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Top 10 Websites for Teaching with Primary Sources in the Secondary Classroom

Whether you are teaching in a Common Core State, trying to address the NCSS C-3 Framework, or simply hoping to teach students the value of history in their lives, using primary sources is the key to helping students experience a bit of history for greater and deeper historical thought and inquiry.  Try these Top 10 Websites for Teaching with Primary Sources in your Secondary Classroom!
Top 10 Websites for Teaching with Primary Sources in the Secondary Classroom
Teaching with Primary Sources can be a great challenge in our social media world. Students are exceptionally challenged with knowing the difference between primary and secondary sources, but are also confronted with online resources that are often modified or adapted to fit modern goals or to state current perspectives.  This places the burden on teachers to find quality primary sources for teaching in the modern classroom.

Top 10 Websites for Teaching with Primary Sources in the Secondary Classroom

Top 10 Websites for Teaching with Primary Sources in the Secondary Classroom
  1. EyeWitness to History has to be my top pick for primary sources. This website has compiles eye witness accounts, incredible images, and even quality video clips from events throughout time.  However, my favorite section of the website is Voices from the Past with sound clips that take you back in time. 
  2. The Library of Congress has always been my go-to resource for primary sources.  With images and documents galore, there are so many possibilities lurking around every corner.  
  3. Another incredible American staple for primary sources is the Smithsonian.  Smithsonian Education provides digital (and print on request) resources for classroom use, and many are truly a step into the past.  Collections also provide classroom suggestions and activity plans for easy implementation.  And if you are looking for a more verbal representation of primary sources from the past, visit SmithsonianMagazine online for great stories with verified resources.
  4. Traveling and history are my passions, so the National Parks are often on my list.  In addition to providing amazing natural retreats, the National Parks System also provides incredible primary source teaching packages.  Request a Traveling Trunk for tools to take your students back in time and to inspire their next vacation destination! 
  5. OurDocuments.org is the place to go if you are wanting to teach an American History or Government course with primary sources.  Take a look at the 100 Milestone Documents link for the turning points in our nation's past.
  6. For American History research projects with primary sources, the starting place should be The National Archives.  When visiting Washington, D.C., this is always a required stop for teachers, and the online site will impress just as much!
  7. PBS Learning has long been a teacher resource for great lessons about our past.  In its updated version, you can find great primary sources and learning tools to engage students in topics of the past and present.  Visit Election Central for up-to-date presidential election resources.
  8. For those wanting to examine the speeches that have carved out America's path through time, take a look at American Rhetoric's Top 100 Speeches.  Download files in pdf or mp3 format for a whole different learning experience.
  9. NewseumEd is another great website for primary sources and artifacts that will bring learning alive for your students. While their teaching resources are still rudimentary, the learning materials are some of the best you will find online.
  10. While I do love images for teaching about the past, my next favorite resources are newspapers.  Newspapers provide the best of both worlds, while also adding a touch of bias for examination!  And there are two quality websites for searching the topics of interest to your students.  The Library of Congress' Humanities Project provides a great search tool that is easy to use, but the BSGU Newspaper Page has an amazing listing of newspaper resources that go back hundreds of years.
Top 10 Websites for Teaching with Primary Sources in the Secondary Classroom
Top 10 Websites for Teaching with Primary Sources in the Secondary Classroom
Top 10 Websites for Teaching with Primary Sources in the Secondary Classroom
And of course, I love to use primary sources in the creation of my TeachersPayTeachers products.  Find my bundled sets, or search my individual products for just what you need in your Secondary Social Studies classroom!

Happy Teaching!

Top 10 Websites for Teaching Geography in the Social Studies Classroom

Teaching Geography is one of my favorite subjects. There is so much to learn, but more importantly, there is so much in our world that is just fascinating to see and hear more about!  The best part about teaching in our Internet world is that it's all now available for your students just a click away!  And I've even done the work for you in compiling this list of the 10 best!

Top 10 Websites for Teaching Geography in the Secondary Social Studies Classroom

Top 10 Websites for Teaching Geography
  1. National Geographic - National Geographic has to be at the top of the list. With vivid images, incredible stories, and deep examinations of all parts of the world, they set the standard for any World Geography study.
  2. Sheppard Software - I love using games for review and Sheppard Software has them all.  From the continents to the capitals to geographic features, they have everything you need to allow your students to practice their knowledge without the intimidation of more structured assessments!
  3. Geography.com - This website is designed specifically for the study of Geography.  Enter as a student or teacher and find verified links for any type of content or activity you want.  For those classrooms using Genius Hour, this is a great tool for product development.
  4. World Geography Games - Another great site for skills and content practice, this one has every topic possible for your students to play to learn all about World Geography.
  5. The World Geography - Not your traditional Geography fact-finding website, but instead this one offers amazing images and imaginative stories to bring Geography alive for your students.
  6. The U.S. Census Bureau - Now if you want facts, this is the place to go.  The Census Bureau has all of the details on every stat you can imagine, all in an easy to search and organize format.
  7. Fact Monster - Speaking of facts, the FactMonster has it all.  With a long list of Geographic topics, you can find many options for immersing your students in research!
  8. Social Studies for Kids - While not a visually appealing website, this one does have good, solid content for studies the basics of Geography. Whether you need to know the major bodies of water or how to read longitude and latitude, this one has the answers with easy to read explanations.
  9. Duckster's Geography for Kids - For great maps and descriptions of basic Geographic facts, this is the place to go.  Maps are clear and introductory information is provided for each region of the world in a very well organized manner.
  10. Science Kids Geography - For those who integrate Science and Social Studies, this is the site for you.  From basic Geographic facts to the Scientific explanation behind our world's geography, this is the site!
And if this isn't enough... Take a look at these two posts for even more suggestions!
  • The Arlington Public Library compiled these 5 Great Geography Websites for traveling families, but they are also perfect for the classroom! 
  • And if you like lists, the Top Site List offers their picks on the best Geography Sites for studying Geography!
Top 10 Websites for Teaching Geography in the Secondary Social Studies Classroom
Finally, whether you are teaching a full World Geography course or simply want to add in Geographic knowledge to your History or Social Studies class, this complete collection of resources is all you need! Link to individual units or products, or take advantage of the huge bundle for everything you need in the Secondary Social Studies classroom!

Happy Teaching!

Top 15 Websites for Teaching Current Events in the Secondary Social Studies Classroom

Teaching Current Events is so important for the secondary classroom, but finding content-strong, student-appropriate sites can be such a challenge.  To make it easier on you, I've compiled these Top 15 Websites for Teaching Current Events!  I hope they will help you take your students out of the classroom so they can be more knowledgeable on the world in which we live.

Top 15 Websites for Teaching Current Events Websites in the Secondary Social Studies Classroom

Top 15 Websites for Teaching Current Events
  1. Student News Daily - This is not only a great website for up to date information and breaking news, but they also provide great questions and prompts for student analysis and evaluation of the news content. Be sure to take a look at the Editorial Cartoon section to give your students relevant practice of this vital Social Studies skill!
  2. Time for Kids - TfK is a great source for current news and information, but is also great at making it relevant for kids! They take the mundane and focus on aspects they will draw the interest of the younger readers.  The site also offers lessons and resources for teachers, making teaching current events a breeze.
  3. CNN Student News - For breaking world and national news events, this is the place to go.  CNN is best at providing the facts, and this student section will present the information in a manner that educates without inducing fear or anxiety for younger readers.
  4. Smithsonian Magazine - The Smithsonian is always the go-to location for American History, and it is also the go-to for national news and events.  Focusing on interest articles and research-based stories, the online magazine brings a different view to many of the big stories of the day.
  5. National Geographic - This is definitely the first stop for Geographic studies, and if you want to bring Geography into your every day History lessons, this is the place to start.  National Geographic is also very skilled at putting that fun twist in their stories to engage readers, and we all know about those amazing pictures opening up our eyes to the world!
  6. Town Hall - While you can always read the news stories presented at this Town Hall website, it is much more fun to listen to the news updates on the top of each hour.  In the History classroom, this taste of the past can help your kids travel to the past and learn at the same time.
  7. Breaking News - For this most current of current news, this is the place to go.  Watch as the homepage updates before your eyes, breaking the news as soon as it becomes available.
  8. The New York Times Learning Network - This amazing site is not only a great source for current event articles, but it also offers amazing resources for teachers.  Complete lesson plans walk students through analyzing news reports and allows practice so vital in the Social Studies classroom.
  9. DOGO News - While this website was created for the primary grades, it offers leveled readings all the way through grade 8.  More importantly, for the high school classroom, this site provides relevant content for those students not quite on grade level or those early language learners.
  10. Social Studies for Kids - As well as providing great maps, timelines, listings, and more, current events are linked to help students stay up to day with the news of the world. Listings of each year's current events can also be found, helping students examine the recent world history so often overlooked.
  11. Scholastic News Magazine - This is another website that provides current news as well as teaching resources so students can get the most from their current event reading experience.  
  12. Headline Spot for Kids - An amazing compilation of links, this site breaks the news into searchable categories helpful for targeting students interest or topics for further research.
  13. HereThereEverywhere - This fun site offers news with a twist for younger readers.  The topics are arranged in categories, but are written with greater zest to keep readers engaged and ready to learn. Take a look through their archives for interesting research prompts or topics of study for those who finish assignments early!
  14. Wall Street Journal World - Secondary students should be reading relevant world news at an adult reading level.  Despite their current reading abilities, exposing them to real news articles can pique interest and desire for greater reading abilities.  More importantly, delving into the "real" news sites can keep students tied to real current events, better preparing them for the world ahead.
  15. The BBC - One of the greatest lessons we can learn in our U.S. and World History classes is that America can be perceived differently by those outside of our borders.  Allowing students to read from foreign news press opens up their eyes to those varying points of view, not just about our nation, but about the whole world.
Teaching with current events is so important in the middle and high school classroom. Not only does it help students better understand the events of the past, it also helps them better prepare for the future.

Happy Teaching!

How to Teach with Big Paper in the Secondary Classroom

Teaching with big paper in the secondary classroom is not a big secret.  It is a tool from the past that holds incredible value for middle and high school students, and it's use can encourage a classroom climate and classroom participation that is otherwise not achievable. 
How to teach with big paper in the secondary classroom

Activities Using Big Paper in the Secondary Classroom
  1. Reflective Activities - This is the most valuable use for Big Paper!  With students often hesitant to share their personal thoughts or feelings, allowing them to share their thoughts and opinions in an anonymous manner opens doors for amazing sharing and contributions that will prompt greater thought and collaboration.
  2. Thought-Provoking Activities - There are many lessons we must teach in the secondary classroom that are hard lessons to learn.  It's not the skills that make them challenging, it's the content itself.  Using Big Paper in a quiet classroom provides the setting where students can think, process, and contribute.  These fostered quiet discussions can be better controlled than am oral discussion, and can yield much deeper contributions.
  3. Emotional Lessons - Some content taught (especially in the Social Studies classroom) can draw on the heart-strings of students.  Teaching these in a silent setting with Big Paper allows students to address their emotions with the content, while also tackling the fear and anxiety that often comes to teens when facing such a lesson.
  4. Skills Practice - Big Paper can be a great tool for reviewing skills and allowing practice.  Posting simple tasks on Big Paper can create a classroom of constant practice where students can be engaged in a less formal setting with the skills they need for success.
  5. Games & Play - Using Big Paper with Scavenger Hunt clues can turn your classroom into a giant game board where students interact with your content and with each other, fueling competition and excitement for learning!
How to teach with big paper in the secondary classroom

Tips for Using Big Paper in the Secondary Classroom
  • Don't spend a fortune on fancy presentation paper for Big Paper activities.  Visit your local newspaper and ask for the "end rolls" from their printing lines.  These rolls are perfect for big paper activities and also for bulletin boards and so much more!
  • Use silence in conjunction with the Big Paper for the greatest student participation and collaboration.  Students are much more willing to share when they have the opportunity to hear their own thoughts!
  • Allow ample time for students to visit the Big Paper locations and to cultivate their responses to the questions or activities posted.  Use an online timer such as Online Stopwatch to keep the flow and productivity going.
  • Utilize well developed resources for greatest student benefit with Big Paper activities.  While you can use simple questions or prompts with the activity, deeper lessons can emerge when content-strong resources are added for student evaluation and consideration.  Resources that provide the guiding questions can also help students move toward the higher levels of Blooms in their activity participation.  
  • Provide great tools for great Big Paper contributions.  Place varied colored pens or pencils at each location.  Layout highlighters where students can emphasize their own or others points. Even atlases or other relevant tools could add to student thought and development.
  • Always allow students to return to each Big Paper location to read other student responses and to add counter-points to enhance the discussion.  Doing multiple rounds allows for detailed rebuttal and greater thought.
  • Set standards for Big Paper use.  Go over the rules before the activity and always reinforce the classroom rules.  Monitor your students as they contribute to assure appropriate participation.
  • Facilitate learning by traveling the Big Paper locations and discussing your students contributions with them as they post.  Ask questions, make suggestions, and even play devil's-advocate.  However, do NOT give your students the answers or demean their individual contributions.
However you choose to use Big Paper in the classroom, it will be worth it for your students.  The collaboration and participation that it brings will be unprecedented, and the learning will be evident.

Happy Teaching!

Setting Expectations Early for Student Success


Setting high expectations for your students and yourself can be the hardest part of the job or the easiest.  Furthermore, being consistent after the expectations are set can be even more of a challenge.  Considering this, I take the guess work out and make this as easy for myself and my kids as possible.  I set the highest expectations and never waiver.  

An honest post about setting high expectations to foster student success

In the two previous schools I worked, my adherence on this issue never came into question.  At the high school, I was known as a challenging teacher.  In the magnet middle school, I was hired to be challenging and demanding for the program.  I designed grade appropriate assignments and made the next step simple – just do it.  There was never any question in my mind that this was not the norm everywhere.  After all, didn’t all teachers expect their students to reach the highest levels?

Honestly, I should have known my blind view was not always the case.  The middle school feeding into my high school was not the best.  Under my state’s education plan, the school had fallen into decline and we saw huge changes enforced on the entire building.  Many teachers left, some retired, and others complained on a daily basis of the trauma being placed on them.  I was not sympathetic to their cause.  I had seen some of the damage from their lack of teaching firsthand with my daughter attending the failing school.  Other than her reports of constant boredom, short, un-challenging assignments, teachers that sat more than they instructed, and an apparent stagnation of my own gifted child’s knowledge, I also saw more conclusive evidence.  My daughter brought home a test from her history class where most of the questions had the answers included.   One that I have remembered since that day was, “What color was George Washington’s white horse?”  Even my twelve year old daughter thought the class and the teacher was a joke.  She stated over and over that her attending school there had no purpose; she could teach herself more from borrowing a textbook and reading it in her spare time.  I agreed, especially when her final grade in that class was a 132%.  (Math teachers:  Is this possible?)

Even at my magnet middle school, I heard kids talk of the “easy” teachers and the ones who let them play in class the entire hour, but I never thought it could be a school (or possibly district) problem until I reached where I am now.  On my second day of school, I learned very quickly that, despite the school’s motto of “Expect Excellence,” there wasn’t much being expected at all.  What taught me this first new lesson?  I sent home my Identity Bag homework.  Out of over 150 students, less than half completed the work.  Even more disturbing, when I asked some if they would like to try to recover the assignment by just introducing themselves, they responded with, “No, just give me a zero.”

In the weeks that followed, I heard the following statements from my students:

“Grades don’t matter.  We will pass anyway.”



“We don’t do homework here.”



“It will be okay with my parents as long as I get a D at the end.”

I was appalled.  I was disgusted.  I was in tears.  After just a few weeks I had quickly learned that there was an ingrained sense of apathy that had even the brightest students not caring about their ever succeeding in life, much less learning.  They saw school as a place to be during the assigned time, where some teachers allowed them to socialize, others required them to just sit in silence, and some gave them coloring sheets or crosswords to do to pass the time. 

Over time, I learned the reality of my district.  Most students were below grade level, some as many as 4-5 years behind.  Students could not read cursive, could not write complete sentences, and did not have any of the basic skills expected in the 7th grade, such as how to read a map key or how to find the main topic of a paragraph.  It was sad. 

Ironically, when the state tests came back in mid-fall, most students (even though on a 3rd grade reading level) had scored proficient or above.  Many, including a high number of special education students had score distinguished.  How?  Were they testing naturals?  No.  It’s even simpler.  They manipulate the system to stay in the testing game. 

District-wide content posters were printed and hung in EVERY classroom (despite some teacher’s opposition) and students were taught to “use the information” around them.  Rumors of teachers taking the tests for the students were rampant, and evidence that portfolios were written by the teachers could not be questioned.  As I stated in one staff meeting, the students were taught to cheat to get to the next level.  They were taught to look on the walls for the answers, to sharpen their pencils to check the test key, and to allow their teachers to “edit” their work, rather than ever learning how to succeed for themselves by learning.

In my first few months, I spent most of my mornings convincing myself that I had to go back, not because I felt obligated to teach, but because I was told the personnel director would not release teachers from their contracts and I could lose my license if I left.  I was a mess.  With all this taken into consideration, I did the only thing I knew how to do.  I taught.  I failed over 1/3 of my students in the first 9 weeks.  I failed another 1/3 in the second 9 weeks.  And I kept teaching, expecting excellence every day.  I assigned homework, I gave challenging class assignments, I demanded written pieces and research by my students, even though they had to be taught the process.  I refused to give up, and once I bought into the kids (because they always do pull my heart-strings), I took on a mission to teach them how to learn and to demand that they are given the opportunity to learn in their classes.

For the entire first semester, I went home each day questioning myself.  I questioned why I was there and why I didn’t just give up, put my feet up on my desk each day, and shop on Amazon.  Then I would answer myself: Because I am a teacher.
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/First-Homework-Assignment-Identity-Bag-for-Back-to-School-Community-Building-292459
Finally, as the 18 weeks rolled to an end, the students began to come around.  It started to look each day like some enjoyed being there, several showed concern for their grades, and even the most apathetic ones were beginning to buy-in.  After fighting students, parents, other teachers that made comments about my hurting their kids by being too demanding, and a district that only appeared to be expecting excellence, I started to see hope.  And on the second day of the second semester, I walked around my classes to check their homework and I felt success.  Only 14 students did not have it for me to grade.  Progress.

Expecting excellence is not just a statement, but it has to be an action.  You have to be willing to hold out when success does not seem possible.  You have to be willing to listen to parents yell at YOU for failing their child or for expecting them to do 20 minutes of homework when they have more important things to do, like their football practice or dance lessons.  You have to be tough enough to be excluded by your co-workers when they feel like you are rocking their comfortable system of do-nothingness.  You have to be open to allowing students to fail, when that is what THEY choose to do, even when it breaks your heart since you know they are capable of so much more.  In addition, you have to work harder.  You must keep up your strong front and continue to develop lessons you think might just draw their attention and help them get started in the right direction.  It was the hardest work I had to do since I started my teaching profession.  And it will always be!

Happy Teaching!

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!