Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Lesson Plans > Personal Stories and Primary Sources

Back to Lesson Plans

Charley Williams and Granddaughter, Age 94

[Detail] Charley Williams and Granddaughter, Age 94

Preparation | Procedure | Evaluation | Students

Lesson Procedure

Lesson One: Instruction for Research Paper

Step One: Topic Selection

The history research paper may focus on twentieth century:

  • politics/government/wars;
  • religion;
  • commerce/economics;
  • geography/borders;
  • music/the arts;
  • sports;
  • housing;
  • aspects of daily life; or
  • specific ethnic groups.

The topic for the history research paper comes from the topics discussed during the interview. The subject for research may have been a major topic of discussion or something mentioned only briefly. For example, during the interview, the person interviewed may have:

  • talked about the cars he or she owned;
  • mentioned seeing one of the first Technicolor movies;
  • spoken at length about the types of early television shows and compared them to the ones now on TV; or
  • told stories about the business he started.

Any one of these topics could inspire the choice of the subject for research. Students should choose topics that interest them since they will be spending quite a bit of time working on the history research paper.

The paper is a history research paper about a limited topic for which there are three focused questions unified by a thesis statement. In a brief paper, it is not possible to write about the history of the American automobile. However, it is possible to research and write about the rise and fall of the Studebaker automobile. To limit this topic further, the research and writing could focus on the importance of Studebaker in the history of South Bend, Indiana.


Step Two: Three Questions and Thesis Statement

Once the students have selected the topics or subjects for their history research papers, they need to do some preliminary research so that they can formulate three good questions about their topics.

The topic selection and the writing of the three good questions may be the hardest part of the history research paper. The better the focus of the topic or subject and the more carefully asked focused questions, the greater the success the students will have with the history research paper.

Step Three: Research

The research for the paper must include both primary and secondary sources. In the research paper, students:

  • present the results of their historical research;
  • discuss their interview subject's role in history; and
  • reflect on the influence of history on their interview subject's life.

Have students use the techniques learned in gathering information during the study of family life during the Great Depression. Students keep an up-to-date list of all the sources used in research. These sources will become the bibliography.

Step Four: Outline

Students write a detailed outline using their questions and notes as guides. The outline should not use complete sentences. Only the thesis statement and the introductory and transition sentences for each of the three questions should be complete sentences. If students have taken notes on index cards, they can sort their information into piles related to each of the five parts of their outline and then arrange the notes in a logical manner to present information about the question and provide support for the thesis of the research.

The paper might be thought of as five parts linked with transition sentences.

  1. Introduction: Include the thesis statement and overview of the historical event, period, or issue that is being researched. Everything in the paper should relate to and support the thesis. The introduction introduces the focused topic and explains, perhaps with a story or some details from the interview, the relationship of this topic to the grandparent or elder.
  2. Address the first of the three questions on the chosen topic.
  3. Discuss the second question, further addressing the topic and, of course, supporting the thesis.
  4. Answer the third and final question on the topic. Relate the discussion to the first and second question, but further address the topic and support the thesis.
  5. The conclusion sums up how the thesis has been proven and makes connections to how things are today and how the students live. Other ideas and interests may also be included. Raising questions for further study may be another part of the conclusion.



Step One: Introduction

The introduction to the history research paper should explain how the topic selected relates to the grandparent or elder. In the introduction, students should answer at least one of these questions:

  • How did history the life of the person interviewed - the decisions that they made, the experiences that they had, the relationships that they formed with people, etc.?
  • How and what did the person you interviewed contribute to history?
  • In what actions and events did s/he participate in making history?

The introduction may present the information about the person interviewed in a personal manner. Students may wish to tell a story to explain the relationship between their focused topic and the person interviewed. The person's experience, or any other interviews that have been conducted, may be included throughout the research paper.

Step Two: Rough Draft

If students have done the detailed outline thoroughly and carefully, the rough draft should almost "write itself." Students are now crafting sentences to present the facts and details clearly so that the reader can follow the logical development of the thesis and see clearly how the thesis is supported and proven.

Step Three: Final Draft

Using the insights gained from the oral presentation, the questions from the class, and the discussions with your advocate, students polish their rough drafts and add conclusions.

The final draft must include a bibliography using correct bibliographic formatting. Footnotes or endnotes to document the exact page source of information may also be required.

The final draft must include a cover sheet. A cover illustration is optional but suggested.


Lesson Two: Presentation and Evaluation

Step One: The Oral Presentation

After completing the rough draft, students present the results of their focused research to the class. Each presentation may be accompanied by some type of visual. Students may use notes and refer to their outlines, but should not read their papers. Each student's advocate will support and assist him/her in the presentation and with the question and answer session.

Step Two: Self Assessment

Students may complete a self-evaluation of their research papers. The following sections of the research paper and oral presentation are required:

A. The history research paper must include:

  1. Notes which must cite the source of the information.
  2. Outline (complete and detailed).
  3. Rough draft.
  4. Final draft (four to six double-spaced typed pages).
  5. Bibliography in correct format.

B. The oral presentation must include:

  1. Work with a partner (personal advocate and coach) on the presentation.
  2. Oral presentation of research.
  3. Visual accompanying presentation.
  4. Formulation of questions about and responses to other students' oral presentations.


Showcase the posters (or other visuals) prepared for the oral presentations and the research papers at a school function such as Grandparents' Day. Digital pictures of the visuals may be added to a school Web site.

Create an archive of history research papers.