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Bringing Social Studies to Life

Janelle Cox


Since the No Child Left Behind Act was first initiated, a lot of focus has been spent on mathematics and language arts in our school systems.

Many states have even lessened the requirements of social studies in their curriculums, until now. States across the nation are now working hard to instill social studies requirements into the common core learning standards. Studying social studies helps our students understand the world, opens their minds to the many people and places that are on our planet, and is another way for teachers to learn how to motivate students.  As students learn about our history, they begin to understand their role in the world. By studying the past, they gain a better understanding of who they are today.

You can bring social studies to life for your students by focusing on extraordinary people and places that make up our history. Here are a few different ways you can explore the world without leaving the classroom.

Fun Ways to Explore the World

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When we think of social studies, we think of history, geography, archeology, and government, among other topics. These topics can all be explored without even leaving the classroom. Here’s how.

Take a Virtual Field Tip

A great alternative to a real-life class field trip is a virtual journey online. Virtual tours can enhance students’ learning experiences by giving them a glimpse inside history. Students can explore the American Museum of Natural History and learn about Theodore Roosevelt. They can explore the American Red Cross Virtual Museum and learn about Clara Barton or take a guided tour through the cultural history of the American Red Cross.  They go on a virtual tour of the Vanderbilt Museum and get to know one of America’s wealthiest families in U.S history. Here are a few more popular virtual field trips students can explore. They can:

  • Take an interactive battlefield tour of Gettysburg where they can explore 21 battlefield pictures.
  • Take an interactive tour of Colonel Williamsburg and explore the town or Revolutionary city.
  • Take an interactive tour inside the White House and explore the mansion room by room.
  • Get an up close and personal look at the Plimoth Plantation.
  • Learn about America’s “firsts” by taking an electronic field trip to Freedom in America.

Once students have explored history through a virtual field trip, now it’s time to see what they learned and develop their critical thinking skills. Here are some activity ideas to extend learning and expand your knowledge of how to motivate students.

  • Have students create and illustrate a brochure about the museum.
  • Print out pictures from the selected site and have students write captions for each photo.
  • Have students create a timeline of important people, places, and events.
  • After students explore the site, have them write a brief biography. (Clara Barton, Theodore Roosevelt)
  • Have students create their own podcast of Colonel Williamsburg.

Google Geo Products

Google for education is an easy way for your students to access the world’s information visually. The possibilities are endless, students can use Google maps and Google earth to see and learn about virtually anything, anywhere. Students can use Google maps to understand how geography affects their daily life. They can take an interactive tour of Mars, search for landmarks, and travel back in time to see how their hometown has changed. They can visit the online Google Cultural Institute and view artifacts in a virtual museum. Students will become virtual explorers right from their chair.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is quickly becoming a staple in classrooms across the globe. According to research there are almost 30,000 video conferencing systems in United States school systems as of 2009. These systems allow students to connect with experts and fellow students all over the world. Video “chatting” allows students to connect with their peers around the world and learn about their culture and traditions, as well as be able to work together about relevant issues. Here are a few sites that connect around classrooms around the world.

In today’s world, educational technology is at its very best. You don’t need a textbook for students to discover history when you have options like virtual tours, and video conferencing. You can easily bring social studies to life each day without a textbook and without leaving your classroom. 

How do you bring social studies to life in your classroom? What extraordinary people and places do you study? Share with us in the comment section below.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for, as well as a contributing writer to and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators

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