10 Strategies for Teaching Social Studies

My first year of teaching, I asked my students what their least favorite subject was. They, without even thinking twice, said social studies. I made it my mission to change that. 

I remember sitting in fifth grade and hating social studies too. We read from the book and answered questions in complete sentences. 


I couldn't do that to my students, so I started slowly implementing different ideas and strategies. I wanted the history to come alive. Surely enough, social studies quickly became their favorite subject to learn and by far MY favorite subject to teach! 

10 Strategies for Teaching 
Social Studies

1. Use PowerPoint Lessons and Guided Notes

I have created PowerPoint lessons and Guided Notes for my entire social studies curriculum (you can find them HERE). I teach from the Civil War all the way to the September 11th Attacks. Yes, it has taken me more hours than I care to count to create the lessons, but it has all been worth it. This is the way that I make social studies come alive! My students are always engaged in the lesson because they follow along with the notes, and PowerPoint gives me the opportunity to show them pictures, maps, and videos of the different time periods.

2. Go Digital - Use a Webquest with your Students

A webquest is basically an internet hunt. I provide my students with several internet links and a sheet that correlates with them, and they get busy! They love working on the computer, and the different links provide them with very detailed information. Sometimes the information is over their heads, but you will be surprised that even your lowest readers keep up with the material. 

3. Integrate Reading Passages

This past year, I used a lot of reading passages with my students - mainly during morning work. The passages usually included a few questions to keep students accountable. There are a lot of awesome passages on Teachers Pay Teachers like this one (it's free), but you can also use books from the library or information from reliable internet sources. I used these to preview a unit or to go more in-depth than I was able to during my 35 minute social studies block (I pretty much speed teach during this time, unfortunately). 

4. Use Interactive Notes

Along with the reading passages, I also require my students to keep a social studies interactive notebook. I often shrink the reading passages to fit into the notebooks and have students answer the questions right next to the passages. I have also started to create interactive notes that correlate with our units. Here is an example from our World War 1 Unit:

5. FUN Homework Assignments

My students love their social studies homework because I try to give them more hands-on and interesting assignments. Here are some examples from our units: 

  • Civil War: Write a letter pretending to be a soldier, African American, or female during the war. The letter must "look" old. 

6. Read Alouds

There are SO MANY amazing picture books and chapter books that add to the "story" you tell during your social studies lessons. 

Here are some (of my favorite) pictures books or read alouds: 

Civil War and Reconstruction

Westward Expansion

Immigration to Ellis Island

World War 1

Roaring Twenties and Great Depression

World War 2: there are SOOO many choices!

The Cold War

September 11

7. Immersive Experience 

Another way to make history come alive is with an immersive experience. Take part of the day (or the whole day) to transform your classroom or grade level into a different time period. 

For example, during our Turn of the Century Unit, my grade level and I transform our fifth grade hall into "Ellis Island." The day has become more elaborate over the years, but it is one of our favorites! Students receive new identities and families, travel on "steerage class," go up the Stairs of Separation while "doctors" check them for any ailments, and then enter the Great Hall (where parent volunteers reside) to be be inspected in the Medical Room, Legal Room, Mental Room, and they also take a Citizenship Test. 

It is the #bestdayever

Talk about a memorable experience. The other teachers and I, of course, get into character and make it even more memorable. 

Try your own "Ellis Island" Day, or Pioneer Day, or World War 1 Day - be creative! The kids will never forget it! 

8. Engaging Videos

Throughout my PowerPoint lessons, I integrate a variety of short videos that explain the even further. Let me tell you, I have learned a thing or two about the time period for these videos as well! 

There are a lot of great sites that you can use to integrate videos into your lesson: 
  • BrainPop - if your school has a subscription, this is a great site for short and informational videos. 
  • WatchKnowLearn - I recently discovered this site and am loving it! It has videos from a variety of websites organized into one place!
  • Dear America Videos are really good (even the boys love them). They are 30 minutes long and really dig deep into the time period. You can find some videos on YouTube for free. 
  • YouTube - we all know this is a great video resource as well, but ALWAYS make sure you preview the ENTIRE video before showing to your students. Speaking from experience, here. 

9. Center Rotations

It's always a good idea to get kids up, moving, and working with a small group to accomplish a task. During our Economics Unit, I created different centers that students rotated through to practice the concepts that we learned in class. They loved it, especially since they were practicing things that had to do with money! 

Different social studies center ideas can include: 

SORT Activities:
Older Kids LOVE to Cut and Glue! 

Task Cards: 
Easy and Reusable Center Idea

Crossword Puzzles: 
This is a fun way to "force" my students to study because they have to look back at their notes. 

This Cold War one is FREE.

Technology Station: 
Centers are a great time to have students complete a webquest!

10. Play Scoot!, Quizlet Live, or Review Games


If you've never played Scoot, the kids love it! Here's how to play: 

1. In order to play, I generally move student desks in a rectangular pattern – but do what works best for you without too much interruption.

2. Place one card face down on each desk, and have students stand behind the desk with their pencil and answer sheet.

3. When you say, “begin,” students flip over the card, write their answer down, and then flip the card back upside down on the desk.

4. Allow students about 30 seconds or so and then say, “SCOOT!”

5. Students will move one desk down and answer the question. Repeat until the game is finished! 

Quizlet Live

I wrote a whole blog post about my love of Quizlet. You can read about it HERE.

Review Games

It's always good to mix up test review methods, so if we are not playing Scoot or Quizlet Live, we play Jeopardy Style review games as a class. 

I usually split my class up into two teams. Since I have competitive fifth graders, they usually want to play boys vs. girls. 

 I have one person from the first team choose a category and dollar amount. If they cannot answer the question independently, the other team gets a chance to talk about it and collaborate before giving me an answer. If they get it correct, they steal those points. Let me tell you - some of these games get pretty intense! :) 

I have a number of {FREE} review games in my store: 

Happy Teaching, Friends!