How do you engage students in your Social Studies Classroom? | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How do you engage students in your Social Studies Classroom?

How do you engage students in your Social Studies Classroom?

Related Tags: Social Studies
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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. Thanks!

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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

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.

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

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.

Loretta Grant's picture
Loretta Grant
5/6 reading/language/math/social studies

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

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

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

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

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!


Sandra Wozniak's picture
Sandra Wozniak
President, NJ Association for Middle Level Education

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 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.

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

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 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.

Sandra Wozniak's picture
Sandra Wozniak
President, NJ Association for Middle Level Education

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.

Clayton Guy's picture
Clayton Guy
12th Grade, Economics, Government, History

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.

Todd Sentell's picture
Todd Sentell
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

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.

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