menu   Home About Me TpT Shop Conferences Travels  

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!

How-To Teach Comparison in the Secondary Classroom

Teaching comparison in the secondary classroom is a requirement, but it can also be a great challenge.  Students are easily frustrated with an open-ended assignment, and they are often flustered with the task of finding comparison criteria when not provided clear direction and content-strong resources.

Here are a few simple steps to find comparison success.
  1. Find quality resources with content-strong readings that allow students to step into comparison tasks with clear direction and objectives. 
  2. Arrange centers that organize the content in ways that will help students see the categories for comparison.  Discuss categories at the beginning of the activity for early comparison learners.
  3. Provide graphic organizers that allow students to select and sort information as they visit each center.  Check on student progress as they visit each center and redirect as needed. 
  4. Utilize clear wrap-up questions that push students into small group discussion on the topics for comparison.  Encourage thorough discussion and conflicting points of view.
  5. Outline expectations for topic comparison and assign writing tasks with choice options.  In the example shown, students can compare overall religions or can make comparisons between individual categories among all presented religions.
  6. Allow students to share ideas and to report out conclusions to wrap up the activity and to reinforce the content.  Hang big paper at each center for students to leave comments and access feedback from other students (and you!).
  7. Review as a whole class to discuss the main points for understanding and to examine the comparisons made for strengths and weaknesses.
While learning the task of comparison can be a daunting task, it can be easy when the right tools and steps are followed!

*My World Religions Comparison Centers Activity is the example shown in this post.

And be sure to see my other How-To posts for making your secondary classroom interactive, engaging, and fun!

Happy Teaching!

How To Use Variations on Think-Pair-Share in the Secondary Classroom

Think-Pair-Share is an old strategy that works!  However, if it is used often in your classroom, it can become stale, and less effective.  So, change it up!
How to use variations on Think-Pair-Share to make your classroom more engaging!
Here are a few how-to suggestions for ramping up your Think-Pair-Share lessons:

How to use variations on Think-Pair-Share to make your classroom more engaging!

Think-Pair-Talk: The simplest variation on the original.  Students think about the question/term/or task on their own, pair with a partner to discuss their ideas, and then talk with a small group for further discussion.

Think-Pair-Walk: Instead of wrapping up with a small group, one student from each pair walks up to the front of the class to present their findings.  This is perfect for larger research topics or current events.

Think-Pair-Chalk: In this variation, students can silently go up to the board to add their research findings.  When discussing controversial topics, this quieter method helps to maintain respect for all perspectives or points of view.

Think-Pair-Post: Using a Facebook template, students can report out their topic research and post them around the room to create a Facebook Feed on the unit content.

Think-Pair-Toast: With this twist on the original, students will create toasts to their assigned topic.  This can be a fun wrap-up for concluding a unit and reviewing content topics or vocabulary.

Think-Pair-Roast: Just like the toast option, students will have a little fun while reviewing prior knowledge.  Encourage funny stories, tall-tales, or the telling of jokes to share the main ideas.

Think-Pair-Tweet: For vocabulary or people review, have students write simple tweets on the key terms.  Learning to summarize in 160 characters or less can be a huge challenge!

Think-Pair-Meet: Similar to the original, after pairs have discussed the topic or term, they draw out table numbers where they go to meet up and share their findings.  (Similar to a Jigsaw)

Think-Pair-Draw: One of my favorites, students draw to illustrate the meaning or significance of a topic.  Doing character collages can also help students bring significant people back to life for class discussion.

Think-Pair-Find a Flaw: When looking at conflicting points of view or arguing cases, this method is fun and engaging.  As students post their findings, others search for opposing points of view to counter each statement.  Build up the activity by allowing students to continue the activity over days or weeks through the unit.

How have you modified Think-Pair-Share for you classroom?

Happy Teaching!

Writing in the Social Studies Classroom

Writing in the Social Studies classroom can be a challenge.  Teachers often face the reality that they have so much content to teach in so little time, and the writing process can easily be tossed out the window, sacrificed or passed back to the ELA Department. 

In my Social Studies classes, I encouraged writing from the first moment of class to the last.  Using my own Interactive Notebook format, I assigned a writing prompt for each bellringer at the start and one for each wrap-up at the end.  In between, I also assigned research papers, creative writing, poetry prompts, and of course, traditional essays to assess student learning.

While other classrooms foster creative writing, the content-based essay writing, especially in a DBQ or Comparison format, could be a headache-worthy task.  It required a strong understanding of content, the application of prior knowledge, and the utilization of verified sources.

So this month I teamed up with Lit with Lyns for Writing Wednesdays to show how I teach writing in my classes.  And the tip is easy - I filled them up with SPRITE!  Not the soda, but the acronym!

Teaching with SPRITE helps students remember the major categories so important for Social Studies, but it also helps them to organize their information in a way that simplifies the writing process.
  1. First teach the SPRITE acronym and categories.  The acronym is easy to remember, especially if it's introduced to students with a cup of soda.  And using my free guide, have students learn what fits into each category. 
  2. Next, start using a SPRITE Organizer when students are reading or learning class content.  Practicing with the organizer will help students to identify content and the appropriate categories as they read or learn.  Soon it will be habit. 
  3. Then comes time to write. Teach the students the easy trick of turning their organizer into their writing outline, and eventually the essay or research paper assigned. 
Once the basic organizational steps are mastered, students can learn to enhance their writing to add in quotes, document analysis, and more.  In my classes, enhancements had to be added for each category, and in the case of specific writing tasks (DBQ, comparison, change over time), students were charged with including those components for each category as well.

So, here's to writing (as I tip my cup of SPRITE)!

Happy Teaching!

How To Make Vocabulary More Engaging in the Classroom

 Teaching vocabulary is vital for the secondary content-area classroom, but the task can also be the most boring activity students must endure.  Change that up with this simple how-to!

How to make vocabulary more engaging in the classroom
  1. Make learning vocabulary an event in your classroom rather than a start-of-unit menial task.  Allow adequate time for the event, and give it the same emphasis as any other activity in your class lessons.
    • Do a scavenger hunt, allowing students to find and define terms.
    • Play a matching game with terms and definitions, creating some competition in the task.
    • Set up an archeology dig where students gather the information to fit the lesson. 
  2. Allow students choice in how they will learn or process vocabulary.  Working in pairs or small groups can help students define and examine the connotation of terms, while also discussing the terms for reinforcement.
  3. How to make vocabulary more engaging in the classroom
    • Use Think-Research-Share activities to step students through the vocabulary process.
    • Hold "salon" gatherings or connotation readings for added engagement.
    • Add an element of controversy to prompt discussion of critical events.  
  4. Provide graphic organizers or other handouts to help students record definitions.  Add a visual element to help students imprint the content in their brains for later reference. 
    How to make vocabulary more engaging in the classroom
  5. Encourage creativity in the process and application stage of vocabulary learning.  This requires additional thinking and builds retention.
  6. How to make vocabulary more engaging in the classroom
    • Let students write poems, draw pictures, or sing songs to learn vocabulary or to learn its appropriate application.  
  7. Make the review of vocabulary a whole class activity and make it fun.  Allow students to perform skits, play Pictionary, or play charades for added practice and added fun.
Teaching vocabulary does not have to be a boring task.  It can be as engaging and fun as you take the time to make it!  Just remember, the more time you take to make the activity engaging and fun, the more your students will process and retain!

*My Age of Exploration Sunken Ship Activity is shown in this post.  Students gather vocabulary cards from the sunken ship to collect information on the Age of Exploration and the changes leading into modern times.

Happy Teaching!