Spark Curiosity and Interest in Your Social Studies Lesson Plans


Spark Curiosity and Interest in your social studies lesson plans

Do you hear the grumble and complaints that social studies is so boring? It's most likely that your students haven't yet experienced social studies in a way that brings value and connection to their own lives.


I clearly remember social studies class in 6th grade. The teacher stood at the front of the room while we read through the textbook "popcorn" style (yikes!). Then we took notes in outline format. The teacher had good intentions, but instead of gaining critical thinking skills, I became an expert at writing outlines. I also didn't find much value in what we were learning and honestly dreaded social studies class. It wasn't until I had history teachers that didn't just lecture, but brought history to life, that I found a love of social studies.


Need to Ignite the Fire?

When I was teaching, I had an extensive curriculum for reading and math, but I had nothing--truly nothing for teaching social studies. Maybe you find yourself in the same situation. Or maybe you only have an outdated textbook. I'd love to share some insight to spice up your social studies lessons in a meaningful way.


Interest vs. Curiosity

To be interested in something is to have an openness to engage with a topic. Interest isn't who we are, but more of a state we are in, or how we are thinking about something at a particular time. So don't get too let down when a student says they aren't interested. You've gotta spark curiosity.


Curiosity involves both feeling and thinking. Dr. Brene Brown says, "curiosity is recognizing a gap in our knowledge about something that interests us and becoming emotionally and cognitively invested in closing that gap through exploration and learning."


To spark curiosity, we need to create environments that are stimulating to students. Zaretta Hammond says, "only the learner learns...we need to allow children to use play as their learning because that's what the brain wants to do." Just reading through a textbook, listening to lectures, and taking notes is going to get old fast. And if you are bored, most likely your students are bored too.


Making Connections and Finding Value

Our students need to find value in what they are learning. If they can discover connections and purpose in what they are investigating, as well as lead their own learning, it's going to spark curiosity and deeper understanding.


Embrace Technology

Technology today is an amazing way to enhance and enrich our lessons. Sometimes a short video clip can sum up what I am hoping to convey in a more succinct and engaging way than if I just lectured. And video clips are also a great way to bring in different voices and perspectives.


And let's talk about Google Earth™ for a second. One of the reasons I love using virtual field trips in social studies is that integrating technology such as Google Earth™ can help students conceptualize and "see" places around the world beyond just a textbook image. Virtual field trips bring an element of exploration and play that gets kids fired up about learning. You can grab a free download of the Ancient Egypt: Valley of the Kings Virtual Field Trip HERE.


Are You Asking the Right Questions?

One way to get our students to think critically about a topic is to ask deeper questions. We need to go beyond asking questions about names, dates, and places.


When we have students summarize a text, this assesses a student's reading skills, not their critical thinking skills. There is a time and place for reading comprehension, but if we are focused on getting our students to think more critically, we need to ask the right questions.


Here are a few historical thinking questions to consider:


:: What caused this event to happen?

:: What was different then? What was the same?

:: What did you find that supported your prior knowledge?

:: What information tested your prior assumptions?

:: How might the background information help you understand this differently?

:: How might the author have been influenced?

:: Whose voice(s) is/are being centered?

:: Whose voice(s) is/are missing?

:: In what ways might this not give you the whole picture?

:: What patterns in human behavior can you identify?

:: How did people react at the time?

:: Why are there different reactions to certain events?

:: How have things changed over time?

:: What did you find most surprising?

:: What can we learn from this event?

The goal of historical thinking is to think about the past in order to live better in the present and the future, and we can't do that by just memorizing dates and names.


Our Students Need Feedback

Our students need to hear from us. Providing feedback is so important. Establish the norm that there can be joy in finding out that we are wrong about something. This means that we are now less wrong than we were before. How great is that!


Relationships & Uplift their Humanity

Social studies is about windows and mirrors--being exposed to other people's experiences while also seeing ourselves in the curriculum. This means that part of a social studies education is the unfamiliar and saying yes to the discomfort and the unlearning. However, we don't want our students to feel shame or guilt, so support their resilience and grit, and uplift their humanity. This means that ultimately so much of what we do is about cultivating relationships with our students.


Looking for more? Check out these blog posts:

Free Virtual Field Trip to Ancient Egypt Valley of the Kings

5 Tips for Fostering a Collaborative and Safe Social Studies Class

What Stuck? An Exit Ticket Idea for Your Social Studies Class

8 Helpful Primary Source Websites for Teaching American History

Michelle McDonald Teacher Social Studies Education