Social Studies Lesson Ideas

Elementary School Classrooms

Grade: K-3
Subject: Social Studies (Geography)
Objective: The student will be able to compare and contrast different parts of the world.
Original Post: Wiki-Wiki What?!?

Teachers of younger students might assume that wikis aren’t a tool they can use in their classroom because their students aren’t writing enough to create their own content. However, the beauty of wikis is that anyone can edit them — not just your students. In fact, done well, wikis give students a chance to interact with the world. With a wiki, a student has the power to ask a question and gather answers from around the globe. One first/second grade class created a wiki to find out what 1,000 looked like. More than a thousand people from around the world added their names to the blog, so students could see a list of 1,000 names.

Wikis open the world up to students, which is perfect for kids studying geography. For example, with the help of her dad, a third-grader started Abby’s Travel Logue wiki to help with a school project. At school, Abby created a journal that she mailed to people in other cities, asking them about where they live. As she sent the journal off in the snail mail, her dad helped her start a wiki asking readers to answer the same questions, but post their answers on the wiki. The response was so astounding, they had to start a second page to hold all the information.

Grade: 3-12
Subject: Social Studies
Objective: The student will be able to understand and report the details of a specific historic figure, country, group, or event.
Original Post: Turn Social Networks into Learning Networks with Edmodo

Social studies teachers have started some of the most creative social networking sites I’ve seen. It’s easy to see why — social networks can make history come alive for students, through role play.

When I was a kid studying the American Revolution, our teacher assigned each of us a historic figure to research. One student got Thomas Jefferson, another was assigned Ben Franklin, and so on. We all wrote papers and made posters. Then, we stood in front of the class and talked for 5 minutes, during which only about 3 kids paid attention. With social networking, this assignment can become more interesting and much more meaningful for all students. Instead of (or in addition to) writing a report, each student could be assigned to create an Edmodo profile, posing as a historic figure (like this Thomas Jefferson profile). Then, students could be required to interact with one another as that historic figure. How would Ben Franklin respond to Thomas Jefferson’s comment about democracy? Students would have to understand a lot about their own historic figure, but they’d also have to know a good deal about other figures in order to converse with them. Deeper, higher-level thinking would be required of students, but the assignment would also be fun and motivating for them.

Social studies social networks don’t have to stop with historical figures, though. No matter what time period you’re studying, students can be assigned to act as countries, groups of people, or even historical events. “If Historical Events Had Facebook Statuses” is a funny look at this idea (be aware, though — it was written for an adult audience).

historical-facebook

Grade: K-5
Subject: Social Studies
Objective: The student will be able to compare and contrast his/her culture and community with that of another geographic area.
Original Post: Skype’s New Education Site Connects Classrooms Across the Globe

You can use Skype a lot like teachers in my day used classroom pen pals. On Skype in the Classroom, post a request for a partner class from a geographic area you’ve been studying. Depending on your students’ age, you might try to partner with older students (it would be difficult, for example, to have two Kindergarteners answer each other’s questions, but a 5th-grader can work pretty well with a Kinder kid). Once you find a suitable partner class, work with the teacher to schedule Skyping times and to partner up students (or pairs of students).

Tell students they’re going to interview kids from another part of the world and then they’ll create a presentation for the class about what they learned. With younger students, give them specific questions to ask their Skype buddies. For older kids, a general rubric scaffolded with pre-Skyping class discussions should be enough. Encourage students to have a conversation with their Skype buddies, rather than just interrogating them with a list of questions — you might be able to do this with a low-stakes first meeting, where partners complete simple team-building activities with their Skype buddies.

In upper elementary classes, your students might be asked geographic questions about their community as well. This is a great way to motivate your students to understand local geography since they’ll be responsible for teaching others about it.

Middle School Classrooms

Grade: 6-8
Subject: Social Studies (ancient civilizations)
Objective: The student will be able to compare and contrast a typical day in the life of an ancient Egyptian with a day in the life of a modern-day American.
Original Post: Make Your Students Mythbusters with Video Lab Reports

A “Day in the Life” report is one of the staples of middle school social studies classes. Most of us can remember a project or paper we had to write about life in ancient Egypt or Rome or Greece. This assignment lends itself perfectly to a video report.

Students can act out a typical day in their own lives and then splice in clips of what a similar act would be like in an ancient civilization. See little Johnny wake up to his alarm clock. Cut. See little Johnny, dressed as little Magdi, wake up to the sunrise in Egypt. And so on. What does Johnny wear? What does Magdi wear? What does Johnny eat? What does Magdi eat?

Having to plan, film, re-film, and edit a video like this will certainly help students master the objective. Plus, the videos will likely help other students remember key concepts from the unit.

Grade: 3-12
Subject: Social Studies
Objective: The student will be able to understand and report the details of a specific historic figure, country, group, or event.
Original Post: Turn Social Networks into Learning Networks with Edmodo

Social studies teachers have started some of the most creative social networking sites I’ve seen. It’s easy to see why — social networks can make history come alive for students, through role play.

When I was a kid studying the American Revolution, our teacher assigned each of us a historic figure to research. One student got Thomas Jefferson, another was assigned Ben Franklin, and so on. We all wrote papers and made posters. Then, we stood in front of the class and talked for 5 minutes, during which only about 3 kids paid attention. With social networking, this assignment can become more interesting and much more meaningful for all students. Instead of (or in addition to) writing a report, each student could be assigned to create an Edmodo profile, posing as a historic figure (like this Thomas Jefferson profile). Then, students could be required to interact with one another as that historic figure. How would Ben Franklin respond to Thomas Jefferson’s comment about democracy? Students would have to understand a lot about their own historic figure, but they’d also have to know a good deal about other figures in order to converse with them. Deeper, higher-level thinking would be required of students, but the assignment would also be fun and motivating for them.

Social studies social networks don’t have to stop with historical figures, though. No matter what time period you’re studying, students can be assigned to act as countries, groups of people, or even historical events. “If Historical Events Had Facebook Statuses” is a funny look at this idea (be aware, though — it was written for an adult audience).

historical-facebook

High School Classrooms

Grade: 9-12
Subject: History (timelines)
Objective: (any objective with dates, including) The student will be able to explain how the institutions and practives of government during the Revolution were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the American political system.
Original Post: The $55 Interactive Whiteboard

Dates in history were always difficult for me. Luckily, these days, specific dates aren’t as important as they once were, but it’s still extremely important for students to understand the sequence of events in our history. And one of the best ways to teach students about sequences of events is with timelines.

Classtools.net provides a wide variety of widgets that work really well on the Wiimote Whiteboard, including a timeline widget. The program allows users to fill in the dates and add text boxes that include important events. Users can then sequence and resequence the events.

Teachers could throw this tool on their whiteboard, and have students work together to complete an accurate timeline for any important historical period. You could set a timer that gives each student 2 minutes with the pen/keyboard. The other students can help, but every two minutes, the pen is passed off. The challenge is that by the time every student in the class has had a turn, the timeline is complete and accurate.

Best of all, when the class is done, you can save the timeline to your computer or embed it into a blog or Web page for grading or future reference.

Grade: 9-12
Subject: Civics, History, and Ethics
Objective: The student will be able to articulate the positive and negative consequences of using nuclear warfare at the end of World War II.
Original Post: Use What Their Mamas Gave ‘Em: Students’ Cell Phones in Education

Teachers can use Poll Everywhere to ask their students an opinion question (i.e., should the United States have used atomic weapons at the end of WWII?). Then, have all the students who answered “yes” stand on one side of the room and all the students who answered “no” stand on the opposite side. Next, have students pair up with someone who had a different answer (you might need a couple groups of three, depending on your numbers). Give the students five minutes to try to persuade their partner(s) that their opinion is the right one. After the five minutes, re-vote. Who changed their minds? Why? Even if students didn’t change their minds, what did they learn from their partner?

Grade: 9-12
Subject: Social Studies (Civics)
Objective: The student will be able to understand the rights and responsibilities of citizens in setting directions for public policies and working to support both individual dignity and the common good.
Original Post: Use FREE Blogging to Increase Your Students’ Writing Scores 20 Percent

Blogs are the great equalizer – anyone can be a published writer. And if you’re able to communicate effectively, your message will get attention. One of social studies teachers’ major complaints is that high school students, by and large, are apathetic. But there are tons of examples of students who have affected change through Web 2.0 tools, like the southern California student whose video on sweatshops earned her personal phone calls from the heads of corporations like The Gap.  And the middle-school student whose climate change Web site launched him on a world-wide speaking tour.

Why not give your students the opportunity to affect real change, like this? It might not work for all of them. But most of your students are sure to, at the least, become less apathetic, and perhaps a simple assignment will transform a few into world-known activists for change.

  • After studying social revolutions and current events, have students choose a current social justice issue that interests them.
  • Have students research the topic, possibly authoring a couple of blog posts reporting the facts.
  • Eventually, have students create a multi-media persuasive blog entry trying to convince their peers to make a social change. The change might be something related to their own lives (i.e., recycle) or something they could do to help people far away (i.e. donate money to Heifer International). (You can even make it a competition, to see who can inspire the most change.)
  • Other students (and readers) can leave comments explaining whether or not the blog convinced them to change and why.

Grade: 9-12
Subject: Social Studies (Career Day)
Objective: The student will be able to understand how people in various professions impact the world, and they will understand what’s required to do those jobs.
Original Post: Wiki-Wiki What?!?

Career Day can be a really exciting time for students, especially in low-income schools, where students might not have many opportunities to talk to college-educated professionals. It gives students a chance to interact with local professionals, and ask questions to help them make important life decisions.

But, too often, Career Day isn’t as productive as it could be. First off, it’s only one day, which isn’t always enough time for students to fully understand every profession. Secondly, you’re limited to the people who are able to come to your specific school on that particular day. Lastly, there’s rarely time for more than a canned (often boring) presentation from most professionals. Wikis, on the other hand, give your students the opportunity to have more meaningful interactions with mentors.

Your class could create a wiki and decide how they’d like to organize it (i.e., careers that require a 2-year degree, a 4-year degree, etc. OR careers that focus in math, social studies, science, etc.). Students could populate the wiki with a few basic questions — what’s the best part of your job? The worst part? How much money do you make? Etc. Then, you could invite professionals (the same ones you’d ask to Career Day, plus those in other parts of the world) to post their replies.

After reading the replies, students could post follow-up questions about the careers that most interest them. The professionals could probably offer some tips on what students could do now to prepare (attend a marine biology camp, start a robotics club, etc.). If students are particularly excited about a few careers (or some align with your standards well), perhaps you could set up field trips based on these careers (i.e., to a local hospital to learn more about cardiologists). Or maybe you could help your students inquire about internship opportunities in the fields that interest them.

You might still decide to host a Career Day after these interactions, and it will probably be a more meaningful day, filled with much more in-depth questions from your students.

Grade: 9-12
Subject:
Social Studies (World History and Economics)
Objective:
The student will be able to explain how socioeconomic stratification affects human motivation and cultural values.
Original Post: Moving Beyond Bar Graphs with Data Visualization

Gapminder is an amazing tool. It’s pre-programmed with hundreds of global data sets. All students have to do is choose the variables they’d like to compare and press the “play” button.

Often, it’s difficult for students to understand how socio-economic status and stratification affects other aspects of life. But with gapminder, they can have the y-axis display the GDP (income per person) of various countries, and change the x-axis data to see how they compare. Is there a correlation between health and wealth? HIV infection and wealth? Education and wealth? Infant mortality and wealth?

After working with gapminder for a class period, students can choose a research paper topic related to some of the data they saw. Using the data as a starting point, students can flesh out a thesis and a paper related to wealth’s impact on a variety of other factors.

Grade: 9-12
Subject: Social Studies, Science, English Language Arts, or Art
Objective: The student will be able to communicate the beliefs and motivations of a historical figure, based on research.
Original Post: Harness the Power of Social Networking in Your Classroom, Safely and for FREE

In social studies, students research leaders of countries. In science, they learn about famous scientists. In English language arts, they study remarkable writers. And in art, they learn about artists.

For each of these tasks, teachers can have students choose a specific famous figure. Through research, the students become experts on their subjects. Then, the role playing begins. Using a social networking site, students create profiles in the guise of their subjects. They update their status, leave comments, and post questions that their subject might actually post. (Wouldn’t it be great to post a status update as Emily Dickinson every day for a month? “I’m nobody, who are you?”) They interact with other historical figures – have conversations and debates – in the role of these subjects.

Teachers can create rubrics for this assignment as they see fit – for example, the profile must include the figure’s birthday, childhood details, photo, and beliefs about government. Each student must update their profile at least once a day and must comment on at least three other students’ profiles each day.

Grades can reflect how often a student contributed to the class network, as well as how accurate his/her statements were.

Grade: 3-12
Subject: Social Studies
Objective: The student will be able to understand and report the details of a specific historic figure, country, group, or event.
Original Post: Turn Social Networks into Learning Networks with Edmodo

Social studies teachers have started some of the most creative social networking sites I’ve seen. It’s easy to see why — social networks can make history come alive for students, through role play.

When I was a kid studying the American Revolution, our teacher assigned each of us a historic figure to research. One student got Thomas Jefferson, another was assigned Ben Franklin, and so on. We all wrote papers and made posters. Then, we stood in front of the class and talked for 5 minutes, during which only about 3 kids paid attention. With social networking, this assignment can become more interesting and much more meaningful for all students. Instead of (or in addition to) writing a report, each student could be assigned to create an Edmodo profile, posing as a historic figure (like this Thomas Jefferson profile). Then, students could be required to interact with one another as that historic figure. How would Ben Franklin respond to Thomas Jefferson’s comment about democracy? Students would have to understand a lot about their own historic figure, but they’d also have to know a good deal about other figures in order to converse with them. Deeper, higher-level thinking would be required of students, but the assignment would also be fun and motivating for them.

Social studies social networks don’t have to stop with historical figures, though. No matter what time period you’re studying, students can be assigned to act as countries, groups of people, or even historical events. “If Historical Events Had Facebook Statuses” is a funny look at this idea (be aware, though — it was written for an adult audience).

historical-facebook

Grade: 9-12
Subject: History
Objective: The student will be able to research and communicate important events in history.
Original Post: Timelining for Every Classroom

No matter what your class is studying — European history, American history, world history — you can use a digital timeline to help your students jigsaw information. Take a look at a chapter, unit or even entire year of study, and separate the content by major events or time periods. Have students sign up for one of the events. Then, have your class create a collaborative Capzle. Each student is responsible for adding his/her event, with relevant links and information, to the timeline.

If students make mistakes or omissions, you can have them correct the errors themselves. When it’s finished, the entire class can use the timeline as a study guide for a summative exam.

Skip to toolbar