LaQuita Middleton-Holmes | May 2019

Teaching Strategies in the Social Studies Classroom

Teaching strategies in the Social Studies classroom can be very daunting. But, it can also have very rewarding results for your students when done with fidelity. Fortunately, social studies is a pretty all inclusive subject. However, in order to teach it, you have to hone in on a myriad of objectives for each topic. Consider these questions when planning your lessons.


What should students know prior to learning about this topic? How can students grasp the overall essential idea of this topic? What connections from students’ ‘out-of-classroom’ lives can teachers use to help students master the objectives? What teaching strategies should be implemented to engage students from beginning to end?

During Learning:

What specific activities will help students demonstrate mastery of the objective? What skills should be paired with this particular objective to help obtain optimum mastery? How are students practicing mastery? What should they do with a partner? What should they do individually? How are students being measured at this level?


What teaching strategies should be implemented to ensure students have a ‘long-term mastery’ of the objective? How can the content and skills from this lesson be transferred to the next lesson?
While these are questions teachers ask themselves when preparing lessons for other ‘non-Social Studies’ classes, these questions can transform a Social Studies class from low-engagement/low-mastery to high-engagement/high mastery!

So, let’s get to discussing some of these strategies! These pre-lesson strategies require teachers to internalize the lesson DAYS before the lesson is taught.

Pre-lesson Strategies

Strategy 1 – Power 60 – Pre-Write

Write the topic on the board. Have students to complete a 60-second pre-write where they write everything they know about the topic in shorthand. This is a great opportunity to encourage students to incorporate what they may have heard/viewed in a movie, a song, in an overheard conversation with their parents, in a previous class, etc. They may even include relevant vocabulary words, historical elements, and more!

During the 60-second period, teachers should move about the room and monitor student progress. Encourage students who may want to quit, not participate, or just want to lean on other students’ responses. During this time, too, make note of high points students wrote on their papers and reference them during share out time.

Strategy 2 – The Ol’ Switch-a-Roo

After the time is up, have students to switch papers with a partner.
The partner must now read the original student’s response and suggest ways to add depth.

Let’s pretend the original student says, “He didn’t fight the battle.” This is without a sufficient amount of detail. The partner should note, “This was a great start, but in order to earn all of your points, try adding more specific details. For example, who are you speaking about? What is his name? What is his position?
Why didn’t he fight? What was the cause of the battle? Did he end up fighting? If so, why did he change his mind? What was the effect of the battle?”

Partners should offer suggestions of new ideas, correct any ‘suspected’ errors, and challenge him to push for more depth. The suspected error in the original student’s writing was that the emperor didn’t fight. The emperor DID indeed fight the battle and eventually won the battle. The partner also suggested ways to add depth. Then, at the end of the allotted time, students should return papers back to their original owners. Students should be writing the entire time.

That’s better…

Now, with the help of his partner, the original student will present his final answer: “Emperor Justinian was afraid of being killed in war because he knew the strong sentiment of dislike the people of his empire had for him. However, at the persuasion of his wife, Empress Theodora, he decided they would both continue the battle and fight for the unity of the empire they both loved dearly.”

With the help of a peer, the original student was able to learn how to add more depth to his responses. With much practice and encouragement, students will be able to write with fidelity independently.
Allot time for students to review their partners’ responses and allow share out time. It may be great to choose 1-2 student work samples to demonstrate corporately.

Strategy 3 – The Great Inquiry

Brainstorm a good, solid question that you can pose that will engage students. Write it on the board. For example, my go-to favorite question is: should women rule over men? This question ALWAYS stirs up intense debates!

Of course, your questions will change based upon your topic and objective, but it is a great way to stir up initial interest. Interest which can then turn into lesson-long, life-long engagement.

Allow students a 30-second NO-GO, where they only think of their responses and not write or talk. Distribute 2 post-it notes to each student. On one post-it note, students should complete one of the two sentence stems that are posted on two large sheets of butcher papers (labeled as such).

– No, women should not rule over men because…
– Yes, women should rule over men because…

Upon completion, have students to post their responses on the corresponding butcher paper. Allow time for students to do a quick gallery walk to read their fellow students’ responses. For the gallery walk, each student should respond (on the post-it note) with at least two questions about two of their classmates’ responses.

For example, Claire may write “No, women should not rule over men because we have gotten too far away from traditional values.” Bethany may inquire, “Shouldn’t gender roles be as modern as the times in which we live?” Bethany will post her questions on the bottom tip of Claire’s original statement.

At the end of the gallery walk, allow students to revisit the gallery to read some of the responses. This will precede your oral discussion on the topic.


Strategy 4: IDA – In-Depth Analysis

To transform their responses, encourage students to respond in ways that mirror deep analysis of the topic at hand. This in-depth analysis should mirror your specific field and should coincide with the overall objectives of your course. For example, in AP Human Geography, students learn to respond to prompts using E, S, P, eN. This stands for Economic, Social, Political, and eNvironmental.

In response to this initial inquiry, a student may say “In many societies, women are placed into second-class citizenship because men consider them inferior.” Of course, this is super general. How can we leverage what students leave with during this activity?

Here’s how:

Choose 4-6 statements to be placed on a sheet of paper and edited by other students. This will depend upon the amount of space you have in your room to post working material. Put students in evenly numbered groups and assign them to each poster. Each student must take a two-minute turn at the poster and write one sentence to add to the original response that will add depth.

As they wait, they must be taking note of what they can add to the poster.

Possible additions could include

– Real-world examples
– Historical examples
– Connections to another unit
– Vocabulary word definitions
– Relevant Quotes

After all students have included their lines, the entire group should verify every part that has been included in this response and make changes. This should span 4-5 minutes. If students are finished before this time, teachers should progress to the next stage of the process, which should be a discussion of your choosing that will help students substantiate their thoughts.

During this activity, teachers should monitor academic progress. Students should write factual information to prevent the rest of the group proceeding down the wrong path, thus hindering the learning process.


Strategy 4: HIS-TAC-TOE

Now, this is hands down my favorite history game to have my students play and is meant to be a review game to be played at the end of the unit.

Small bin
Two small dry erase boards
Two dry erase markers
Two buzzers

25 pre-written questions on your test topic
9 toddler-sized hula hoops taped together w/ duct tape
6 pieces of fabric in one color
6 pieces of fabric in a second color
A large area in your classroom where students can play

Time to Play!

1. Appoint a picker from each side. This person will be responsible for picking a question out of the bin for his/her team. The picker will alternate after each question.

2. Appoint a writer on each side (these should change after each question). This student will be responsible for writing down the answer on the dry erase board and submitting it to the teacher for review.

3. The pickers should choose their question and then share with his/her respective group.

4. Each group should work together to answer the question fully, but quietly.

5. Once a group has finished, they should press their group’s buzzer.

6. The object of the game is to: a) answer correctly; and b) answer first.

7. The group who buzzes first should show their answer. If the answer is correct, they get the opportunity to place their flag in their desired hoop. If the answer is INCORRECT, they do NOT get the opportunity to place their flag in the desired hoop.

8. After the first group has placed their flag in their desired hoop, now the second group has to answer. If the second group answers correctly, they have TWO choices: a) they can place their flag in their desired hoop; OR b) they can force the other team to pick up their flag. (The second group CANNOT pick up the other team’s flag and place their flag down. It is one or the other.)

9. This should continue until a team has won. If you still have questions, you can start a new game, so you can finish out the questions.

10. You may want to add an incentive. I usually award 5 or 10 bonus points on the upcoming test.

PLEASE NOTE: All students should participate (based upon their ability). If students refuse to participate and happen to be on the winning team, inform them that the extra points are for participating students only.

Teacher actions: Teachers should be prepared to engage students with specific details about what information students need to know for the upcoming test.


Strategy 5: DBQ at the BBQ!

DBQ’s are fun, but they should be well-planned out before delivery to students. Consider your objectives. What do you want students to leave with at the VERY end of this unit? What will they need to take with them to the next unit? With document-based questions, consider a myriad of documents on varied topics. You should also consider a myriad of mediums as well.

For example, I noticed that several of history’s greatest leaders’ childhoods were well-documented in their histories. So for my documents, I chose a picture of a grandpa yelling at his son who was yelling at his daughter who was yelling at the little baby sitting on the floor; a short video of a successful celebrity whose status was elevated with positive affirmations in their home lives as children; and a short history of Ivan the Terrible, Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great

With each of these, I engaged students in deep analysis. For example, with the picture, I engaged students in psychology and how trauma affects the way people develop over time and, ultimately, the people they become.

Some are able to choose greatness. Some are not. Their choice, though, decides what legacy they will leave. Essentially, students were able to use the activities in the DBQ packet to help them provide a solid, well-developed response to the question: Leaders of the Old World: Did Adult Parental Figures in the Lives of Great Old World Leaders Propel Them to Greatness or Set Them Up for Failure?

I hope these strategies and ideas were helpful to you! I love conjuring new ways to help students maximize their learning. After all, they are our future!

About the Author

LaQuita Middleton-Holmes is a freelance Educational Consultant in Texas. She loves to bring out-of-the-box teaching to elicit out-of-the-box results!