Interactive History Lessons

Confession: I never liked history when I was in school. I was more of a math and sciences guy. Why? Because I could actively do stuff in those classes. In contrast, history class was extremely static: we just had to listen to our teacher talking on and on about kings and wars and empires.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In this post, I’ll show how you can bring some interactivity to your history lessons by creating your own, interactive, interesting and fun widgets!


There are several tools available that teachers can use to create timelines. But those are still pretty static: students simply consume, instead of create. With our Timeline widget, you can task students to assemble their own timelines, for instance to demonstrate they have understood a text.

You can insert questions for them to answer, or ask them to elaborate on content you put in, and even have them attach images.

editable timeline exercise

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For differentiated learning, you could for instance give some students a completed timeline, but with the events in the wrong order. This way, you turn it into an ordering exercise.

When they’re done, students can submit their work to you, so you can review, grade and provide feedback.

Mind mapping in history classes

To truly understand history, students need to see and understand how different events are related to each other. This is a difficult skill to master, and one where mind mapping can help by making this information visual.

BookWidgets is all about getting students to actively work with the learning material, and with our Mind Map widget you can task them to assemble their own mind maps easily. They can use shapes and colors to visually organize and group related topics, and of course use connections to establish relationships. All you have to do as a teacher is set the center node: the topic around which the entire mind map revolves.

mind map widget

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All of their work is automatically stored, so students can always refer back to it when studying later on.

Making history visual

Relations, structure and sequence are key to understanding history, but all of these require factual knowledge. It’s at this point that my 14-year-old-self disengaged, because in the school I went to, acquiring factual knowledge meant either reading dry textbooks, or passively listening to the teacher. Because I failed at the factual knowledge step, I never even noticed there was a whole other level to history until I was much older.

Images with hotspots are a great way to bring out the Indiana Jones in students. It lets them discover new facts in a more playful, more varied, non-linear way. It’s easy to put together such experiences with our Hotspot Image widget.

  1. Start from a single image
  2. Add markers to interesting points on the image
  3. Put text, images, audio clips and videos in the popups attached to those markers

Here’s an example showing the history of Country Music. In this example, the hotspots show images, audio, video and even a live wikipedia article.

hotspot image widget

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To make things extra challenging, you can hide the hotspot markers, so students really have to hunt down the information.

But why stick to 2D images, when there are so many great 3D models available for free or very cheap? For instance, here’s a 3D model of the Colosseum in Rome, made available by 3DVIAPremiumContent under the “CC by 2.5” license:

3D widget

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We also offer a couple of different ways to show a sequence of related images, like this one, illustrating how World War II unfolded in Europe, through a sequence of maps:

frame sequence widget

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All learning involves a lot of practice and repetition. A little variation goes a long way to keep students engaged in this phase of the learning process.

Flash cards have been the go-to study aids for many a student. With the Flash Cards widget, you can quickly put together a deck of cards containing definitions, dates, descriptions, images and so on. The built-in “practice mode” helps students to repeat the cards they haven’t mastered yet, without wasting too much time repeating things they already know well.

flash cards widget

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But practicing can be more playful as well. For instance, it only takes a couple of minutes to generate a fun crossword puzzle using our Crossword Widget. Simply list the terms, events and dates you covered that week, and hand students your automatically graded crossword puzzle to really cement that material in their brains.

crossword widget

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Here’s a fun one to do with the entire class at the same time: bingo. Each student gets a card with words or pictures in a random order. Each time the teacher reads out a matching word or description, the student marks the item on his card. The first student to have five items highlighted in a row yells “Bingo”, and wins.

There are lots of ways you can play Bingo in your history classroom. Here are just a few:

  • US States Bingo: Read out the names of the states, and let the students find the matching outline of the state on their card.
  • American Presidents Bingo: Put pictures of the presidents on the card, and either call out the name of the president, or their number.
  • Roman Empire Bingo: Fill the card with key dates, people and events, and read out descriptions for them.

roman empire bingo widget

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One final tip in this category that doesn’t require a lot of explaining: jigsaw puzzles. For instance, can you piece together the map of Europe? (Warning: only click this link if you have time to solve the puzzle, because you won’t be able to resist)

Putting it all together: history webquests

A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented online tool for learning. It’s a lesson in which most of the information that students explore comes from the internet. Students go on an online quest and explore and analyze new information that is given via the world wide web. If that doesn’t sound like a perfect fit for history lessons, I don’t know what is!

Our WebQuest widget lets you pull together text, images, video, online resources and other widgets into one comprehensive lesson (or series of lessons). We have a whole post dedicated to creating great quests, so be sure to check that out.

Automatically Graded History Tests

OK, quick poll. Raise your hand if you like grading tests. Anyone? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Our Quiz widget lets you put together tests that are automatically graded. And I’m not talking about boring multiple choice tests either: there are over 20 different question types to choose from, including annotating pictures, cloze questions, drag and drop and ordering questions and many more.

quiz widget

Question types like these are automatically graded: when your student submits their answer to you, BookWidgets will automatically assign a score, so you don’t have to check the answer yourself. You can even set up the widget to automatically give feedback. Needless to say, this can be a real time-saver during the already packed exam periods.

Tip: use the extra time to quickly figure out the parts that aren’t well understood and need more explaining using the teacher dashboard. It will also help you identify which students need more help or extra challenge.

Create your own History widgets

I only showed a few possible uses of widgets to make your history class more interactive. Not only are there many more other widget types you can use in your history classroom (I didn’t even get to the Matching or TipTiles widget), but while reading this article, you probably already thought of your own application of some of the widgets I’ve shown earlier.

Ready to put your own ideas to work and make your history classroom more interactive? BookWidgets makes it easy to create your own history widgets: just hit the button below, sign up, and start creating your own widgets with a free BookWidgets trial.

Niels Vanspauwen

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BookWidgets enables teachers to create fun and interactive lessons for tablets, smartphones, and computers.

Choose from over 40 exercise templates (quizzes, crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, ...), and adapt them with your own content.