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Today in history: engage students with a simple critical thinking activity in the target language

February 28, 2018

I first heard the idea for “Today in History”; or rather, “NOT Today in History" by reading a blog post from Justin Slocum Bailey on the Indwelling Language blog back in 2014. Click here to read the first post: and here to read the second.

Recently, I have been looking for new kinds of ‘puzzles’ that students can complete in the target language. The kind of puzzle that I am looking for requires students to read a text in the target language and possibly to re-read it a time or two; maybe even to compare it to a similar text. By doing this, students are completing an activity without the burdensome feeling that typically accompanies a post-reading activity: students engage with the text multiple times and complete a task because they want to. They engage because they are on an intellectual mission that they desire to complete.

Obviously, such puzzles are not for everyone—not every student enjoys the brain workout that comes with a good logic puzzle, for example. Or at least not yet.

The first kind of puzzling reading that I brainstormed was a series of Fake News articles: true news stories whose veracity is simply too preposterous to believe. Students read a falsified version of the real news story and must identify which elements they think are untrue. Spoiler alert: the craziest details are often the real ones! By doing this, students are reading and comparing two complete texts, and they have the opportunity to play a mind game to see if they can outwit the fake news story.

As I was working on these stories, Justin’s Today In History came surging from deep in the recesses of my memory. Ah-ha! This was exactly the kind of puzzling reading that I was looking for. Students read four events and have to guess which one they think did not happen on that day in history: which three events are true, and which is fictitious? What is particularly wonderful about Today in History is that the reading is short. This allows for extremely flexible implementation in your program. Additionally—as Justin wrote in his original post—it allows for natural, repeated exposure to various structures. This is a great way for students to see the past tenses, the passive voice, and phrases like “was born”, “was the first”, etc. while their attention is focused on meaning, not form.

HOY EN LA HISTORIA is an easy way to spark discussion and to inject world history into your Spanish classes. Students read four events and must choose which one did NOT happen on that day in history!

Here are five quick ideas for implementation:

  1. Create a TODAY IN HISTORY bulletin board. Each day, post four events. Any interested students can meander over to the board and read at their leisure (a great Fast Finisher option), or you could have it posted outside your classroom for students to read as they wait in line to give you the Password. Consider having a post-it note beside each event or laminating four cards to create ‘perma-post-its’, and students could mark which event they think is the Intruder—the event that did NOT happen that day in history.
  2. Use it as a bellringer. When I was teaching full-time, I was required to have a bellringer task for my students, and I appreciated the opportunity that it afforded me to handle a few quick tasks (such as attendance) and to reconnect students to content from the previous day. Whenever I make it back to the classroom full-time, however, I look forward to at least a trial breakup with my bellringer ;-) Students simply read the four events and write down which one they think did NOT happen on that day in history….or you could make it a little more involved and have them respond to the list of events with greater detail: with annotations like this or perhaps something as simple as writing down five things that they understood and two things that they didn’t (‘things’ being words or phrases).
  3. Free reading material! Who says that texts in the classroom library need to be long? You could make a binder for each week or each month—maybe make a few copies—and include the plain slides printed in sequence at the front of the binder and the ‘answer key’ slides in sequence at the back of the binder—maybe printed 1/4 size. Students could grab a binder and read through each day as it comes or knock off several days at once.
  4. Trivia competition! Have students compete as individuals or even form teams, and run a month-long competition that restarts on the first of each month, or you could run a year-long tourney. You could do this as a brain break of sorts or use it in a bellringer format or closing activity each day. Each day, individuals or teams receive one point when they correctly identify the intruding event (the event that did NOT happen on that day in history). Or, it could be a knock-out style competition (think Jeopardy) where the questions are asked to ONE student each day until he or she misses, and then another student takes over. Whoever has the longest streak at the end of the month or the year wins!!
  5. Brain Break: Permanently each corner of your room “A”, “B”, “C”, or “D”. When students need a quick moment to get up and move, throw a slide on the projector and have students move to the corner of the event that they think is the intruder.

This is a fun activity for students to take on--something fun to challenge those students in your class that are looking for a challenge (some of your heritage or native speakers, some of your high aptitude students, etc.). They can look up events on their own and write them in Spanish as well as they can, and they can come up with the trickster event. This is great for any Balderdash-loving students!!

I put together a slideshow of daily Hoy en la historia events for March--31 events so that you can use it now until forever, no matter which days are class days in March of any given year. On each slide, three events are true and one is invented. They are all written in the past tense. I'll be putting together similar slideshows for the remaining 11 months--since there's always school somewhere ;-) Click here to download the March slideshow, and follow the links in the product description to find slideshows for additional months.

The slideshows are also available in English. They are written with simple language: limited vocabulary and low sentence complexity. They are intended for English Language Learners, and they are fully editable and compatible with Google Slides, so you can modify them as needed for your classes.

Today in History: four events are listed for each day of May, and students must guess which one did NOT happen on that day in history! Written in simple English for English language learners.See all of my Today In History / Hoy en la historia slideshows on this Pinterest board!

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