Category Archives: literacy

5 graphic organizers you’re probably not using but should be

Most of you are already familiar with the idea of document analysis worksheets. These sorts of tools are perfect for scaffolding historical thinking skills for your kids. Some of the best, created by the Library of Congress and the National Archives, have been around for years. I also really like the stuff created by the Stanford History Education group, especially their Historical Thinking Chart.

We should be using all of those evidence analysis tools with our kids. They can be especially helpful for training elementary and middle school students to gather and organize evidence while solving authentic problems. And for high school kids without a strong background in historical thinking skills, the tools provided by the LOC, NARA, and SHEG are incredibly handy to help guide their thinking.

But what about other types of graphic organizers? Are there some organizers you should be using but aren’t? Spoiler alert. Yes.

Before we jump into the fabulous five, a quick graphic organizer 101 review.

Brain research tells us that mental images are powerful tools that support cognitive tasks and that by creating unique mental pictures, our students deepen their understanding, attach new information to prior knowledge, and create new learning. Graphic organizers are “visual and spatial displays that arrange information graphically so that key concepts and the relationships among the concepts are displayed” (Gunter, Estes, and Mintz 2007).

They can present information textually, with images or symbols, or a combination of both. Graphic organizers give kids a clear strategy to gather, process, organize, and prioritize information. All things that are encouraged by Common Core lit standards, the NCSS national standards, and the Kansas social studies document.

Okay . . . what five graphic organizers should all social studies teachers be using but probably aren’t? Continue reading 5 graphic organizers you’re probably not using but should be

5 Easy Ways to Integrate Writing in the Social Studies

Today’s post is written by Cheney, Kansas middle and high social studies teacher Jill Weber. Jill is the 2016 Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year.


Gone are the days in which reading novels and writing essays belonged solely in an ELA classroom.  All subjects are now expected to (and should) be integrating and supporting the reading and writing skills that students are taught in Language Arts class.

“But, but . . . I went to college to be a history teacher, not an English teacher. I don’t know HOW to teach ELA!”

That was me. Seriously. I was ready to fight teaching reading and writing skills as long as I could.

Until I learned some simple strategies to help me.  This list is meant to help those who are struggling to add reading and writing skills into their classrooms and possibly give some new ideas to others. Continue reading 5 Easy Ways to Integrate Writing in the Social Studies

Increasing student engagement through place-based education: The Flint Hills Maps & Education program

Guest Post: This month we have a guest post from Anne Wilson, Map Program Coordinator for the Flint Hills Map and Education Program.


As teachers, we often hear students lament:  “What does this have to do with me?”  We know if our kids believe an idea actually affects them, it all of a sudden really matters.  However, actually relating learning to students’ own lives and local environment takes time and background knowledge we don’t always have.

Now a grass-roots team of teachers in the Flint Hills region has developed a new “place-based education” program – designed to connect learning to students’ own heritage, culture, landscapes, ecology, economy, and experiences as a foundation for the study of core subjects.

How important is place?  Bio-regionalist author Wendell Berry writes, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” Many of our students think they’re from nowhere.  They are connected to everywhere but where they are.  This program gives them the gift of pride, understanding and commitment to their place.

The bonus is: Continue reading Increasing student engagement through place-based education: The Flint Hills Maps & Education program

Using dialogue poems to compare, contrast, highlight perspective

montana-hsMartha Kohl works at the Montana Historical Society as an Education Specialist and publishes an awesome site with great teaching ideas called Teaching Montana History. Like most blogs that focus on state or local history, you can always find strategies and ideas that can cross over to other content and areas.

A recent Martha article titled “Writing Dialogue Poems to Compare Points of View” is like that. The idea of using poetry to connect emotion with content can be powerful and something social studies teachers should try more often. In her article, Martha shares an idea that she read over at Tarr’s Toolbox. And it is such a great idea, we asked to cross-post it here. Thanks, both Martha and Russel – you guys rock! Continue reading Using dialogue poems to compare, contrast, highlight perspective

Argumentative writing prompts, scaffolded tasks, and using evidence

citation-neededWe want our students to grapple more with content, to think historically, and solve problems. One of the ways we can support this behavior is by asking our kids to think and write to support a claim using evidence.

Here in the great state of Kansas University basketball, our standards and assessment use the term “argumentative writing” to describe the process of supporting claims with evidence. That phrase can sound a little too much like some of last  year’s presidential debates or this month’s childish Twitter wars but . . . asking kids to create an argument and to support that argument really is a good thing. We want them to be able to look at a problem, gather and organize evidence, and use that evidence to create a well-supported argument.

As many of us move from a content focused instructional model to one that instead asks students to use that content in authentic ways, it can sometimes be difficult knowing how to actually have them write argumentatively. But there are resources available to help with your lesson design.

We’ve gone back to an earlier post from our partner blog History Tech to cherry pick some of our favorites. Pick and choose the ones that work best for you. Continue reading Argumentative writing prompts, scaffolded tasks, and using evidence