Engaging students in social studies can be difficult. After all, most social studies class provide one, thick, textbook and that’s about it. I don’t know about you, but from my experience just the presence of such a big textbook causes many students to mentally shut down. This is such a shame because social studies can and should be a fun and engaging class. While there is definitely a place for the text book, or other source to learn the facts, social studies should be more than just that. It is a great subject for higher level thinking skills – and, well, we just can’t get there when our students are not engaged. So here are some fun social studies activities for middle school that will have your students engaged, participating and loving the learning process.
The Three Branches of Government
One of my favorite ways to teach the three branches of government is through role play! At the beginning of our study, we do a brief introduction of the three branches. This is often a review of what they students learned in previous years.
After we know what each branch does, the students are given a writing assignment. They are to apply for a position with the government that falls into one of each of these branches.
Using the job application found in the Three Branches of Government Unit, each students will submit their choice for a job. After reviewing the applications, each student is assigned a job that will be used as we role play the remainder of the unit.
This is an example of how you can break down the jobs:
- 1 student is the President
- 1 student is the Vice President
- 3-5 students are the President’s advisors or Cabinet members
- 9 students become justices for the Supreme Court
- the remaining students become members of Congress (divided into the Senate and House of Representatives)
As we move on in the unit, each student is told of their new “job” and we sit with our branch in the classroom.
We begin by going over the roles each has branch has in more detail. It’s great to let the students know that it is important to know the roles and powers of all branches because they may need this information in the days to come. We document all our learning into an interactive notebook. Each day, as we learn something new about the branches, we add it to the notebook and I have the students role play what it would look like.
For example, if we are learning about Congress and the creation of laws, we do it. Students choose and write the law (something related to school life works really well). Then they present the law and argue for or against it. Finally, we vote before sending the law to the other part of Congress for its vote. Those students not in Congress make observations about the process. Does everyone agree? Is the wording of the law specific enough that everyone will know what is meant by the law?
If the law passes, it is then sent to the President for his approval. Before signing off the President will consult with the Vice President and Cabinet members. Ultimately, however, the final decision belongs to the President. This allows students to see first hand how the decision making process at the Executive Level happens.
Finally, if the law is signed by the President then it goes into effect. That is, until the Supreme Court hears a case about its constitutionality. The law might be upheld or could be struck down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The students really see how the branches work and see the checks and balances in action when they are part of the process.
Our interactive notebook becomes the place where we document all that is going on. Throughout the process students learn all the necessary vocabulary and information that would have come from a text book in a much more interesting way.
They refer back to their notebooks when they have a question about whether a group can make a decision, or when they want to find a way to get rid of a decision they don’t agree with. By the end, they have a really good grasp and understanding of the branches, what they can and cannot do, and the concept of checks and balances.
Students will experience the governmental processes in a way that a textbook just cannot do. And they will learn, participate and discuss how our government works and functions.
You can find everything you need for The Three Branches of Government interactive notebook by clicking the picture below.
The Constitution of the United States
The Constitution is the foundation and primary legal document on which the United States government is based. Upper elementary and middle school students are completely able to understand and learn about this important document.
This United States Constitution pack is a great way to teach students about the basics of the Constitution, the writing of the Constitution and understanding the Constitution. Using these interactive activities students will learn more than just facts about the Constitution. They will begin to think about its contents and understanding its magnitude.
Students will learn about the laborious process we now call the Constitutional Convention. Creating their own mini-book about the process will help them learn many of the key players and the time line. Pair this exercise with a virtual field trip to Philadelphia. The National Constitution Center has some excellent videos that will help bring this important of part of history to life.
This Constitution pack also includes a hands-on way to learn the Preamble of the Constitution. Students love putting together the Preamble puzzle. It makes a great starting point for understanding one of the most famous introductions of all time.
Finally, your students will love collecting all the important Constitution Facts in this tabbed folder that is perfect for a social studies notebook. All of these activities are perfect for a social studies unit or as part of your Constitution Day lessons.
Almost every social studies curriculum has at least a chapter on the original U.S. colonies. These pioneers had vision and passion. They stood up for what they believed in and injustice. They created a new nation! Learning about the lives of the original colonists is a great way for students to learn about the past, learn to appreciate the sacrifice that went in to what we have today, and to see that life as they know it could be much harder.
Students will learn about the day to day life of a colonist with this Colonial America resource. They will be able to practice those important skills of comparing and contrasting as they connect their learning to life today. These interactive activities will help students learn about the three different colony regions and what each region was characterized by.
After learning about the daily life of colonists in each region, students will complete a fun writing project where they pretend to be a colonist. It’s a great way to personalize what they learned and really process what life was like.
The Gold Rush
Bring on the adventure! Social studies and history are full of exciting and adventurous times and people. Share this adventure with your students using this Gold Rush unit. The Gold Rush might not be in your standards of something to teach about, but many of the skills students will work on are. So why use generic activities when you could roll them all into an exciting unit filled with adventure, taking chances and gold! Students love learning about the Gold Rush and the chance to “Strike it Rich.” But very few know the day to day difficulties of the gold miners and the sacrifices they made to join the Gold Rush.
Teach your students about this amazing time in history and help them see life as it really was. In this unit, students will learn lots of interesting facts about the Gold Rush. They will get a glimpse into the life of those in the center of the action and they will find out that not everyone left with gold. They will also work to create a time line of the events in the Gold Rush. A great way to meet those standards about creating and using time lines. Finally, they will work on important map skills and geography. This fun, hands-on unit will help you meet so many different social studies skills and standards.
Finish the unit with a cross-curricular writing activity. Your students will love stepping into the life a gold miner and writing about their daily activities. You can find all of these activities in the Gold Rush Unit.
The Oregon Trail
This Oregon Trail unit is another great unit packed with important social studies skills. Your students will love learning about westward expansion with this hands-on and interactive resource pack. Instead of starting with a textbook, use the Oregon Trail Mini-Book. Filled with the same great facts as a textbook, your students will love creating and reading this mini-book.
Students will create a map of the trail and hone their map and geography skills. This makes a great map reading activity and gives the students the opportunity to see the features found on different kinds of maps. Just provide students with a variety of maps to use as they map the Oregon Trail. By viewing different maps, they can learn about more than just the route that was taken. Challenge them to describe the typography and identify things that might have been a challenge to the settlers.
End this study with a cross-curricular math activity. Students will have to apply what they learned about the Oregon Trail and settlers lives in order to choose what they should take in their covered wagon. But there’s a catch – the wagon only holds a certain amount of weight. Can they get all the necessities? Will they sacrifice some tools for a luxury item? This math and social studies activity is certain to throw them right in the mix of history!
Find all of these activities in The Oregon Trail resource pack. Your students will be engaged as your bring history to life!
Don’t Lose These Ideas!
Pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you can find these ideas again when you are ready for them in your classroom! Your students will be glad you did! You can also find more social studies activities for your classroom here!