General Teaching Tips: The use of objects as teaching tool is particularly profound when trying to elicit non-linear responses or stories. For example, when doing oral histories with grandparents, students should ask their subjects to tell them about objects that are on the piano or by their bedsides rather than asking a straight list of "Where were you when…" questions. Objects bring up emotional responses and memories easier than linear questions.
Additionally, when teaching in the history classroom, objects have the power to tell tales and link students to the history of other time periods. For example, if students are studying several eras in history, consider linking them together by telling the story of one type of item that across time would be used daily (ex. Shoes, kitchen goods, etc.) Watching how these items changed, including their use and production, provides students with a concrete representation of the abstract changes in society.
All of the information here is designed to help teachers integrate some form of material culture into their classroom, so there is no one set of questions that will effectively cover all the possible angles that a teacher could use with a particular object. Depending on the article you choose, you may need to find questions in other templates that better lead your discussion of the object in question. The essentials for teaching with an object are simply knowing the story you want that object to tell and asking the questions that will help them uncover it. Being comfortable with Socratic questioning is one of the best prerequisites for teaching with material culture.
Critical Thinking Questions
Artifact Analysis Worksheet - National Archives and Records Administration
Resources and Websites specifically related to Material Culture
Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812
Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich masterfully uses material culture to tell the stories of the past. Before integrating material culture into the classroom, it is strongly recommended that you read one of her texts.
"DoHistory.org", a companion website to A Midwife’s Tale, offers useful tips about how to analyze and integrate material culture into the classroom.
Model Lesson Materials
"Everyday Life in a New England Town: An Inquiry-based Social Studies Unit for Fifth or Sixth Grade". What do primary and secondary sources teach us about the characteristics of "everyday life" of individuals living in Deerfield at the four turns of the centuries?
What Artifacts Reveal About the Past (Grades 6 - 8)
resource book was developed with support from