Instill a Passion for History in Your Classroom

By Victoria Jasztal on April 21, 2010

Left: Students completing an archaeology lesson where clay pots are smashed and they put them back together

I have always been a strong advocate of incorporating social studies in the grades 3-5 setting. It is often said that Social Studies is the subject that is slighted the most, yet there are several ways teachers can make subject matter invigorating and relevant to your curriculum. Read on to see my list of over 60 social studies-related ideas, as well as Scholastic professional books, that can spark instruction!

1. Join a postcard exchange.
2. Teach students to make salt dough maps of their country and/or state.
3. Write and record podcasts (or encourage students to write their own) using Audacity software.
4. Write a play for your class to perform about a specific topic they learn during the school year. At the end of the year, we put on a major production about the native Americans and explorers in Florida in the 1500s (in the area of St. Augustine).
5. Make papier mache masks with your students.

6. Complete hands-on activities with your students about how homes were built during the colonial period. Our class learned about thatch and wattle and daub methods. (Lesson is from the below link- Florida Humanities Council)
7. If you live in Florida, teach a lesson from the variety of lessons offered through the Florida Humanities Council or perhaps St. Augustine 4 Kids. St. Augustine should be mentioned in any elementary history class, to be honest, because it is America's Oldest City.
8. Have students make historical figure trading cards of individuals from the past (presidents, conquistadors, native American groups, people involved during the Civil War- the categories are endless). Here is my website for conquistadors.
9. Peruse comic books (graphic novels) with your students. Chester Comix and the Graphic History Series are two history-related series that come to my mind. Additionally, Scholastic has a resource book with comics of the American Revolution, the landing on the moon and more.

10. Or encourage students to make their own comics by drawing them or online. Visit my technology section of this website for recommendations on where to go.
11. Have a parade by wearing period costumes from a period of history you study. It works very well for our school's book characters parade because we are representing non-fiction!
12. Have students write time-travel stories about going back to certain times in history. You may have to be specific and provide a list of possible events.
13. Or you can have students include a "twist" in their stories by bringing in hauntings/ghosts.
14. Have students decorate clay pots, smash them, and put them back together for an interesting archaeology lesson. My class of 2009 was not fond of it- it was challenging because I smashed their pots a bit much. Yet it does teach students what archaeologists have to deal with. You have to come to conclusions. It may depend on the group of students, though, because my class of 2010 adored it.
15. Incorporate food. Everyone likes good food! Have a colonial food day, for example. Have students prepare the foods at school, or have them bring the foods in.
16. Have your class make a living wax museum.
17. Use green screen technology or learn how to use it to make a fabulous video! Set up a green sheet in your classroom with no wrinkles, for starters. Then perhaps when you make your video, tint it sepia and include static lines to make the video look old.

18. Have your students construct buildings, whether they are older buildings representing history or newer buildings representing their region.
19. Encourage students to request resources from a variety of places. If you have 25 students, for example, maybe they can send requests to the Department of Tourism for two states each. Here are all the addresses.
20. Ask teachers you know from other states to send your class leaves during the fall season, and compare them. The ones from the northeast and the mountain regions are gorgeous! My kids LOVED this during the 2008-2009 school year.
21. Locate 3-D pictures online, and get your kids 3-D glasses (I think you can actually get a good amount for free somewhere) to view the images. Have a 3-D show for the kids.
22. Have students interview a person in history, writing down what they believe answers from that individual would be. Model this first, though, to make sure you get quality interviews!
23. This day in history... you can have mini-celebrations based on what happened today 89 years ago and so on.
24. All kinds of bizarre holidays exist. See for yourself here. September 3rd is Skyscraper Day, for example, and the 4th is Newspaper Carrier Day. Don't forget Citizenship Day on September 17th!

25. Encourage kids to learn about their genealogy. For all you know, their parents may be involved in genealogy and have lots of old photos to share. Have students make a visual family tree and write about their families. You'll never believe what some kids have to say about their families.
26. Following the last suggestion, interviewing grandparents is also exciting. How were prices of items different when your grandparents were kids? What kind of car did his or her family have? What were some popular television shows and songs of that time period?
27. Find videos of historical events online, like Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. Or find recordings- these are from Thomas Alva Edison.
28. Some antique stores have old newspapers. I have a newspaper from 1969 saying Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. You may have to do a little bit of searching for different papers.
29. Or purchase historical postcards or license plates from antique stores. Kids enjoy them. You may even find an old model of something, like a Model T Ford like we have in our classroom.
30. Have students write letters to important people- try the president of the United States. You never know.
31. Students can also create brochures or search through brochures from different places in their state or nation for information.
32. Have students explore a section of a website like Second Story.

33. Teach about the Titanic. This website is impressive.
34. Invite guest speakers to come to your classroom- or visit places in your community like City Hall. Our class decorates the Christmas tree at City Hall- it's great to be involved in the community.
35. Study state history by finding people that have written books that take place in your state. Here are a few for Florida- Jane Wood, Melissa Forney (Oonawassee Summer, The Astonishing Journey of Teddy Bodain), Jean Craighead George, Lois Lenski, and Cynthia DeFelice (The Missing Manatee).
36. Have students put together timelines of individuals they have studied or even of themselves. I still remember a timeline I made of my life when I was in seventh grade.
37. Though I wasn't a fan of the show Kid Nation all that much, the kids' bios had questions where they reflected on current events and historical interests. I like the questions they responded to.

38. Have students write journal entries about being in a certain time period/event. This is sort of like the story idea. My students wrote about being in a shipwreck/storm after reading Richard Henry Dana's journal entry.
39. Teach kids how to hold a debate.
40. Have kids answer questions to be President for a Day. In the same respect, teach kids about democracy.
41. Give kids a choice when it comes to their assignments.
42. Try an activity from the Weekly Reader calendar.

43. Have the students complete literature circles with Social Studies material.
44. Have your class try text mapping with Social Studies material.
45. Have your class do something neat like make candles or recycled paper.
46. Give students ideas for making PowerPoint presentations. They can do digital storytelling, create a regular PowerPoint with narration, or use a game template.
47. Perhaps students can construct models of forts, castles, or monuments.
48. Have students jam out to Mr. Duey's Branches of Government or Ron Clark's presidential rap. Or watch the video of You Can Vote However You Like.

49. GO on a field trip! Museums, lighthouses, forts, trolley tours, archaeological site museums, living history museums...
50. Complete some community service with your students (ie. Habitat for Humanity).
51. Encourage students to make a museum box.
52. Complete R.A.F.T. prompts in your classroom.
53. Didn't get enough of social studies rap from before? Here's some more.
54. Encourage students to learn more about elections. This should be taught every year, not just years where there is a presidential election.

55. Bring students to an re-enactment, or try your own re-enactment of sorts at school. (I am thinking of the movie School of Life.) There's actually a website discussing about having one in school, too- here.
56. I mentioned finding local authors, but what about some great historical fiction books? Number the Stars is a tremendous novel for the Holocaust. Charley Skedaddle and Johnny Tremain are also honorable books in this genre. Try to collect as many historical fiction books as you can and organize them by categories in bins so they are easy to access.
57. Have students complete an activity where they cover a cereal box with facts.
58. Have your students design a newspaper indicating a specific time period.
59. Complete graphic organizers (Venn Diagrams, for example).

60. Have students analyze primary and secondary documents.
61. Rewrite part of a historical fiction book you have read as a script, and act it out. Perhaps make a digital movie, and last but not least,

62. Historical Bumper Sticker (from INTeacher at the A-Z Teaching Boards) activity:

Your job is to create a historical bumper sticker on the paper provided. The bumper sticker must be about the historical time period that we are covering in Chapters 9, 10 or 11. You may relate your bumper sticker to a particular person, theme or event found in these chapters. You must be creative but follow these rules:

  • Your bumper sticker must be historically accurate.
  • While you must be historically accurate, you may base your bumper sticker on present day bumper stickers. The bumper sticker must be on the paper provided.
  • You must use color.
  • Your bumper sticker MAY NOT be offensive, contain profanity or degrade a person or group of people.

Some examples of bumper stickers:

  • Support the Underground Railroad: The Original Soul Train
  • Manifest Destiny Happens
  • Proud Parents of a Continental Army Drummer Boy
  • Real Men Sink Tea

You will be graded as follows:
0-10 points for following directions
0-15 points for neatness

0-50 points for bumper sticker theme: historically accurate, with historical time frame, making sense


Scholastic Resources

Here are a few of my favorite Scholastic resources for Social Studies:

Comic 3d Plays

Photo Album

Go on a short journey through Jasztalville this past year as well as this year to see what we have completed in Social Studies:

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IMG_1443 - Copy

IMG_1445 - Copy 

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Comments

Thank you, Melissa! Wax museums sound exciting; I have never tried it before, yet I have known teachers who have completed the activity with much success. Yet we are working on our class play for the evening of May 24th; it is a 45-minute production about St. Augustine, "America's Oldest City". I feel it is going to be sensational because there are some "unknown" talents in my class. We are going to incorporate some music as well. The costumes will be interesting because I was able to find some native American-like shirts and skirts at Goodwill the past few years. Three students are portraying the main explorers of Ponce de Leon, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, and Sir Francis Drake. There are several humorous moments!

Again, thanks for writing me. I realized when clicking on your website, too, that I have visited it before. I plan on linking it on my webpage when I have the chance!

I enjoy doing Wax Museums with my kiddos. We are getting ready to display our 26 new exhibits next week. They take so much pride in getting their costumes together, writing invitations, planning the schedule for the museum, scheduling practices with staff members in our building, and perfecting their speeches. It's amazing the see the finished product. It's no easy task for me, but so worth it when they walk our red carpet, a 30 foot roll of plastic table cloth, with the biggest smiles on their faces.

If you enjoy simulations, have you ever checked out the Interact company? I have a few of the units and would love to purchase more. Check it out!

http://www.interact-simulations.com/

Thanks Victoria!

I took the full five days to do all the scenarios in the book. However, prior to those days, I also took a day to introduce the simulation, put together the journal and have my kids create their character. What was cool about the American Revolution simulation is the kids actually create their character's history and family background. So next year I'll be having my kids do that for the Explorers one too. I also had my kids create stick characters for the AR one....they loved that. Really helped them "become" their character. Favorite parts of the simulation was the journal writing - I had a couple kids REALLY get into character and of course finding out who would get sick from scurvy that day. ;-)

Thank you, Katie. I, too, love reading your ideas. I would love to try the explorer simulation because I just received that book through the mail! I am HUGE into the explorers. How long did it take for you to incorporate the lessons from the book? Did you use the entire book, or just some of it? Which activity did the students find the most exciting? - Victoria

Great post Victoria! Every year I try to add something to Social Studies to make it more interesting too. Last year I began an Explorer Simulation which is actually a Scholastic resource book. My kids adored it! So much in fact they raised their own funds to have me purchase the American Revolution Simulation book. Talk about an interest in their own learning! :-)

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