How do teachers create social studies based activities?


Now that we have an understanding of the purpose of activity based lesson and a bit of practice on how to develop questions that help to guide students through an activity based lesson, I want to lay out the building blocks of an activity based lesson, specifically when organizing social studies activities.

As previously mentioned, the intent of activity based lessons is to involve the students in an active learning environment that not only helps them to explore the content, but to help them develop skills as they interpret documents and partake in activities. It is important to consider ideas and strategies that cultivate student interest, enhance their ability to understand the world, motivate them to think and ask questions, and make it possible for them to consider connections between different disciplines, past and current events, and their own personal experiences.

When I look to create an activity based lesson, it often takes the form of an activity sheet. This activity sheet will serve as a guide to the learner, providing them with all the information needed to actively participate in the lesson. The following is a step by step process that I follow when creating an an activity based lesson.

Creating a Document-based Activity Sheet:

1. Establish a broad questions that the lesson will examine. Often I refer to this as my Aim question; the students know to look for this question everyday. I often post it on the board we well as on their activity sheet and constantly go back to it throughout the lesson. All documents provided to the student should in some way be applicable to this question and make it possible for students to answer this question. This is what your lesson is centered around.

2. Compile documents (photographs, cartoons, charts, songs, quotes) that are appropriate to the reading level and interest of your students. Again, these should all relate back to the initial question and make it possible for learners to develop broader understandings about the content at hand.

3. Provide students with detailed and easy to follow directions so that they know what to do. Laying out clear expectations early and often is a great way to ensure a smooth transition between activities and success of your lesson and your students.

4. Create four to five guiding questions that will aid the learner in the analysis of the documents. I often start with one or two general questions that can be determined based on simple analysis of the document. The remainder of the questions should require more higher-order thinking in order to answer such as conclusion questions and opinion questions. These questions should have students make connections between different information provided in the documents or evaluating importance of what they have learned with a more general historical occurrence.

Try it for yourself!