When we were kids social studies was taught directly from a textbook. We would read a lesson, do the questions at the end of the lesson and then repeat until the chapter was done. At the end of the chapter, we would take the test from the book. This went on for most of our elementary and middle school lives, the same boring routine, the same boring textbooks.
It wasn’t until we took the social studies methods class in college that we realized that there was so much more to the teaching of social studies. Our past teachers had made the subject so drab that we couldn’t possibly think that social studies could be exciting, engaging, and fun to teach. That thinking was about to change for us and was about to change for the students we were going to teach. It was time to make history engaging.
The Textbook is Not the Bible
First, our college professor told us that the textbook should not be “The Bible” of a social studies curriculum. It should be one of the many resources that you can use to share knowledge. It should not be the only source that students are exposed to in social studies.
Incorporate Primary and Secondary Sources
Second, teachers should incorporate both primary and secondary sources into the lessons. What better way for students to learn then through the primary source documents of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address and so many other sources crucial to US history. History comes alive when students can access actual documents that are part of the United State’s past.
Include the 8 Strands of Social Studies
Third, involve all 8 strands of social studies into your units. The strands are: citizenship, culture, economics, geography, government, history, science/technology/society, and social studies skills. There is so much more to social studies than just history. All the strands are intertwined together and help to tell a bigger picture of what happened in US history.
Use an Inquiry Approach
Fourth, use an inquiry approach to pique students interest. Many states have now gone to inquiry based learning for social studies. According to the Wisconsin State Standards for Social Studies, “Advances in human knowledge come about not because people can memorize factoids or were great at filling out worksheets in school; rather they come about when people ask questions and pursue those questions in critical ways.” We must allow our students to ask questions about the past, formulate questions, and then seek out answers using multiple sources.
Put the “Social” Back in Social Studies
As kids, we never worked with a partner or in groups. It was always by ourselves with our textbook. In the modern workforce, most jobs require the ability to work with others. As educators we have to help teach our students how to work cooperatively in groups, how to compromise, and how to come to a consensus. These life skills are crucial to success later in life. Social studies lends itself to partner projects, group work and whole class debates. This is the perfect time during the school day to let your students work together to analyze documents, critically think about historical events, and to collaborate together.
Bring Social Studies to Life
Being social studies teachers for the past 20+ years, we have been able to develop some engaging and creative social studies units based around United States history. Below are a few examples of how the teaching of social studies can be engaging, creative, and meaningful for students.
Give your students the Oregon Trail experience. We’ve built a simulation activity that will engage your students from Independence, Missouri, to the Northwestern part of Oregon!
This resource provides an interactive experience that engages students to become pioneers and make decisions vital to the survival and success of their caravan wagon. As wagon members, each student will have a specific job to do in their journey to the Oregon territory that keeps everyone involved until they reach their destination, or a tragic end!
Watch your students have a blast while participating in the Oregon Trail simulation and leave them with an advanced understanding of the period, along with critical thinking skills. You can find it by clicking here.
The purpose of this Declaration of Independence activity is to engage your students by having them become detectives and learn about the Declaration of Independence in a fun and engaging way. Students will become Declaration Detectives and will have to dig into the famous document to find out why it was so important to the Patriots and how it changed history forever. You can find the resource by clicking here.
The purpose of this activity is to engage your students in an American Revolution Escape Room activity. Many of the American colonists have been suffering from fatigue and extreme forgetfulness. It is up to the students to solve the mystery quote and the person who said the quote. Students will learn more about the American Revolution as they work through five different clues (activities) to help them escape (or return) back to the 21st century. Find the Escape Room activity by clicking here.
The Constitution contains phrasing that can make it difficult to grasp all the concepts. But in this activity, students will be able to break down the terminology in terms they can understand. Make it easier for your students to be Constitution Detectives, not harder. Click here to read more!
You will also want to try out our free resources below. They will give you a taste of some of ways we cover material in class.
This is a great activity to get your students ready for the Oregon Trail Simulation. Included in this free resource is: an introductory letter from a pioneer, two pages of questions to answer about prior knowledge of the Oregon Trail, key vocabulary related to the journey westward, and a United States map to locate important places along the trail. This intro activity will get your students excited about learning more about Westward Expansion. Find the free resource here.
In this activity students will have to use evidence to support their answers about the Civil War. Included are 10 questions, a response sheet, and a hints page to help students to cite evidence. This is an important skill that all students should learn. You can find this by clicking here.
Make history engaging for your students.
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