Social Studies Teaching & Learning Strategies

  • Preview and Reading Strategies

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    3-2-1 - This activity helps structure students’ responses to an activity, a reading or a film. It provides an easy way for teachers to check for understanding and to gauge students’ interest in a topic. (Facing History) 

    Alphabet Brainstorm - The Alphabet Brainstorm helps structure students’ brainstorming by asking them to generate an idea that begins with each letter of the alphabet. (Facing History)

    Anticipation Guides - Anticipation guides ask students to express an opinion about ideas before they encounter them in a text or unit of study.  (Facing History)

    Carousel Strategy - Carousel Brainstorming provides scaffolding for new information to be learned or existing information to be reviewed through movement, conversation, and reflection. (Read, Write, Think) 

    Concept of Definition Map - Students consider words in light of three properties or attributes: category - what is it? properties - what is it like? and illustrations - what are some examples? (Reading Quest) 

    K-W-L Chart - K-W-L is a 3-column chart (Know, Want to Know, Learned) designed to support effective pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading. (Reading Quest)

    SQ3R - SQ3R is a comprehension strategy that helps students think about the text they are reading while they’re reading. Access a Google Doc SQ3R template here. (AdLit)

    Visual Discovery - As students view, touch, and interpret compelling images, teachers can step in and complete the story or even impart content knowledge. (TCI)  

    Word Walls -  The function of a word wall is to give students constant access to the important content vocabulary for the class. (Read, Write, Think)

    Wraparound (Whiparound) - This strategy provides an efficient way for all students in a classroom to share their ideas about a question, topic or text. (Facing History)

TCI Strategies

Visible Learning for Social Studies

  • Three Phases of Learning

    Surface Learning Icon Surface Learning - Students gain initial understanding of the concepts, terms, skills, facts, and vocabulary of a topic.

    Deep Learning Icon Blue Deep Learning - Students begin to make connections between these ideas and generalize about broader principles.

    Transfer Learning Icon Transfer - Students apply these connections to new situations.


    Learn more about Visible Learning for Social Studies, Grades K-12.

  • Historical Concepts and Events Strategies

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    Experiential Exercise - Engage students in short, memorable, authentic activities that make abstract ideas concrete and meaningful. Following the experience, allow students to express their feelings, then discuss a series of questions to help students make connections between their experience and the social studies concepts. (TCI)

    History Frame - Like a story map in literature, history frames allow students to map out the elements of historical events: Where and when did the event take place? Who was involved? What was the problem or goal that set events in motion? What were the key events? How was it resolved? and so what? (Reading Quest)

    Historical Interpretations Battleships - Students are given two key questions to consider and place particular pieces of evidence along the horizontal and vertical axes--the vertical axis represents two opposing views on the first question, the horizontal axis the second. (Tarr's Toolbox)

    Diamond Diagrams - Students organize nine pieces of information (such as causes and effects) in a diamond shape to show prioritization and/or significance. (Tarr's Toolbox)

    Exit Ticket - This exit ticket template asks students to summarize concepts from class by completing a question of "how" or "why" supplied by the teacher. 

    Hexagon Learning for Categorization, Linkage and Prioritization - Students organize informational hexagons into categories of their choice, with hexagons being placed next to each other to highlight links between the factors described. (Tarr's Toolbox)

    RAFT Papers - RAFT Papers are a way to think about the four main things that all writers have to consider: Role of the Writer, Audience, Format, and Topic. (Reading Quest)

    Role-Play - Role-playing is an activity in which students assume the role of another person and act it out. In a role play, students are usually given an open-ended situation in which they must make a decision, resolve a conflict, or act out the conclusion to an unfinished story. (Street Law)

    Stop Action and Assess Alternatives - Stop Action and Assess Alternatives is a method for teaching students to think of historical events as contingent. They unfold from conscious decisions made by the involved parties who use the information available to them at the time of these events to make those decisions. (Teaching History)

    Timelines - Throughout a school year or history course, students collectively construct an illustrated timeline of historical events and people they have studied. (Teaching History)


    Social Studies Skills and Primary Source Analysis Strategies

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    10 Primary Source Ideas by TCI - descriptions of engaging ways to teach with primary sources from the creators of History Alive! (TCI)

    Current Events Analysis - students analyze source credibility, claims and evidence, and place current events into historical context with a graphic organizer. (CCS)

    Document Analysis - Students think through primary source documents for contextual understanding and to extract information using four steps: meet the document, observe its parts, try to make sense of it, and use it as historical evidence. (National Archives)

    Gallery Walk - During a gallery walk, students explore multiple texts or images that are placed around the room. You can use this strategy when you want to have students share their work with peers, examine multiple historical documents, or respond to a collection of quotations. (Facing History)

    Opening Up the Textbook - When conducting an OUT, the teacher juxtaposes a short excerpt from the course's textbook with an additional document or two. These documents are chosen to open up the textbook's story and engage students in comparing and crosschecking sources. (Teaching History) 

    Primary Source Analysis - Students analyze a variety of primary source types using a three-step process: observe, reflect, and question. (Library of Congress)

    Problem-Solving Groupwork - Problem Solving Groupwork activities are designed to teach students the skill they need to work together successfully in small groups. During Problem Solving Groupwork tasks, students sit in mixed-ability groups to tackle challenging projects. (TCI)

    SCIM-C - The SCIM-C strategy focuses on five broad phases: Summarizing, Contextualizing, Inferring, Monitoring, and Corroborating (Virginia Tech)

    Social Studies Skill Builder - Students work in pairs to solve skill-oriented problems such as reading maps, categorizing information, analyzing artifacts, interpreting primary sources, making comparisons, etc. (TCI)

    Three Close Reads - Students read texts three times for different purposes: Reading 1: Skimming for Gist; Reading 2: Understanding Content; Step 3. Evaluating and Corroborating (World History OER Project)


    Evidence-Based Argumentation and Writing Strategies

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    Barometer/Continuum - The continuum activity is a method that encourages students to express positions on controversial issues. It is very useful to assess student knowledge before a lesson or to assess student understanding after a lesson. (Facing History) 

    DBQ Project Method - In the DBQ Project 6-Step Method, each step builds on students’ curiosity and increases motivation and confidence to answer a compelling, authentic question. (The DBQ Project)

    Defeating Counterarguments Class Challenge - Students are put into groups of three and the whole class is given an argument that they must defend along with a counterargument. The groups have three minutes to come up with the best response to the counterargument that they can muster. (Boston Debate League)

    Four Corners - A Four Corners Debate requires students to show their position on a specific statement (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree) by standing in a particular corner of the room. This activity elicits the participation of all students by requiring everyone to take a position. (Facing History)

    Philosophical Chairs - One student from each team will provide a summary of the viewpoints presented during the discussion by his/her team. A student in the neutral zone must take notes on both sides of the argument, and if his/her position changes, he/she must explain why he/she came to a new conclusion.  (Louisiana Believes)

    Refutation - Learning to disagree involves more skills than the simple refutation of an opposing idea. Students must learn how to speak in a measured way, how to understand which ideas are likely to be trigger points for escalation and how to choose reasonable and effective language. (Learning for Justice) 

    SPAR (Spontaneous Argumentation) - SPAR is an event in forensic competitions around the country. In this structured debate, students have to frame an argument in one minute and then react quickly to their opponents’ ideas. This strategy helps students practice using evidence and examples to defend a position.  (Facing History) 

    Structured Academic Controversy - A discussion that moves students beyond either/or debates to a more nuanced historical synthesis. The SAC method provides an alternative to the "debate mindset" by shifting the goal from winning classroom discussions to understanding alternative positions and formulating historical syntheses. (Teaching History)

    Thesis-Proof Chart - Students consider a thesis and then look for information that either supports or refutes it so that they can then draw a reasoned and defensible conclusion about it. (Reading Quest)

    Writing for Understanding - While traditional essays are appropriate for some topics, asking students to write in other genres promotes experimentation and makes their writing more exciting and novel. There is often more authenticity in their work, and a greater sense of purpose, when students write dialogues, poetry, stories, newspaper eulogies, speeches, or letters. (TCI)


    Discussion and Deliberation Strategies 

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    Big Paper - Building a Silent Conversation - This discussion strategy uses writing and silence as tools to help students explore a topic in-depth. Having a written conversation with peers slows down students’ thinking process and gives them an opportunity to focus on the views of others. (Facing History)

    Café Conversations - Understanding the past requires students to develop an awareness of different perspectives. The Café Conversation teaching strategy helps students practice perspective-taking by requiring students to represent a particular point-of-view in a small group discussion. (Facing History)

    Civil Conversation - In this structured discussion method, under the guidance of a facilitator, participants are encouraged to engage intellectually with challenging materials, gain insight about their own point of view and strive for a shared understanding of issues. (Teach Democracy/Constitutional Rights Foundation)

    Deliberation - In a deliberation, everyone expects to end up in a different place as a result of the discussion. The aim of deliberation is to share perspectives and knowledge and to build ideas, not to defend them. (Choices Program)

    Fishbowl Tag Discussion - In a Fishbowl discussion, students seated inside the “fishbowl” actively participate in a discussion by asking questions and sharing their opinions, while students standing outside listen carefully to the ideas presented. (Facing History)

    Jigsaw - The Jigsaw strategy asks a group of students to become “experts” on a specific text or body of knowledge and then share that material with another group of students. (Facing History)

    Response Group - This strategy helps students grapple with the ambiguities of issues in social studies, recognize the complexity of historical events, and discuss the consequences of public policies. (TCI)

    Scored Discussion - A scored discussion is one in which students receive points for displaying good command of a skill or appropriate group behavior and lose points for inadequate skills or inappropriate behavior. (TCI)

    Socratic Seminar - The goal of a Socratic seminar is for students to help one another understand the ideas, issues, and values reflected in a specific text. Students are responsible for facilitating discussion around ideas in the text rather than asserting opinions. (Facing History)

    Think, Pair, Share - This discussion technique gives students the opportunity to thoughtfully respond to questions in written form and to engage in meaningful dialogues with other students around these issues. Asking students to write and discuss ideas with a partner before sharing with the larger group gives students more time to compose their ideas. (Facing History)