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How to Create the Perfect Social Studies Unit Plan

When it comes to planning a Social Studies curriculum, you’re certainly looking to the standards. However, there’s so much more to think about! When you think about how to create the perfect Social Studies unit plan, you’ll want hands-on activities, cooperative learning, technology integration, and more! Let’s get started creating the perfect Social Studies unit plan with these essential elements!

The Hook

First, start with an attention getter or hook! Front-loading with a hook or anticipatory set is so important. If your introduction to the material isn’t engaging, your kids aren’t going to listen! One great way to hook your learners is with an escape room! An escape room is a series of puzzles for students to solve. This is all while learning engaging content. For example, in the branches of government escape room, your students learn and decode interesting facts about the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches of government. Codes include ciphers, Morse code, cryptograms and a final 4 digit code based on the clues. Overall, escape rooms can be used as a hook even before students learn the content. Your students are engaged and ready to learn more!

Hands-On Activities

Another perfect part of a Social Studies unit is hands-on activities. Of course, hands-on activities are important in engaging your learners’ five senses. Thinktivity™ activities get your students excited to learn with hands-on, engaging activities in your perfect Social Studies activities. What is Thinktivity™? Thinktivity™ is a reading comprehension activity designed with engagement in mind. First, your students read the passage multiple times searching for evidence for each of the tasks. Next, students receive robot parts as they complete each task. Then, they’ll work together or independently to build or color their robot. Tasks include:
  • Fill in the blank
  • Vocabulary
  • Reader Response
  • True and False
  • Multiple Choice
  • Hidden Message and Word Search
  • Thinktivity™ is a perfect follow-up to an escape room or another way to introduce a unit with hands-on learning. Try the Articles of the Constitution Thinktivity™ in your perfect Social Studies unit! You can also click here for a FREE SAMPLE reading passage

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    Primary Source or Political Cartoon

    Not everything in a perfect Social Studies unit has to be an activity. Include a primary source like a historical photograph, journal entry, political cartoon, or document. Primary sources are not only nonfiction pieces that fit into the curriculum, they also give your students a glimpse into the political culture and climate of the time. Overall, political cartoons of any ideology provide a basis for discussion in your Social Studies unit!

    Add Movement

    Every perfect Social Studies unit should have some element of movement. Of course, students learn better when their minds (and bodies) are actively engaged! Movement is so important to keep students on-task and ready to learn! One way to add movement to your perfect Social Studies unit is with a scavenger hunt! The Founding Fathers Scavenger Hunt includes 14 Ingredient Cards for your students to piece together. In the end, the cards create a recipe to win the great cake bake-off! Each card includes a short reading passage about the topic, a multiple-choice question, and a clue for which card they should go to next. This scavenger hunt is also an excellent ingredient for a perfect Social Studies Unit plan!

    Smaller Tasks and Passages

    Instead of assigning long reading passages in your perfect Social Studies unit plan, try smaller tasks. To begin, these shorter passages keep students engaged while allowing for close reading and focusing on reading skills and standards. Try the Founding Fathers Comprehension Challenge. Your students will learn about the Founding Fathers, Washington, John Adams, Hamilton, Sam Adams, John Jay, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. Rise up to the challenge with short, attainable reading tasks!

    Reading Response or Writing Reflection

    An integral part of your perfect Social Studies unit plan is time for reflection. Focus on particular skills or standards in nonfiction reading or have open reflection for your students to journal. Use these free graphic organizers to guide nonfiction response and focus on the following skills:
  • Context clues
  • Examining relationships, connections, and interactions
  • Evaluating main ideas
  • Supporting details
  • Text Structure: Chronological Order, Cause and Effect
  • Summarizing
  • Reflection
  • Fact and Opinion
  • Sharing ideas through writing and focused reflection helps your students grow as readers!

    Incorporate Different Points of View

    Add a different perspective to your perfect Social Studies unit plan! Since much of American History is focused on the colonists or Americans’ point of view, have your students read about the Patriots and Loyalists in a Close Reading activity with six tasks for your learners! This lesson includes:
  • fill in the blank reading passage
  • vocabulary practice
  • crossword puzzle
  • text marking
  • true or false word scramble
  • summary & supporting details graphic organizer
  • Ask your students to reflect on different perspectives and also examine their own biases in all of your Social Studies units!

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    Include artistic elements for the visual learners and let creativity flow! One simply art assignment to add to your perfect Social Studies unit plan is color by number. The Lewis and Clark color by number activity incorporates text marking, reading, and art to learn about Lewis and Clark, Thomas Jefferson, Sacagawea, and Westward Expansion. Activities include a “before reading” anticipation guide, reading passage about Lewis and Clark, comprehension questions, text marking, picture to color, and an “after reading” anticipation guide.

    Video Clips

    YouTube is a treasure chest of video clips to add to your perfect Social Studies unit plan. Make playlists for your unit to share directly to Google Classroom or your preferred learning management system. Use videos from movies, teaching videos, or re-enactments from history. Video is a perfect complement to your Social Studies unit!

    Cooperative Learning

    Of course, you’re not just teaching your students how to read and about history. Cooperation and collaboration skills are also so important in upper elementary and middle grades! Scavenger Hunts are wonderful tools to use with your perfect Social Studies unit plan to get your students working together! Try the US Constitution Scavenger Hunt. Each student visits the 14 ingredient cards to work together to build the recipe. Working together fosters competition, teamwork, and fun!

    Cross Curriculum Planning

    Work with the rest of your team to create the perfect Social Studies unit plan that incorporates other content areas. Math teachers can help students analyze data from charts and graphs. Pull out some historical fiction novels or nonfiction text in ELA. Sing songs from the time period in music class. Social studies is in all content areas!

    Integrate Technology

    Get Googly and integrate technology in your perfect Social Studies unit plan! Technology is the tool while your content is king in your unit plan. However, using technology to deliver the message fosters engagement, new technology literacy skills, and it’s fun! Try the Benjamin Franklin Secret Message. Your students read a nonfiction passage and answer questions. Those answers reveal a Secret Message on Google Sheets! What a fun way to incorporate technology into your Social Studies lesson plans!

    PBL or STEAM

    Project-Based Learning and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) are not just buzz phrases. They are true, hands-on learning approaches to use in your perfect Social Studies unit plan. Ask your students to build models of places in history. Try an escape room using clues, codes, reading, and technology! Consider having students create their own essential questions to explore in a personalized PBL unit. No matter what elements you include in your perfect Social Studies unit plan, you do not have to have every piece for each lesson. However, using these strategies help your students improve focus, foster growth, unify the theme, and differentiate instruction. What will you include in your perfect Social Studies unit plan?

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