Teaching Historical Significance Criteria in the Upper Elementary Classroom

In conversation with a friend last week, she mentioned that she was frustrated teaching Grade 7 history because there seemed to be so many “events” to cover, and so little time.  How could her students learn so many dates, names, and events?  She didn’t have endless time to devote to helping her students learn about each item in the list of curriculum expectations.  Hmmm – my mind went immediately to the “Concepts of Disciplinary Thinking” highlighted in the 2018 Ontario Social Studies Curriculum, in particular to “Historical Significance“.

I asked her whether she wanted her students to memorize a list of events, or to be able to determine the significance of a particular event.  Which is the bigger academic skill, that a student can carry forward into other grades?  That’s an easy question for me:  I want them to be able to look at an event and think about the importance or significance of that event by itself, or in comparison to another event. For example, which was more significant:  the War of 1812, or the Rebellions of 1837-1838?  Students can use criteria to help them with this evaluation.

Historical Significance Criteria

Relevance:  Ask your students to think about who needs to know about a particular person, place, or event.  Is it relevant to just a few people or isolated community, or to a whole country or beyond?  An event that only a particular province or state needs to consider may be more significant than one that needs to be known by an entire country.  

Impact:  Can your students also think about how long an person, place, or event affected history?  A community event that affected people only for a year could be considered to be more significant that an event whose effect could still be felt 30 years later.

Consequences:  Can your students think about the seriousness of an event?  An event that caused a loss of local jobs (such as a factory closure) is likely less significant than one that caused serious physical harm to that same community (such as the water contamination of the public water system).  

This is what I want for my students – the ability to think like a historian and consider things like perspective, significance, cause & consequence…and all those other great things that help them become critical thinkers!

If you’re interested in downloading a FREE version of the Historical Significance chart shown above, please click here:  Freebie Historical Significance Poster


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