Teaching world history: from StudentsFriend.com

Two new books from Maxwell Learning


     Student's Friend founder Mike Maxwell has published two new books about history teaching. Future-Focused History Teaching is the result of his seven-year investigation into how history education might be made more useful to students and society. The result is the commonsense idea that knowledge from the past can inform judgment in the future.

     The second book has been seventeen years in the making. It is the first version of the Student's Friend Concise World History to be published in book form.

The discovery that could change history schooling

August 17, 2016

     When I retired from classroom teaching six years ago, I gave myself a new full-time job: to figure out why my teaching—and history schooling in general—seemed so ineffectual.  Over the course of my investigation, I discovered a fundamental flaw at the heart of history education that prevents history schooling from fulfilling the purpose of schooling.  

Website update

August 10, 2016

     While working on a new book about history education, I didn't give the Student's Friend website all the attention it deserved, but I  have just completed an update in time for the new school year.  (Be aware that some file names and locations have changed.)  Several updates are found in the final two units of the Student's Friend concise narrative of world history, which deal with recent and ongoing historical events.

     For more information about the upcoming book, click here.

Just in time for the new school year,

a terrific curriculum bundle for Part 2 from Joel Allen

August 10, 2013

     When Joel was a new teacher, he struggled to cover the endless content in traditional history textbooks; he described them as "all over the place."  By his second semester, Joel had found the Student's Friend concise narrative of world history, and he's been using it ever since. Joel has assembled the teaching materials he uses to accompany  Part 2 (1500 to the present), and he's made them available to teachers on this website.  Click the link above to see his collection of PowerPoint lesson plans, DBQs, videos, primary sources, and more.

Ten years old, and we're still kickin'.

August 29, 2011

     Happy birthday to us!

Studentsfriend.com turned 10 years old on July 24th.

Student's Friend was the first comprehensive guide to world history teaching on the Internet, and teachers continue to find it an essential resource.

Student's Friend goes mobile

     Last summer, Rick Smith from Virginia offered to develop an app based on the content of the Student's Friend concise narrative of world history. It's a nifty little program that works on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.  To get a copy, go to the App Store on your mobile device and search for "student's friend: mobile edition."

New and improved teacher tools

March 16, 2011

     New Items:

     -Plagiarism Prevention Package

     -World Religions simulation

     -Five-paragraph essay format

     -Hammurabi Code source analysis

     -Music lessons from teacher Joel Allen

     -History mini-posters

     -Introductory exercise for World History Part 2

     Improved Items:

     -Research paper package; this updated version includes a plagiarism notice and other changes.

     -Christopher Columbus source analysis, now with two additional primary sources.

     -Timeline Projects updated to be consistent with Version 3 of the Student's Friend:

          -Illustrated Timeline projects for Parts 1 and 2

          -Triple Timeline activity

          -Overlapping Timeline activity

          -Dates used in Part 1 timeline activities

"Arab freedom uprisings"  New topic added to the Student's Friend.

Februiary 12, 2011

     We are watching world history unfold in Tunisia and Egypt. Perhaps this is the dawn of a new and better era for the Middle East. Today the Student's Friend concise world history added a new topic to the Current Issues unit: "Arab freedom uprisings." It is the first item (#185) on page 48, the last page of Unit 12, Part 2. It replaces the topic on "Biotechnology." The Study Questions for page 48 have been modified accordingly.  Page 48 also now includes a reference to the recession of 2009 and its relationship to Keynesian economics.  It's under the topic of "Capitalism."

Latest revision of the Student's Friend

February 1, 2011

     Now available is the latest revision of the concise historical narrative we call the Student's Friend, which many teachers use as an alternative to traditional textbooks. Most of the changes occur in Part 2, Units 11 and 12.  These final two units deal with world history's most recent events and are consequently most often in need of updating. The newest version of the Student's Friend may be viewed online, or downloaded in pdf and Microsoft Word formats. As always, it's free.

Unit 11: 1950 to the Present

Unit 12: Current Issues

  New unit study guides; updated quizzes and study questions

January 21, 2011

     We have added new learning materials for teachers who use the Student's Friend in place of a traditional textbook. The Student's Friend is available free on this website.

     We are now offering Study Guides to accompany each unit of the Student's Friend. Guides include an introduction to the unit, map locations, and open-ended questions meant to stimulate thought and discussion. These guides feature eight "essential questions" that overlay the entire course of study from Unit 1 through Unit 12. Also, check out the three "Basic writing guidelines for students."

     We have also updated our sets of Quizzes and Study Questions that teachers can use as reading/writing/comprehension activities to help students learn the historical content contained in the Student's Friend.

Search and advertising added to website

December 12, 2010

     I have retired from classroom teaching and will have more time to devote to the studentsfriend.com website, which has always been a labor of love—not of profit. The online world is much changed since I launched this site nearly ten years ago, and the technicians at Google have made it possible for small-scale web publishers to add search and content-related advertising. Our new search function is limited to results from within the studentsfriend.com website.

     I am hoping the ads, combined with referrals from our online store, will generate enough income to cover the expenses of operating this website. As is evident at the right of this page, our layout and color scheme choices are designed to clearly differentiate advertising from educational content so as maintain a quality visitor experience. I hope our friends won't mind the change.

Student's Friend 2008/09 update completed

July 19, 2008

     The annual revision of the Student's Friend outline of world history & geography has been posted on the website for the 2008/09 school year. click here.  As always, please let us know if you have any corrections or other suggestions.

History and the survival of our species

November 14, 2007

     Could knowledge of world history provide the long-range view that humans will need in order to survive their selfish drive to destruction? Possibly, according to studentsfriend founder Mike Maxwell in his book review/essay in World History Connected, the online journal of world history education.

Student's Friend 2007/208 update completed

August 13 2007

     The annual revision of the Student's Friend outline of world history & geography has been posted on the website for the 2007/08 school year. As always, please let us know if you have any corrections or other suggestions.

Coming next will be a new addition to the website: study guides for each of the 12 units of the Student's Friend.

Website facelift

July 25, 2007

     After six years, we thought it might be time to update the look of the studentsfriend.com website. We hope the new look is eye-catching and easier to navigate than our old site design.

Who are those two guys anyway?

Maps for Part 2 of the Student's Friend

October 8, 2006

     Like Part 1 of the Student's Friend, Part 2 now has maps to accompany online views of each unit. If you're not sure of a map location listed at the beginning of a unit, you can see it in the online view.

Part 2, Student's Friend revision is complete

September 25, 2006

     Weeeee're back!

As may be surmised from the entry below, it's been over two years since we last made significant changes to the studentsfriend.com website.  During this time we have focused on completing a major revision to Part 2 of the Student's Friend.  Part 1 underwent a similar revision three years ago. These revisions are meant to give the Student's Friend a more global perspective that places somewhat less emphasis on Western Civilization.

Next, we plan to prepare maps to accompany each of the new units in the online view of Part 2 of the Student's Friend . Then we want to give this website a facelift along with other updates. We hope to see you again down the road.

Student's Friend updated for the new school year

August 29, 2004

     In time for the beginning of the new school year, we have posted updates to Parts 1 and 2 of the Student's Friend, our online textbook alternative. Changes include corrections and clarifications to the revised version of Part 1 (Prehistory to 1500) and updates reflecting new developments in the world since the last revision of Part 2 (1500 to the present). Many thanks to Jason, a social studies specialist in Florida, who offered several suggestions for improving the Early Middle Ages Unit of Part 1.

Customized outline maps

December 27, 2003

     We have developed three outline maps to accompany Part 1 and Part 2 of the Student's Friend (a concise outline of world history and geography available free on this website.)

Two maps to be used with Part 1 are:

- a map of the world without political boundaries and

- a map of the Eastern Hemisphere without political boundaries.  The Eastern Hemisphere map shows rivers associated with major ancient civilizations.

The map to be used with Part 2 of the Student's Friend is an outline map of the world with political boundaries.  Also available are three new maps from the University of Texas.

More teacher tools

September 20, 2003

This chart helps students analyze civilizations by tracking the

development of eight major aspects of civilization: geography, economy, technology, political, artistic, religion/philosophy, interaction, and society. These charts can provide the basis for answering essay questions about change over time or comparison across cultures.

In many respects this activity resembles a Socratic seminar, but students

manage the seminar by taking turns discussing prepared questions. This package includes guidelines with student instructions and a scoring sheet for recording student participation.


Students can use this form to analyze primary and secondary source documents.


An alternative (and shorter) grading rubric has been added to this 16-page package.  The explanation of references has been improved.

Improvements to Student's Friend Part 1 and the 4-Eras Timeline

August 24, 2003

     After only two days of classes, my students are finding typos in the revised version of the Student's Friend Part 1. Corrections have been made, and new cover pages have been added to the revised Part 1, both in the pdf and MS Word versions.

     Also, our 4 Eras of history timeline has been updated to better reflect the revised Part 1 and "the new world history."

Part 1 of the Student's Friend revised

August 19, 2003

     Part 1 of the Student's Friend has been revised to make it more consistent with the "new world history."  The first draft of the new version is now available in pdf and MS Word formats.

A hundred-thousand website visits

February 23, 2003

     During the week of February 16, we reached the milestone of     100,000 visits since the studentsfriend.com website went online July 24, 2001. We are currently averaging about 2,500 visits per week.

One-page summary of world history

February 2, 2003

     A major revision of the Student's Friend is in the works due largely to the gentle nudging of veteran teacher Heidi Roupp, a former president of the World History Association. This one-page summary of world history is a preliminary draft of the first page of the new Student's Friend. Your comments or suggestions are welcome.

Contributions to the Teacher's Lounge from our online friends

February 2, 2003

     Dan, a teacher from Arkansas, historian J.R. McNeill and studentsfriend.com share thoughts about the dueling historical dating systems: AD versus CE.  Dan also thinkings students need to connect words to mental images.

     Teacher and author Wendy Wilson offers suggestions about the use of films in world history classrooms.

     Mark, an "amateur historian" from Canada, suggests some good online geography and history resources.

New and improved teacher tools

January 24, 2003

This form presents the essay question to the student, provides a

format for answering the question and includes a grading rubric. Insert your question in the blank area near the top of the form. pdf file.

(Sample essay question. pdf file

Students may use this form to analyze primary and secondary


including documents, book excerpts, films, cartoons, etc. pdf file

These two complimentary activities involving Christopher

Columbus and Queen Elizabeth I give students practice in analyzing and assessing the value of different kinds of sources.

This package has been revised to include provisions for a thesis

statement, to restrict the use of contractions in student writing and to clarify the use source codes when taking research notes. pdf file


This classroom management packet has been revised to reflect improvements proposed by a work group of secondary school teachers.  pdf file

Why study history?  A brief lesson

September 8, 2002

     While we may understand that knowledge of history is important for people living in a free society, we can sometimes find it difficult to convey this awareness to our students. At the beginning of this school year I tried a new approach that seemed to help my students visualize the relevance of history. It involves a sunny day at the beach. (Revised 1/24/03)

New teacher tools

August 16, 2002

FILM-BASED LESSONS: Eight film-based lessons have been added to the Teacher's Aids area; four deal with content from Student's Friend Part 1, and four are appropriate for part 2.  Two of the lessons were contributed by creative Vermont teacher Dan Deneen.

Prompted by inquiries from several of our friends, we have tracked


some good sources for outline maps. (Revised 12/2/03)

This concise timeline provides a conceptual framework that will

help students grasp the big picture of history from the big bang to the space age. The Four Eras timeline identifies historical watersheds that separate the four eras, and it correlates to units in the Student's Friend .


Minor changes have been made to Parts 1 and 2 of the Student's Friend .

The latest updates are now available for viewing and download.

And just so you know, we tweaked a few other items in the Teacher's Aids area, (there's a new cheat sheet for the timeline projects), but most of the changes are probably too minor to mention.

How to teach: meaning over method

August 14, 2002

     A century of debate between proponents of traditional and progressive teaching approaches may have missed the point.  Perhaps we should focus first on the important meanings we wish students to learn, and then try to figure out the best methods for teaching them. Perhaps meaning, not methods, should drive our teaching.

     This page completes our investigation of the fundamental issues surrounding the teaching of world history and geography. Moving forward our emphasis will be on identifying the meaningful understandings that students should gain from history education and the best activities for teaching them.

The Teacher's Lounge

August 7, 2002

     Visit the new Teacher's Lounge and find out what other people are saying about this website and the Student's Friend . You might find answers to some of your questions. The Teacher's Lounge is always open in the Feedback & Collaboration area...so stop by for a visit, and join the conversation.

The nature of history

July 29, 2002

     What, exactly, is this thing we call history?  Does history record all of the human experience? Where does it get its information? Is history accurate and believable? As teachers we probably should have some conception of the nature of history before we try to teach history to students. These ideas are explored in the newest addition to the studentsfriend.com website. click here

It's our first birthday!

July 24, 2002

     We've been online for a year now, and we are averaging over 900 visits per week.  The studentsfriend.com website has grown considerably during the past year, and it will continue to grow as we add more content designed to be helpful to teachers. During the past year we received a number of thank yous and compliments. This encouraging feedback makes me believe we are on the right track. It's great to be part of an online community that is seriously and optimistically dedicated to good teaching and effective student learning. (In the Fall of 2002, we began averaging over 2,000 visits per week.)

What to teach: a body of knowledge

March 17, 2002

     The all-important question of "what to teach" drives many other curriculum decisions.  This question is considered in a major new addition to the studentsfriend.com website. Fortunately, a review of education literature reveals surprising consensus on the body of knowledge to be taught in history/geography classrooms. Accompanying this addition is a new page on the Goal of Education.

Student's Friend online store - new

March 16, 2002

     In preparing the new "What to teach" area, I relied heavily on the writing of key thinkers in the field of history education.  In an effort to help repay my debt to these educators, an online store featuring their works has been added to the website. A few historical films are also available, and other materials will be added in the future. Purchases made through the online store help to support studentsfriend.com.

A note to new teachers

February 6, 2002

     Teaching is hard.  Many new teachers struggle to survive those first few years on the job. Here are some personal thoughts about the challenges and changes of those early years as a teacher.

New download formats

September 10, 2001

     The Student's Friend is now available for download in word processing formats, which allow you to edit the Student's Friend on your computer.  The Student's Friend continues to be available in pdf format as well.

Pre-opening checklist

August 25, 2001

     A checklist such as this is helpful when preparing for a new semester of school.  Life can be made by gathering in one file folder all originals to be copied for the beginning of classes. click here

Learning and thinking

August 13, 2001

     Is brain-based research fact or fad?  Are your teaching methods consistent with scientific knowledge about learning?  Find out by visiting the latest addition to the "Teaching history & geography" area.

Hello out there.

July 24, 2001

     The studentsfriend.com World History and Geography website went online at 7:00pm, Tuesday, July 24, 2001. I hope you find it useful and will consider making it better though your feedback and collaboration.

Please excuse the advertising; it helps pay the bills.

© 2001-2016 Michael G. Maxwell, Maxwell Learning LLC

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