Archive for the ‘social studies teaching strategy’ Tag

Response Cards – An Active Learning Strategy

A teacher asks a question, calls on a student, and gets an answer. Students who aren’t called on are disappointed, and students who didn’t raise their hands are relieved.

Response cards are an easy, inexpensive way for all students to answer every question in a low-risk way! Response cards are a piece of paper, or index card with responses written on it. Students hold them in front of them with their fingers on the answer. You can quickly scan the class to check their understanding.

They can be student or teacher made, the one criteria is that answers must be written on the front and back of the card. That way the student is looking at the answer they are showing you.

Types of Response Cards

  • Multiple-Choice Response Cards – A B C D – I use these with Brainpop quizes and as test review. I made them using wordart and laminated them as I use these fairly frequently)
  • This or That cards – good for comparisons – I’ll use these for groups of people or names (Axis Powers/Allies, Patricians/Plebeians, names) these are usually lesson specific and I’ll have the children make them.
  • 🙂 😐 😦  – Happy face – Neutral Face – Sad Face – Good for inferencing/mood in fiction.
  • Yes/No or True/False cards

Response cards are only limited by your imagination. Individual whiteboards also make great response systems without the limitations of “set” answers. A high tech version of response cards are student response systems that connect to an interactive whiteboard. The important thing is to get as many students involved as much of the time as possible!


The Ball Game – A Motion Strategy

Sometimes the simple things can make the biggest difference.

I use this anytime I feel my kiddos need “waking up” as it generates immediate interest. I keep an inflatable world globe ball by my desk at all times, just in case.

The game couldn’t be simpler. I ask a question, if the student knows the answer then they raise both arms to catch the ball. I throw it, they catch it, and answer the question. They throw it back. Repeat. The kids absolutely love this. If I ask a question that has a list for an answer, we’ll do a “think fast” round. In a “think fast” round I announce the topic (inventions, presidents, etc.) and start the game by throwing the ball to a student. If the student gives a correct answer, they then toss the ball to another student, who then answers.

Any ball will do, but the globes are great for social studies. A teacher friend of mine and fellow blogger uses a numbered soccer ball and pre-written questions. There are also commercially made inflatables with reading comprehension questions for informational texts that  the children also adore.

Here is a link to those on Amazon.

A teacher I work with kicked this up several notches, using a soccer ball and pre-written questions. I asked her to write it up for me, and she was kind enough to write a very descriptive post as a comment. Be sure to scroll down!

Content Carols – The Most Fun You Can Have The Week Before Break!

What happens when you combine Christmas carols and history content? Content Carols!

I give the children a lyrics sheet to some very common and easy to sing Christmas carols, because you would be surprised at how many don’t know all the words to the songs. I introduce the project by having a quick “sing a long” of the first verse and chorus of each song.

I use: Winter Wonderland, Let it Snow!, Here comes Santa Claus, Santa Claus is coming to Town, O Christmas Tree, Up on the Housetop, Jingle Bells, Joy to the World, Deck the Halls, Silent Night, Little Drummer Boy, and You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. I only copy enough for a class set for partners (15 copies for 30 students, for example)

Lyrics Sheet for Content Carols

Then the students pick a topic from a list (I usually take the topics from our most current unit). We were studying Industrial Revolution and Immigration, so their topics were:

Inventors/Inventions, Big Business, Immigration, or Progressive Reforms

I always model the process, so after the sing-a-long, I choose a topic and write a song that the class sings. My sample:

Living in the US Gilded Age (to the tune of Winter Wonderland)

Factory bells ring, are you listening?

Hours are long, sweat is glistening

Children, women and men

Are working in them,

Living in the US Gilded Age

Tenements are where they’re living

Though small rooms, they are giving

Often no running water or heat

or electricity

Living in the US Gilded Age

In the mansions you can see the rich men

Carnegie and Rockefeller too

Monopolies made them very rich men

But they showed the other rich men what to do

Later on, reforms are coming

The Progressives must do something

Food and Drugs follow rules

And kids go to school

Living in the US Gilded Age

Living in the US Gilded Age

Living in the US Gilded Age


  • Topic must be clear in the song
  • Each song must have a minimum of three verses
  • Each verse must be singable to the tune of the song selected
  • Each verse must contain two pieces of information about the topic.

Then, they write. Allow at least two class periods for this. In my room I spend these two days being the “teacher jukebox” running from partner to partner “singing” their songs with them. On the third day we edit/make final copies.

The culminating activity can take any form you are comfortable with:

  • A performance in your classroom – pairs sing their songs for each other.
  • A classroom sing a long – type up your songs as a booklet, and sing them all together.

This year, the whole grade level did this project, and we had a grade level sing-a-long with parents in our lecture theater. We couldn’t sing all the songs, but selected two per class period for a total of sixteen songs. It was lovely, fun – and educational. The children work very hard on this project, and it gets them very motivated during a week that is traditionally tough going in the classroom.

By varying the songs, you could do this at any time of the year!

Review Board Games

Children love games. I use them wherever I can because it gets them to study/review material without feeling like “work” and it gives them a chance to interact about the conent. I love games too!

I thought I would share a few resources that make incorporating board games in class easy and inexpensive.

First, I create my own games using file folders and beautiful templates that you can find here:

The PowerPoint template prints on two pages and fills both sides of the file folder. You can also explore different Microsoft Word tempates on this site. Download, print, attach to file folder, a quick trip through the laminator and voila! a durable board game. You can use the template “as is” or you can modify it to make it your own. I started with a few generic boards that I could use with any content, and the children liked it so much I started designing boards that were specific to each unit. I’m now teaching a different content, so that is back on my todo list again.

They have a business card template that you can use for questions, but I just set up a two column table in word. I like my rows set at about an 1.25 to 1.5 inches and at least 14 point font. I use vocabulary words and questions from my test bank for each unit to create the questions. Print them out, use a paper cutter to make the job go quicker, and store the cards in a business envelope attached to the board or stored separately. These could be laminated, but its so easy to print a duplicate set if necessary that I don’t.

Dice from the dollar store and water bottle caps complete this resource.

Other things you can do with the templates:

I like to use these on my Promethean board to play whole class games. I make a few shapes that are colored for pieces, and let the students compete in teams using the Eggspert.

The Eggspert runs between $60 and $99 and is totally worth it. It allows you to know which child “rings in” first. These very photogenic children are not mine, this picture is from the Eggspert site:

I like to put students in teams in rows, and they rotate every turn so that every child gets the chance to ring in. It also provides movement for all the students.

You can also have students make their own gameboards. Read Write Think has come up with a terrific lesson plan using gameboards as project for novels, but is easily adaptable to any content. I wrote a post about my recent adaptation of this here.

Making Gameboards – A History Lab

Game board projects, adapted from this lesson plan on Read Write Think:

My students just finished making gameboards for Westward Expansion. It was a learning experience for all of us! I want to share the details, handouts, and my reflections here.

Students took on the role of gameboard designers whose task it was to create a learning/review game for Westward Expansion. Each child was assigned a partner and they used their textbooks, Joy Hakim’s Reconstructing America to write 25 questions each. They were not allowed to duplicate questions. They were asked to write 10 easy, 10 medium, and 5 hard questions on this template:

Question Writing Sheet

The original idea is that they would write questions as they thought of them, and then evaluate the difficulty level. Next year we want to redesign this sheet with 10 spaces for EASY, 10 for MEDIUM with examples right above the appropriate spaces to provide additional support.

The dialogue about the content was amazing – the children really gave themselves a great review of the content. So much so that my partner teacher and I have decided this part of the project should come prior to the unit test. Another modification for next year will be to provide a list of key terms/people/concepts to provide additional support for question writers.

Once the questions were written, the teams worked together to design their gameboard using a file folder, markers, and their imaginations. The game’s purpose was to reflect the theme of Westward Expansion (earn your homestead by _____, complete the transcontinental railroad, etc) as well as the design of the board itself. Rules were to be written that would incorporate their questions into play. Each partner was responsible for half of the gameboard (the file folder crease made this simple).


I have done a similar project in years past, and with some tweaking I know we will implement this again next year. It takes two days to design the board, write the rules and have some time to play them. The question writing will be introduced as test review, and what isn’t finished in one class period becomes homework. The dialogue about the content – what was important, and how could they make it fun was well worth the time.

Weslandia by Paul Fleischmann – A Picture Book Lesson

I love using picture books to teach history. My fifth and sixth graders love them. Weslandia is a title I used for years to introduce the concept of civilization.

The best part of a picture book is of course, the pictures. I have a Promethean board, so I take pictures of the pages so that I can show them on the board as I read the book. I find that the pictures are faster/easier than scanning. This is a picture of the title page, so you can see that the image quality is pretty decent.



Weslandia Title

Weslandia is the story of a young boy named Wesley, who decides to create his own civilization as a summer project. His civilization, like all others, starts with agriculture and the development of a staple crop.

This is how I use it as a lesson. The teacher side page is the GRAPES graphic organizer that I wrote about in my previous post.

GRAPES – civilization

I ask them questions and they highlight the answers. I show them pictures and they tell me what parts of a civilization they represent. I then have them set up a concept map on the right hand side. In the center is “Weslandia” and then all of the traits spike off the center. As I read them the story they take notes on the parts of Wesley’s civilization to show me that they understand and can apply the different parts.

Here are a few other lesson plans for this book:

G.R.A.P.E.S. – a content organizer

During the years that I taught ancient civilizations to 11 year olds, I found that students often struggled with the content. It had an awful lot of big words, and each area/time was just so different. I was thrilled when I ran across this organizer for timer periods, G.R.A.P.E.S.

G – Geography

R – Religion

A – Art and Architecture

P – Politics and Government

E – Economics

S – Social Structures

One, it was a great way to explain and remember the parts of a civilization and for them to understand the definition of the word. Two, I organized all of our notes this way in our interactive notebooks, so that there became a predictable pattern to our lessons. Oh, we finished up religion, now we’ll be learning about art and architecture. We were able to discuss the standards with these – ok, guys the state wants us to focus on the art, architeture, and politics and government. Does that mean they didn’t have the others? Etc. It became a great way to compare and contrast. Loved it.

Here is the document that I use when I introduce the concept in my class:

GRAPES – civilization

I’ve recently come across another acronym called “PERSIA”.  Here is a link to a great description at the History Tech blog. I hope you find either or both of these useful!

Generating Ideas for Assignments

I love the notebooks, but as with any strategy, I find I can fall into a rut. That’s when I need something random, something fun, that will spark my creativity.

learningactivitygenerator was one of those random things. It has a “learning event” generator that randomly gives you an assignment and then a way to “show what you know”. You just click and it keeps generating activities, and some are quite funny. They have also listed their assessment strategies on a wiki.

Coolies, by Yin – A picture book on the Transcontinental Railroad

Coolies Cover

This is a terrific story of how two young Chinese boys, Shek and Wong, come to America to earn money for their family. They go to work for the Central Pacific railroad company, work hard, have some adventures, and end up opening a shop in San Franciso.

There is some great information and wonderful pictures to build background – I would recommend this picture book to introduce or supplement your study of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Historical Highlights:

  • My favorite picture, and there are many terrific pictures by Sontpiet in this book, is a two page spread of a railroad camp. It is a terrific visual of how “busy” those areas were.
  • There is good information on how day to day work and life went on in the railroad camps.
  • Another terrific picture of the Chinese immigrants working in knee deep snow – plenty of conversation to have about working conditions.
  • The story ends shortly after the joining of the railroads in Utah.

The students thoroughly enjoyed the story, and we were able to put a human face on this important event in history. I used the sketch to stretch strategy to keep them engaged in the story. I modify it somewhat as follows:

I explain to students that their job is to visualize while I am reading, and to read as much from the pictures I project on the screen as they can. I stop about 1/4 of the way through the book and ask students to draw/sketch a picture of what they thought was most important. I also ask them to write a sentence about what they drew.

I only give them 3 minutes, so I tell them to draw/sketch quickly. Then I read the next quarter and repeat. In the center of the template I have them write the name of the book and author. I’m attaching the template I use to this post.

Sketch to Stretch Template

A lesson plan from the illustrator’s web site.

Sensory Figures, An Interactive Notebook Assignment – Part II

I love, love, love these assignments and posted about them earlier here.

This year I was working with younger students, and I was concerned about them “getting it”. They say you should teach a new strategy with familiar content, so I decided that for each new assignment they would create an example based on themselves. I saved the first ten pages of the notebook for this.

One comment complaint from students is that they can’t draw. I say that everyone can draw, we just can’t all draw well. I am one of those who can’t draw well and this gives me a certain amount of classroom “cred” – If I can do it, they can do it.

So I started with a stick figure, and showed the students how to put clothes on the stick figure to “flesh it out”. Then I did the assignment for myself, explaining the rules. No generic comments (I hear birds singing, etc), no repetitive comments (oops, I can’t mention my class again, hmmn, how can I say this?), and each of the seven comments must tell something important about the person. Here is my example:

Teacher Example for Sensory Figure

Of course, I was tired of drawing myself by the end of the day ;), but doing it from scratch really seemed to help.

I’ve also recently found this tutorial on on how to draw a proportionate human body:

Then I had student create “mini-mes”, or sensory figures of themselves. I circulated and reminded them to spend equal time drawing and writing. Here are some of theirs:

Student Example Sensory Figure 2     Student Example Sensory Figure 3   Student Example Sensory Figure 5

Students then partnered to complete a reading guide on pioneers on the Great Plains. (That was their left hand assignment) Then, after we reviewed it, I had them create a pioneer sensory figure. Here are some of the result:

 Pioneer Sensory Figure 3  Pioneer Sensory Figure 4  Pioneer Sensory Figure 5

These first content ones were so much better than I am used to, and I’m convinced it was because I took the time to teach the strategy with familiar content first.