Monday, 13 June 2016

Engaging students using Social Studies Centers

I have always struggled with teaching Social to my first grade students. I found it difficult to keep them motivated, a challenge getting them to express their ideas, and frustrating to teach about things they hadn’t experienced.

I needed a change, so I thought about what made teaching Math or LA more enjoyable. Then it came to me: CENTERS!!!! 
I came up with 4 different centers to meet my objectives each week. 

REAL LIFE CENTER -It is challenging to get students thinking about topics in relation to their life. I chose to use technology, projects and interactive notebooks. Students acted out being responsible/irresponsible(haha, they love this) and recorded each other on the iPad at the center. I put all the clips together in a movie. They also brought clothing items from home and video taped their discussion about how it shows they belong.
We made poster wanted ads for GOOD CITIZENS to put up around the classroom. Students completed drawings and writing reflections in their Social notebook.

READ ALOUD CENTER- Developing vocabulary related to outcomes was my goal for this center. Social books are often not at a grade one reading level, so I made readers theatre plays about the topics and included lots of pictures. 

Students work in groups to read their parts and then read it to the class. I also use books (we don’t have a textbook but I’m certain you could use one) and have students look through them together and discuss what they have read.

GAME CENTER- Social can be a little, how should I say this, dry at times, so I decided games were the way to go! Have you ever tried to find games related to your Social topics? I couldn’t find much, so I created my own. I brainstormed a list of common games, and then figured out a way to relate them to my outcomes.  We played Symbol BINGO, I have/Who has Community Helpers, ‘My Rights’ memory match, and the ‘Groups I Belong To’ board game to reinforce concepts. 

To make sure my students understand how to play and the rules (so I don’t get the ‘he said/she said’), we play as a class before they play at the center. 

TEACHER CENTER- Assessment is challenging in its own way, and trying to figure out if my students got the Social topic we were learning about by looking at their notes was almost impossible. I decided that oral assessment would be a better direction, but how can you assess 20-30 kids orally during class time? It’s very difficult. By sitting with students at a ‘Guided Social Studies’ center, I can teach a mini lesson about the topic and ask questions. I can quickly tell who easily understands and ask higher level thinking questions, who gets the basics, and who is struggling and needs extra support for differentiated learning. I take anecdotal notes at this center, and quickly realized that my standard mark book format wasn’t going to work so I made a space for notes in my mark book.

Turning my curriculum objectives into centers took a lot of thinking ahead and detailed planning. I looked at my outcomes and sorted them into units and then weekly objectives.  Then I planned out how I was going to turn those outcomes into the four center based activities.

Try these ideas out for FREE here.

Do you do centers with your students? How does it work in your classroom? I'd love to hear from you!


  1. Great post! I really love how you set up your social studies centers! I especially love the idea of the teacher center for getting some assessment done. I'm a Manitoba teacher and our S.S. curriculum is very similar to yours. Thanks for the I Belong freebies! The "I belong" game is an awesome idea! :)

    First Grade Garden

  2. That is so wonderful to hear! I LOVE the assessment center, I feel so much better about my marks this year because of it. I hope your students enjoy the game! :)

  3. Love these ideas! My curriculum is the same as yours and this definitely helps to make it more engaging. Just wondering, who is the read aloud "What is a group" by? Or did you create it yourself? I am struggling to find an appropriate read aloud about groups. Thank you for the freebie and great ideas. :-)

    1. Thanks for the comment! The read aloud is in the freebie, it is the reader's theatre that I created. You are right, it is difficult to find something that fits.

  4. this gave me some wonderful ideas. I appreciated the assessment piece you included.

  5. You have some great ideas. How did you make the cards for the "What groups do you belong to?" center. Do you have a template or website that you use.