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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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25 Replies 8541 Views
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!

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Nancy Bredin's picture

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.

Mike Hasley's picture

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

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

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.

Rachel Pickett's picture
Rachel Pickett
10th grade Social Studies

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?

Anthony Armstrong's picture
Anthony Armstrong
8th grade U.S. History, 7th grade World History


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.

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