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How to Make a History Class Interesting

 

There are several AP history classes that students may have the opportunity to take during their high school years. The most popular is AP United States history, or “APUSH” as many call it, as well as AP European history and AP world history. All three of these classes/exams are in the same format, they just cover different content.

Students can run into a variety of issues when taking an AP history class, everything from struggling with the amount of content they need to know to how to apply that content to the exam itself. Getting tutoring support for AP history students, especially ones who have never taken an AP history class before, can help students avoid various pitfalls, get better grades, and be ready for the exam in the spring. However, there is an aspect about history classes, even AP history classes, that tutoring can help with that is not as obvious: the classes can be super boring. Teachers always do their best to make the content interesting, but they have a limited amount of time and a lot of information to get through, which can limit them. Tutoring can help with this issue by giving students a place to explore a wider range of historical topics that there isn’t time to cover in class. By going deeper into the historically relevant topics that the student is interested in, I find that students are able to better engage with the material overall and find history more fascinating. The more engaged a student is, the more often the student will do better in the class, and ultimately the exam

Beyond assisting with content engagement, students are much more likely to remember information they are actually interested in, so finding a way to catch their interest is vital for history. I had another student who, whenever chapters on social history were required reading, would complain about having to ‘slog through’ it. This student much preferred the chapters on political and military history. So in our tutoring sessions, while we were enthusiastically reviewing political and military history, I worked in information about social history, tying the ‘boring’ social history to this student’s favorite topics. When the AP test came around and we were studying for it, the student was surprised to realize that they remembered social history as well as political and military history. 

Another way to catch students’ interests is to bring humor into content review. For example, during the conflict known as the “Pastry War” (a conflict between France and Mexico quite literally over a French pastry shop), a French cannonball shattered the leg of legendary Mexican general and politician Santa Anna, causing his leg to be amputated. He then had his amputated leg buried with full military honors. Why did he do this? Well it was likely a power move to show how important he was that even his amputated leg had to be buried with military honors. This humorous piece of information can help students remember Santa Anna and how important he was to Mexican political and military history, and also reminds them about what Mexico’s relationship with France was like. So if they then get a question about politics or military history in Central America during the 1830s, they definitely have at least a place to start which will help them narrow down answer choices and make it more likely for them to get the question correct. 

Tying historical information to students’ interests and using humor help students engage with and remember content for much longer than more traditional forms of memorization. By making at least parts of history fun, students typically find it easier to get through the parts they don’t find as interesting. In the end, whether it’s studying for a final or studying for an AP exam, history students have to work with the information they do remember, since there is no way to remember everything. A tutor can help a student develop these strategies and give them opportunities to learn more about their areas of interest, leading to both happier students and better performance overall. 

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