When I began teaching personal financial literacy, I learned quickly that my student’s perceptions, interpretations, and beliefs about money were very different from my own. As a former financial adviser, I was comfortable having conversations about money, but in the classroom I struggled to keep my students engaged. I realized that getting them to where I wanted them to be required me to meet them where they were. I needed to adapt my lesson plans to build on their experiences and relationships with personal finances.
Take a moment to think about all the ways we engage students inside and out of the classroom. Part of that work is how we present instruction and resources, and the other half is the content itself. Gone are the days where we are differentiating a textbook from the internet to grapple with direct instructional needs. Even curriculum created by local school districts has to create lessons on discernment of information gathering from a variety of resources. We now are living in a time where primary sources and authentic texts live online and where citations are now being created to reference videos, oral histories, and screenplays. The access to the variety of resources we have at our fingertips is vast and global. Exciting social studies texts and literature exist for your students to gain access to a wide array of diverse and inclusive perspectives from across history.
Many of us think back to grade school and remember story time fondly. Our reading teacher would gather us around on the rug and read aloud from a colorful picture book as we gasped and giggled. You may think that picture book read-alouds are a kind of fun reserved only for reading teachers in elementary school—but not so! Picture books can be a tremendous tool in the social studies classroom at all grade levels for:
In an era where it seems that every day comes with a “breaking news” headline, and where there is increasing scrutiny regarding what we talk about in our classes, it may seem like a challenge not worth accepting to work current events and controversial topics into our lessons. However, we also know how beneficial it is for students to have a place to engage in tough conversations with their peers, process the events of the world around them, and learn how to engage with media and with one another responsibly. This is the perfect opportunity for a microunit.
You are never too young to hold onto a piece of history and discover its connection to your life. Using primary and secondary sources gives students an opportunity to see, touch, and find clues about the history they are learning. These sources bring the past to life in a way that nothing else can.
As a geography teacher, I often started the year with a lesson about how to lie with maps. In this lesson, I would expose the students to challenges with map distortions, like the Mercator map making Greenland appear to be the same size as all of South America, how changes in scale impact perception, or how colors can create a dramatic impression even when the data behind the shading is not. During the lesson, students frequently noted that similar issues occur in other ways information is represented visually, such as with data, photographs, or artwork. At this point students would often ask, “So how do you keep from getting deceived or misdirected by information and the way it is presented visually?” My answer: by applying visual literacy skills.
The diffusion of writing systems or materials was often determined by religion, politics, or economics. For example, the Latin script used to write the doctrines of Roman Catholicism and the Arabic script used to write the Koran were instrumental in diffusing writings and languages throughout the world.
When I ask students to read in my social studies classes, I always assign a customized reading guide created especially for the assigned text. The reading assignments may be textbook chapters, primary source texts, news articles, or even selections of relevant fiction. Many “generic” reading guides are available, but taking extra time to create a reading customized to a text as well as the larger lesson and unit objectives results in higher-level learning.
In the primary grades, maps are useful tools to help the young reader put stories into perspective and develop a sense of place. Place and space are important in describing the setting of a book. Sometimes the author may not include a map, but the words convey a mental image that can easily be translated into a map—and even the illustrations could be used to teach geographic skills.
Writing has become an integral part of the social studies curriculum. Students need to know that this activity strengthens their reading skills as well as helps them to embrace the content more fluidly. When writing about specific historical events, oftentimes students must research their topic to gain factual knowledge. This is an important aspect to documenting and understanding historical events accurately.