Super Social Studies

Diligent beginner


“This is boring.”

“Why do we have to learn this?”

“My students don’t like Social Studies.”

Why do students dread Social Studies and why do teachers find teaching Social Studies frustrating?

There are many possible answers to this dilemma, but I suspect that a major cause is the marginalization of Social Studies due to standardized testing and its almost exclusive emphasis on language arts and math. As a result, social studies instruction is being squeezed into smaller and smaller chunks of time. All teachers feel that they have time to do is “cover” the content.  Unfortunately, “covering” the content usually leads to ineffective strategies for learning and frustrating preparation for teachers.

So, what are some simple (but super) social studies strategies that are effective, fun, and easy to implement?

Bring Social Studies learning to life – Show primary source images from the topic to emphasize the human impact of history, geography, and civics. The Library of Congress offers free, wonderful primary source image sets to accompany learning and make it real. Ask students about the pictures and discuss what might have happened before, during, and after the photograph. This activity can also kickstart critical source inquiry. Ask, “what was the photographer trying to communicate?”.

Act it out! – Skits, commercials, newscasts, and plays are a great way to bring history to life. Have students act out a particular event from history (or report on it). Creating the event and building dialogue help students to connect with social studies moments.

Or make a tableau – Don’t have time for an entire skit? Ask students to build a living scene from history. Using their bodies to create a historical moment builds brain connections that a power point can’t match! Ask students to reflect on the “characters”, the moment, and how it impacted them.

Solve real social studies problems – History and geography offer a plethora of real-world problems to challenge students. Mind Missions lessons are designed to inform students about a variety of historical and geographical problems. Then, students creatively and collaboratively innovate solutions of their own! Try one at

Make it musical – Play music from the place or time period you are studying. It gives students a glimpse into a unique time and/or culture. Where appropriate, study the lyrics and discuss the historical context and meaning.

Send a postcard – When studying a place or past event, send a postcard! Instead of asking students to write an essay, ask them to demonstrate true understanding by summarizing it in a postcard. Students can use the 5 W’s (Who, What, Where, When, Why) as an organizer and write in the first person to reveal the impact of social studies on individuals. AND they can draw a picture that illustrates their learning on the front. Don’t forget to date it!

Of course, the most important part of super social studies strategies is reflection following the activity.  Great questions include: What was portrayed? Why was it important? What did we learn? Could there be another point of view? Taking the time to debrief and reflect is essential to building deep learning.

I hope you can use some of these strategies to bring joy and effective learning to the Social Studies classroom. Have more ideas you want to share? Share with me at


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