Written by Alexis D’Angelo, Center for Educational Partnerships
Highly engaging social studies lessons promoting critical thinking skills and higher-level discussion are possible in early elementary and middle grades. Social studies lessons are often the forgotten subject among the major academic areas in these grades. Elementary teachers in kindergarten through fifth grade often focus on ELA and math instruction tied to testing expectations. However, social studies instruction builds many higher-level reading and inference skills as well as logical thinking which supports ELA and math skills. The key is finding engaging lessons for elementary education classes without piling even more lesson planning pressure on classroom teachers.
Many elementary teachers are forced to rely on canned textbook curriculum programs. Unfortunately, the easiest way for students to lose interest in social studies is to rely on a social studies textbook. In the limited time devoted to social studies instruction, high-impact lessons are the best way forward. However, this can be intimidating to create for contained classroom teachers who are responsible for teaching all the major subjects.
Luckily, interest in supporting social studies education from a younger age has spurred the development of many free digital resources. No-prep and low-prep social studies classroom resources are now available for kindergarten through fifth-grade students.
iCivics has been a favorite for years among middle and high school teachers. The recently added Private I History Detectives series is a new component focused solely on the K - 5 market. History mysteries are organized by grade and social studies units. Within each unit, there are three to five pre-made lessons including PowerPoint/Google Slides featuring the signature iCivics cartoon characters leading students on an inquiry-based investigation. Teachers use digital slides to present the lesson and premade handouts allow the students to interact with the lesson questions such as “What is the Difference Between Then and Now?” And “How Does a Tradition Become a Holiday?” Free.
PBS has a full complement of K through 5th-grade lessons utilizing the extensive PBS video library. The website allows teachers to access pre-made lessons and materials through a filtered search feature. Teachers can build on the resources already available. Free.
Google Earth has many features for K - 5th grade students such as “Take a tour with Google Earth” and “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” Teachers can introduce new cultures, traditions, holidays, and careers using a variety of Google Earth tours. The tours combined with discussion techniques such as think-pair-share, turn and turn, sticky note storm, etc. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego works best with 3rd through 5th grades. Students participate in interactive hunts for the title character while applying geographic knowledge in a kid-friendly format. Free.
Social studies education in early elementary school introduces students to diverse cultures, traditions, and customs, develops a sense of respect and understanding for people with different backgrounds and perspectives, and creates a sense of belonging and connection to the community. Social studies introduce basic concepts that help students understand the world around them. Augmenting social studies instruction using digital resources supports these goals while giving students the fun they crave in learning.