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Back to Basics: Easy Ways to Remember in Social Studies Class

Posted by Caitlin Johnson
12 December 2011 - 9:30pm

There are times when history tends to be overly focused on the specifics, especially in high school classes, and this can overwhelm a lot of students.  From my own experiences teaching grade eleven Modern History, the issue I ran into a lot was lack of experience with certain aspects of history (important historical figures, events, or dates).  With my two sets of grade eleven classes, both being lower level classes which needed a lot of attention and differentiation, the students sometimes ended up lost.  I came up with some easy solutions that can be applied to any social studies classroom:

  • When teaching World War II, as a class we discussed how Hitler influenced his country through all age groups, which resulted in the creation of Hitler’s Youth.  To help the students understand how these groups were created, my co-teacher suggested that we find examples of groups that exist in the present day that most students would have heard of that they could relate to, for example: Boy Scouts & Cubs. 
  • Another simple example of how to relate this issue was through music. In class we watched the movie Swing Kids to help the students understand the hype associated with this music, singers and bands of today that are extremely popular were mentioned and was compared to how popular swing music was with the youth in Germany.  This is also a great way to connect with your students by sharing the kinds of music you like and allows them to open up about their likes/dislikes in music.  (Your students may actually begin to think you're cool!)
  • Another example used in Modern History class was when I discussed the war occurring in Europe in comparison with the war the Allies were also waging against Japan.  These were two very different theatres of war. To help students see the similarities and differences I had my classes watch an episode of the HBO series “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”  Students were given a Venn diagram hand out, and were asked to look for what types of technologies were being used in each episode, and this included weaponry, tactics and vehicles.  I included vehicles because a lot of the boys in both of my classes had a huge interest in off-roading and “mudding” in their trucks; I used this to my advantage and got them interested in the military vehicles used in WWII, and how Jeep (the original and oldest off-roading vehicle), originated out of the war.  I wanted the students to recognize that the war was being fought on two fronts, and although similar technologies were being used, the tactics were very different because the soldiers were in two very different parts of the world.  The Venn diagram (a very simple overlapping 2 circles diagram) helped students differentiate between the two theatres of war, and what similarities they had in common; a really simple idea that worked great!
  • A final, very simple way to help your students grasp larger ideas is the use of mind maps.  This is a great tool to use for differentiation because it is so visual and helps the students sort things out.  A big topic that we had discussed in Modern History class was the Holocaust; obviously a very overwhelming topic that includes a lot of information that can be covered.  I had created a hand out for the students to do in class, and in the centre was “HOLOCAUST.”  Similar to a brainstorm, there were sub themes that were attached outside of this centre theme (ex. ghettos or the final solution).  The students were to think of four main issues or sub themes that we had dealt with in class during the time we spent on the Holocaust (I had used this mind map as a way for the students to recall what we had done, and as a handy study guide for their exam).  The students had to think of as many facts as they could about each of the four sub themes, and have them individually protrude from that particular theme.  We then went over their ideas together as a class, and any other factoids or ideas that could be added.  The students really responded to the activity and worked extremely well.  Having class time to complete the activity, as well as working in groups and going over the answers were beneficial for everyone as this also allowed me to see what they had learned from the lessons I had done on the Holocaust. 

What simple “ways to remember” have you used in your social studies classrooms to help your students?  Have you used pictures, posters, personal experiences or videos?  Please share!