Helpful Social Studies Lesson Plans & Activities

Essentials of Middle and Secondary Social Studies
By William B. Russell, III, Stewart Waters and Thomas N. Turner
(Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014 – Learn more)

Smith, shane historyReviewed by Shane Smith

Essentials of Middle and Secondary Social Studies is a comprehensive methods text, worth consideration by new or progressive methods professors looking to provide a base source for their emerging middle or secondary school teachers as well as to current teachers.  

In my college program, we did not use a main text, and this has its benefits, because it models a teaching style that is not textbook dependent but pulls the best materials from a variety of sources. That being said,

essential ssI found many sections of this book helpful as a resource in my graduate work, and it would also serve as a resource to current teachers looking for ideas on how to refresh their lesson plans and teaching style.

The Best

Content I found particularly helpful to teachers of all experience levels:

  • “Drama, Role Play and Simulations” – Great section with a lot of sample activities to more actively engage your students in creative learning. This chapter will help teachers whose lessons are getting stale revamp their planning with some “out-of-the-box” ideas to drive content knowledge home.
  • “Lesson Plans for Secondary Social Studies” – This section provided two lesson plans for each major subject area in social studies: U.S. History, World History, Geography, U.S. Government, World History, Geography, U.S. Government, Economics, Psychology, and Sociology. These lessons identified objectives, standards, and step-by-step instructions for given class lengths. While this section does not offer barrier-breaking activities, it does cite specific resources that teachers can use to minimize hunting for the best materials for lessons. The more lesson plans a beginning teacher can have available in their arsenal, the better. Furthermore, the section delves into subject areas that social studies teachers often do not properly cover or have lots of resources for.

The Rest

If this text is your main resource for a methods class or study, I would recommend looking elsewhere to supplement the following sections:

  • “Social Studies and Diverse Learners” – A comprehensive review that offers background knowledge for the professor, but I would recommend looking for a text exclusively focused on teaching diverse learners. This significant issue deserves a deeper treatment. (Editor’s note: MiddleWeb blogger Aaron Brock is a useful resource here.)
  • “Technology and Media for Social Studies” – This chapter handles the scope of major technology issues, and their history, but falls short of showing the infinite possibilities available by better utilizing technology in the social studies classroom. Looking to a published text for technology (which is of course ever-changing) intrinsically has its challenges, and I would suggest looking to resources like MiddleWeb, Edutopia or, more specifically, the Center for Teaching History with Technology to find updated, ground-breaking ideas about technology use.

Well worth your attention

Overall, this is a great base text for professors and teachers looking for more tried-and-true lesson plans, and a potentially useful resource for background on bigger issues like technology and diversity.

Essentials of Middle and Secondary Social Studies is very well organized, identifying objective questions at the beginning of each chapter, and ending with further resources. The authors offer a refreshing mix of holistic definitions and background, as well as very specific examples that show teachers what progressive lesson planning looks like in a real classroom.

Shane Smith is a career changer, passionate about revolutionary education for students. He is currently a graduate assistant with Clemson University’s Middle Level MAT program, where he is pursuing certification in Middle Mathematics and Social Studies, as well as K-12 ESOL certification.  In his free time, Shane enjoys working for YMCA Greenville’s youth programming, volunteering with Junior Achievement of Upstate SC and instigating student engagement with education.


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