One of the advantages of doing what I do is the chance to meet and talk with lots of great social studies teachers. Whether it’s traveling around doing on-site trainings or leading workshops in ESSDACK’s own facility, the opportunities to brainstorm ideas and learn new things are abundant.
Several months ago, I spent the day working with a small group of middle school teachers. The conversation shifted to literacy strategies and what works best to help students read and write in the social studies. Andrew Trent, teacher from Clay Center and colleague on the state assessment writing team, shared a strategy that I had never seen before.
Titled Tic Tac Tell, the strategy is very simple to implement but it has a lot of potential for adapting to different grade levels, content, and complexity. The original focus of Tic Tac Tell was to provide a quick and easy way for kids to interact with vocabulary words. We know that to learn new vocabulary words and phrases, kids need to experience those words or phrases multiple times in a variety of contexts. Tic Tac Tell works great for that, especially with elementary kids.
But I think you could also use this to introduce, review, and assess a wide variety of concepts, ideas, people, places, or events.
So. How to use it?
I’ve been spending a ton of time the last few months working with groups around the state, helping facilitate conversations around the upcoming social studies state assessment. One of the questions I get a lot revolves around the issue of helping kids organize and make sense of foundational knowledge while at the same time working on critical thinking skills.
One of my favorite strategies for helping kids make sense of basic content is 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. Or just get frustrated and give up.
Being able to create and organize content is a critical higher order thinking skill that 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.
I am a huge fan of Google Jamboard. There are so many cool ways we can use a digital whiteboard software like Jamboard to engage kids in solving problems, for messing around with primary sources, and to capture student thinking.
But I was reminded recently by a middle school teacher that not every classroom has access to digital devices or Google tools. And he shared some great ideas of how he uses the old fashioned dry erase whiteboards – you know, the kind you use markers with and old rags to wipe clean – to do some pretty cool stuff too. So I started asking around and there apparently are a lot of you who love using the old fashioned dry erase whiteboards. There are also apparently a lot of ways to use those whiteboards in a social studies classroom.
So today you get five super simple but powerful activities that all work to encourage critical thinking, gather new information, or activate prior knowledge. And the cool thing is that while they work great with traditional dry erase boards, they can quickly be adapted to those new fangled internet-based whiteboards as well.
First things first.
I had the opportunity this spring to spend time learning together with about 35 middle school ELA and social studies teachers as part of a Library of Congress TPS mini-grant project. We’ve spent multiple sessions over the last few months exploring the connection between literature and social studies content. (As Ferris Bueller once said, “. . . I highly recommend you picking one up.”)
The project was awesome for a lot of reasons but one of the main reasons was middle school teacher and social studies rock star Dave McIntire. It was last summer that I asked Dave to act as a master teacher for the project, sharing his experience and expertise with the group. And so ever since we kicked the project off in January, I’ve had the chance to soak up all the goodness that is Mr. McIntire and have learned so much.
Last Monday, as he shared a sample lesson with the group, I was able to pick up one final nugget before we broke for the summer.
A simple but powerful strategy called Connect Extend Challenge.
Now I’ve had the chance to learn about all sorts of primary source and evidence graphic organizers, thinking strategies, and summary activities. So while there are always new things to learn, running across something I haven’t seen before doesn’t just happen every day of the week.
And when Dave threw out the Connect Extend Challenge tool, it just reinforced his reputation as a social studies guru. If you’ve heard of this activity, love it, and use it already . . . feel free to go about your business. But if you’re like me and Connect Extend Challenge is something new, hang around.
Sure. There are probably some of you bike riding savants who had no need for them. You just hopped on and started riding, jumping ramps, and weaving through traffic – no problem.
But most of us needed them to get started.
They let us get on our itty bitty bikes and tootle around town like we knew what we were doing. We could do basic stuff like steering around the dog and brake at the corner. But doing all of that while keeping our balance? Not yet.
Writing argumentative essays and making claims using evidence is a lot like that. You’ve got some kids that can jump on and just take off, no problem.
But most of your kids are going to need a little help. Especially elementary and middle school. And there are lots of things you can do to help them keep their balance while doing that.
But I’m really starting to like the idea of something called Structure Strips. I ran across them a few years ago while I was working with some elementary ELA teachers. They were using them to help students create descriptive paragraphs. A little more research highlighted how others were also using Structure Strips in a variety of ways, including in social studies.
And as I’m working with Kansas teachers to prep for next year’s state social studies assessment, these just seem to make more and more sense.
A Structure Strip is a simple but powerful scaffolding tool that can help kids focus on organizing their thinking and written responses to prompts. Kinda like training wheels.
I can’t remember where I first learned about hexagons in the classroom. But I’ve loved them ever since I started exploring the idea. If you’re already using hexagons, good on you. You are excused. (Though feel free to hang around for a quick refresher and maybe a couple of new tools.)
If you’re not quite sure what I’m talking about, you’re in the right place.
Using hexagonal thinking in the social studies classroom is a way for students to think about and understand connections between ideas, people, places, dates, events – basically all the stuff we’re asking our kids to mess with while they’re in our classrooms. Hexagons are a perfect tool for creating intentional conversations between students and content. They give you a great tool to encourage deep and critical thinking about the foundational knowledge that make up the discipline.
Why are they perfect?
A hexagon can connect with six other hexagons. And those six can connect with even more. So when you put a bunch of ideas or events, people or places on a bunch of hexagons and pass them out to different groups of kids, every conversation and every set of connections will be different, even though the decks of hexagons they received are all the same. The discussions that develop will go in all sorts of directions, with kids asking questions and justifying their connections with evidence. And this works in all the social studies disciplines.
The basic idea? Read more