As I spend time leading Common Core conversations with Social Studies teachers around the state, I often get the same question:

How can we encourage our kids to write more? What strategies are out there?

And it always baffles me a bit. I mean, writing and social studies go together like . . . two peas in a pod. (Chocolate and peanut butter. Batman and Robin. Cookies and milk. Bert and Ernie.)

Then I think back a ways to when I first started teaching middle school social studies. I never had my kids write much. That’s just not how it was done. Writing was for English class. But I learned. Having kids write is incredibly important. And I got better at it.

I knew I had finally reached a nice balance when a college student wrote on their class evaluation:

If this is English class, teach English. If this is History class, teach History!

I often used writing prompts to encourage reflection, activate prior knowledge, start conversations or to simply increase writing skills. While teaching middle school, I asked each student to keep a journal in their school agenda binder. My college students used Ning. If I were in the classroom today, I would be all over Edmodo as way to incorporate writing prompts into instruction.

To help stimulate your thinking a bit, a few examples:

  • Find a camera. The older, the better. Bring it to class and tell your students that this camera was found in the closet of a retired soldier (protestor or politician or whoever). The soldier was at the battle of Gettysburg (Kent State or the Senate during the Civil Rights Act debates or wherever.) The film hasn’t been developed yet. If this camera was at Little Round Top, what pictures would it contain?
  • If you looked at a map of your town from 50 / 100 / 200 years ago, how would it be different? Describe at least five differences. What would a person from 200 years ago have to say about a map of the town in the present day?
  • Compare how a social studies textbook and a historical fiction book are similar yet different. If you are trying to learn about a specific period of history, discuss which format you would use and why.
  • If Abraham Lincoln was applying for his first lawyer job, what would his resume look like?
  • Both Herbert Hoover and FDR have applied for the job as president in 1932. They have given you their resumes. Who would you hire?
  • Archeologists have found the diary of General George Armstrong Custer buried on the battlefield of the Little Big Horn. What are the last five entries?
  • List two things that changed after the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education ruling.
  • List as many names of people important in the Civil War as you can in thirty seconds.
  • List the three most important inventions of the twentieth century.
  • Arrange the following words into a web that shows their relationships – suffrage, Seneca Falls, Susan Anthony, Alice Paul, 1919, Kansas
  • You are on Ellis Island in 1898. Describe who you are and why you are there.

An assortment of handy websites:

Have fun!