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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!


Teaching Prediction: Looking to the Future in the Secondary Classroom

As a history teacher, it can be quite the challenge to teach prediction.  Even more challenging can be the task of encouraging our students to look to the future and to begin living a life that can contribute to the future in a more positive manner.  Add to that our need to now address global issues and implications, and the challenge becomes even more important.

Tips for teaching students to look toward the future and in making predictions in the secondary classroom.

While this task can seem overwhelming, it is not!  It's quite simple, really!
  1. Start with the history! We can never predict the future without understanding the past.
  2. Examine the geography of the region.  What are the implications of the region's geography?
  3. Address the current events and issues of the region.
  4. Investigate the grassroots changes and developments.
  5. Examine existing programs and determine their effectiveness.
  6. Explore potential outcomes.
  7. Make world connections.
  8. Address global impacts.
  9. Encourage intellectual investment.
  10. Continue to introduce important topics and allow students to take their learning a step further.
Tips for teaching students to look toward the future and in making predictions in the secondary classroom.Tips for teaching students to look toward the future and in making predictions in the secondary classroom.
Tips for teaching students to look toward the future and in making predictions in the secondary classroom.

So, what are you waiting for?  Stop just teaching about the past, and start encouraging students to apply their understanding of history in preparing for a more positive future!

Need the resources?
Take a look at my Developing Countries of Africa Centers Activity and my Challenges in Asia Activity.

Happy Teaching!

The Importance of Similarities: Teaching Modern Issues in the Secondary Classroom

At the secondary level, students are often aware of modern world events and issues as they step into the classroom.  Along with that knowledge often comes questions and concerns, and sometimes confusion and anxiety.  Yet teaching modern issues in the secondary classroom, especially when similarities are addressed, can help to break down walls that have been built for centuries. More importantly, addressing modern issues and recognizing similarities among groups can help to build a new, more positive future.
A discussion and tips on teaching modern issues, including world religions, in the secondary classroom.

Teaching World Religions is one of those issues that can help to make a huge difference in our futures and the way humans interact with one another.  All too often, in conversations on religion, the differences are highlighted while the similarities are overlooked or even ignored.  This leaves us feeling as though we are separate entities with nothing in common and no reason to like each other, much less get along.
A discussion and tips on teaching modern issues, including world religions, in the secondary classroom.
While this argument may seem simplistic for adults, it can be very influential for our students.  However, when we highlight the similarities, we can help students identify with those who are different, and we can teach an appreciation of that difference rather than helping to fuel flames of hatred through ignorance.

A discussion and tips on teaching modern issues, including world religions, in the secondary classroom.

In the end, the lesson is simple.  Teach what matters most. Teach our students that we are all alike in the areas that matter.  And our beliefs are important, too. But what is most important is that we respect each other in those different views and live peacefully despite the difference!

Happy Teaching!

The Importance of Silence: Teaching Sensitive Topics in the Secondary Classroom

Each year in my secondary classroom, no matter the subject I was teaching, I took the time to teach about the Holocaust.  My Holocaust unit usually fell into the month of March, and with testing on the horizon, it was sometimes a challenge to make the make the content connections both in my lesson plans for my administration and for my students who were often at the point of burnout.  That realization helped me to create the silent teaching method.

Tips for teaching sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

While my typical classroom was far from silent, it became very apparent to me that silence can be golden.  Not only does it help students focus, but it also demands their respect to the topic at hand, and helps them to process the information more deeply and more emotionally.

And really, the use of this method is quite simple.  Just follow these vital steps:
  1. Create a classroom climate where respect is commonplace.
  2. Set up the activity ahead of time and explain the importance of silence.
  3. Arrange "escapes" for those who cannot remain silent.
  4. Encourage conversation in written form.
  5. Allow time for processing of information.
And when the activity is over, take time to wrap it all up.  Discuss the topic, the specific content that needs to be addressed, and the emotions.  Allow your students to debrief. Allow them to be angry. Allow them to cry.  In fact, I often cried with my students when teaching topics such as the Holocaust, 9/11, or the Rwandan Genocide.  These topics are real, they are recent, and they need to be taught with the silence they deserve. 

Finally, remember the following tips when teaching with the silent method in your classes:

Tips for teaching sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

Tips for teaching sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

Tips for teaching sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

Tips for teaching sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

Tips for teaching sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

And one last point - after the lesson is over, let your students know that they should NEVER be silent about these topics again.  Silence can be deadly! 

Please take a look in my TpT Store for great response group activities that work well with the silent teaching method.

Happy Teaching!