Essential Skills

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Why National History Day?NHD is a great project-based interdisciplinary project.

National History Day gives participants the skills all individuals need for a successful future. The program is a unique academic enrichment opportunity because of the variety of skills it teaches: critical and creative thinking, research and analysis, verbal and written communication skills, time management and self-initiative, commitment to a long-term project, problem-solving, self esteem, and much more.

National History Day meets national standards in history, language arts, and other disciplines.

NHD experience is particularly useful for students going to college. Past National History Day participants frequently report that their experiences helped them secure scholarships and prepared them for college-level work and expectations. Some scholarships are available through the NHD contest.

Objectives of National History Day

  • To provide history teachers with an innovative teaching tool.
  • To assist teachers and schools in meeting educational standards which require outcome-based learning activities.
  • To encourage the study of history by teaching students to express themselves creatively through presentations of historical topics and materials in a variety of formats.
  • To interest students in learning about history by integrating the materials and methods of social studies, art, literature, language, technology, and music into their entries.
  • To develop research and reading skills and to refine presentation skills in writing, visual projects, and performances.
  • To develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will help students manage and use information effectively now and in the future.
  • To encourage students to develop a sense of history as a process and change, a multifaceted development over time that affects every aspect of human life and society.
  • To get students out of the school building and into the community, investigating local history.
  • To involve parents and other members of the community in students' education.
  • To expose students to new and exciting educational environments by holding workshops and contests on college campuses and at historical societies.
  • To help create better educated citizens.
  • To prepare the next generation of Iowa scholars and employees.
  • To aid teachers, parents, and schools in their efforts to provide educational opportunities for their children.
  • To excite and educate the public about their rich heritage.
It directly supports the newly adopted Common Core State Standards in Language Arts with its focus on research and argumentative writing. After selecting a historical topic that relates to an annual theme, students conduct extensive research by using libraries, archives, museums, and oral history interviews. They analyze and interpret their findings, draw conclusions about the significance of their topics in history, and create final projects to present their work.


Examples of past winning projects:


More Links:

Go to the Educator section of the NHD website to learn how NHD helps meet national education standards.

You can download a PDF copy of the current National History Day Contest Rule book at

Tips from a past winner:


Best tool ever!


Benefits for Teachers

The National History Day program provides teachers an innovative teaching tool that instills important skills in a fun and engaging format. NHD requires students to do the job of a historical detective. Participants must delve into primary sources, develop original historical conclusions, and present their work in a creative forum. In short, National History Day is designed to revolutionize the teaching and learning of history.

One of the regrets college instructors express is the lack of intellectual skills too many freshpeople bring to the university. NHD is tailor made to address these concerns. Analysis, critical thinking, making an annotated bibliography, and integrating technological tools in an interdisciplinary project-based environment are the hallmarks of NHD.

NHD also promotes continuing education opportunities for teachers. Introductory and training workshops are offered by both the state and the national staff, as well as several district History Day programs.


Benefits for Students

The program promotes a number of skills that students need for a successful future. National History Day:

  • Builds research, comprehension, critical thinking, and presentation skills.
  • Integrates the arts, social sciences, and other disciplines into a historical presentation.
  • Fosters pride in and understanding of local, state, national, and world heritage.
  • Develops creativity.
  • Improves self-esteem.
  • Promotes a positive experience with history and learning.

And the number one reason students benefit from NHD:

  • National History Day makes learning fun!

From the Historical Society of Michigan
NHD Participation Shown to Boost School Performance and Job Skills

January 31, 2011

Lansing Students who participate in the National History Day (NHD) educational program, coordinated as Michigan History Day by the Historical Society of Michigan, perform better on high-stakes tests, are better writers, more confident and capable researchers, and have a more mature perspective on current events and civic engagement than their peers, according to the first national evaluation of the widely used curricular program. Participants also show a greater ability to collaborate with peers, manage their time, and persevere – all skills employers say are lacking in today’s workforce.

For more than 20 years, the Historical Society of Michigan has run Michigan History Day, coordinating the regional and state-level competitions and providing support for teachers and students throughout the school year. This year, more than 5,000 students from around the state are taking part in Michigan History Day.

Major sponsors of Michigan History Day include Meijer Inc., The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, The Cook Charitable Foundation, and Amway Inc. One by One Campaign for Children.

“Over the past two decades, our staff has witnessed the profound impact that History Day has on students across Michigan,” commented Executive Director Larry J. Wagenaar. “This program is one of the best tools educators have to encourage additional growth in critical thinking, research, literacy, communication, and other skills with their students.”

Michigan History Day is a year-long academic program for elementary and secondary school students focused on historical research, interpretation, and creative expression. Students who participate in this academic competition become writers, filmmakers, web designers, playwrights, and artists as they create unique contemporary expressions of history.

Michigan’s state coordinator for History Day, Emily Asbenson, noted that “It’s encouraging to see the study confirm what we’ve known for years: that students who participate in Michigan History Day develop the confidence, curiosity, and self-direction to be successful in both their education and the workplace.”

The full report, National History Day Works, is available a Some of the important findings include:

  • NHD students outperform their non-NHD peers on state standardized tests, not only in social studies, but in reading, science, and math as well. For example,
  • In 2008-2009 in Texas, twice as many NHD students achieved “commended performance” as non-NHD students (87 percent vs. 37 percent) on the social studies assessment of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).
  • At a South Carolina middle school where NHD was part of the curriculum for all eighth graders, students scored higher than students in a non-NHD middle school on the Language Arts, Math, and Science segments of the 2008-09 South Carolina Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS) test.
  • NHD students are better writers, who write with a purpose and real voice, and marshal solid evidence to support their point of view. NHD students outscored comparison-group students on both pre- and post-writing assessments, receiving more high scores (five or six) on a six point scale. NHD essays had more sentence variety, richer vocabulary, a more authentic voice, and better organization.
  • NHD students are critical thinkers who can digest, analyze, and synthesize information. Performance assessments show that NHD students overall were significantly better than their peers at interpreting historical information, with an average of 79 percent vs. 61 percent correct.
  • NHD students learn 21st century skills. They learn how to collaborate with team members, talk to experts, manage their time, and persevere.
  • NHD has a positive impact among students whose interests in academic subjects may wane in high school. Analyses show that among black and Hispanic students, NHD students outperform non-NHD students, posting higher performance assessment scores and levels of interests and skills. Compared to non-NHD boys, and to all girls, boys participating in NHD reported significantly higher levels of interest in history, civic engagement, and confidence in research skills, on both pre- and post-surveys.

Conducted by San Francisco-based research firm Rockman, et al, the study looked at performance assessments, surveys, and standardized test scores to evaluate students’ research and writing skills, ability to interpret historical information, academic performance, and interest in past and current events. Researchers then compared their evaluations of students who participated in National History Day (NHD) to their peers who did not participate in the program.

The study, conducted at four sites around the country, found that on nearly every measure, NHD students’ scores or ratings were higher than their peers who did not participate in the program. The sites evaluated included school districts in urban, suburban and rural settings: Aldine Unified School District, Houston, TX; Chesterfield Co. Schools, Chesterfield, SC; a large public school district in Colorado; and Paterson Public Schools, Paterson, NJ. The survey included a slightly higher sample of Black and Hispanic students compared to the population breakdown in U.S. public schools.