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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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President, NJ Association for Middle Level Education

Engaging SCAN tool

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I used the SCAN tool, that has a lot of social studies lessons built into it. It is an online discussion tool that allows students to discuss a current event or historical event from four different perspectives. For example you could discuss the Boston Tea party from the loyalist, tea merchant, point of viewetc. or whether the 4th Amendment prohibits locker searches from the perspective of parent, student, administrator, etc. The facebook-like format really hooks the kids and everyone gets involved in the conversation. You just register and set up a lesson and get a unique url for your class discussion. For a video demonstrating how it works go to http://www.tregoed.org/teachers/new-to-scan.html. There are free lessons or you can subscribe to the whole library for $45.00. Every one of your students gets engaged in the conversation and you have a full transcript and easy monitoring access.

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

Great Tool! Thanks.

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Thank you for sharing the SCAN tool. I can see a lot of good uses for it in the classroom. Currently, I am using Collaborize Classroom www.collaborizeclassroom.com and my students are really liking it. It enables them to discuss a topic or elaborate on their classmates' response. It also has the option of voting on the best response and explaining why you thing that point of view is the best. The service is free and the support is exceptional. I highly recommend it.

President, NJ Association for Middle Level Education

Collaborize is a great follow up tool

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I love using collaborize classroom to follow up a SCAN session, it is a great way to get kids to select what they think the best ideas are or discussing their own opinions after role playing a different perspective.

12th Grade, Economics, Government, History

I have used a couple of

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I have used a couple of interesting discussion methods. I use Socratic seminars on a monthly basis. Students love to talk and give opinions on issues. In this method, students will have questions or topics to review before the discussion. I have student moderators and have this a student run discussion. Since I find that 1/2 of the students participate, then the others just listen, I have looked for other methods. Philosophical chairs are fantastic. They limit student talk to: talk 3 times and must stop or talk once and then wait your turn 4 turns. In either case the discussion is pro con with some in between. Students pick sides of an issue and then discuss the issue. Students are encouraged to move, to change sides, to discuss all issues. They have a written response at the end of the day. The students are listening, taking notes and participating. All the methods work as students love discussing issues.

Teacher, Writer, and Artist


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Vexillology is the scholarly study of flags. It sure is.

And ever since I was a kid I’ve loved looking at flags in books and wondering what the colors symbolize and why they put a bird there and a cross over there and whatnot.

You may say that’s so impressive to be a kid and interested in vexillology but I’d say back to you that I was also just as interested in shooting passing cars and the flesh of my friends with my BB gun.

I started in on the scholarly study of flags today with a passion in my tone and spirit and soul and an unfurling of all kinds of flags I’ve collected in my days on Earth and a look-see at flag books I’ve collected and then I think it hit them that I might, too, be dangerous.

I told them what they’ll need to know for the infamous vexillology examination while they gazed, and became dazed, at my eminent vexillology handout:

What are the two main things flags do?
Graphic elements in flags usually do what? The word starts with an “s”
The earliest known cloth flags were thought to have come from where?
There are how many recognized countries in the world?
What’s the name of the dude or chick who carries a flag?
What do you think is the ratio of our national flag?
What’s the ratio of a square flag?
When was the last time the United States flag was changed?
Can you burn the United States flag and not get in trouble?
What’s the protocol for when and how you should burn the United States flag?
Why did the United States flag go through so many changes?
If I leave the United States flag up during the night ... I should do what to it?
The study of flags is called what?

Oh, man. They were truly freaked out. Then, when they discovered there was still a lot of class time left and I had no intention of dying or suddenly being snatched up by winged monkeys, we continued with basic flag types:

What’s the name of a flag that has a strip of color that runs along the outer edge of the flag?
Two bands of color either horizontal or vertical?
Three bands of different colors either horizontal or vertical?
A field divided into four different quarters?
A center cross that divides the field?
A cross that divides the field where the vertical is to the left of center?
An X-shaped cross?
A complete cross surrounded by the field where the arms are equal?
A triangle of any size or shape?
A narrow band that acts as a border between two colors?
A zigzag edge like the teeth on a saw?
What’s the name of the type of flag … the flag itself … that’s triangular? (a trick question … had to)
What’s the name of the most famous pirate flag?
What type of animal does the word “pennon” come from?

And they think they’re going to get away from me before we talk about flag and flag pole parts? Oh, ye gods, I think not:

So anyway, what’s the ornamental knob on top of the flagstaff called?
What’s another name for the pole?
What’s the round mechanical device called that allows the flag to pulled up and down?
The rope or cord used to raise the flag is called what?
The metal ring used to secure the clip to the flag is called what?
The inner, lower left portion of the flag nearest the flag pole is called what?
The top quarter of the flag nearest the flag pole is called what?
What’s the outer part of the flag called?
An emblem in the center of the flag is called what?
The background area of the flag? What the heck’s is that thing called?
What’s another name for the background area of a flag?
What’s the name of your favorite teacher?

I asked them in an obnoxiously excited voice ... Is vexillology righteous, or what!

Herman, who was now sweating and sporting a couple of crimson cheeks, said, very breathlessly, as he took his glasses off and before I think he expected to lose consciousness ... Boy, Todd, we sure do have a lot to learn about vexi-llow-lowgy!

What I think the breathless Herman really wanted to say was ... Boy, Todd, speaking for everyone, we sure do hate your greasy guts and wish you’d drop dead immediately and go to h-e-l-l!

I told Herman I’d be here all week.


middle school social studies SC

getting kids excited

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i begin with a weird photo that may or may not have to do with what we're learning but it always gets kids ready to learn - i also use alot of clever short video clips that keeps kids wondering what will happen next! there are alot of social studies songs made to top hits but with social studies

we also get up and move alot in my 6th grade class - gallery walks - playing "mother may I" to review


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1-I have used four corners -you pose a question with four choices (strongly agree, agree, strongly disagree, disagree), 2-word debate-show two pictures and ask which one best represents the vocabulary word of the day; 3-ask a student to review what we learned the day before; 4-show a video (i.e. Channel One news, youtube video about topic); 5-ABC Brainstorm Sheet-they have to tell me everything they know about a topic using the first letter of the alphabet. I'm at Ldavis@paulcharter.org in DC

middle school social studies SC

how to engage social studies students

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we're an IPAD school so often my bellringers will be a weird fact for kids to research on IPADS - group posters where kids have to depict what surprised them, shocked them etc about what they read, Flocabulary raps, Horrible History, kinesthetic reviews - kids stand up by seat & answer T/F questions by moving certain way, Socratic.com, looneyteachr.com - gallery walks

High school social studies, student council advisor from Buena Vista, Co.

Great Todd, thanks for

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Great Todd, thanks for posting that.

7th and 8th grade Social Studies teacher in Grand Rapids, MI

I engage the students by

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I engage the students by starting each day with a current event from another country. I tell them the country they will be reading or hearing about and they need to do some basic research about the country (capital, leader, gov type, population, GDP, HDI, etc). After the reading, we summarize the story using the 5 w's. Students are engaged because we are learning about what is going on in their world at the time. I have found it the best way to teach geography, economics, and civics. After a few weeks we can do a lot of comparing between countries (economically and politically). It is amazing how often the stories relate to the history we are studying at the time. I call it the "content free classroom" because it is unknown what the content will be from day to day, but students like knowing that they are learning current things. I have found their understanding of economics and civics has improved tremendously.

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