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Creating Authentic Diaries

This modelling the tools is incorporated into critical challenges at grades 7 and 8, however, it can be adapted for use at all grade levels.


Session One

Introduce historical diary and journal.

  • Remind students that individuals will have different perspectives on the same event. Often, the personal perspectives on an historical event are most effectively portrayed in diaries or personal journals, which provide insights not only into the great historical events of the era but also into the everyday lives of the ordinary people who lived them. Indicate to the class that they will be asked to develop a diary or journal about an event from the perspective of an individual who was alive at the time. Explain that when they take on the role and write their entry, students are developing historically empathy–the capacity to place themselves in the minds and times of historical persons. Point out the differences between a diary and journal:
    • Diaries tend to have shorter, more frequent entries and focus more on the day to day events that occur to the individual.
    • Journals tend to have longer entries and focus, in more depth, on a particular issue. They would include the writer's views on the event and/or the impact / possible impact of the event on their life.

Introduce a forged diary.

  • Display overhead transparencies of Genie Macleod's Diary and Gerald Keegan's Journal. The former is a fictionalized account of a trip from Ireland in 1847; the latter is an authentic journal account of the same event. Place the forged diary on the overhead and briefly discuss the following questions:
    • Is it an effective diary entry? Why or why not?
    • Does it seem that it was actually written by someone in 1847?

Introduce criteria for historical diaries/journals.

  • Distribute a copy of Effective Historical Diaries/Journals to each student. Explain that the criteria in the left-hand column reflect the qualities of a historically useful, authentic diary or journal. Ask students to examine the forged diary and record evidence related to each criterion in the right-hand column, placing a + in front of evidence indicating that the criterion is present and a - before evidence suggesting that the criterion is missing. After students have recorded several pieces of evidence, invite them to share their results with the rest of the class. Referring to the bottom of Effective Historical Diaries/Journals, ask students to comment on the following:
  • What (if anything) are the strengths of this diary?
  • What areas need more work?

Introduce an authentic journal.

  • Display the second overhead transparency and invite students to read this actual journal entry by Gerald Keegan of his voyage to British North America in 1847. (Instead of the overhead, you may prefer to make copies of the entry for each pair of students.) Ask students to look for and record evidence for each criterion outlined on Effective Historical Diaries/Journals. Suggest that students use a different coloured pen to record the evidence for this second sample. After a suitable length of time, debrief the activity as before.

Pose the critical task.

  • Present the critical task:

Write an authentic diary/journal entry about your assigned event from the
perspective of a person living at the time.

Assume a character.

  • Ask each student to select one of several groups involved in an historical event; e.g., English Canadians, French Canadians, Aboriginal peoples, recent immigrants. In preparation for developing an entry, students should create a brief biography of their character, including:
    • name
    • occupation
    • age
    • family members, if any
    • place of birth.

Distribute one copy of Character Biographies to each team for them to record the four biographies.


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Last updated: July 1, 2014 | (Revision History)
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