History class should be a space where students learn to think and reason, not just memorize. We want students to be able to answer not only “What happened?” but “How do you know?” and “Why do you believe your interpretation is valid?” Such questions align with the Common Core State Standards, which specify that college-ready students be able identify an author’s perspective, develop claims, and cite evidence to support their analyses.
Penn GSE Professor Abby Reisman helped develop the award-winning Reading Like a Historian curriculum, which develops students’ critical thinking skills. Here are her tips for history class:
 Use texts as evidence. Shifting through multiple interpretations of an event is neither natural nor automatic. Few students recognize that every historical narrative is also an argument or an interpretation from its author. Students can learn to weigh and evaluate competing truth claims, consider the author’s motive and purpose, and draw inferences about the broader social and political context. These are especially important skills in a world where information, both useful and bogus, is a mouse click away.
 Develop historical reading skills. Train students in the four key strategies historians use to analyze documents: sourcing, corroboration, close reading, and contextualization. With these skills, students can read, evaluate, and interpret historical documents in order to determine what happened in the past.
 Demonstrate through modeling. Students greatly benefit from seeing their teacher think aloud while reading a historical document first. A teacher should work through the text, evaluating the author’s reliability, and raising broader questions about the event in question. Eventually, students will be ready to try it on their own and in small groups.
 Build a document-based lesson. Reading Like a Historian lesson plans generally include four elements:
 Engage in whole-class discussion. Text-based discussions allow students to develop a deeper understanding of the subject and internalize higher-level thinking and reasoning. In effective text-based discussions, students articulate their shifting claims, reexamine the available evidence, and interrogate their classmates’ reasoning.