Archive for the ‘teaching strategy for social studies’ Tag

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:

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.

Reader’s Theater – Another Teacher-Side Option

Earlier I wrote a post on types of teacher-side assignments for interactive notebooks. Here is another idea, and if you don’t use the notebooks it can be a useful stand-alone strategy.

I’m always on the look-out for new things to do, and while browsing proteacher, I read a post about someone writing a Reader’s Theater to put in their math interactive notebook. (Thanks, Catbells, for the idea!) It got my creative juices flowing and made me remember a reader’s theater training I had had several years ago. I ended up taking my article for the Civil Rights Amendments and re-writing it into a reader’s theater. It went smashingly – the kids had a great time, we re-read the content several times with no boredom or arguments, and they could easily use it to complete their student-side.

Tips on writing/adapting curriculum based reader’s theater:

  • Choose a piece of writing that has the content you want to teach. It can be a story or a factual article.
  • Don’t use character names – use numbers. This allows for greatest girl/boy flexibility.
  • Try not to let any one number speak for too long – I like to change it up every sentence or two.
  • Mix up the numbers throughout the reading so that students speak throughout the piece.
  • For important parts, let all of the children speak. Add sound effects and action if you wish, but it is not necessary.

The training I received was based on Rosalynd Flinn’s work. This is her website, and there are several great samples – hopefully there is one you can use. I’m attaching a copy of the one I did with my students on Amendments 13 – 15. Our right hand assignment was a simple chart of the amendments, when they were ratified, and what rights the provided.

Reconstruction Amendment Reader’s Theater

Motion Activities – Mix Pair Share

Sometimes students need to move, and sometimes teachers need to be entertained.

This is the perfect time for the Kagan strategy – Mix Pair Share. These are the “official” instructions:

Mix Pair Share
1. students mix
2. teacher calls, “pair”
3. hand up, pair up
4. teacher asks question, gives think time
5. share

This is what I like to do with the students:

  1. Students stand up by their desks.
  2. Teacher starts the music (I like something fun and energizing think “Funkytown” or “Everybody, Everbody”)
  3. Students mix – smiling, waving, bopping – but no talking
  4. Teacher stops music and students pair with the closest person (I tell them, not the closest boy, not the closest girl, but the closest person)
  5. Students turn back to back.
  6. Teacher asks question and provides think time.
  7. Students turn and discuss question, then turn back to back.
  8. Teacher restarts music, and the cycle begins again if desired.

Now, that seems to have more steps, but it really goes pretty fast.  Sort of a musical chairs without chairs. It can provide a much needed break and generates a lot of enthusiasm for the discussion.

Besides, until you’ve seen a bunch of 10 year olds doing the “John Travolta”, you haven’t seen it all yet!

Comic Strips – An Interactive Notebook Assignment

Just read the story of a battle? Someone’s biography? A myth?

Then it just might be time for a comic strip. I like to assign these when the notes/information are more narrative in nature. A good comic strip or storyboard will take on average 20-30 minutes of time.

These are the directions I give my students:

Comic Strip: A comic strip is an illustrated summary.


ð        Read about the event or person in your notes.

ð        Highlight the 8 most important things that happened in the event or the person’s life.

ð        Turn your notebook sideways and title your storyboard on the margin line.

ð        Separate the remainder of the page into eight panels, like this:




(image didn’t copy – draw a line through the middle, then a line to intersect, then a line halfway to the left and a line halfway to the right for 8 good panels)

ð        At the top or bottom of each box, write your caption.  Your caption must be at least one complete sentence and explain what is going on in your illustration.


ð        Above or below the caption, draw your illustration.  This should be appropriate, meaningful, and colored.

ð        When you have finished, your comic strip should be a meaningful summary of the event or person’s life we have studied.



Instructional note – As with all notebook assignments, you will need to model. I like to share a few that were done on an unrelated topic before we get started, but that is the benefit of having used this strategy before. When I didn’t have samples, we sometimes did one together. A simple and worthwhile trial is to illustrate the pledge of allegiance in eight panels. Once the students understand that they are simply illustrating their captions, it goes pretty smoothly from there.

comic-strip1 This is a summary of the Romulus and Remus myth.

comic-strip2 Another version of Romulus and Remus.

comic-strip3 This child prefered this orientation for their Romulus/Remus strip – that was fine with me. I try not to “nitpick” the instructions if the child has a preference that doesn’t significantly impact the assignment.

Other ideas for comic strips:

  • summarize a battle from the Punic Wars
  • summarize the life of Julius Caesar
  • summarize the contest between Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci
  • summarize the spread of the Black Death
  • summarize the steps to knighthood
  • summarize a day in the life of a serf

The list could go on and on. Actually, the serf option is something that my students just completed – I’ll need to take some pictures and update this post.

Differentiation option: If you have a notes section that fits for a comic strip – it would pair nicely with several other assignments. After we learned about the daily life of a serf, students had a choice between completing a comic strip, writing a diary entry, and making a sensory figure of a serf. All three processing assignments accomplished the same goal, while allowing students choices to fit their individual needs.

Interactive Notebooks – Organization

Papers, papers everywhere.

And no more flat surfaces to pile them on . . .

Classrooms can quickly turn into a paperwork nightmare if you don’t have a system. Everyone has to find what works for them. What works for me is keeping everything simple and in plain sight. I’m not a born organizer, but even I can keep up with this:

Assignment Board

I set up one of my bulletin boards as an assignment board at the beginning  of the year. It is a pretty good size board – I’d say 4 by 6 feet, but I’ve seen this modified on much smaller boards.

I put up a cloth background, border around the edges, then a strip of border down the middle. On the left side there is a blank monthly calendar.  On the right side I have 5 rows of 6 catalog envelopes. This is enough for an entire unit of handouts for me. (I use 6 x 9 because my handouts are half  sized, but they work pretty well for full sized handouts too if you fold  them.)

assignment board1

I use sticky notes to label the envelopes NB 1, NB 2, NB 3, NB 4 . . . etc.  (some people use file labels)

I have a row of folders stapled across the bottom of the board labeled –  Monday-Friday

At the end of each day I:

  • I write down the assignments for each day as we do them, and the notebook pages used. I also write down the homework.
  • Place any extra notebook handouts in the envelopes, and label the sticky note.
  • Place any extra copies of homework/classwork assignments in the appropriate day’s folder.

The students are then responsible for checking the calendar and getting any  missing work. It works remarkably well for me, and it is a great visual for parents!

The assignment board for two notebooks:


I’m actually thinking the above would work well for incorporating menus. One side could be the notebook pages, the other the classroom calendar and the menu board options. For tic tac toes you could have 9 envelopes, for gameshow menus however many rows, for list menus – place the envelopes in order. It also gives some “change” to the board.

Interactive Notebooks – Student Assignments Limited by Imagination Only

“Right is for Reflection”

This side of the notebook focuses on ways that students can process and be creative with the information that they learned on the left. The type of assignment is limited only by your imagination and the student’s creativity, yet they are based on the just learned content. Some teachers use the left side for these assignments, but I feel it makes more sense this way.

They can range from the simple – vocabulary activities, mind mapping. and illustrated outlines that focus more on organizing and illustrating facts . . .

dscn0985              concept-mapdscn0981

to acrostics and other poetry, posters, and sensory figures that require students to go beyond the facts into interpretation . . .

acrostic3    dscn0983   black-plague-victime-2

The right side assignment gives a natural way for a teacher to offer choice to students and to differentiate instruction. The left side is the base content that everyone must know, the right side is process and product work, and that can be whatever the student needs it to be. I usually allocated 15-30 minutes of class time depending on the complexity of the assignment.

One of the paperwork issues I have with differentiation is how to record it and be fair. This way, I label my gradebook with page numbers,  and so as long as everyone has a NB45, it really doesn’t matter to the book whether the students page 45 is an acrostic or a wanted poster or a mind map.