menu   Home About Me TpT Shop Conferences Travels  

How-To Practice Skills in the Secondary Social Studies Classroom

In the Secondary Social Studies classroom there are basic skills every student should practice in every unit or every lesson, if possible.  Some of these skills are easy to add into the daily lesson plans, but others can be challenging to incorporate effectively while keeping students engaged.
How-To Practice Skills in the Secondary Social Studies Classroom
Basic Skills for the Secondary Social Studies Classroom
To make your planning easier, here is a simple list of those skills with simple descriptions.  These are often found in state, national, and organizational standards, but more importantly, they are the foundations for teaching Social Studies.
  • Reading for Content - looking for main ideas, key vocabulary, and historical significance
  • Annotating Text - rewriting text for content understanding or to provide explanation
  • Primary Source Analysis - determining meaning, context and significance in original sources
  • Image/Video Analysis - determining meaning, context and significance in visual media
  • Chart & Graph Reading - breaking down content provided in graphical form
  • Map Reading - examining the places and themes provided on maps and globes
  • Determining Cause & Effect - reviewing the steps or stages in events or eras
  • Examine Varying Perspectives - looking at different points of view for historical understanding
  • Making Judgments and Predictions - making conclusions on key topics and forecasting outcomes
How-To Practice Skills in the Secondary Social Studies Classroom
Implementation Ideas for the Basic Social Studies Skills
  1.  Use collaborative activities to encourage analysis of content and further discussion of key ideas.
  2. Set up learning stations or walking tours to review large amounts of content and assign text or image annotation for reinforcement.
  3. Begin each unit with a content-related mapping activity to establish location and place, helping students better understand the Geographic impact on History.
  4. Introduce real world images, video, charts and graphs from current events to make connections between the past and present.
  5. Have students create annotated and illustrated timelines to summarize unit content, to examine cause-and-effect, and to determine conclusions or make predictions.
How-To Practice Skills in the Secondary Social Studies Classroom
Important Tools for Practicing the Basic Skills
Finally, it is important to have all the tools needed for students to thoroughly examine, consider, and process information in the Social Studies classroom.  While rulers and calculators are vital for teaching Math, in the Social Studies classroom, highlighters, markers, and colored pencils are must-haves.  Have them on hand and ready to go for mapping , annotation, and all of the other skills discussed in this post.

Want more information on teaching basic skills and other strategies for the Secondary Social Studies classroom?  Be sure to read other posts in my How-To Series to learn how to bring your Social Studies classroom to life with engaging, content-strong lessons, resources, and teaching methods. 

Happy Teaching!

How To Use Response Groups for Discussion in the Secondary Classroom

Encouraging discussion in the classroom is a daunting task, but response groups can be the tool that opens the door to incredible conversation.  For the secondary classroom, response groups can help bring thought and introspection on a variety of topics, including those controversial or emotional.  More importantly, they can be the prompt that brings some students out of their shell, creating a rich classroom climate of cooperation and collaboration.
How to Use Response Groups for Discussion in the Secondary Classroom
What is a Response Group Activity?
A Response Group Activity is simple a resource that provides clear, concise information on a particular topic with guiding questions and topic prompts to encourage collaborative discussion in small or large groups.

How can Response Groups help in the classroom?
Effective response group resources provide strategic prompts or questions to help encourage conversations that are cooperative and thought-provoking.  They are valuable tools for addressing touchy topics and can lead to incredible sharing, helping to create a positive classroom environment.

How To Create a Response Group:
  1. Assign your students into small (4-6), varied-level groups.
  2. Provide concise, but thorough reading cards or sources.
  3. Distribute effective guiding questions or discussion prompts.
    How to Use Response Groups for Discussion in the Secondary Classroom
  4. Set clear time limits for reading and discussion on each topic.
  5. Encourage groups to share out their consensus after each topic discussion.
  6. Have students record their discussion points into notes or on provided handouts.
    How to Use Response Groups for Discussion in the Secondary Classroom
  7. Wrap-up the activity with a writing assessment or whole-class discussion.
    How to Use Response Groups for Discussion in the Secondary Classroom
The greatest value to using response groups in your secondary classroom is not the content attainment or the open discussion that follows; it is the thought-process practice students receive that will be so important in their later lives.  Teaching them to think for themselves, and then process those thoughts into cohesive arguments or points is the greatest tool we can provide our students.

Images used in this post are from my Oil in the Middle East Response Group Activity.  Find it and others in my TpT Response Group Category of my TpT Store!

And be sure to check out my other How-Tos on my blog, A Lesson Plan for Teachers!

Happy Teaching!

How To Read for Content in the Secondary Classroom

Secondary students should know how to read when they enter the secondary classroom, but unfortunately they often do not know how to read well or how to read for content.  This places the burden on the secondary teacher to not only teach their content, but also to teach the skills students need to learn the content.
Tips on how to teach reading for content in the secondary classroom
 In my classes, I love using acronyms and graphic organizers.  If you can find one that works best for your students, make it habit for them and utilize the tool throughout the year to help them become accustomed to tackling the text with ease.

Easy to Use Acronyms for Reading for Content:
  • SPRITE - Social/Political/Religious/Intellectual/Technological/Economic
  • PERSIA - Place/Economics/Religious/Social/Intellectual/Arts
  • BRAGS - Brainstorm/Read/Anticipate/Graph/Summarize
  • SPEC - Social/Political/Economic/Cultural
  • OPTIC - Overview/Parts/Title/Interrelationships/Conclusion
  • APPARTS - Author/Place/Prior Knowledge/Audience/Reason/The Main Idea/Significance
Tips on how to teach reading for content in the secondary classroom
My favorite acronym for the Social Studies classroom is SPRITE.  For all other classes, I'd recommend BRAGS.  SPRITE is easy to remember and fun to learn if served with a cool glass of the popular soda.  BRAGS works to help students focus while earning praise for a job well done!

Tips on how to teach reading for content in the secondary classroom
Now, take a look at this quick video for a simple introduction on teaching your students how to read for content!

Simple Steps on How-To Read for Content:
  • SKIM - Do a quick read just to get the feel of the text. What is the topic?
  • Read & Categorize - Begin looking for details and organize those details in a memorable way.
  • Record Content - Use a graphic organizer to effectively record important data.
  • Research for More - Adding facts and researching with open ended options allows interest to grow.
  • Process for Understanding - Taking time to think and to formulate a clear statement on the topic helps to build understanding.
  • Examine Results - Determining the significance of a topic will help to define its place in history or in any classroom context.
  • Write for Assessment - Putting content into our own words places the value in our hands.
But more important than any skill, tool or step is the learning climate.  Make it fun. Make it engaging. Make it interesting.  Make it something they will always remember! Make reading for content a task they enjoy instead of one they dread!

Find my SPRITE Reading & Writing Complete Set in my TpT Store!

And take a look at my How-To Series for other great tips on teaching in the Secondary classroom!

Happy Teaching!

How To Create a Meet & Greet for Back to School

The first days of school can be rough on teachers and students alike.  Finding strategies to help break the ice can be time-saving in building a positive learning environment and can help you step into your content in a creative and engaging way.  One of the easiest strategies to implement is the Meet & Greet for Back to School.
How to create a Meet and Greet for Back to School

What is a Meet & Greet?
A Meet & Greet is the perfect Back to School activity.  It is a simple strategy where students find one another to match up topics, people or other characteristics, meeting one another and creating a cooperative bond in the process.

While there are many different methods for creating a Meet & Greet, my favorite is using historic figures to help the students find their work mates.  With matching clues to the historic figures, students use varied resources to tack down and meet up with their alias.  In doing so, students not only break the ice on that first school day, but they are also learning cooperative skills that will set the standard in your classroom for the year.

Steps for a Meet & Greet
The steps are quite simple and can be adapted to fit your individual classes or students.
  1. Find a resource with matching cards. These can be vocabulary terms, important people, or other characteristics.
  2. Provide texts or online tools around the room to assist students in solving their clue.  
  3. Once students know the term or person they are looking for, they will navigate their way around the room, interviewing other students to see if they share a common term or person.
  4. In addition to asking about their clue, students should ask a question or make a comment to each student they meet, searching for commonalities in their classmates.
  5. Once all matches are made, students should find seats in pairs where they can create a Facebook or Pinterest profile on the topic or person that they will present to the class as they also present themselves.
    How to create a Meet and Greet for Back to School
For a more exciting Back to School activity, make it a game.  Encourage competition and offer prizes or points for the first teams to meet and greet!  This will set the tone for learning in your class, where students can have fun and learn at the same time.
How to create a Meet and Greet for Back to School

In my history classes, I use historic figures that we will later study.  This activity then serves as a preface to introduce the course syllabus and to discuss the people, places and things that will be studied in the coming year.  And to further set your classroom expectations, wrap up the activity with a writing prompt or simple assessment.  Not only will this conclude the activity, it will also help you to meet and greet your students where they are in terms of academic ability as well.

Happy Back to School!

For more great Back to School Tips, link through this Blog Hop for posts by some of my TpT Social Studies friends! 

How-To Use Music in the Social Studies Classroom

Social Studies teachers often hear how boring our content is from students of all ages and ability levels.  However, these same students will listen to music of all kinds, often engaging with the tunes in every possible way.  Why not use this addiction to the beat to our advantage?

Great tips for using music in the social studies classroom

How can you use music in your Social Studies classroom? Here's a quick how-to and a short list of my favorite toe-tapping tunes for each Social Studies content area!

Read more for tips on using music in the Social Studies classroom

First the How-Tos:
  1. Introduce units with music from the times.  Have students analyze the beat, the lyrics, or simply the feel of the music.  Encourage students to share their thoughts on the music or to predict the theme of the unit based on the music.
  2. Allow students to listen to music from historic eras to evaluate opposing viewpoints or perspectives on the times.  Create t-charts or Venn diagrams on the board with students adding points as the music plays.
  3. Have student create their own songs to describe eras in history.  They can perform the songs or simply present the lyrics to share researched topics or to review content.
  4. Utilize available technology (including student cell phones) to record videos on topics of study or content chants to help students remember and retain content.
  5. Use time appropriate music in centers or Walking Tours where students can immerse themselves in the period for a better understanding of the time period.
  6. Introduce music and dance from each era, teaching students the most popular moves, allowing them to examine the change in both music and dance over time.
  7. Simply play music in the background as students read, research, or complete assignments.  Music can be soothing, will help with memory, and can engage those otherwise distracted.
And now a few of my favorites:
Using music in the classroom will not only enhance your students' content knowledge, it will also help them to retain the content they learn.  But more importantly, it will keep them engaged and excited about learning Social Studies. That's the best benefit of all!

Happy Teaching!

My Biggest Fears of Going Digital

Go Digital!  We are hearing the call to action everywhere.  Go one to one! Jump on the Google Drive wagon!  Take your students into the 21st century!  But wait; how do you do that?  And do I really want to switch from my proven teaching strategies to the online methods?  I'm scared.  I have some really big fears of going digital.

My biggest fears of going digital in the secondary classroom
Now let me start by saying that I'm NOT an old school, desks in rows, textbook teaching instructor.  I am an old school, interactive classroom, students working collaboratively teacher.  And I LOVED using online activities, utilizing the Internet for resources, and even allowing my students to research and review using technology

But then we got the shiny, new Macbook Airs, and our superintendent gave an order: Go Digital! 100%. No turning back!  This is when my fears of going digital set in...

My Biggest Fears of Going Digital:
  1. Students will play and not be engaged!  This is fallacy number 1.  Students, if given the opportunity, will play with a broken pencil, a calculator, a tear in the carpet.  A laptop is no different.  That means we need engaging resources and a great classroom management plan to keep them on task and learning.
  2. Students will not collaborate.  If you go digital in the right way, you will find that students can now collaborate more and have incredible tools at their fingertips for enhancing their lessons and their products created in the application stage of learning. 
  3. Students will become dependent on technology.  This is already true.  And again, it is no different than in generations past.  I was dependent on my telephone, only it was attached to the wall with a long cord that I stretched from the kitchen into the bathroom for privacy.  Simply remind students that no addiction or dependency is a good thing.  Teach balance and teach an appreciation for learning through all methods, not just those with a keyboard.
  4. Students will not retain what they learn.  Learning requires repetition.  It's that simple.  And while the verdict is still out on the risks or benefits of learning online, we do know that learning that is done with constant reinforcement does work.  Present your content to your students in a variety of ways, use differentiated strategies to reinforce content, and assess often to check for gaps in learning.
  5. Students will no longer need me!  Now the truth comes out... This is the big fear.  What if the online resources provide all of the instruction better than I could and my students no longer need me?  But this is an unfounded fear.  I am still the teacher. I still have the content knowledge to share and I still have the skills to help them learn.  More importantly, I am the facilitator that will guide them through the lessons and help them to navigate the online world.  
Teaching in the 21st Century is not really that different than how we taught for centuries before.  We just have new tools with which we can teach. And while it does take us a bit of time to adapt to the new tools, they can open doors for our students that they would never have encountered in the past.  Now I can show them the world, one webpage at a time!   So, don't fear; Go Digital!

My biggest fears of going digital in the secondary classroom
Happy Teaching!

How-To Teach Primary Sources in the Secondary Classroom

When common core standards first came out, many Social Studies teachers went crazy worrying how they would teach primary sources.  After all, for those who had taught out of textbooks, the transition could be a scary one.  On the other hand, for those who had taught an interactive classroom with various collections of primary and secondary resources at their disposal, this challenge was a welcome one!
How-to Teach Primary Sources in the Secondary Classroom
However, while many teachers loved the idea of teaching more with primary sources, they were often ill-equipped for knowing the right strategies for helping students break apart the documents placed in from of them.  So, here's my quick how-to suggestions:
How-to Teach Primary Sources in the Secondary Classroom
  1. Encourage student collaboration.  Whether students are analyzing text, images, charts, maps or graphs, they can be easily overwhelmed with the task.  Many complain they do not know where to start or they feel they are not following the correct steps to complete the task.  But if students are working in pairs or small groups, they can discuss the guiding questions and work their way through the reading material together.
  2. Use Think-Pair-Share activities (my next how-to post!) or a Jigsaw to allow students the opportunity to process the content and to reinforce it through discussion and "teaching" with their peers. 
    How-to Teach Primary Sources in the Secondary Classroom
  3. Always encourage step by step analysis. I love using spiral questioning with my primary source analysis activities, and this method gives students the confidence to read further and to leap with assumptions they can then further investigate to prove right or wrong!
  4. Vary the primary sources you use in your instruction.  If students only see text, they will tire out quickly and will lose interest in the topic of study.  Instead, add in images, music, video, and any other form of media available to make your topic much more fun and engaging for students to enjoy as they learn. 
    How-to Teach Primary Sources in the Secondary Classroom
  5. Always allow students the opportunity to process what they have learned.  Whether you use a short exit slip or a full writing prompt, be sure to assess your students understanding of the content and their ability to take from the documents the relevant content.
 And finally, use quality primary sources!  The information provided to students must be strong in content and strong in written development.  Snippits only leave students confused and frustrated.  Find many primary source analysis activities in my TpT Store at

Be sure to check out the How-To Category of my blog, A Lesson Plan for Teachers, for more great tips for the secondary classroom!

Happy Teaching!