Strategies to teach social studies table of contents

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SSCED Tool Kit, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment



This document is designed to provide you with a brief description of a few key strategies. It is not an exhaustive list. Your task as a trainer of teachers (and as a teacher) will be to match the appropriate strategy with the content and skills students are to master.

Table of Contents ______________________________________________

1) Introduction 2) A Note on Cognitive Strategies 3) Activating Prior Knowledge 4) Collaborative Processes 5) Inquiry Teaching 6) Problem Solving 7) Direct Instruction 8) Visual Strategies 9) Teaching Facts, Concepts, Generalizations 10) How to Teach Generalizations 11) Concepts 12) Community Based Instruction 13) Role Play and Simulations 14) Discussion Formats 15) Using Graphic Organizers 16) References and Resources


1) Introduction ______________________________________________

There are many ways to teach social studies. Open any issue of the Texan, Social Education, or the Journal of Geography to find descriptions of an array of teaching-learning strategies. Peruse the teacher's edition of any social studies textbook for a variety of suggestions regarding how to teach students specific content. Many resources are available to help teachers hone their ability to teach in interesting and engaging ways.

This document is designed to provide you with a brief description of a few key strategies. It is not an exhaustive list. Your task as a trainer of teachers (and as a teacher) will be to match the appropriate strategy with the content and skills students are to master.


2) A Note on Cognitive Strategies



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What does it mean to learn? Have you ever reflected on the mental processes you use to learn something? Ask your students the strategies they use when they "study." Unfortunately, students today have relatively poor cognitive strategies or known ways people learn. It is up to teachers to teach students how to learn.

Metacognition means "thinking about thinking." It refers to the awareness and control students have of their cognitive processes. Good learners have an array of learning strategies they can use. They know how to solve problems, how to set goals, evaluate their own progress, monitor their achievement, and assess whether they understand material. They can use graphic organizers to study, read and review material with a purpose, rehearse skills until they master them and so on. Poor students need explicit instructions and guidance concerning how to do these things. It is simply not enough for teachers to say, "Learn this." We need to show students how to learn.

Keep this in mind as you think about each of these teaching strategies. They should help students to learn material and skills as well as learn to be better learners.

What can teachers do to develop metacognition?

? Share and model self-monitoring processes. Show your students how you proofread and evaluate work, check to see how lessons are going, and so on. Take, for example, a piece of work and show students how you would analyze it to make it better. Ask them to track their thinking processes by asking themselves, "What could I do to improve?" "What help do I need?"

? Explain strategies that students can use. Think outloud how you would go about solving a problem, making a decision, studying for a particular test, or understanding a challenging piece of reading material.

? Clarify why particular strategies are helpful and useful. There are three types of knowledge: declarative knowledge (knowing what), procedural knowledge (knowing how), and conditional knowledge (knowing when, what, and how). Help students to develop their conditional knowledge by letting them in on what works, when, and why.

? Clarify and model when particular strategies are appropriate. Modeling is key. You teach the way you were taught; you learn the way you learned. Your methods might not suit all of your students' thinking styles, but it is a start. Show kids how you learn. Learn together. Model in your lessons good ways to manage the complex learning process. Make predictions or show students how to develop hypotheses. Describe visual images that help you to remember. Share an analogy, which links prior information with new information. Verbalize confusing points.


3) Activating Prior Knowledge


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Learning is a process of adding new ideas to old ideas. Teachers need to recognize the importance of prior knowledge on learning and give students opportunities to remember what they already know.

What are some ways to activate prior knowledge?

? Brainstorming This is a familiar technique. Students are given a topic and invited to call out their ideas. Everything is accepted and the teacher writes down the words, ideas, key phrases etc. Time is needed for students to think, process, and recall but the session should end when the responses slow down or get silly.

? Cognitive Mapping See section 15 entitled "Using Graphic Organizers to Enhance Student Thinking."

? KWL Divide a piece of paper into three parts. Title one section "KNOW." Give students time to write what they already know about that topic you are introducing. Title the middle column "WANT to learn." Again, give students time to write a few ideas about what they wish to learn about this topic. You may wish to provoke responses by asking questions like, "How will knowing this help you as an adult? As a citizen? As a political, economic, and social decision maker?" Finally, title the third column "LEARN." At the end of the lesson, ask students to reflect on what they did gain in terms of knowledge and skills.

These are three ways students can be helped to recognize knowledge they already have which relates to new concepts or skills they are learning.


4) Collaborative Processes


Collaboration means working together. This is an important work place skill identified by the U.S. Department of Labor as one of the keys to successful adult employment. It is also an essential skill for citizens in a democracy. Two heads are better than one, especially in the classroom. Students enjoy working in groups on shared goals. They learn to depend upon and use each others' strengths to solve problems and complete tasks. Research shows that collaborative work supports greater retention of subject matter, improved attitudes toward learning, and teaches kids how to get along with each other.

There are many different types of collaborative work. The graphic "Collaborative Learning Techniques" summarizes a number of different uses of this technique.


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Name Roundrobin


Numbered Heads


Pairs Check

Three Step Interview

Think Pair Share

Team Word Webbing

Inside Outside Circle Co-op

Collaborative Learning Techniques

Description Each student in turn shares something with his or her teammates, this works well for expressing ideas and opinions, e.g., developing consensus on the civic responsibilities of Texas citizens.

Each student moves to a corner of the room representing a teacher-determined alternative. Students discuss within corners, then listen to and Paraphrase ideas from other corners, e.g., to evaluate and debate

The teacher asks a question, students consult to make sure everyone knows the answer, then one student is called upon to answer, e.g., a group of students discuss how scientific discoveries and technological innovations benefit U.S. citizens, making sure everyone knows a variety of reasons. Then, the teacher calls upon individual group members to assess progress. Students work in pairs within groups of four. Within pairs, students alternate. One answers a question/completes a task while the other coaches. After every two questions, the pair checks to see if they have the same answers as the other pair. Students interview each other in pairs, first one way, then the other. Students each share with the group information they learned in the interview, e.g., at the conclusion of a unit on why people have adapted to and modified the Texas environment, students interview each other to discover how they use natural resources to meet basic needs. Students think to themselves on a topic provided by the teacher; they pair up with another student to discuss it; then they share their thoughts with the class, e.g., students are asked to give examples of the processes used by individuals, political parties, interest groups or the media to affect public policy. After quiet thought, they share with a neighbor, then the entire class. Students write simultaneously on a piece of butcher paper, drawing main concepts, supporting elements, and bridges representing the relation of concepts in a generalization. This helps students to analyze and to see relationships in complex systems, e.g., to compare the historical origins, central ideas, and the spread of major religious and philosophical traditions. Students stand in pairs in two concentric circles. The inside circle faces out, the outside circle in. Students use flash cards or respond to teacher questions as they rotate to each new partner. This can help to check for understanding, review and process information. Students work in groups to produce a particular group product to share with the whole class; each student makes a particular contribution to the group.


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Many of the other strategies listed in this site use some aspect of collaboration. Here are two additional types.

? Peer of Cross Age or Cross Ability Tutoring In this technique students provide "tutoring" to peers or younger students. The best way to learn it to teach. Make pairs of students experts in different topics and have them teach each other their expertise. The Jigsaw Method is an elaboration of this. "Home groups" are established, then one member from each "home" joins a new, "expert group." They develop expertise, then return to the home to teach other group members and to learn their expertise.

Jigsaw: An Example.

Goal: to learn more about the political, economic, social, and personal background of framers of the US Constitution.

Method: Form home groups. Assign each member of the home groups a framer to research, e.g., James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, James Mason. The framer expert groups meet, research, teach each other, rehearse how they will share their expertise with the home group, then return to "home" to teach about their framer.

? Reciprocal Teaching Reciprocal teaching, developed by Palincsar and Brown, is like an interactive dialogue between teacher and students. It helps students to become involved in the content they are discussing by helping them to read and better understand. There are four steps.

Step 1: Summarizing. Students restate what they have read in their own words. They work to find the most significant information in the text. Begin with summaries of sentences or paragraphs; later, stretch students to large units of text.

Step 2: Generating Questions. Students ask questions about the material. In order to do this, they must identify significant information, pose questions related to this information and check to make sure they can answer their own questions.

Step 3: Clarifying. Students focus on reasons why the text is difficult to understand. For example, the vocabulary may be challenging or they may not have the prerequisite knowledge required to make sense of what they have read. Students may answer each other's questions or the teacher may fill in the gaps required to make sense of the text.

Step 4: Predicting. Students speculate on what will be discussed next in the text. To be successful, students must recall relevant background knowledge so they can connect what they are reading and thinking about with what they already know.



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5) Inquiry Teaching


Inquiry teaching is a process of asking and answering key social studies questions. Students develop questions, collect and organize data related to the questions, analyze the data, and draw inferences or conclusions about the data to answer their questions. This is "the scientific method" applied to social studies and, in many cases, mirrors the ways real social scientists (economists, historians, geographers, political scientists etc.) conduct research.

A hallmark of inquiry teaching is student activity. Teachers facilitate student learning. Among the advantages of inquiry teaching are:

? Students generate their own knowledge; ? Answers are discovered by students and are, therefore, more memorable; ? Divergent, creative thinking is encouraged; ? Higher order thinking skills (analysis, synthesis, evaluation) are emphasized; ? Skills integrate with knowledge as students organize and analyze their data in a variety of

ways (maps, graphs, charts, etc.)

Although there are a number of variations, inquiry teaching basically involves five steps.

Step 1: Identifying and clarifying questions, issues, problems. This can be student generated (within limitations) or teacher-created.

Step 2: Propose a hypothesis. Suggest possible solutions or explanations to the problem/question. Developing a hypothesis will help to guide student research.

Step 3: Gathering and organizing evidence. Locating and collecting data is key. This stage allows students to develop key social studies skills identified in the TEKS, e.g., selecting relevant versus irrelevant data, evaluating the value of primary versus secondary data, organize and interpret information, classifying and categorizing, presenting the information etc.

Step 4: Evaluating, analyzing, and interpreting the data. Based on the evidence and data available, what possible solutions or explanations are feasible?

Step 5: Concluding, inferring, and making generalizations. Is the hypothesis proven or disproved? What is the answer to the question? What inferences can be made from this? What additional questions are raised by the information and analysis?

This type of teaching and learning is often best if students work collaboratively. The History Alive! project uses a form of inquiry teaching but calls it "problem solving group work." It suggests students address issues such as:

? Creating mini dramas on life during the Great Depression;


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