Connections to History

Connections to History

What do you know about writing a summary? This simple query kicked off a robust lesson during Class 7 history. To help answer this important question, history teacher Kymberly Mattern shared a technique to help differentiate between re-telling and summarizing called “Somebody Wanted But So Then.”

Despite its tongue-twisting title, this framework simply indicates what pieces of information should be pulled to synthesize a long piece of text or other source. The rules are as follows: Somebody (who/what group is the story about?), Wanted (what is the goal/motivation?), But (what is the conflict/problem?), So (what did they try to do?), Then (resolution: how was the problem solved?)

“History is all about perspective and point of view,” Ms. Mattern said, noting that there is no singular way to summarize a story. “You focus on the important details and decide what information will best support your research.”

After watching a video demonstrating how to use this method, the students tried it together as a class by summarizing Westward Expansion. Next, their teacher played a catchy, upbeat song to help get the strategy stuck in the students’ heads. (This prompted an enthusiastic sing-along and the class doing the wave from their desks.)

This over-arching lesson was designed to support the seventh graders as they embark on an in-depth research project. After learning what historians do—most important of which is asking questions—students interviewed a member of their family about an event in U.S. history that impacted them personally and then chose a related topic to research.

As an example, one student interviewed her grandpa who fought in the Vietnam War. Drawing from his anecdotes, she decided to investigate the history of military benefits.

Students have learned every step of the research process, Ms. Mattern explained, noting that they selected a topic that isn’t too focused or too broad, posed open-ended questions, and selected appropriate data using primary and secondary sources. Middle School Librarian Natasha Goldberg also helped identify numerous audio and written sources for students to scour during Library.

Students, too, learned various note-taking strategies such as “Cornell Style Notes” to aid them in their process. “It helped me highlight a main idea,” said one student. “My grandma is from India, so I chose to research immigration laws.”

Another student, who shared that she was researching “why people don’t talk about antisemitism until a person of influence brings it up,” noted that her grandma’s husband was a Holocaust survivor. “He passed away, but I was able to interview my grandma and learn about his experience,” she said.

Other wide-ranging topics included the effects of September 11th, Japan after World War II, engineering in the Vietnam War, and climate change and its influence on natural disasters in the U.S. “I used to live in California and I had to quarantine in 2017 because I have asthma and the air was so bad,” the student researcher said. Her parents, the interviewees, worked near the mountains where fires had broken out and offered their first-hand experiences, too, to further strengthen her piece.

For the remainder of the class period, the students worked diligently on their research, and, after winter break, will use their findings to inform a writing assignment in English.