How do I communicate history in such a way that the students really grok it and that it stays with them? I have no idea.
Seriously, I try, and try, and the things I think are easy? Whooooosh they go swishing past never to be seen again. The odd or really complicated material? Often sticks.
I can tell you that not using notes makes an enormous difference. The lessons when I do not use notes because I’ve learned the material backwards and forwards, the students often do best with that material.
Reading widely enough that I can help them see connections, and to have a trove of history-stories that are germane to the topic also seems to work. Humor, odd facts, personal accounts of events, the occasional gory description of why technology isn’t such a bad thing at times, those all help.
The other way, besides repeating and emphasizing the critical facts over and over and over… is to tear my heart out in class and let them see just how meaningful and painful or wonder-full an event was. But that requires that the students respect their teacher and trust him or her not to be stringing them along. The students have to immerse themselves in the story to the same depth that the teacher is immersed, and that’s… hard. Very hard.
I rarely get seriously emotional in class. I will play-act some times*, and I use a lot of humor of various kinds to keep students going and paying attention, but pathos? No. I don’t want to manipulate them. That may be part of why they lock onto those few times when I do get wound up and fight to keep in control of myself.
*Sometimes play-acting someone like General Wallenstein, or Louis XIV, or Stalin, or Hitler, works to cement information in students’ memories. Sometimes… nothing works. Cold front approaching and it is the period just before lunch, or last class of the day on Friday? All bets are off!