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A Whiteboard Thanksgiving

Interactive social studies lessons on everything from geography to civics to history

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Whiteboard Dos and Don'ts New to whiteboards? Here are some helpful teacher tips.

Do encourage students to explore, touch, and play with the whiteboard.  
Don't let students run away with instructional time. Allow whiteboard free play separate from your lesson.
Do swap whiteboard ideas and lesson plans with teachers online.
Don't use the whiteboard only to project websites. Take the time to learn about its full capabilities.
Do have students approach the whiteboard individually or in pairs.
Don't worry (too much) about kids hurting the board. It's like a baby — stronger than you think!  

History lessons don't have to repeat themselves — and neither do civics or geography units. Set up your whiteboard and make history three-dimensional with these interactive social studies lessons.


Dive Into History

Learn How Pilgrims Spoke
Read and hear phrases that Pilgrims used in the 17th century. Display some of the vocabulary used by the Wampanoag, the native people who lived near Plymouth Colony (mayflowerhistory.com/History/indians6.php). Help students to match pictures with some of the vocabulary words. Discuss how the Pilgrims and Wampanoag might have communicated without a common language.

Compare Colonial Games
Read about games that Pilgrim and Wampanoag children played in Plymouth Colony. Let students make a list of games on the interactive whiteboard, then use the "recognize as" option to turn their answers into text boxes. Have them arrange the activities on a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the ways in which Pilgrim and Wampanoag children spent their time.

Study Cause and Effect
The kidnapping of Squanto by an English sea captain began a cause-and-effect chain with ramifications for generations to come. Choose text passages from this historic event to display on the whiteboard. Ask a student to underline one event. From there, have students underline other events they think were caused by the first. Repeat this activity using different colors for each instigating event. How might the absence of one event have changed history?

Liven Up Geography

Piece Together a Puzzle
Display a world map without labels. Create a folder of images of the continents from the gallery. Direct students to drag the continents from the gallery folder and slip them into their correct place on the map. Label the continents or make a color key to show continent names. Help students add the equator and a compass rose.

Go to Google Earth
Show students the interactive globe. Can students identify the seven continents and five oceans? After they do so, find North America and zoom in until state borders are shown. Can students identify their state? Direct their attention to the land features shown. What are the geographic features of their state? Zoom in closer to locate their county, city, then school. Ask students to use directions to describe points of interest near them (for example, "Our city is southwest of the reservoir").

Play with Pangaea
Some scientists believe that the continents were once all joined into a supercontinent called Pangaea. Display images of the continents on the whiteboard and let students try and piece them together. Then, check the  "answer key."

Stand Up for Civics

Spin a Symbol
Set up two spinners: one with four images of national symbols (such as the flag, an eagle, the Statue of Liberty, and the Washington Monument) and the other with written labels of each symbol. Let students take turns spinning the spinners and dragging the images and labels inside a box. Once all four images and labels have been selected, let students match the words and images.

Match Names to Accomplishments
Display images of famous Americans you have studied who have contributed to American culture (suggestions include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King Jr.). Make text-box labels with the names of each person and a short summary of his or her contributions. Ask students to match the images with the text boxes. Next, display a blank timeline and ask students to place the images in the correct chronological order along with the text boxes. Prepare an answer page for students.

Answer in the Form of a Question
Set up a Jeopardy-type game for reviewing the three branches of government. Assign categories to small groups of students and challenge them to generate questions for their categories. Enter the questions for the game and then play in teams. Categories might include: duties, term of office, how the office is chosen (election, appointment), location, members, etc. It may also include a mix of national, state, and local governments.

Examine Economics

Talk About Money
Why do we use money to buy things? Ask students to imagine how we would get the things we need if money did not exist. Explain that this was the case for many civilizations, and bartering was a system used widely in the past. Visit the United States Mint's kid-friendly site for interesting money facts and interactive activities. Students can even design their own coins.

Weigh Supply and Demand
To illustrate the concept of supply and demand, divide the class into two teams and the whiteboard into two sections. Display images of different bills and coins across the bottom of each section, giving each side the same amount of money. Place images of three to five types of school supplies across the top of the board. Clone all objects in different quantities, except for one. For example, clone twenty pencils, ten notebooks, five pens, and two pencil sharpeners, but display only one eraser. Hold an "auction" where representatives from each team bid on the items. What happened with the items that were plentiful, like the pencils and notebooks? What about the items that were scarce, like the pencil sharpeners and eraser?

Rearrange Resources
Display images of various resources without telling students the types of resources shown. Have students drag the images into groups on an unlabeled chart with three columns. Ask why they grouped the images as they did. Which images were difficult to place in a category, and why? Ask students to come up with names for each of the three categories. Next, tell students that the images are from each of the following resource categories: human, natural, and capital. Let them rearrange the images if they'd like, then discuss the changes.

Sail with the Explorers

Roll for Columbus
Find six images representing Columbus's discovery in the gallery and add them to a virtual die that students can "roll" with a tap. When setting up the die, choose "no repeat" for the images. When children roll the die, have them put the images in chronological order until they have arranged all six images into a visual timeline. Suggested images in chronological order: King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria, a compass, a bird (the sign that land was near), Columbus with the flag of Spain on the beach, and Native Americans.

Travel the Silk Road
Google an image of the Silk Road that explorers took from Asia to Europe in the late 13th century. Along the route, add stops marked by Xs. Place an image of spices at the point on the route furthest east. Clone a coin from the gallery and place it at the bottom of the whiteboard. Beginning at the most eastern point, have one student "sell" the spices in this location. The "buyer" drags the coins needed to buy the spices, and the price is recorded on that point on the map. The spices are then dragged to the next marked spot on the route and sold for a higher price. Students take turns buying and selling until someone finally reaches Europe. Compare the prices from the start of the route to the finish. Use this to set the stage for a lesson on why explorers like Columbus wanted to find a sea route to Asia from Europe.

Take a Walk with Lewis and Clark
Step into Lewis and Clark's moccasins. How would your students do as western explorers? Click on the journal icons and discuss how primary sources contribute to historical accounts.

Discover Ancient Cultures

Spell Like an Egyptian
Show students how the ancient Egyptians recorded their history on paper. Click on The Hieroglyphic Alphabet. Copy and paste the image into a Word document, then use the crop tool to create a box for each letter. Copy these letter boxes onto a blank interactive whiteboard page and infinitely clone each letter box. Have students drag letters they need to spell their names and other vocabulary words about ancient Egypt. Show an image of the Rosetta stone and explain that these hieroglyphics were carved into the stone by hand. Ask students how this differs from the way they write today. What are the pros and cons of each? Our writing system today may be easier, but the writing on the Rosetta stone has lasted more than 2,000 years.

Grow Mesopotamian Crops
Have students look at a map of ancient Mesopotamia. What natural resource was in short supply? (Answer: water.) Illustrate the importance of irrigation in ancient Mesopotamia with this simulation. Challenge students to work in teams at the interactive whiteboard and see who can yield the best results for their crops.

Adapt to the Environment
How do groups of people adapt to their environments? What geographical features are needed for a civilization to thrive? Have students brainstorm ideas and record them on the interactive whiteboard. Learn how the ancient Egyptians utilized their natural resources here, and click on Ancient Egypt.

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