Bookmark This!: Fireside Chats to YouTube


Jay Mathews’s recent column in the Washington Post, “Most Textbooks Should Just Stay on the Shelf,” elicits opinions from educators and publishers on the continued relevance of the traditional textbook. He ultimately concludes that “like the newspapers that have been my life, textbooks are creeping slowly toward obsolescence,” with a variety of new media such as podcasts and electronic books gaining prominence.

The good news for educators looking to introduce engaging documents and media into instruction is the flood of free and fascinating material being made available online. Google has begun adding cover-to-cover magazine archives to their Book Search; this effort now includes such titles as Popular Science, New York Magazine, and Ebony.

Another excellent resource I recently discovered is an extensive (though not complete) archive of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” to the nation, from between 1933 and 1945. The chats can be streamed and downloaded from the Internet Archive. These are especially intriguing in light of President-elect Obama’s now giving weekly addresses to the nation via YouTube, as he faces international and financial challenges that invite comparison to those during FDR’s tenure.

Which online documents have engaged your students?


  1. I’ve found that a focus on having students ask questions about what they are reading, whether on-line or in print, is one of the best ways to engage them as readers and thinkers. Getting students to understand that it is appropriate/ good to have questions when they’re reading, and then to share them with others in discussion, is usually the hardest first step in using something like the Shared Inquiry method of reading and discussion developed by the Great Books Foundation, where I work. And the other key is helping teachers systematically act on the understanding that having students struggle through asking and answering their own questions is so much more powerful than giving them neat, predigested packets of information. It’s harder than one might think to stick with that approach day after day, but ultimately it’s more rewarding to see the students so engaged.

  2. Some engaging primary source documents in image form such as those in the Life Photo Archive hosted by Google and the Calisphere collection from the University of California Digital Libraries as well as the Library of Congress photos in Flickr are great for student history lessons. To watch government in action I like the C-SPAN classroom video clips


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