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Prepping for the Testing: Practicing Skills in the Social Studies Classroom

Whether we like it or not, testing season is approaching all of our schools and will eventually take over our classrooms once again.  While we can discuss the harm of over-testing until we are blue in the face, our students are now convinced that these tests are a true measurement of their academic success, and we are now compelled to assure they will do well.

Tips for practicing skills in the Social Studies classroom to help with standardized test prep.
In the Social Studies classroom, testing is often an added frustration since many states devalue Social Studies education and our classes are all too often stolen for test prep in other areas.  Still, we need to fit in reviews of the skills our students will need to conquer for greater achievement on the Social Studies portion, and ironically, these skills will help them to prepare for those other content areas, as well.
Tips for practicing skills in the Social Studies classroom to help with standardized test prep.
If you examine testing trends over the last 20 years, you will find there are 4 main skills practiced on most standardized tests.  These skills are staples in the Social Studies area, yet are often overlooked as skills students no longer need to practice or review or as being those supposedly already "taught" in earlier grades.
  • Charts are found in every content area and are designed to provide categorized information on a specific topic or topics.  Students should learn to thoroughly read through the chart, to carefully identify the categories addressed, and to make comparisons and inferences with the information provided.
  • Graphs, like charts, provide details on a particular topic, and often this information is compared or correlated to make a statement or summary of the topic.  Students should practice identifying the topic and the purpose of the graph as well as practicing the critical thinking skills for higher evaluation of the information provided.
  • Reading Maps is a lost art, yet these skills are still vital in so many ways.  Most importantly, students should know how to identify the topic of the map, they should be able to identify and apply the symbols, and they should be able to make assumptions based on the map content.
  • Text Reading is the most common skill required for testing and in life application.  Reading for information is practiced every day as we navigate directions, read menus, or apply for and perform jobs.  Students should practice identifying the main point, should highlight to emphasize specific points, and should attempt summation and prediction based on the information given in the text.
In addition to practicing the appropriate skills in the correct formats, it is important to teach effective strategies.  Do not practice with multiple choice options.  This only teaches your students to search for specific information.  Instead, teach them to thoroughly read and explore for information.  Practice with activities requiring students evaluate the information they investigate with full written responses.  Only through thorough explanation will they be prepared to tackle the questions and prompts they may see in testing and in practical application.   
Tips for practicing skills in the Social Studies classroom to help with standardized test prep.
Finally, ask students constantly what they understand and what challenges them.  As students learn to better self-evaluate, they will know when to ask for help and how to attack the challenge of learning more!
Tips for practicing skills in the Social Studies classroom to help with standardized test prep.

And try not to stress this testing season.  Just remember, this too shall pass!

Need a great activity to review the 4 skills? Find it here!

Happy Teaching!