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NHD – Perfect for Language Arts Curriculum

National History Day is widely and normally seen as a great way to teach history. After all, “History” is its middle name. BUT. It’s even better in the English/Language Arts classroom. Here’s why. 

Seven core standards exist at every grade level in the Language Arts curriculum—three reading, three writing, one listening and speaking. When students participate in NHD, they immerse themselves in all seven. Want proof? Take a look:

Reading  Researching an NHD topic in depth requires students to read, understand and respond to a variety of writing that meets and exceeds grade-level achievement. One way – certainly not the only way, but one way – to think of researching for NHD is to expect students to read a few books on their topic to gain depth of understanding. Students can start by reading broad and general information on their topic. They may even start far below their grade level reading. Quick, general, foundational information may be achieved by starting either with the lowest level books on the topic (even early elementary picture books) or with encyclopedia entries. Then it’s on to more complex books that increasingly challenge the student by going into greater length, greater depth, greater understanding and greater appreciation. 

Consider some aspect of Abraham Lincoln’s life as a topic. Students might start by quickly reading a David Adler, Barbara Cary or Russell Freedman elementary-level work and might finish by reading David Herbert Donald, Harold Holzer, James McPherson or Carl Sandberg. 

The same is true for any topic be it the Wright Brothers, the Black Plague or Pearl Harbor. By starting easy and moving toward the most scholarly works written on the topic, the student will grow in every reading standard from vocabulary in context that real writers use in the real world to analyzing differences in authors’ conclusions.  

Writing Whether the student chooses performance, documentary, Web site, exhibit or research paper, preparing for NHD requires navigating through every writing standard in the book. NHD students plan, write, edit, revise and finalize their work. Narrative, expository, persuasive and descriptive writing will be part of the journey. Developing a strong thesis statement is central to NHD projects. Standard conventions are required for success. From journaling about their topics to composing a script, from editing for purposes of falling within a maximum word count or time limit to considering mood and emotional appeal, from checking spelling to re-reading for clarity, NHD gives students both purpose and audience to their writing.

Speaking Often the most ignored of the standards because it is not tested, speaking is central to success in NHD and in life. In all categories, students are expected to be able to respond to unanticipated questions from adults (judges) in cogent ways. To do this, they must prepare. Performance and documentary categories require 10-minute scripts that students must rehearse and perform to be of high quality. Presenting the project in a pleasing way and orally defending it upon judges’ examination require two different and valuable speaking skills that build confidence and prepare students for the adult world. 

NHD in an English classroom puts positive pressure on students to:

  • research well
  • collaborate with others
  • communicate knowledge
  • create a learning experience for others
  • become more expert in a topic
  • compete like athletes in an academic setting 


It accomplishes all this while having fun. Hmm. Depth of learning. Exceeding standards. Success. Fun. These are the reasons why National History Day should find its way into your English classroom.


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