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Fave posts of 2019: 12 tips and tricks for using music in the social studies classroom

I know that most of you are settled deep into holiday break mode. Getting up a little bit later than normal. Watching football. Eating too much. Catching up on your reading. Trying to decide if The Mandalorian is worth your time. Enjoying family and friends. Not really thinking about the back to school schedule that cranks up in January.

But if you need a break from all of that free time, we’ve got you covered. Between now and the first week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-live five of the most popular History Tech posts from 2019. Enjoy the reruns!


I am not musically inclined. I like music. I listen to music. Love the Spotify. But I don’t play an instrument and karaoke only in large groups. Maybe I just never had the right training but it’s hard to imagine any music teacher being very successful in coaxing out my inner Bob Dylan.

Which is why it’s not easy for me to think about using music as an important piece of social studies instruction. You might be the same way – integrating music and song lyrics into your classroom just isn’t the first or second thing that comes to mind when you’re designing lessons and units.

But it should be.

I was reminded last night how powerful music can be and how we can use it to help kids connect with our content during the weekly #sschat. Focused on the intersection of music and social studies, the chat provided a wide variety of useful ideas and resources.

Led by Chris Hitchcock and the folks at Get Sounds Around, a bunch of us sat around and shared tips and tools. You can get the full transcript over at sschat but here’s a few of the tidbits I gathered:

  • Pre or post learning writing prompt: What would be the music themes for different historical figures? As in, what would Abe Lincoln play at his political rallies? This could be current songs or songs of the period. Explain your thinking.
  • A variant would be walkup music. Most MLB baseball players have specific music playing as they walk to the plate. NBA players have specific music during introductions. What would Harriet Tubman’s walkup music be?
  • Create both mini and full-blown DBQs that incorporate music and lyrics as one or all of the primary sources.
  • Songs and their lyrics are great primary sources, helping our kids to make sense of time, place, events, and culture. Use the National Archives and Library of Congress primary source analysis worksheets to help students make sense of lyrics and context.
  • Songs have been used for protest and social justice forever. Vietnam, civil rights, American Revolution, South African apartheid, women’s rights. If there’s been a protest, there have been songs that have gone along with it. The New York Times Learning Network has a great lesson that models what this might look like in your classroom.
  • The flip side of protest songs might be to have students look at how governments use music to rally support or as propaganda. Perhaps compare and contrast the music of the Allies and Axis governments during World War Two. Look at songs sung in the US during World War One.
  • One #sschat post discussed how US Civil War music was very upbeat, cheerful, and optimistic in 1861 but changed the mood and lyrics changed over time by 1865. Ask kids to look at context and events that may have had an impact on the music of the time.
  • We can ask our students to look at how popular music develops and changes over time. What’s the history of music? How have different groups and their music influenced what we listen to?
  • There are lots of songs that we sing but never finish. This Land of Your Land and Star Spangled Banner are examples of songs with verses that we don’t sing. Why were those verses included by the author? Why don’t we sing them very often?
  • Musicals are great storytelling devices that provide additional context and richness to historical content. Many teachers have been using Hamilton as part of their lessons. The National Council for the Social Studies Social Education journal has a great Hamilton article and this presentation from a recent NCSS conference is also useful.
  • The NCSS has many other articles and lessons on the use of music. Listening for History: Using Jazz Music as a Primary Source and Integrating Art and Music into Social Studies Instruction are two examples. Another helpful article is “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier:” Ideas and Strategies for Using Music from the National Jukebox to Teach Difficult Topics in History.
  • The American Historical Association published a longer read way back in 1996 titled Different Drummers: Using Music to Teach History that highlights why and how music should be part of what you do.
  • And don’t forget the power of YouTube. So many of the songs – both new, old, mashed up – are available online. This is a no-brainer.

Need some song titles tied to specific topics and periods? Check out these two crowdsourced Google Docs:

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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Work with Me page.

Fave Posts of 2019: “Somebody Wanted But So” makes your kids smarter

Most of you have probably settled deep into holiday break mode. Getting up a little bit later than normal. Watching football. Eating too much. Catching up on your reading. Trying to decide if The Mandalorian is worth your time. Enjoying family and friends. Not really thinking about the back to school schedule that cranks up in January.

But if you need a break from all of the free time, we’ve got you covered. Between now and the first week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-live five of the most popular History Tech posts from 2019. Enjoy the reruns!


I’ve been spending a ton of time this summer working with groups around the country, helping facilitate conversations around reading and writing in the social studies.

It’s always a good day when I get the chance to sit with social studies teachers, sharing ideas and best practice, talking about what works and what doesn’t. And the cool thing is that I always walk away smarter because teachers are super cool about sharing their favorite web site or tool or handy strategy.

This week was no different. I learned about a simple but powerful summarizing strategy called Somebody Wanted But So.

Summarizing is a skill that I think we sometimes take for granted. We ask our kids to read or watch something and expect them to just be able to remember the content and apply it later during other learning activities. We can easily get caught up in the Curse of Knowledge, assuming that because we know how to summarize and organize information, everyone does too.

But our students often need scaffolding tools to help them see the difference between summarizing and retelling. For many of our students, they are one and the same. Word for word is summarizing and they end up writing way too much.

Or they don’t write enough. Or fail to capture the most important ideas.

A summary is higher order thinking and one of the best things we can do is model for our kids what it can look like. Somebody Wanted But So is a great scaffolding tool that we can use as a model and then hand over to them for individual use.

The original version of SWBS is often used with fiction but it works just as well with nonfiction, primary sources, and textbooks. The process is pretty simple:

  • After students read about a historical event, lead a whole group discussion about who they think is the main person causing the events. This could be a person or a group. That person or group becomes the Somebody.
  • Then ask what that person wanted. What’s the goal or motivation? That becomes the Wanted.
  • Ask students what happened to keep the Somebody from achieving the Want – what’s the barrier or conflict? Write that in the But column.
  • Discuss the resolution or outcome of the situation and write that in the So column.

The strategy is great for:

  • seeing main ideas as well as specific details
  • making inferences
  • identifying cause and effect
  • making sense of multiple points of view
  • connecting differences and motivations of different people and characters

As your students get better at the process, they will be able to work in small groups, pairs, or individuals. The basic version of SWBS works really well at the elementary level. Especially if you have kids create a foldable out of it.

But you can ramp up expectations for middle or even high school kids by adding a T for Then and a Summary area. The Then column encourages kids to take the cause / effect idea even further by asking them to predict what might happen or to document further effects of the So column. (Make it even more complex by adding a second B column titled Because after the Wanted.)

The Summary section can be included to support narrative or argumentative writing skills and could also be used to respond to a specific writing prompt that you provide.

You can also add extra rows to the chart, adding additional people or groups. You could then put your own content into that column, forcing students to see different perspectives. The summary portion could then ask students to make connections between the different groups.

This could easily be done using Google Docs and Google Classroom to provide simple paperless access and sharing. Using Google Docs or other word processing tools would allow your kids to color code their charts – highlighting pieces of text as the same colors as the elements in their SWBS charts.

Students could also record a video using a tool such as Adobe Spark video to generate a visual version of their final product.

The cool thing is SWBS strategy can be adapted so that it fits your content and kids. Make it work for you. Your kids will walk out smarter than when they walked in.

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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Work with Me page.

Fave Posts of 2019: Single-point rubrics and Google Keep make your life easier & your kids smarter

I know that most of you are still settled deep into holiday break mode. Getting up a little bit later than normal. Watching football. Eating too much. Catching up on your reading. Trying to decide if The Mandalorian is worth your time. Enjoying family and friends. Not really thinking about the back to school schedule that cranks up in January.

But if you need a break from all of that free time, we’ve got you covered. Between now and the second week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-live five of the most popular History Tech posts from 2019. Enjoy the reruns!


We’ve all been there. You just finished putting together a great instructional lesson or unit. Kids are gonna love it. They’ll be working together. Doing research. Creating stuff, not just consuming it. The historical thinking will be off the charts.

Then you realize . . . you haven’t created the rubric yet.

You know that clear expectations and feedback are critically important to the learning process. You know that rubrics can help you in assessing what students know and are able to do. So you sit back down and eventually decide to use four scoring columns instead of five. Six rows of criteria instead of three. Clear descriptors. Nine point font all crammed into your matrix so that it fits on one page. Definitely tons of feedback gonna happen from this beauty.

But it’s worth it, right?

Mmm . . . using a great rubric Read more

Fave posts of 2019: Memes. Fun waste of time or incredible literacy integration tool?

Most of you have probably settled deep into holiday break mode. Getting up a little bit later than normal. Watching football. Eating too much. Catching up on your reading. Trying to decide if The Mandalorian is worth your time. Enjoying family and friends. Not really thinking about the back to school schedule that cranks up in January.

But if you need a break from all of the free time, we’ve got you covered. Between now and the first week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-live five of the most popular History Tech posts from 2019. Enjoy the reruns!


We all love a good meme. Visual. Easy to understand. And just the right amount of snark.

But can we use them as part of our instructional designs? Or are they just a questionable way to spend way too much time online? Ask me that question five years ago and I probably would have said waste of time. Fun, sure. But a waste of time.

And now? Read more

My first social studies superhero and Teaching What Really Happened.

I’ve always had social studies heroes.

The people who made and continue to make National Geographic magazine map inserts. My 7th grade geography teacher. Garden City High School’s Mr. Tomayko. James Clavell and Stephen Ambrose. Sam Wineburg.

But my first real social studies hero . . . the first person who I consciously recognized as someone impacting my career as a social studies teacher?

James Loewen. As in, the author of:

  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
  • Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Racism
  • Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong
  • And his latest, Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History

Years after first reading Lies My Teacher Told Me, I’m not even sure now how and where I ran across the book. But for someone who had grown up in western Kansas and Read more