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History + English: The Perfect Horizontal Team

Jordan Catapano

 

Students often react with an unfair degree of shock when they are talking about one subject in a different subject’s class. “That’s what we read in English!” they might shout at their history teacher. They seem to feel that their subjects aren’t supposed to crisscross, and when they do, it’s as awkward as meeting your teacher at the supermarket.

But teachers know far better than students that the information they learn in any subject is equally applicable in any other subject. In fact, the more they see that all their classes are interrelated, the more they can see the relevance and importance of each.

One particularly easy and important area of course connectivity that teachers can exploit is the relationship between English and history. While certainly not all English concepts easily coincide with historical information and vice versa, there are a great number of ways that teachers can horizontally align their curriculums to enhance students’ apprehension of both.

When students read a primary source historical text, a piece of historical fiction, a discourse on history, or any work written in a previous historical era, they are inundating themselves with both the English reading and the historical information. Teachers should not try to separate these areas, but rather exploit the relationship between them. The more a history teacher can approach texts like a reading teacher, and the more an English teacher can approach primary sources like a history teacher, the easier it is for students to enhance their skills with both subjects.

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Here are several applications for you, as an English or history teacher, to work towards uniting these subjects:

  • Read primary sources: Allow students to read the primary source documents for the eras that are significant to your course. This will help them with their reading skills as well as give them insight into the historical knowledge they need.
  • Move chronologically with the other subject: Both history and English can be taught in a chronological manner. So when history studies Puritanism, read Puritan texts. When history studies the Industrial Revolution, read corresponding texts, and so on. This will help the two classes work as a team, helping students see the relationship between the broad historical information and the zoomed in source documentation or literature.
  • Connect texts to an era’s and region’s broader values: Help show students that texts are the result of the societal influences surrounding any given writer.
  • Connect texts to one another: Allow students to compare and contrast texts written in the same era or in different eras.
  • Teach the same skills: Whether they’re in history or English class, students should be exposed to the same set of standards. History should hold students accountable for their reading skills, and English should hold students accountable for their historical knowledge and application. This way two teachers are embracing the same skills, and students’ efforts will be more targeted towards that set of goals.

It doesn’t need to be complicated. All students need to see is that the skills and information they acquire in one course is equally applicable in another. History and English tend to have strong similarities that easily allow instructors to work together to align content and skills in a way that benefits the students’ performance.

Have you worked in vertical teams to align History and English class, or any other classes that have been particular helpful combinations for students? Share what you’ve done and what you’ve gained!

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