Developing a Working Thesis

I believe the two most important sentences of an NHD project are the THESIS. The thesis statement is the nerve center of the project – everything flows from it. A strong thesis sets the tone for a legitimate argument supported by claims, evidence, and reasoning. A strong thesis projects the theme and clearly announces “THIS PROJECT ROCKS!”

To begin developing this skill, we began by writing a 50 word summary of our topic. 50 word summaries force students to be concise and consider their word choice, not to mention informally organizing their research for the first time. Here are a few examples:

Next is the working thesis document. We call this a working thesis, as the final statement will evolve a few times before it’s done. An NHD thesis statement needs 4 things:

  1. Clearly state your topic
  2. State the parameters of your topic
  3. Connect your topic to the theme
  4. Be an argument

This is not easy and will take several edits to get right. Even then, as student historians continue to become experts on their topic, requiring them to revisit their thesis.

Students will need a working thesis by Thursday, 1/18.


Researching More Effectively

When students begin researching, they often just google their topic. Even if they utilize quality tools like databases, they don’t vary search terms. Wednesday’s activity began to stretch their search habits, and it’s an activity we’ll repeat as we continue to become experts on our topic.

If students only have 4 or 5 words, this tells me they need to become a better expert on their topic. Go back to the 2 or 3 sources which contain the most information and re-read them. We can’t go any further until we become more informed about the topic. If you have a full set of terms, we can move on to improving our research skills.

Kyle is researching how architecture and engineering changed as a result of the Chicago Fire. His terms are very specific, but reflect some quality sources which have left him very informed on his topic. Searching in these areas should help him better research his topic and understand the context of when this architecture shift happened.


Charity’s is great because most students have one which looks like this. Her topic is still a little broad, so she’s using search terms to reflect that. These search terms will help her develop a deeper understanding of LGBT rights beyond a very ambiguous search term.

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Summarizing is an important transition, as we begin to demonstrate what we know about our topic. Can we hold a 5 minute conversation about our topic? Can we demonstrate some expertise and engage people in a story about your topic? If so, these are good signs. If not, that’s fine, but informs us where we need to go with our improved research skills.

The essential questions are the most crucial part of this activity. What’s guiding your research? Are we just scrolling through pages hoping for important words to pop out? Or does inquiry guide us? Are we asking questions while we read and researching with a purpose? The essential questions which Charity asks above are a perfect example of the inquiry we want to drive students’ research.

Research for History Fair

The task isn’t as simple as it seems. Research is a verb, and a complex one. I’ve tried to simplify the process with our “RCF,” or Research Collection Form:

While everything is in a simple document, the process itself is not that simple. In fact, this is one of the three most difficult stages of History Fair. While I’ll introduce a few tools to organize this info, and to better extract information from sites, “getting off the ground” is a seemingly massive task for 7th graders. They’ve chosen their topics, they’re excited – but now what? There’s a mountain of information out there, and they have no idea how to chisel away at it.

We have three main sources of information:

  • Library online sources.
  • Mrs. Collins’ database guide.
  • Traditional Library and Google Searches.

While there are far more places to look, let’s keep it simple. Vary your search terms, read as much as you can – be a magnet for info! – and we’ll sort it all out later. This won’t happen overnight, and is going to take some time to get comfortable with.

Using Public Libraries to Locate Primary Sources

As students jump back into their research, our goal is to find quality primary sources. The fine people from the Minnesota History Fair have put together a nice video reminding us how primary and secondary sources are different:

Primary Sources = something which comes from the event; a first-hand account of the historical event. (Letters, Newspapers, Film/Photo evidence)

Secondary Sources = any other sources which offers analysis, perspective, or context to better understand the historical event. (Books, Encylopedias, etc)

Our public libraries are the next step to explore. The Chicago Tribune (or ProQuest) alone is a fantastic resource to use, but each library has different tools to use. You’ll need your public library card to access these resources, too. With our students in three different municipalities, here are the links you need, with what the pages look like:

Downers Grove Public Library:

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Woodridge Public Library:Screenshot 2017-01-10 at 9.50.58 PM.png

Indian Prairie Public Library: screenshot-2017-01-10-at-9-51-05-pm

For students without a library district, I’ve shared my own number for the Plainfield Public Library so they can use those resources.

Research Collection Form



Collecting information can be difficult. We have so many sources at our fingertips, and making sense of it all becomes overwhelming. We use the metaphor of drinking water out of a fire hose. How can we process that much at once?! Enter, the Research Collection form (or RCF). This is the document students will use to organize and collect their information throughout the research process. They don’t need multiple copies, just a one-stop shop to store their research notes!


2018 History Fair Topics!

Some might be too broad, some might change and some might be tweaked… but here is the early version of topic choices by 7th graders for the 2018 History Fair!

We often joke that 7th graders are “marrying” their topics – you’ve got to be in love with something you’ll spend so much time with! Hilariously, a few students wrote vows and decided to literally marry their topics! Ava and Catherine read vows to swear their loyalty to their topic, the Radium Girls! They swore not to procrastinate, to be on task, and to be “committed to the end.” The even wore glow-in-the-dark wedding rings! Next up, a honeymoon in Ottawa!