Teaching Hard History Inquiry Design Models
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Effective social studies instruction animates content by teaching through inquiry. The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards outlines a structure for how to do this: the Inquiry Design Model (IDM). This curricular approach integrates the four dimensions of the C3 Inquiry Arc:

  • Developing questions and planning inquiries.
  • Applying disciplinary concepts and tools.
  • Evaluating sources and using evidence.
  • Communicating conclusions and taking action.

Using A Framework for Teaching American Slavery as the content anchor, the C3 Framework as the disciplinary skill anchor and the IDM as the structure, we hope to model for teachers an inquiry-based approach to guiding students through the “hard history” of American slavery. Browse these six sample IDMs, or download the IDM blueprint and use the framework to build your own!

To learn more about the C3 Inquiry Arc and the Inquiry Design Model, read Teaching American Slavery Through Inquiry (Swan, Grant & Lee, 2018).

How Did Slavery Shape My State? (Elementary School)

In this inquiry, students consider the influence of slavery on the history and culture of the United States and of their state in particular. They look at maps and data to track the expansion of U.S. slavery; read historians’ accounts to understand how slavery differed by location; and study images and narratives of enslaved people to learn how slavery affected their lives. Ultimately, students see the ways slavery influenced not only “slave states” but the entire United States.

How Did Sugar Feed Slavery? (Elementary School)

In this inquiry, students explore the economic and human consequences of European sugar consumption during the era of the transatlantic slave trade. Working with sources that illustrate the methods of production and the treatment of enslaved workers on sugar plantations, students examine how systems of enslavement are sustained and supported by the market for the goods they produce. Students are encouraged to take informed action as they track the ways this support for unjust labor practices continues into the present day.

Can Words Lead to War? (Middle School)

When we talk about the power of language, we often focus on how words can injure. In this inquiry, students look at the other side of that equation to consider how words can result in reform. Investigating historical sources related to Uncle Tom’s Cabin—including illustrations and passages from the first edition of the novel, letters written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and reviews published the year the book was released—students address the compelling question: “Can words lead to war?”

Does It Matter Who Ended Slavery? (High School)

In the past 30 years, scholars have pushed back against the idea that Abraham Lincoln, “The Great Emancipator,” was the primary force behind emancipation. Instead, some argue, enslaved people worked to free themselves. This inquiry invites students to join this historical debate, evaluating the facts behind these arguments and the significance of the arguments themselves. Studying the writing of 20th-century historians alongside 19th-century laws providing gradual emancipation and the 13th Amendment, students practice thinking and acting like historians. 

Why Did the South Secede? (High School)

Investigating the arguments surrounding the Southern secession movement of 1860 and 1861, students consider the events leading up to the decision to secede, the role of political parties in secession and the views of Southerners and Northerners on the question. Doing so, they develop a deep and nuanced understanding of the complicated process of secession and the conflicting moral, political and social tensions inherent in what history often paints as a straightforward decision.

Did the Constitution Establish a Just Government? (High School)

In this inquiry, students gain an informed, critical perspective on the United States Constitution as it stood at the close of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Examining the ways that the document structures the U.S. government, its relationship to slavery and the extent to which it is made more democratic through the amendment process, students explore the compelling question: “Did the Constitution establish a just government?”


Thank you to Carly Muetterties, Ryan Lewis, Kenny Stancil, Kathy Swan, John Lee, S.G. Grant and the other C3 Teachers who authored the original versions of these Inquiry Design Models.

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