Sparks Fly
[Home] [PBS VideoDatabase] [Social Studies] [TSU] [UVA]


Instruction in the Social Studies Classroom:
Some Ideas and Strategies


“A pupil from whom nothing is ever demanded which he cannot do, never does all he can.”

                                      John Stuart Mill

 Success in education hinges on what happens at the classroom level!

Have you ever reflected on how you learn?

Ask your students—do you think they know how they learn?

Students today seem relatively poor at explaining how they learn.

Teachers have to teach students how to learn.

Task Analysis

?  Key to unlocking the content

?  Determining prior knowledge

?  “Putting your finger” on what students need to learn

?  Bringing “exactness” to the Unpacked SOL

 The SOL are HUGE!  The KEY—vocabulary!

Definition of Task Analysis

Breaking apart a learning goal or objective into sub-components and identifying essential vocabulary.

When to complete a task analysis?

Three Times:

• Vague, unclear SOL

• Students are NOT Successful

• New Material for You

What are the advantages and uses?

• For Teacher: Deepen Content Knowledge

• For Students: Often points out the “Missing” Links

Use it to determine prior student learning

The process can be used to fit your needs.  A true task analysis is by definition complex and often time consuming.  Task Analysis requires looking for the details of an SOL to assure that all the facts of the objective are on the table and known to the instructor.  Task analysis again should only be done if the instructor is unsure of the content, feels the objective is vague, or has had students experience no success with the standard.

Other considerations include:

§         Key vocabulary

§         Verbs

§         Pre-requisites

§         Sequence

Most important element:  Vocabulary

        Must be taught in context

        Must be taught for classroom use

Bottom line—What will the student have to learn to demonstrate mastery?

Plan Backward

  • Teach what you test

  • Test what you teach

What can teachers do to help students learn to learn?

?    Share and model self-monitoring processes

    Show students how you proofread and evaluate work

    Show students how to analyze a piece of writing and make it better

    Track your thinking processes for them

?    Explain strategies

    Think out loud

    Verbalize the steps you take to solve a problem, make a decision, understand a challenging passage

?  Clarify why particular strategies are helpful

   Three kinds of knowledge

? Declarative (knowing what)

? Procedural (knowing how)

? Conditional (knowing when)

   Help students know what works, when and how

?  Clarify and model appropriate strategies

   Describe visual images

   Share analogies to prior learning

   Make predictions

   Develop hypotheses

 Top Instructional Practices

?  Graphic organizers

?  Cooperative learning

?  Problem-based learning

?  Thematic instruction

?  Technology

?  Think aloud

?   Flex grouping

?   Focusing on the objective

?   Group projects

?   Directed instruction

?   Lecture

?   Wait time

?   Whole-class activities

 Activate Prior Knowledge

?   Brainstorming

    Provide needed time to think, process, recall

    Invite participation

?   Cognitive mapping

    Mind maps help visualization

    Graphic organizers

?   KWL

    Know (write at beginning of session)

    Want to learn (beginning)

    Learn (ending summary)

 Direct Instruction

Hunter model

?  Daily review

?  Presentation of new material

?  Guided practice

?  Provision for feedback

?  Independent practice

?  Periodic review

 Collaborative Processes

?  Working together

?  Keys to successful adult employment (Dept. of Labor)

?  Research shows collaborative work supports greater retention of subject matter

?  Many different techniques

 Collaborative Learning Techniques

?   Round robin

    Share in turn in a group

    Brainstorm but in different format

?   Corners

    Move to corners representing a teacher-determined alternative

    Discuss then listen to and paraphrase ideas from other corners

?   Numbered Heads

    Teacher asks question, group confers

    Once student answers based on number called by teacher

?  Pairs Check

   Work in pairs in group of four

   Students alternate answering question

   Check with other pair

   Coaching each other

?  Think Pair Share

   Think to themselves

   Pair with another to discuss and share thoughts

   Share with class

?   Team Word Webbing

    Students write simultaneously on a piece of paper drawing main concepts, supporting elements, and bridges representing relationships of concepts and generalizations

    Compare maps when concluded

?   Inside Outside Circle

    Stand in two concentric circles

    Inside faces out, outside in

    Flashcards to respond to teacher questions as they rotate to each new partner

?   Peer or Cross Age Tutoring

    Tutor a peer or younger students. 

    Best way to learn is to teach

    Become experts

?   Jigsaw

    Each group member is assigned a specific person to research (ex. Framer of the Constitution)

    Join expert groups (all individuals researching T. Jefferson) Learn in this group of experts then return and share with home group.

?   Reciprocal Teaching

    Used in discussing and verifying reading assignments

    Four steps

?  Summarizing—students restate what they have read in their own words

?  Generalizing questions—students ask questions about the material

?  Clarifying—students focus on reasons why the text is difficult to understand and answer questions for each other

?  Predicting—students speculate on what will be next

 Visual Strategies

?   Images can make a lasting impression

?   Key to using film, video, slides is to build student involvement

?   Image analysis is a learned skill (check national archives and records site for how to lesson/worksheet)

?   Modeling the skill and giving students opportunities to create their own visual imaging (PowerPoint, Hyperstudio)

Teaching Facts, Concepts, Generalizations

?  Facts are not relevant unless given meaningful context

?  All three ideas are interconnected and none can stand alone

Students must be given lots of opportunities to move through the structure of knowledge—to move from facts to concepts to generalizations.


?  Statements about relationships between and among concepts

?  True and verifiable

?  Organize and summarize information obtained from analysis of facts

?  Usually a broad assertion

Teaching Generalizations

?  Two approaches

   Inductive (discovery method)

? Students examine sets of data and materials

? Identify and explain key points

? Draw conclusions from the data, summarize their findings, discover or infer the generalizations

   Deductive (expository method)

? Students presented with a potential generalization

? They clarify key concepts

? They verify the generalization

? They identify or find new cases of the generalization

 How to Help Students Generalize

?  Organize your teaching and lesson planning around generalizations

?  Always make students draw conclusions and make generalizations

?  Design assessments to reflect the learning activity

 Teaching Concepts

?  Concepts are the categories we use to cluster information

?  Concepts organize specific information under one label

?  Building blocks which help to link facts to generalizations


?  Fact is a truth only about a particular incident or case

?  Specific

?  Knowledge section of the Resource Guide

?  This is the specific details of social science

 Examples of Generalizations, Concepts, and Facts

 ?   Generalization

    In the United States, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka was a landmark Supreme Court case.

?   Concept

    Many Virginians had their education disturbed in the 1950s due to Massive Resistance.

?   Fact

    In 1958, Governor J. Lindsey Almond closed six Norfolk schools to stop their integration, putting 9,950 white children out of school.

 Problem Solving

?   Students use facts, concepts, and generalizations in the process of finding solutions

?   Process skills

?   Step by step process

    Stating the problem

    Suggesting alternatives

    Tracing consequences

    Recognizing what is required to decide

    Reaching a decision

 IDEAL—Problem Solving Model

?  I = identify the problem

?  D = define and represent the problem

?  E = explore possibilities (strategies)

?  A = act on the strategies

?  L = look back and evaluate the effects of your activities

 Role Play and Simulation

?   Effective means of helping students to engage in problem solving in real world context

?   Can be difficult to do well

?   Five stages

    Initiation and direction

    Describing the context




?   Students tend to focus on the “who won?” And not the process or procedure


?  Part of every social studies class

?  Sometimes degenerates into unreasoned debate

?  Must be managed

?  Must be pre-planned

?  Models exist such as

   Padea (Socratic Discussion)

   Harvard Social Studies Project Model (like formal debate format)

Inquiry Teaching

?  Asking question

?  Students develop questions, collect and organize data

?  Analyze data

?  Draw inferences or conclusions

?  Scientific Method applied to social studies

?  Hallmark of the method is student activity

Graphic Organizers

?  Concept maps, webs, mind maps, thinking maps (many names)

?  Tools to help students organize their thinking

?  Venn diagram

?  Cause/effect map

?  Story board

?  Decision Tree

?  Many, many more (see web address)

A Traditional Curriculum

?  Class routine is:






?   Student dialog is:

   What’s the rule?

   What’s the date?

   How do you do it?

   Tell me what to do

   So WHAT?

   It’s done

   Is it right?

   I’m finished.

The Virginia Standards of Learning promote a vision of a classroom that…

?   Ensures active involvement in learning;

?   Recognizes teachers and students as thinkers, doers, investigators, and problem solvers;

?   Believes that all students can learn;

?   Encourages teachers to reflect on their teaching;

?   Uses real-life situations to make connections;

?   Calls on parents, educators, business, and government to be partners in change.



?     Graphic Organizers

?     Index of Graphic Organizers


?     Activities 9-12

?     High School Hub—sources for students

?     Lesson Plan Database





This page was updated on:  04/10/02