Tag Archives: writing

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

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

Winning the RACE of writing

student-at-computerStudents + writing = frustration . . . sound like familiar?

The growing expectation of integrating writing  in our Social Studies classroom makes us as anxious about the process as our students. Why does this happen? There are a variety of factors that contribute to this fear and frustration but the most common that I hear from other teachers is

I don’t have a solid system to assist my kids with writing.

We teach a topic and then assess students by asking them to write a response or reaction. What do we get back? Continue reading Winning the RACE of writing

H.I.T. Notebooks: A Different take on Interactive Notebooks

jill weberJill Weber, 2016 Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year, has joined the Doing Social Studies writing team and will be posting throughout the year. The following is a cross-post from her excellent site A View of the Web.


I used Interactive Notebooks in my social studies class for eight years.  The majority of the students loved them.  But I had a serious love/hate relationship with them.  And after taking a long look at the pros and cons of the books and my current curriculum, I decided not to continue with the interactive notebooks last year.

While I found it a relief not having to keep up with the grading of 60+ notebooks, there was something missing from my class.  I had a number of kids ask me why we weren’t doing them anymore, and others who were disappointed that the “hands on” cutting, pasting, and creativity was replaced with more writing assignments.  I felt guilty that my answer was “because I just couldn’t keep up with all the grading.”

That got me thinking on ways that I could bring the interactive notebooks idea back without having all the copious grading that went with it.  I talked with our language arts teacher, who uses her interactive notebooks as a tool to help organize materials and doesn’t grade it at all.  I liked that idea.

But I wanted more.  I wanted a way to hold kids accountable.  I wanted them to take pride in the organization and appearance of the book.  And, most of all, I wanted it to be used as something more than a storage device.  I want it to be something they will reference throughout the year.

The Idea:
Then an idea started to take form.  An idea to use the notebook more like a detective’s note book when trying to solve a crime.

So this year, we have: the  Historian In Training Notebook or HIT books. (HIT is a cool name for a middle school activity, right? )

The HIT notebook will be designed as sort of a history detective notebook that we’ll use to identify historical thinking techniques, analyze primary sources, keep information over specific historical questions, and refer back to skills learned throughout the year.

A few examples of possible pages  . . .  Continue reading H.I.T. Notebooks: A Different take on Interactive Notebooks