5 digital tools to enhance your social studies instruction

Social studies is critical to students’ lives beyond the classroom--educators should use every possible tool to engage students in this critical discipline

Over the span of my 22-year career as South Carolina public school educator, I’ve taught in self-contained classrooms and I’ve been in departmentalized settings.  Although I love teaching all subjects, I always choose English/language arts and social studies, in part because I love the challenge of engaging young leaners in these important subjects.

As a fourth-grade English/language arts and social studies teacher in an elementary collaborative learning magnet program–which is also a NASA Explorer School–I get the challenge of unlocking the minds of 9- and 10-year-olds who are more at home in the STEM subjects than in exploring literature or our country’s history.

In my quest to engage my students in social studies, I’ve found that, after a few rounds of trial and error, the social studies textbooks belong on the shelf. Instead, I’ve turned to a host of exciting digital resources that would engage the students and connect their lessons to the “real world”, enhance my delivery of instruction, and expand students’ knowledge of our country’s history.

However, the digital resources are not enough—they need to be applied within the context of effective, classroom-tested strategies. Among the most effective strategies I’ve used are the following:

Direct Instruction – Game Show Style…Quizizz!

Platforms such as Google and Microsoft provide variations of this digital tool known as a slideshow. Slideshows allow you to embed text, images, video clips, and animation all in one place to make the flow of your lesson seamless. Using this digital tool is a great way to deliver an engaging social studies lesson. However, if you want to take your slideshow to another level, you must try Quizizz!  Quizizz allows you to take an ordinary slide show and turn it into an interactive lesson/game. Not only does Quizizz make learning history fun, but it also helps you to stay focused and manage your instructional time.

Preparing a Quizizz lesson is super easy! You simply upload a slideshow or create one from scratch, then add questions, video clips, or polls to keep students engaged.  With lessons in Quizizz, you check for understanding using a variety of question types such as multiple choice, reorder, match, fill-in-blanks, open ended, video response, and audio response.  

The main benefit of this digital tool is the students’ enjoyment for learning!  The leaderboard, which can be disabled, keeps the students attentive during the direct instruction portion of the lesson.  Another benefit is that you can assign the lesson for students to learn asynchronously.  Not only can you use Quizizz for direct instruction, but you can also use it as a review or assessment tool by simply assigning students to in the Live Quiz or Test format.

The AEIOU Strategy with a Twist with Discovery Education

Discovery Education, a resource provided by South Carolina Department of Education to school systems across my state at no cost, provides a variety of SOS Strategies for various phases of instruction.  The AEIOU engagement strategy can be used with a digital image or video clip related to the objective for your lesson.  Discovery Education provides a variety of images and video clips which can be filtered according to your state standards and grade level. 

With this strategy, students view an image or video clip, think deeply about what they see, then respond in this way:

A– provide an adjective to describe the image/video clip

E– provide an emotion that the image/video clip evoked

I – name something interesting about the image/video clip

O – describe what about the image/video clip made you say “OH!”

U – write a question that they had about the image/video clip

You can display the image/video clip or assign it using your LMS platform. Students’ responses can be recorded in their notebooks.

Once students have an opportunity to respond to the AEIOU, I have them collaborate with their classmates via musical shares (this is a turn and talk activity that allows students to move about the classroom and start a conversation with a new person once the music stops).  

This successful strategy brings excitement to my classroom because the students get to talk about images/video clips while moving about the classroom.  My visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners walk away from this activity not only building on prior knowledge, but also with a foundation for discussion points as we dig deeper into the lesson. From the teacher’s perspective, no instructional time is wasted because learning takes place from the moment the AEIOU activity begins.

Independent Practice/Assessment – Social Studies Weekly Online

When I decided to put the social studies textbooks on the shelf, I had to replace them with reading material that would give my students the facts!  Social Studies Weekly Online breaks my state’s social studies standards into weekly issues of articles that are accompanied by bonus material enhancing what students are reading.

Social Studies Weekly Online can be used for the whole class, small group, or independently. After reading each article, students answer questions and earn coins to use as they create a comfy home for their virtual class pet, Revere Rat. Teachers can informally check for understanding with the questions after each article or assign the test that covers material from the entire issue.

Some additional benefits of Social Studies Weekly Online include the opportunity to create artifacts from various time periods in the arts and crafts section.  They can also go on virtual field trips related to historical topics that we discuss in class. Lastly, my students can complete research through Social Studies Weekly Inquiry activities.

Assessment – One Pagers with Google Drawings

In addition to being a magnet NASA Explorer school, we are also an AVID school.  To support my social studies instruction, I like to have my students use an AVID strategy called one pager.  One pagers are creative posters that can be used as assessment to show what students have learned or researched. One pagers are also a great strategy for creating timelines as well as cause and effects of historical events.  When creating one pager, I have my students use Google Drawings.  

Students can create their Google Drawings one pagers using guided questions if you are looking for specific information or you can have students create their own questions to research.  Depth of Knowledge question stems are a great resource to help your students generate their own questions.  Within Google Drawings, images and text can be added to one page in order to share knowledge on a specific topic.  

Google Drawings one pagers are a student-friendly way of assessing the children.  Students get to show their creativity through the use of this digital tool.  Students who may not be the best artist or have impeccable penmanship enjoy using Google Drawings. 

Collaboration – Jamboard

As part of a magnet program that promotes collaboration among students, I find that Jamboard is a fun way to have students work together on a social studies assignment.  Jamboard is a free digital tool found in Google Suites that allows students to work together on an interactive board. 

I often use Jamboard to have my students compare and contrast people, groups, and concepts learned in social studies.  Students are assigned a designed Jamboard that includes a Venn-Diagram labeled with items that pertain to the lesson.  After prompting the groups of students to discuss the topic, they use features such as sticky notes, text boxes, or images to complete the Venn Diagram.  To ensure that all students are participating, I assign a text color or sticky note color before they begin working.  An alternative activity could be to have students collaborate by analyzing maps that show change over time (i.e Westward Expansion).  Students can summarize how an area has changed by adding text boxes or sticky notes.  They can also label areas of the map with additional information regarding the change over time.

This easy-to-use digital tool gets students involved in a group assignment while incorporating skills such as recognizing contributions made by peers, adding to others’ ideas, asking questions for clarification, and summarizing.  Jamboard can be used in a traditional, virtual, or dual modality classroom.

More than ever, social studies is critical to students’ lives beyond the classroom.  As educators, it is important we use every possible tool to engage students in this critical discipline.

eSchool Media Contributors