Teaching social studies is a great opportunity to bolster the instruction of other teachers by helping students apply the skills they are learning in language arts, math, or science. Not only does this help students connect those skills to all areas, it makes social studies lessons more fun. These creative ideas should make the social studies time more enjoyable for teacher and students alike.
Use a set of classroom rules as a way to encourage active citizenship. Start the lesson by giving students a list of rules, telling them that there will be no negotiation about consequences and no leniency for violations. Return to the discussion of rules. Using the original list, and ask students to modify it so that reasonable limits are set.
Discuss the fact that having the chance to contribute to the rules makes them easier to keep. Apply this to the community at large by pointing out that voting and volunteering are a citizen’s way of helping write the rules.
Use historical fiction to bring social studies to life. Students often have a difficult time understanding that history is the story of real people doing real things. Fictional accounts make it easier for students to connect to the people and events.
Historical fiction also provides a chance to develop analytical skills. Using Venn diagrams, help students compare the factual accounts of a given event with that of a fictional one. Ask students to describe the accuracy of the fictional piece and to speculate as to why writers and filmmakers might take some liberties with the facts. Use this as a lead to a lesson on evaluating media sources for accuracy and bias when researching class projects. (The John Wayne version of “The Alamo” works well for this.)
Interact with History
Make your lessons as “hands-on” as possible. For instance, instead of just discussing pioneer life and the vast number of chores that were required, make butter, soap, and candles in class, why not create posters, models, and other products. Have students recreate historical events with role-playing activities.
Review a unit by having students decorate small boxes to show what they have learned. Then, line up the floats around the classroom, and allow the creator to explain the symbols on the float. Visuals are a great way to facilitate understanding and remembering. You can also post maps and charts relevant to the current unit.
Keep it Current
Make social studies relevant by including current events. Sharing articles with classmates helps students connect to the world outside themselves, and it provides an opportunity to practice summarizing skills.
Use student-friendly newspapers and magazines such as Weekly Reader or Time for Kids, to engage students in discussions about world and local events.
Allow students to collaborate as much as possible. Research shows that when people work together, they are able to learn more; students also better retain knowledge they discover for themselves. Encourage students to work together to find answers. Act as a facilitator for students becoming experts.
The 4th grade social studies tips that have been included here are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Constantly seeking ways to make the content real, interactive, and fun will ensure active student participation, which will also make classroom management a breeze. For more information on what students will learn in social studies, and to link these activities to the curriculum, see The Essential Skills for 4th Grade Science and Social Studies.