Below is a short list of possible strategies and activities you can employ in your classroom to make Social Studies more fun and engaging for your students.
Simulations are a really fun way to have students actually ‘do something’ with history. These activities often take some heavy planning, a trip to the local store for goods, and possibly a class or two, but students have a great time with these activities. For example, teaching the Silk Road, you can create 6 separate cities within your classroom, the students will be trading candy, with the goal of creating the most pairs and best variety. You can restrict trading routes to certain cities, create artificial surplus’ or shortages, and even play the role of a bandit and steal their candy during the game.
A personal favorite of mine, the Take-A-Stand activity is another great way to get students out of their seats, moving around the room, and debating with their classmates. Around the room hang signs, or designate specific areas; Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral/Undecided, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. On the board, place a statement that may cause some dissension, for example: European Colonialism did more good than bad for Africans. Allow students the time to think about the prompt, and to walk to their area. Once everyone has a spot, allow the students to debate their viewpoints. Done well, the teacher should have very little role in this. However, if needed, taking the opposite viewpoint if the entire class is on one side, is a great way to continue a debate.
Inquiry Document Analysis:
The focus of inquiry is being heavily pushed within Social Studies currently, and it is a fantastic way to get students interested in history. This strategy is especially good to hook your students into a new event. You can break the students up into small groups, or individually, and also give them a document, or multiple, about a specific event. Try to keep the document(s), relatively ambiguous. The students will then complete a worksheet of three-columns; Facts, Inferences, Questions. This will help frame their focus for the new event.
Jigsaw activities are a common site within a Social Studies classroom. Often done with a group of readings, break students up into small 3-4 person groups that will then analyze a specific document, or event, and then report back to the class. To make the activity more engaging, and not just student-led lecture, make the students report the information in an innovative way, for example a rap, or dramatization.
Socratic Seminars are great ways to get your students discussing an event or topic. Creating a large, or two small groups, students will be working through the issue together as you take a back-seat role. The seminar typically begins with the teacher reading an essential, or open-ended question to the group. Once the question is asked, take a step-back and let the students work collaboratively to move through the material.