Are more and more students looking a little bored and bleary-eyed during history and geography lessons lately? As a first-year teacher, it's easy to become so focused on covering all the necessary content that you overlook opportunities to bring social studies to life. These easy-to-do, hands-on activities will help you put a quick end to social studies doldrums.

Mapping Your Way From Home Sweet Home

After teaching about map symbols and directions, invite to students create a map showing the route from their home to school. A fun motivator is to tell students that they have won a contest but the only way to receive their prize is to provide the delivery service with a clear and accurate map to their home. Maps should be neat, easy to read, and contain proper map symbols, with a key and compass rose. Let them know that landmarks will help the driver make a speedy delivery. Most middle school students will be familiar with the route from home to school. However, if you give students advance notice about the project or a few days to complete in class, then they will be better able to recall details that would enhance their maps. When the maps are completed, you may want to "deliver" students some type of prize or reward.

Three Cheers for Sports Teams!

This activity gives students a chance to show off sports knowledge and geography skills. Organize students into groups and provide them with a list of sports teams. The list should include only the nickname of the team, for example: Dolphins, Red Sox, Mariners. The students have to first figure out what city the team is from, and then locate the city on a map. As an additional challenge have students explain how the team name relates to the geography, culture, or history of its home town. If your community is not already home to a major league team, ask students to imagine that it soon will be. Have students think of appropriate names for the team based on geographical, cultural, or historical information. Students may also pick other cities without professional sports teams and think up names for them too.

Travel Time Brochures

One way to energize teaching about U.S. cities or countries around the world is to have students look at them as travel destinations. The first step is to bring in examples of travel brochures (readily available at most travel agencies, AAA, and tourist bureaus) and discuss what makes them interesting, exciting, and informative. Then, based on places you have been teaching about, have individual students or student groups create travel brochures for a particular location. Students should include at least three reasons why this place might attract visitors and use a simple tri-fold format. Students can illustrate their brochures with drawings or pictures from magazines or the internet.

Person of the Year

In this activity, students become journalists for a famous news magazine. Their assignment is to select a "Person of the Year" for the next issue. As journalists, they need to convince their editor-in-chief that the person they have selected is deserving of this title. Students write a brief article that explains their choice based on research. Students should also design a magazine cover honoring this person. When the projects are complete, consider having students give oral presentations and then take a class vote to decide which person they learned about is deserving of the title "Most Outstanding Person of the Year."

People Poems

Have students write poems about people or places they have been learning about in social studies. The poem can be in the form of an acrostic, in which the first letter of each line begins with a letter of the person's name. The lines consist of words or phrases describing the person's characteristics. Another type of poem is the diamante, which takes its name from the diamond-shaped form it makes. Here's the formula:

person's name
two adjectives to describe the person
three "ing" words related to the subject
four nouns that describe the person
three verbs that tell how the person acted or felt
two adjectives to describe the person
person's last name


These ideas were adapted from Making Social Studies Come Alive! by Marilyn Kretzer, Marleine Slobin, and Madella Williams (© 1996, Scholastic).