According to members of the study committee, they each learned much from discussing studies and evidence with their colleagues.

Many complex problems require scientists to team with colleagues from different disciplines. And even when scientists work within their own fields, their work increasingly requires collaboration and communications skills, as well as understanding of scientific facts and concepts. Annenberg Learner’s Michele McLeod examines why scientists need to collaborate and communicate in this recent post.

To explore this theme using the GE crops report, look at the panel members’ backgrounds and ask your students: What could this person tell you about GE crops? Or try the same approach with another inter-disciplinary problem, such as the spread of Zika virus. How could a weather expert, or a psychologist, help governments develop strategies for curbing Zika outbreaks? Discussions like these can help students think about what other science courses they may want to take, and about the power of teams to solve problems.

What Immigration Stories Teach Us

LOH_PAPER SON_lowI love immigration stories. I love reading them. I love teaching them. And, I love writing them.

When I was teaching fourth grade at a school in Southern California, I wanted to teach about Angel Island. Chinese immigrants played an important part of our nation’s history, especially California’s history. Yet, there was a dearth of children’s stories about Chinese-Americans being detained at Angel Island. My fourth graders had no idea that Chinese immigrants were unfairly victimized by the Chinese Exclusion Act; they didn’t know that Chinese laborers suffered from overt racism and discrimination. They also didn’t know that Chinese immigrants built cities, railroads, and industries. As such, I was inspired to co-write Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to AmericaI’m proud to mention that it has been nominated for a California Young Reader Medal Award. It’s an immigration story about a boy who has to endure the interrogations and long detentions at Angel Island.

Considering the upcoming U.S. presidential election and the refugee crisis, immigration issues seem to be at the forefront. We have not always treated immigrants well. Immigration stories and teaching about immigration allow teachers and students to view immigrants and refugees from a more humanistic viewpoint. (Read “Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy” in Scientific American to learn how reading fiction improves our ability to understand others.) In April 2016, I attended the National EdTPA Conference in Savannah, Georgia. I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Pedro Noguera speak. He noted that immigrant kids keep our communities functioning. He said, “We always gain from immigration. History shows immigration has always been good for America.”

To help students understand the complexities and nuances of immigration, teachers need to recognize that immigrant stories are rich and powerful. Immigrant stories need to be analyzed and studied, not just read. In The Expanding Canon, session 4, learn how to apply inquiry-based instruction, which can be employed with immigrant stories to help students dig deeper. For example, find lesson plans featuring Tomas Rivera’s And The Earth Did Not Devour Him and Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican. In the plan, students were asked to interview Mexican immigrants, conduct research, engage in dramatic readings, and write their own memoirs. One of the questions that students were asked to think about is: How did the U.S. government feel about immigrants? This question forces students to consider historical, social, and political contexts of immigration.

In Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 7, “Social Justice and Action,” students are asked to examine Alma Flor Ada’s My Name is Maria Isabel, Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising, and Paul Yee’s Tales from Gold Mountain. Students are positioned to be agents of change and are charged with writing persuasive letters to raise public awareness.

Look for additional works to support Paper Son in Teaching Multicultural Literature, which features several Asian-American immigration stories and explores historical and contemporary immigration issues. The workshop has students reading An Na’s A Step From Heaven about a Korean immigrant, Laurence Yep’s Dragon’s Gate about a Chinese immigrant, Pegi Deitz Shea’s Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl’s Story about a Hmong immigrant, and more.

So, why are immigration stories important? Because we all benefit from immigration, we’re all affected by immigration, and we can all learn from immigration.

What is Huntington’s Disease?

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Dr. Nancy Wexler of the Hereditary Disease Foundation and Columbia University recounts her research on the demographics, symptoms, and genetic cause of Huntington’s Disease in The Brain, module 12.

According to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, Huntington’s Disease is an inherited brain disorder that results in the progressive loss of both mental facilities and physical control. The disease usually emerges when a person is between 30 and 50 years old and can gradually lead to death. There is no effective cure for the disease, but there are ways to relieve the symptoms.

In The Brain: Teaching Modules, program 12, “Huntington’s Disease,” watch as Dr. Nancy Wexler discusses her research on the demographics and causes of the disease. Look at the moral issues surrounding DNA testing to determine an individual’s risk of developing the disease.

Gene therapy, replacing defective genes with normal genes, is a technique researchers have investigated to treat diseases like Huntington’s. Consider the implications of gene therapy along with other types of genetic engineering using the DNA interactive.  Discussion questions can be found here.

Teaching Multicultural Literature: Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month 

AmPassMaxineHongKingstonDuring Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, explore Annenberg Learner resources to discover the rich history, cultures, and personal stories of Americans of Asian and Pacific Island heritage.

Students come to understand the plight of Japanese-Americans in World War II as they read poetry by Lawson Fusao Inada in the The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School, “Critical Pedagogy: Abiodun Oyewole and Lawson Fusao Inada.”

New York City students explore “dual identity” by reading the literary works of authors Gish Jen, Tina Yun Lee, and Lensey Namioka. As students discuss the works, you’ll see effective teaching strategies, including peer facilitation circles, in action. See “Engagement and Dialogue” of Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades.

Maxine Hong Kingston, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, writes stories that explore balancing cultural values with the expectations of American society. Read about her life and works in American Passages, “Search for Identity.”

Share additional resources in the comments.

Diet, exercise, and weight: Why we are what we eat

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Researchers lead by anthropologist Herman Pontzer used GPS units and heart rate monitors to track the physical activity of the Hadza in Tanzania. Photo from Against All Odds, unit 27.

Anyone who has struggled to lose weight knows that it can be a long, difficult process. But a study published this month in the journal Obesity offered new insights into just how hard it is, and why: Dieters’ own bodies resist their efforts to shed pounds.

In the study, federal health researchers followed 16 contestants from the television show The Biggest Loser for six years after they competed in 2009. They found that most of the subjects regained all or nearly all of the weight they had lost – sometimes over 100 pounds. A few contestants were even heavier at the end of the study than before they entered the competition.

“It is frightening and amazing,” Dr. Kevin Hall, a coauthor of the study, told the New York Times. “I am just blown away.”

It’s the latest addition to a growing body of evidence challenging the idea that as long as people burn enough calories, they can eat as much as they want without gaining weight. In fact, experts say, it’s very hard to change how much energy our bodies use every day. We can’t control our basal metabolic rate – the energy we use for basic functions like breathing – which accounts for roughly three-quarters of our daily energy use. We can control how much we exercise, but that’s only a fraction of our total energy use. And when we dial that portion up, our bodies dial down our basal metabolism to compensate.

Unit 27 of Annenberg Learner’s statistics program Against All Odds describes a study by Hunter College anthropologist Herman Pontzer that illustrated this process. Pontzer measured daily energy use by members of the Hadza, nomadic hunter-gatherers who live on the open savannah in Tanzania. He found that although the Hadza were much more physically active than white-collar American or European office workers, they burned about the same amount of calories. Pontzer concluded that Hadza used more energy for physical activity than Westerners, but less when their bodies were resting.

Other factors also limit what we can accomplish through exercise. Use the running interactive in Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions to see how running affects body conditions such as fluid and electrolyte balances. These parameters limit how far we can push ourselves during strenuous exercise although elite athletes learn to manage them and push farther. Note also that the elite runners in this interactive burn 5 to 9 calories per minute, so even if they run for a full hour, they would consume fewer than 600 calories. That workout could be more than offset by eating a hefty sandwich.

These studies send a clear message for managing weight: what we eat matters much more than how much energy we burn, and is also more within our control. While exercise provides many benefits and can help us regulate our weight, physical activity alone is not an effective strategy for losing weight.

Teaching Students to Analyze Sources of Information

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Students analyze primary and secondary sources, from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

As a result of the civil war in Syria, more than 4 million people have fled Syria since the conflict started. This situation, along with war and injustice in other countries such as Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan and many more, has resulted in a global refugee crisis. As refugees seek to move to safer places, countries struggle with managing the flow of people and the issues that arise when new communities are introduced to existing ones.

With trending hashtags such as #RefugeeCrisis #SyrianRefugees and #RefugeesWelcome and a U.S. presidential election on the horizon, there is no doubt that students encounter such devastating stories on social media and the news, and multiple views about how countries should (or shouldn’t) help refugees. I decided that I have a duty to help my students understand and critically engage on such topics, as they do impact our lives.

However, I am also wary that I need to help my students learn how to identify biases and different perspectives when reading, researching, and engaging with such topics. The media and news contain a lot of information that needs to be questioned and analyzed before helping students to form their own opinions about the issues at hand.

Here are some steps I used to guide students through a research project:

  1. First, I asked my students to form groups of 3-4 people.
  2. Next, students were required to select a topic of focus related to refugees and immigration. Here are some of the suggested topics: area/region study, country study, causes, aid missions, personal stories, response to crisis, etc.
  3. Once they had chosen their topics and done a bit of research, they needed to select a few websites to assess the information, biases, and perspectives that are presented.

Some questions to consider when analyzing the resources

  • What is the overall goal/mission of the article or resource? Who is presenting and sponsoring the information?
  • What is the information presented trying to convince you of?
  • How is the information being presented to you (data, opinion, facts), and where did the information come from? Are you able to easily verify the source of the information?
  •  Are there commercials/advertisements on the website? How do these additions help to drive the website’s main mission or show a possible bias?
  • Are there any organizations/companies that are linked to this site? What stakes do they have in presenting this information?
  • Does any of the information presented on the site contain discriminatory/stereotypical messages? If so, what language or images are used as evidence of discrimination and stereotyping?

4. Students were asked to present their findings to the rest of the class in order to learn from each other’s analysis and perspectives on assessing research material.

This activity not only teaches students to research and analyze sources on their own, but it also teaches them to assess the information that is given to them. In a world where much information is manipulated and/or changing, students begin to see the importance of engaging critically with informational texts.

To see students learning how to analyze primary and secondary sources, watch Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, “Identifying Evidence From Multiple Sources.” Watch another lesson that guides students on how to write about a complex cause and/or issue in “Making Writing Explicit in Social Studies.”

Share how you are teaching students to analyze web sources in the comments below.