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Initiating National History Day in Your Classroom

National History Day (NHD) provides a wonderful framework for students to conduct and present historical research.  This lesson plan will help you assist students in finding a project topic that excites them and is related to the annual NHD theme.


  • Students will identify appropriate and feasible topics for research.
  • Students will find a topic of personal interest that connects to the annual NHD theme.


  1. Begin by writing the the annual theme on a blackboard or overhead. You can find out this year's theme at the National History Day in Wisconsin web site. Encourage students to share ideas or events that correspond to the theme.  This may include revisiting topics or lessons covered earlier in the year.  List these ideas under the appropriate word in the theme.
  2. After students have brainstormed associations with these words, share your own associations with this theme.  This may be a personal experience or something more generic.  Photographs, yearbooks, or even older newspaper stories may serve as a vehicle to talk about topics connected to the annual theme that you have experienced, such as the 1960s or the Civil Rights movement or the revolution in women's professional achievements.
  3. Share and discuss topic ideas that historians and educators and the Wisconsin Historical Society have discovered.  These can be found at the "Teacher's Resources" section of the National History Day in Wisconsin web site and at the National History Day web site.
  4. Ask each student to conduct an initial appraisal of resources available for one of the topics or ideas mentioned during the previous class discussion.  Students should investigate the school and public library, and various web sites including the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives online catalog (ARCAT).
  5. After each student has completed this initial assessment, review their results, and lead a class discussion on the gaps identified.  Asking the question, "What is 'too many' and 'too few resources'?" may lead into a discussion on narrowing a research topic or having enough evidence to adequately support a thesis.  Encourage students to share their frustrations or joys with the "searching" process.  Have them brainstorm different strategies and share alternative places to conduct research.


The National History Day curriculum booklet provides strategies and resources that can be used to initiate or enhance existing lessons and units in history and social studies related to the annual theme.  The materials can be adapted or modified to suit your needs as a teacher.  The lessons and articles are designed to encourage students to think critically and to conduct research, interpret primary sources, and explore the larger historical significance of topics that interest them.

The curriculum booklet can be found in .pdf format on the National History Day Web site, or to request a hard copy of the booklet please contact us and leave your name, mailing address, and classes you teach.

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