Critical Thinking In Us History Review

{Review} U.S. History Detective, Book 1

Being Classical homeschoolers, we actively seek out and use a multitude of history resources from primary source information to well written historical fiction. Workbooks and standard textbooks are rarely part of our plan, yet I've often wondered if they still have a place in our educational style. Recently we were offered the chance to use U. S. History Detective, Book 1 from one of our favorite curriculum publishers, The Critical Thinking Co.

I must admit I was intrigued to see how a textbook from The Critical Thinking Co. differs from the average textbook we've used in the past. I'll tell you up front, we were not disappointed in this curriculum. For the purpose of the review we received the physical textbook, U.S. History Detective, Book 1 which is also available as an e-book instant download (but listed as currently only available for Windows computers).

The softback textbook covers American history from the Colonial Era through the Reconstruction after the Civil War and is geared toward grades 8 through 12, but the publisher notes that the vocabulary and content are based on common standards for 8th grade. U.S. History Detective can be used as a full stand-alone history curriculum, a supplement for another history product, or as review lessons for older students.

The consumable curriculum contains 65 lessons plus topical overviews and review activities every few lessons. There is no need for a teacher's guide as the answer key is included in the back of the hefty 330 page textbook. Additionally there are a few pages written directly to the teacher to explain the usage of the book.

Each history era to be studied begins with an overview that gives the student a glimpse of what is to come, and then proceeds with the lessons. Every lesson includes reading text on the current topic along with full color images, maps, time lines and other graphics.  Each sentence in the text is numbered to assist in answering the lesson source location questions. Finally, the lessons also include fun fact boxes.  After the reading, each lesson includes multiple choice and short answer questions along with a short essay prompt / question.

It is in these questions we see the uniqueness of this curriculum. Critical thinking is incorporated into each lesson by asking more than simply fact regurgitation. An emphasis is placed on finding supporting evidence in the text to answer the questions. The nature of the course helps students better their reading comprehension, writing skills and vocabulary. The lessons also teach the student how to better draw inferences and conclusions while distinguishing between fact and fiction.  Finally, the short essays used are often the type found in college-level or AP courses and help the student to prepare for upper level courses.

The review lessons are interspersed every few standard lessons and utilize alternate learning techniques to further challenge the student. Concept maps, Venn diagrams, mapping, vocabulary, cause & effect, and many other assignments make these review lessons a powerful part of the curriculum.

For teachers concerned about grading the short essay answers, not only are the multiple choice and short answer solutions provided in the answer key, but also key points for the short essay written responses. This style makes it fairly simple to ensure your student has grasped the concepts being taught in the current lesson.

How Amber Used U.S. History Detective, Book 1:
Although I was fairly curious about how a textbook / workbook would fit into our Classical homeschooling method, Amber was not as enthusiastic at first. She remembers the dull years of parochial school history and our initial ventures at home too. Thankfully, she also is enamored with The Critical Thinking Co. and was willing to give this curriculum a chance.

We did chose to use U.S. History Detective as a supplement to our regular history lessons where we are currently studying the Colonial era and approaching the Revolutionary time. Amber did the first few lessons fairly rapidly to catch up with our current studies. Right away she noted the book was not as easy as she expected it to be. Not that anything was difficult enough to cause frustration, but she expected an easy read plus answering a few questions. The book, instead, required her to think and analyze the information she had read. This was a definite positive in her mind and mine.

Amber uses the U.S. History Detective mostly as an on-the-go school resource to either introduce a new topic for our history studies, or to summarize and finish our current topic. Additionally on a few busy days at home she has replaced her regular history assignment with a review lesson from this textbook. Either way she enjoying the variety in instruction techniques.

We feel with U.S. History Detective, Book 1 The Critical Thinking Co. has provided yet another excellent resource for homeschooling parents, no matter your schooling style. Our personal recommendation would be to use it as a supplemental learning tool, however for those who find history less enthralling than our family this textbook is an appropriate full history curriculum.


Connect with The Critical Thinking Co. on social media:

Visit other members of the Review Crew for their experiences with The Critical Thinking Co.!

You will invest a lot of time in preparing for the AP U.S. History Exam, and how you approach each question is key in getting the maximum number of point for that question. Your best bet is to make sure that you have developed solid historical thinking skills. This APUSH review will define the nine historical thinking skills that are central to the study and practice of history. We will then discuss the five most important of those skills needed to excel on the exam. We will also arm you with the strategies needed for spotting these skills on the exam, how to use them to critically analyze a primary source, and how you can include them in your own writing.

Historical Thinking Skills and the AP U.S. History Exam

As an AP student, you are expected to master historical thinking skills because every question on the exam will require you to apply one or more of them. Even though every exam question assesses one or more of the skill-based proficiency expectations, historical thinking skills are best put into practice on the Document-Based and Long Essay Questions (DBQs, and LEQs). These two sections make up 40% of the overall APUSH Exam.

Historical Thinking Skills and APUSH Writing Questions

Short-Answer Questions

SAQs will address one or more of themes of U.S. history. You will have to use your historical thinking skills to respond to primary and secondary sources, a historian’s argument, or a general suggestions about U.S. history. Each question will ask you to identify and explore examples of historical evidence relevant to the source or question.

Document-Based Question

The DBQ measures your ability to analyze and integrate historical data and to assess verbal, quantitative, or visual evidence. Your responses will be judged on your ability to formulate a thesis and back it up with relevant evidence. The documents included in the DBQ can vary in length and format, and the question content can include charts, graphs, cartoons, and pictures, as well as written materials. You are expected to be able to assess the value of different sorts of documents and you’ll be required to relate the material to a historical period or theme, thus focusing on major periods and issues. Therefore, it is important to have knowledge beyond the specific focus of the question and to incorporate it into your essay to get the highest scores.

Long Essay Question

You are given a chance to show what you know best on the LEQs by having a choice between two long essay options. The LEQs will measure your use of historical thinking skills to explain and analyze significant issues in the U.S. history themes from the APUSH course. Your essays must include a central theme or argument that you need to support by an evaluating specific and relevant historical evidence.

What are the Nine Historical Thinking Skills?

The AP United States History Course and Exam Description tells you that the APUSH course is designed to “apprentice” you in the practice of history, emphasizing the development of historical thinking skills as you learn about U.S. history. To accomplish this, the CollegeBoard has come up with nine historical thinking skills that will be evaluated on the AP U.S. History exam.

So, how do you go about developing historical thinking skills? Students of history do this by investigating the past, particularly through exploring and interpreting primary sources and secondary texts. You further refine those skills the regular development of historical argumentation in writing.

The nine historical thinking skills are grouped into four categories: Analyzing Sources and Evidence, Making Historical Connections, Chronological Reasoning, and Creating and Supporting a Historical Argument.

Analyzing Sources and Evidence (Primary Sources and Secondary Sources)

Content and Sourcing – This involves the ability to describe, select, and evaluate relevant evidence about the past from many different sources. Those sources could include documents, art, archaeological artifacts, or oral traditions. You will need to draw conclusions about their relevance to different historical issues. An analysis of sources looks at the interaction between the content and the authorship, vantage point, purpose, audience, and format of the source. You can then evaluate the usefulness, reliability, and limitations of the source as historical evidence.

Interpretation – This skill requires you to describe, analyze, and evaluate the ways that the past is interpreted. This includes understanding the types of questions that are asked, as well as considering how the particular circumstances and contexts in which historians work and write shape their interpretations of past events and historical evidence.

Making Historical Connections

Comparison – This skill involves your ability to identify, compare, and evaluate multiple perspectives on a given historical event so you can make conclusions about that event. This skill also requires the ability to describe, compare, and assess several historical developments within one society, between different societies, and in diverse chronological and geographical contexts. Comparisons can also be made across different time periods and geographical locations, and between contrasting historical events within the same time period or geographical area.

Contextualization – This skill relates your ability to connect historical events and processes to particular circumstances of time and place, including broader regional, national, or global activities. You will need to determine historical events or developments within the broader context in which they occurred and then draw conclusions about their significance.

Synthesis – This involves your ability to develop an understanding of the past by making meaningful and persuasive historical connections between one historical issue and other periods, themes, or disciplines. You will need to make connections between a given historical issue and similar developments in a different historical context, geographical area, or era, including the present.

As an AP U.S. History student, your essays should include a combination of diverse and conflicting evidence with differing interpretations in an essay to show a well-thought out and convincing understanding of the past.

Chronological Reasoning

Causation – This skill relates to your ability to identify, analyze, and evaluate the relationships among historical causes and effects. You also must tell the difference between those that are long-term and proximate. You should also know the difference between causation and correlation to master this skill.

Patterns of Continuity and Change over Time – This is your ability to recognize, analyze, and assess the dynamics of continuity and change over periods of time of different lengths, as well as your ability to relate these patterns to a broader historical processes or themes.

Periodization – This is your ability to describe, analyze, and evaluate different ways that history is divided into periods. Different models of periodization are often debated among historians, and the choice of specific turning points or starting and ending dates might garner a higher value to one region or group than to another.

Creating and Supporting a Historical Argument

Argumentation – This involves your ability to create an argument and support it using relevant historical evidence. This includes identifying and framing a question about the past and then coming up with a claim or argument about that question, usually in the form of a thesis.

A good argument requires a defensible thesis, supported by thorough analysis of pertinent and varied historical evidence. The evidence used should be built around the application of one of the other historical thinking skills like comparison, causation, patterns of continuity and change over time, or periodization.

Finally, it involves your ability to look at a variety of evidence in concert with each other, identifying contradictions and other relationships among sources to develop and support your argument.

APUSH Scoring Rubrics for LEQs and DBQs

If you want to get the maximum points for the essay portions of the exam, you will have to know and be able to use the historical thinking skills we have discussed in your essays. Here is a snapshot of the scoring rubrics from the Rubrics for AP Histories. This CollegeBoard resource also has a full explanation of the historical thinking skills we have covered in this APUSH review.

Scoring Rubric for the DBQs (7 points)

SectionPointsTargeted Skill
Thesis and Argument Development2Argumentation
Document Analysis2Analyzing Evidence and Argumentation
Using Evidence Beyond the Documents2Contextualization and Argumentation

Scoring Rubric for the LEQs (6 points)

SectionPointsTargeted Skill
Thesis 1Argumentation
Argument Development: Using the Targeted Historical Thinking Skill2Argumentation and Targeted Skill
Argument Development: Using Evidence2Argumentation

What are the 5 Most Important Historical Thinking Skills and how do I Spot them on the AP U.S. History Test

The CollegeBoard would not identify nine historical thinking skills if they were not all relevant to the AP course and exam, but there are five historical thinking skills that we feel are more important because they can earn you the most points on the writing-based questions (SAQs, DBQs, and LEQs). Those important historical thinking skills are: contextualization, continuity, and change over time, causation, synthesis, and argumentation. So how can you spot these thinking skills on the APUSH Exam?

How do I Spot Historical Thinking Skills on the APUSH Exam?

There are several strategies for putting your knowledge to work when you take the exam. Here are a couple of examples of how you can spot historical thinking skills in an LEQ on the APUSH exam.

Continuity and Change Over Time

As we discussed, the historical thinking skill of Continuity and Change Over Time requires you to be able to determine what changed and what stayed the same between different time periods. To get max points you will also need to explain the reasons for historical continuity AND change over time.

Here is an essay question from the 2012 APUSH Exam (Question 2). See if you can spot the targeted historical thinking skill in this question.

Evaluate how the French and Indian War maintained continuities and fostered changes in the relationship between England and the thirteen colonies.


To review, causation is the ability to identify, analyze, and evaluate causes and effects. You will need to describe the causes and effects of a historical event, development, or process. To get the maximum points, you will also need to explain the reasons for those causes and effects.

Here is an essay question from the 2012 APUSH Exam (Question 3). See if you can spot the targeted historical thinking skill in this question?

Analyze the effect of the French and Indian War and its aftermath on the relationship between Great Britain and the British colonies. Confine your response to the period from 1754 to 1776.

Historical Thinking Skills and Primary Sources

How do primary sources relate to historical thinking skills? Primary sources help you develop knowledge, thinking skills, and analytical abilities. When you deal directly with primary sources, you will get engaged by asking questions, thinking historically, making smart inferences, and developing well-thought-out accounts and interpretations of events in the past and present.

Remember, primary sources are pieces of history, often incomplete, and usually come without context. Having a historical thinking skills like contextualization will help you to be logical, to look at sources thoughtfully, and to find out what else you need to know to make inferences from the materials.

Next Steps

Now that we have walked through the nine historical thinking skills and highlighted which ones are most important for the exam, you can now practice using those skills in preparing to write your essays for the LEQ and DBQ portion of the APUSH exam. Remember that these two parts of the exam are worth 40% and using these historical thinking skills will help you to achieve the maximum points for each question.

Make sure you go back and review the Rubrics for AP Historiesso you know what you have to do in order to get that 7 on the DBQ and a 6 on the LEQ. Preparation is the key to getting a 5 on the APUSH exam. If you use the AP U.S. History tips in the article, you will be well on your way.

To really prepare for the APUSH exam, you need to practice writing LEQ and DBQ responses. To take it one step further, you should know exactly what the test-writers are looking for in a response that meets all of the requirements in the scoring rubrics. To learn more about how to write a great APUSH DBQ, read The Ultimate Guide to the 2016 AP U.S. History DBQ

Featured Image Source

Looking for AP US History practice?

Kickstart your AP US History prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.

0 Replies to “Critical Thinking In Us History Review”

Lascia un Commento

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *