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How do you engage students in your Social Studies Classroom?

Ron Peck H.S. Social Studies teacher from Medford, Oregon.

Please share some ideas about how you engage your students. If you would like assistance with engaging students, please post a question so others may assist you.

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Engaging my students

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I engage my students by hooking them each day with a call to action. I begin each lesson with a preview that "hooks" them into wanting more. I connect the preview to something they know about (real world), which will always connect to the lesson. Then I follow up with a launch activity that gets them involved, out of their seats and discussing/investigating the "task" or call to action - BEFORE - they ever open the text book. There are so many ways to engage students, but for me starting every lesson with a preview is a great hook and sets the purpose for the rest of the hour.

Just curious

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Nancy, can you give an example of how that looks in your class, e.g., a specific time you did it?

H.S. Social Studies teacher from Medford, Oregon.

Build Relationships and Use Cooperative Learning

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There are many ways to engage students. First you have to build relationships of trust and comfort with your students. They have to feel safe and comfortable with you and the class. Once that has been done you can use tools and methods to engage your students.

I use a lot of cooperative and collaborative learning in my classes. Cooperative learning is a system whereby all students hold each other accountable for information and sharing. There are many different ways to structure this in your classes. Groups of 3, 4 or 5 work best. Use team building so that students feel a sense of community and most of all, make it fun.

For me engagement comes through humor on a daily basis. I love to laugh with my students. Joking around with them keeps the mood friendly and open. I never have much of a problem getting their attention or letting them take the lead with their learning. If the trust and relationship is there, the rest is easy.

10th grade Social Studies

Oxfam Resources

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There's great curriculum and activities from Oxfam.


Student driven, a lot of team-building, active learning, and more. I'm learning that you can also build trust and relationships through the assignments and activities you do in class. There are some neat resources on the wiki, too!

Ron, do you use any cooperative and collaborative learning structures/rituals?

8th grade U.S. History, 7th grade World History

8th Grade U.S. History

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A sense of humor certainly does go a long way in the classroom. I know it goes against the old adage about not smiling or laughing with your students until after Thanksgiving Break, but I would rather laugh with my students and lower their affective filter early in the year rather than later. If the student feels stress and anxiety in your classroom, they're not going to be able to maximize their learning potential in your classroom.


I agree that if the design of the learning taking place in the classroom is student oriented and driven, you are much better able to have an engaged classroom.

I find the Socratic Seminar process to be one of the best ways to engage my students in the classroom. It takes some time to un-school them at the start of the year as they expect me to be the sage-on-the-sage. Nevertheless, as the year goes on, they find their voices and it becomes their favorite learning experience in my classroom.

Donald Finkel in his book, "Teaching w/ Your Mouth Shut" talks about the power of structuring an environment that allows your students to discuss, question, and debate one another like they do in a Socratic Seminar. It promotes students' independence of mind, self-reliance, autonomy, judgement, sense of responsibility, and capacity to work productively as members of a group (116). The students having a sense of ownership in the classroom discussion and feeling the intellectual growth that occurs from having these conversations with one another helps my students to be more engaged in the content curriculum.

H.S. Social Studies teacher from Medford, Oregon.

Rachel, My district uses

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My district uses Kagan Cooperative Learning and I'm the trainer for my school. There are other resources out there to get you started using cooperative learning. My system is a morphing of Kagan with my own tools and resources.

H.S. Social Studies teacher from Medford, Oregon.

You have to Smile!

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I've never been one to adhere to that old adage. I do believe in firm but fair and once students know there is a time for fun and an time for learning, the class is energetic, noisy and fun. I have a quote on my wall that reads "I love nonsense. It wakes up the brain cells."

Moving my classes where I am the guide on the side instead of the sage on the stage has made all the difference for my students. Now they are the ones who have to engage each other in their learning in and our of class.

5/6 reading/language/math/social studies

grades 5/6

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Small and specific.... As a part of our ...WHOLE WORLD curriculum -also brand new to me this year- my students checked out where their shirts were made. We linked it to the world map on a bulletin board. Led to an interesting discussion about who has the money and where it is going.

We are also using sheppardsoftware.com 'games' to identify countries of the world by regions. Computer games definitely have an appeal. And as a visual learner myself - really helpful.

H.S. Social Studies teacher from Medford, Oregon.

Thank You!

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Thanks for your post. I shared the link to Sheppards Software on Twitter. Great resource for educational games.

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

Essential Questions

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Hi all,

EQs are such a great way to hook students into the learning. Having them re-visit these though-provoking questions throughout the unit of study and at the end also allows you to make connections to the big picture (or as Wiggins calls them, enduring understandings).

Here are a few that I helped social studies teachers create:
How am I connected to people in the past?
Why study history?
What can we learn form the past?
What causes change?
Who do we believe and why?

Remember, Essential Questions:
-Have no simple “right” answer; they are meant to be argued.
-Are designed to provoke and sustain student inquiry, while focusing learning and final performances.
-Often address the conceptual or philosophical foundations of a discipline.
-Stimulate vital, ongoing rethinking of big ideas, assumptions, and prior lessons.

Happy teaching!


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