Many elementary teachers are stressed with time limits as they attempt to teach all the standards-based content to their students each year. Oftentimes, this leads many to make the hard decision to remove those subjects deemed less important from their curriculum. Typically, at the top of this list is social studies, especially geography. When basic social studies skills are not taught at the elementary level, students are ill-prepared for middle and high school courses, but more importantly, they are hindered in their ability to navigate our ever-changing world.
Still, the time constraint requires teachers to make changes. How can teachers make those adjustments, while still addressing the skills that will be important to their students for the rest of their lives?
- Utilize reading passages that address historic or geographic content. Use travel brochures or country guides to expose students to informational text reading. Allow students to investigate their favorite vacation destination and to read the reviews on tourist attractions to plan for their next visit. Read about different cultures or the history of a location to use in analyzing the characters from a reading text.
- Learn and practice math skills by reading maps and analyzing geographic data. Analyze mileage from location to location and compare routes based on distance. Evaluate transportation costs to travel from place to place by using mileage information and current gasoline prices. Practice mapping coordinates with longitude and latitude or by viewing the world in the four different hemispheres.
- Review images from around the country or around the world to engage students in reading content. Use spiral questioning techniques with images to prompt critical thinking. Assign travel projects where students create image collages for the places they wish to visit. Utilize Chamber of Commerce or tourist sites to introduce students to other regions of the world and allow them to make comparisons through the analysis of images.
- Allow students to research different parts of their country or the world to practice gathering evidence and providing factual information. Pair students to research to create maps of their favorite place or of the place in a book they are reading. Practice presentation skills with facts about other countries gathered through student-centered research.
- Encourage students to write about geographic topics, from those based on visuals to personal accounts of family travels. Have students create brochures or maps for their dream vacation or their personal utopia. Use country facts to prompt comparison writing assignments as a daily practice activity.
- Build archaeology sites from which students can “dig up” informational text on focused topics of study. Use the Dig Site to hide matching cards on book characters or factual information for a class review. Insert images and fact cards on math or science content into the dig for students to gather and analyze.
- Travel the settings of classroom literature through walking tours or gallery walks to allow students to see the story as they read it. Allow students to create their own museum wall for a class walking tour for review at the end of book reading.
- Use games, scavenger hunts, or task cards to attack one fact or skill a day that reviews from the social studies content area. Set up your classroom like a game board for class review, and practice geography skills (directions, longitude, latitude, hemispheres, etc.) to play the game.
If students are introduced to social studies in elementary school in ways that are more fun and more engaging, it will help them grow to love a subject area that is often under-appreciated or hated in the upper levels. It will also set the foundation they need to help them be more successful citizens of our world as they grow into adulthood.
Growing up as a military dependent, Michele Luck learned to love travel and everything social studies as a child. After earning a BA in History and Education and a Masters in Secondary Social Studies and Curriculum Instruction, she taught in the Kentucky public school system in grades 6-12 for over 15 years. She has recently sold her home and all her possessions to travel the country in a 40′ motorhome with her husband, where she admits she is learning about the country’s geography all over again! She opened her TpT store in 2007, offering social studies resources for grades 6-12. She also writes her blog, A Lesson Plan for Teachers, hoping to offer guidance to new and experienced teachers as they navigate the ever-changing world of the classroom!