Teaching Guides

History in the Present Tense: Engaging Students Through Inquiry and Action

Teaching Guide. By Douglas Selwyn and Jan Maher. 2003.
A guide to a different way of teaching history—start from today and keep asking questions.

Time Periods: All US History
Themes: Media

hpresentIn this practical guidebook, Douglas Selwyn and Jan Maher propose a different way of teaching history — start from today and keep asking questions. As students investigate possible answers, they make connections across miles and centuries. Along the way, they experience that essential insight of the social studies: Point of view has everything to do with how one perceives the world. To this end, each chapter explores a particular kind of project that is centered on students’ concerns, but connected to core curriculum content and concepts in history, geography, civics, and economics.

Projects include timelines, collages, photodocumentaries, and more. While students dig deeply into issues of personal relevance, they also master the content and skills mandated in state and national standards. Students learn about history — and about themselves. [Publisher’s description.]


“. . . a unique and imaginative approach to education, taking the student out of the textbook, even out of the classroom, into creative contact with the world outside. Students and teachers will profit immensely from its suggestions.” —Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States

“. . . smooth, entertaining, witty, and personal — just the right combination of methods, social analysis, and philosophy of history for my secondary certification students.” —Susan Starbuck, Professor, Antioch University Seattle, author of Hazel Wolf: Fighting the Establishment

“. . . a student-centered, intellectually invigorating, content-open way to engage students in the study of history.” —Tarry Lindquist, quthor of Seeing the Whole Through Social Studies, Ways That Work and Social Studies at the Center

Table of Contents


Reflections on understanding the past, participating in the present, and facing the future.


Introduction: The Politics of Pronouns

If we are the people, who are they? This introductory personal essay sets up the guiding question of this book: How can we (the teachers) help our students to discover their own active place in history?

Whose World-Class City Is This?
Whose Country Is This?
Whos World Is This?

1: The Timeline of Our Lives

Taking our cue from the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass, we start in the present to consider the past.

The Importance of Connected, Meaningful Narrative
Building Connections With Timelines
The Bridge to the Twenty-First Century and Beyond

2: I, Witness to History

Whose history is it, anyway? Where we stand (or sit) determines much of what we see and how we see it.

The History of the Class
Fostering Thinking Skills

3: Lenses

The way we interpret events has much to do with our ideologies: both the ones we’re aware of and the less conscious ones.

Making the Lenses Visible by Creating Collages
Biased for Inclusion and Complexity
Appendix: Quotations About Revolution

4: Trading Stories

Taking inspiration from the poet Blake, who found the universe in a grain of sand, we can discover the world in ordinary household objects.

A Product Research Project
Project Overview
Product Research Reports
Appendix A: Learning Guidelines/Information Sheet
Appendix B: Rubrics for Research Projects

5: The Media: Servant of (Too?) Many Masters

The role of a free press that costs money.

Price Tags on a Free Press
Which Master, or Masters, Do the Media Really Serve?
Ownership of the Media
The Media and the Public’s Need to Know
When I’s Not in Your Schedule, But It Is in the News
Learning It by Doing It
Mass Communicating—”A Powerful New Force”

6: Picture This: Photodocumentaries

Photodocumenting our lives.

In the Classroom
A Picture of Our Times
Photographic materials
Learning to See Changes Us

7: Making History

Starting with the students, starting with now.

Students As History Makers
Flexibility Is Our Motto
Multiple Payoffs
Skills for Readers’ Theater Formats
Shakespeare’s Stage Theory
Additional Resources

Sample Chapter

ISBN: 9780325005706 | Heinemann