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How to Motivate Students to Love Social Studies

Janelle Cox


Many teachers struggle with finding out how to motivate students to learn, and this is especially true when teaching social studies, because so many students find this subject boring. If you feel your students are not as engaged as you would like them to be, use the following teaching strategies to tap into their interests and help improve their chances of academic success.

How to Motivate Students: Make Information Relevant

Tie topics to students’ interest and connect what they know with what is happening in the real world. This helps students see that social studies is not just in a textbook, but it is happening all around them. Incorporate newspaper articles and magazines into lessons so students can see current events.

Bring a Historical Topic to Life

We live in a visual world, and something as small as conveying a photograph or seeing a historical event captured in a movie may just be the piece that captivates a student and keeps them engaged. Find a powerful photograph and have students critique the picture. Ask them questions about what the picture is trying to convey, and discuss as a class what they think happened before, during, and after the photograph was taken. Search for a historical event that was captured on film and have students become critical viewers and scrutinize the film.

Give Students Control Over What They Learn

Students are more likely to be engaged when they have an input over what they are learning. Their motivation will rise and learning the content will mean more to students. Give them control over what they are learning by giving them a choice between a few topics. Of course you get to pick the topics that are within the curriculum, but give them a choice of which topics they would like to learn first.

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Act Out Historical Events

Skits, talk shows and plays are a great way to engage students and motivate them to find a love for social studies. Bring a historical event to life by having students act out a particular event in history. Have students produce an event and assign each student a specific role to present to the class. After each presentation have students discuss what they learned.

Give Students an Experiential Experience

Give students a firsthand look at what you are studying in social studies by having them experience it for themselves. You can do this by recreating whatever you are studying. For example, if you are studying Rosa Parks, re-create the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Make the experience believable by having students dress the part, and use real life props. By recreating the experience, students will understand the topic on a deeper level and in turn be motivated to learn more.

Try a Controversial Topic

An effective tool for encouraging critical thinking is to try a controversial topic. Provide students with a short background on a contentious topic and let the debate begin. Divide students into two groups (students that agree on one side, and students that disagree with the topic on the other side). Write (or say) a statement that relates to the topic at hand and have each side plead their case. The teacher serves as the mediator and poses questions and statements throughout the debate. There is nothing like a fun debate to get students motivated to learn.

Solve a Historical Problem

Problem-solving plays an important role in learning. Get students engaged and motivated by challenging students to solve a historical problem. For example ask students, “What should President Dwight D. Eisenhower do in regards to the Montgomery Bus Boycott?” This is a great way to motivate and engage students into learning about a historical issue that is relevant in their lives.

Draw Students in with Technology

Technology has a way to motivate students and keep them engaged. Whether your teaching a lesson on the Presidents of United States or debating social issues, technology has a way to draw (and keep) students attention. Here are a few examples on how to use technology with social studies.

  • Debate controversial issues by creating a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Create an Internet scavenger hunt to find out information on American presidents.
  • Use multimedia software to conduct case studies.
  • Use the Internet to research specific countries around the world.

Intrigue Students with Music

Music can be a great way to captivate students into loving social studies. Offer students a glimpse into whatever time period you are studying by discussing and listening to the music from that era. Make it fun by challenging students to create lyrics from that era with today’s beats.

Group Students with the Wise

Find out which students are knowledgeable in the particular subject that you are about to teach. Then divide the class into groups, putting several students with a wise advisor that is well-informed about the subject. The advisor of each group then discusses what he/she knows about the topic and answers any questions the group members may have. Then, the wise advisor then moves to each group in the room explain what he/she knows. This continues until they have taught each group.

You can develop student interest and motivation in social studies by relating relevant content and current events into their daily lives. Technology has also been a teacher’s saving grace in holding the interest of all students. By combining these strategies you can ensure that students will find a love for social studies that will ensure their academic success in the future.

How do you motivate students to love social studies? Do you have any tips or tricks that you would like to share? Feel free to leave a comment in the section below. We would love to hear your ideas.

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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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