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Teaching Social Studies

Compiled By: Editor

Teachers offer advice on teaching Social Studies

social comes to life!
Posted by: melanie

Have you heard of the "story-line" method of teaching social studies? I did it with my kids for the last half of the year, after learning about it at a teachers' convention. They loved it! It's hard to explain in a nutshell, but I'll try.

You aim to teach the unit just as you would teach a novel. The main elements being: setting, characters, plot, climax (problem) and resolution.

You start off with setting. For you it would be Indiana at some point in history. You do a small research with the kids as to what Indiana would have looked like at the time... ie) what were characteristics of communities and towns, what were the main sources of income, natural resources, etc... You could use your textbooks for this, with small groups focusing on some portion and reporting to the class. I personally like to have the kids use the computers and internet as it also reinforces IT skills. Anyways, after you have sufficient information, the class works together to make a huge mural (butcher paper)of perhaps one of the towns that has a lot of history in Indiana. (Or you could divide the class into small groups and each group designs a different mural map). When this is complete, have the kids take you on a tour. This is the "setting" for the story.

Next, is character development. Each child invents their own character that they think would live in that town. You spend some time having them write down every small detail: character's appearance, name, job, family, likes, dislikes, age, sex, interesting facts, etc... but they have to make sense for the time period and setting that they live in. Next, they make a model of that character (something like a paper doll) using fabric scraps, yarn, ribbon, buttons... GREAT art project! The characters turned out so interesting and unique in my grade two gifted classroom.

For plot, you may introduce some event that happened in history. Each child writes in a journal "in character" to describe how the event is affecting them. They may also do role plays in character to discuss events with others in the town.

For climax, tell the kids / have them research about a really important aspect of the local history, something that had a huge impact on the state. Each of the characters continues to write in their journals, but I had them also do a class debate something like a town hall meeting. They each put together a speech (in character of course) to talk about what "should" be done about the problem. My class got so into this. It really brings social studies to life for them.

Resolution- The "communities" came to some sort of consensus. You would then compare to what really happened in history. The last journal entry is reflectively written from the student's own point of view (not character's). Talking about what they have learned from the experience.

I love this approach. It gets the kids out of the textbook and teaches them in a way they can really relate to. It also connects quite nicely to language arts and art. You might also have them do cooking activities (handmade ice cream, butter)or practice sewing by hand. These things get them to really appreciate what their character lived like.

I hope this is the kind of thing you were looking for. If you have any questions, just post.


5th grade Social Studies
Posted by: Melissa

I did my student teaching in a 5th grade class. I taught one math lesson and 3 of the same Social Studies lessons each day. I had to make it interesting not only for the kids but for me too. We took imaginary field trips to the locations and/or times we were discussing. We kept travel journals dicussing what we had discovered in class that day. I required a drawing to acompany each entry in order to touch another type of learner. I had a list of requirements for the entries and a rubric for scoring them.

We did dances, songs, and foods as part of learning about culture. We did some role play. The students told me that one of the most interesting lessons we did dealt with the difference between dictatorship and democracy. I did not just have them write and compare the two, but we actually set up a dictatorship in our classroom. One student was appointed by me to be the dictator and whatever he/she decided were the rules that day. He/She could punish someone just because they were wearing a certain color or said something when they were not supposed to. The dictator made up the rules. We had landowners at each table. They collected half the colored piece of paper from each of their tenants and then the dicator collected the other half and half of the landowners. Then a candy store was opened and anyone with paper could but candy, but since the tenants did not have any, they did not get any and thought it was unfair but they could be punished for saying that. That incident helped us see some of the differences between living under a dictatorship and living under a democracy.
There were certain days when we would have to read the book or other papers, but I treated those days as one where we were going on an archeaological dig for information about the past or present. At the end of my time teaching, i asked the students what kinds of things they did and did not like from my experience with them. Students really like the variety of types of activities we did (other than just reading) and the cultivating events we had at the end of each unit (fiesta, field trip, video related to topic . . .). I do not know if any of these ideas will help but I thought I could just share what had worked for me. I learned as much from these things as the students. Student-Learning was apparent from the high marks on the tests and the pop review questions I would ask.
I think it is important to enjoy what you are teaching and that enthusiasm rubs off on the students. Good luck!

Social Studies should be fun
Posted by: Robin Douglas

I am in my third year teaching social studies and it has ranked #1 with the 5th grade class (of 100 kids) for the last two years. The reason why is because the subject matter that you teach is like a play already typed and ready to go. I can incorporate lots of fun things in to every chapter we do. For example, for the American Revolution I have students grab paper from a cup which is labeled either, native american, parliament, loyalists, or colonist. (I am the king of England). Then i give all students 5 buttons ( i got them at a yard sale). Everytime we discuss a new tax law, I send my tax collectors (loyalists) to collect from the colonists. I then give some of the "money" to parliament. The kids love to pretend that I am an evil king. It's little things like that that make a big difference in you r teaching. Look for any opportunity to dress up or put the students in to the position of the people your learning about.

social studies book is too hard
Posted by: Carolyn

I teach fifth grade, too. I also love teaching history. We are doing the Civil War right now. I think that with this low group and even other kids, too, it's important that they learn to enjoy and appreciate our country's history. I have actually integrated language arts instruction within my social studies classes. My principal had formerly said that he didn't really want us to teach SS, to focus upon math and reading, but kids get the opportunity to learn reading skills while learning social studies. I don't teach SS just to teach history.

I don't use the textbook tests. Most teachers I know agree that they are too hard. I also don't sweat the vocabulary. Most likely, they aren't going to remember it anyway. I DO want them to remember general ideas and concepts. What caused the Civil War? (reading skill: cause/effect) What is this lesson mostly about (reading skill: main idea) Do you think the Civil War was a good idea? Why or why not? (critical thinking) Prepare an essay on everything you have learned about the Civil War from an outline (language arts connection) in a one-page essay.

I give the kids frequent quizzes--one each Friday on what we have learned. They are allowed to use the textbook. You can make sure that the questions are multiple choice to make it easier for them to respond to them. Fill-in-the-blank types of questions are much harder for them to do.

If your series has text-on-tape, you can set up kids with the earphones and have them listen to it several times while following the reader. Our Harcourt Brace series also has musical tapes which interest the reader.

Social Studies...
Posted by: BuzyBee

Sorry this is so long...

When I first started teaching, Social Studies was my least favorite area, but it quickly became my favorite. Especially fourth grade... we get to talk about pioneers, Native Americans, government, and geography. Since you are already a language arts teacher, you'll do great! I use a lot of journaling, reading, and research writing for my students.

What works for me is to ake a look at all of the objectives for the year and create a rough outline or pacing chart. I do this and it really helps to look and say "Okay, this is the unit on pioneers, next month will be the unit on Economics." I do it all by units. Some units are small, and some are large.

I tried to create hands on lessons for the kids, like a realistic mock election when we talked about government, eating beef jerky and making butter when we talked about pioneers, bartering with each other for small trinket items to learn what people did before there was paper money. I get a lot of ideas from the internet for social studies units.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do now! Good luck!

Social Studies Textbook
Posted by: Kathy

Since this is the third grade board, I'm assuming you teach third grade!! I've not been very happy with our social studies books.

When I first started teaching third grade, our books were so simplistic they were ridiculous. As I remember they read something like this:
"People live in communities. Some communities are large. Some communities are small. People work together in communities. They help each other." Well, you get the idea.

Well, I was pleased to learn we were getting new textbooks until I discovered the new ones went the opposite direction with information well over my students' heads and having questions about Galveston, Texas, on the test! (We lived in California!!)

Third graders learn both social studies and science best through "hands-on" activities and real life experiences. You can talk about the three branches of the government and their eyes will just glaze over.

But when you build a model community out of legos, when you visit city hall and let them sit in the council members' chairs, when you put them in Indian tribes and do projects, when you pretend to take a trip around the world exploring different cultures, when you play learning games, when you get post cards from all over the United States---well suddenly, Social Studies becomes real--and one of their favorite classes!!

Use the book as a resource--find what concepts they need to master--then start having fun creating hands-on activities. Bet you'll start loving to teach social studies as much as I do!!

Good luck--and have fun!!!

Social Studies ideas
Posted by: Jen

This will be my first year teaching social studies-I taught 7th grade math last year. Even though this is not my main area I decided that I will relate as much as I can to the kids. I have 6th grade. An example: Our first chpater is about the Hunter Gatherers. There is a cool story about the "Wall of Hands" found in a cave in France. I am going to set up a "Wall of Hands" in the classroom. The students will make this by putting their handprints on a large sheet of paper across the back wall. Then I might have them sign their hands. I have just started thinking about this.

Maybe you could have your students choose a specific scene from the Revoluntionary War and let them draw it , write a poem, etc.--Or, have them imagine themselves acutally in the war. If they were there, how would they feel? Why are they there? Teaching about the reality of war is brutal, but giving them a sense of reality is essential. Sadly, our society today is in many areas like a war. Perhaps the students could reflect on this too. These are just some ideas that I've thought about and may use myself now that I've rambled on! Hope this helps in some way. Good luck to you!

Posted by: MJ

History is full of interesting stories and facts that most people haven't heard. Perhaps finding some of those interesting facts and stories that go along with your lesson and sharing some of those would liven things up. Sorry that I don't have any real good examples at the moment, but I know I enjoyed history classes where the teacher did that. For example if you are studying George Washington, find out something about him that many people may not know. Many history books focus more on what the people did instead of what they were really like. Find out more about the personalities of the people in history. I also had a history teacher who would draw funny pictures on the board to go along with what he was talking about for the lesson. I really enjoyed that. It was funny and kept our attention. That was in 7th and 8th grade. My last suggestion. Have students find out information for a project or presentation. Many students enjoy doing something like that rather than taking notes.

writing prompts
Posted by: Kelli

I teach Middle School English and I plan many of my writing lessons with our History teacher. It dosen't take us that long to meet but we spend about 5 minutes a week where she reviews her lesson topics with me. I use this to type a list of writing prompts for kids to put in their writing folders. When they are finished with their work, they pull out their folders and pick a topic to write about. You may want to check with an English teacher at your school for suggestions. Some of the ideas I have used include the following.
1. Poetry- write a poem about Expansionism
2. Descriptive Writing- write a paper describing
Ellis Island as the immmigrants first saw
3. Persuasive papers- write a letter to Abraham Lincoln persuading him that slavery should/should not be legal.
4. Business letter- have students write a business letter to someone working at a historical site. Ask for information about the site. (They are usually really good about responding with posters and letters)
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Good Luck!