Here are the guiding principles I try to use in choosing exercises:
1) The accumulation of facts should always have a clear purpose–facts are not an end in themselves but a tool for deeper understanding.
2) Rote memorization should play as small a part as possible.
3) The skills of synthesis–prioritization, organization, and summarization–need to be consciously taught, not assumed.
I often use an exploration exercise to introduce a unit or new topic. My goals are to give students a sense of the richness, complexity, and messiness of the subject–it’s very easy, reading a single account, to think of that as the only story that could be told; by letting students wander at the very start through material that may be contradictory or hard to categorize, I am trying to inoculate them against that–and to pique students interest: I often use these exercises to show them a different, more human view of events, and I hope they will carry that with them through the unit. Because I am letting students choose their own material and interpret it for themselves, I can’t count on them acquiring any specific fact, but in practice, I often find that they remember what they read or saw in these lessons longer than almost anything else.
Simulations and problem solving
Working with secondary sources
Teaching skills of synthesis
Prioritization: The one most important
Summarization: Timed summaries
Invent your own notes
Summarizing around a question
Write the test
Write the textbook
Review and drill exercises
Chronology with index cards
Categories with index cards (variation: dominoes)
The question off
Bowl full of nouns
What do you know–hotseat