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How to Use Dr. Seuss in the Social Studies Classroom

How to Use Dr. Seuss in Your Classroom
One of the best ways to ensure students retain and comprehend historical information is to draw on what they already know. This includes using references from their prior experiences and pop culture. Students may be surprised to see the historical connections in things that are a part of their everyday lives. One great resource to draw from is the stories of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss has penned numerous books, cartoons, and animated stories that have deep historical meaning and applications and they can be tied directly to the social studies curriculum. Below is a sampling of how Dr. Seuss can be included in the social studies classroom. While these activities are designed with social studies in mind, many of them can be adapted for use in the language arts classroom as well.

Dr. Seuss Goes to War

Political Cartoons: Dr. Seuss Goes to War

Throughout World War II Dr. Seuss inked hundreds of editorial cartoons about the war and American involvement, including scathing depictions of Hitler, Mussolini and other Axis enemies. (Warning: there are numerous stereotypical and racist depictions of non-American combatants that may require a separate lesson or explanation). One method that that would engage students would be to pick out a real life character depicted in the political cartoon and list and describe the character traits Dr. Seuss assigns to him. This asks the students to identify the person in the cartoon and to combine their knowledge of history and understanding of symbolism.

The Butter Battle Book

Mutual Assured Destruction: The Butter Battle Book

This story is a satirical look at the Cold War arms race that nearly led to nuclear annihilation, using the Yooks and Zooks as stand ins for the United States and the Soviet Union. The songs, rhyming, and Dr. Seuss style will keep the kids interested, even as they are watching a children’s cartoon from the 1980s. The students will simultaneously follow the story and find parallels to the Cold War, so a Story Map will help them keep track of the action as they watch. This particular organizer also asks the students come up with a solution or ending to the cliffhanger, adding to the interpretive nature of the activity. Another engaging activity uses the Boxes and Bullets graphic organizer which asks the students to write an overriding connection between the Butter Battle and the Cold War, then give three examples to back up their connections, and lastly, to add specific events from history or the story to give depth to their examples.

The Cat in the Hat

Psychology: The Cat in the Hat

Every student and teacher knows of The Cat in the Hat, but its uses in Psychology classes may not be as well known. The main characters of the children, the Cat, and the fish each display different characteristics of Freud’s personality components of id, ego, and superego. Teachers can use the Narrative Procedure organizer to chart the examples of each appearance of id, ego, and superego throughout the story. Another method would be to use the Plot Diagram to chart the action of the story as it relates to Freud’s theory.

These cartoons and stories are not just for Social Studies class. The skills that Seuss instills and reinforces travel across curricula, and can be used to meet Common Core Standards. Check out Top Ten Ways to Teach the Common Core ELA Standards for more ways to integrate a great resource like Seuss. However you utilize Dr. Seuss in your Social Studies classroom, it’s clear he will be having an impact on children’s education long after their days of bedtime stories are over.

Five Documents that Changed the World (and Will Engage Your Students)

5 Historical Documents that Changed the World
The Social Studies classroom is built around primary source exploration. The use of primary sources can lead to incredible analysis, discussion, and higher level thinking. Use the five sources below in your classroom to engage your students and to explore new and exciting methods of critical thinking and active learning.

1. Magna Carta

The theme of revolution is very apparent in today’s world. The causes of these revolutions reflect the very same issues that have faced people for centuries: equality and protection of rights. While the Magna Carta was not written with regular folks in mind, it certainly has been used that way throughout history. American revolutionaries used this document from 1215 to reinforce their rights as citizens and subjects of the British crown.

Excerpts of the Magna Carta can be used to analyze modern international and national incidents. Two standout sections that can be used in a modern discussion about Ferguson, Missouri, the Assad regime in Syria, or a historical analysis of Stalinist Russia are:

“No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

“To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice.”

Help Teaching’s library of printable worksheets includes a quiz on the English Monarchy that would serve as an apt companion to a Magna Carta discussion.

2. Bill of Rights

The rights granted to Americans in the first ten amendments to the Constitution are so influential that they can be used across disciplines. These rights are the basis for so many other successful governments across the world that activities related to this document are easy to find and engaging to teach. The Bill of Rights can be analyzed to help your students think beyond the basics and improve their higher level thinking. Another resource offered by Help Teaching is an application of the liberties offered in the Bill of Rights.

3. Washington’s Farwell Address

As he left office, President George Washington was able to encapsulate the conflicts that would soon bubble over in the country he helped to build and protect. This speech gives the students a glimpse into the future of the united States, while also allowing them to engage in critical thinking activities. Students can make inferences and draw conclusions about what may happen next in American history based on Washington’s speech. Help Teaching offers a worksheet that analyzes this historic speech and asks students to compare it to a modern speech given by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

4. Treaty of Versailles

This document ended a world war and started another. It is directly responsible for the anger and desperation that allowed Adolph Hitler to gain power. The Treaty of Versailles can lead to an engaging lesson on long and short term effects or the spoils of war, and allow students to hypothesize and experiment with historical events. These activities would be greatly enhanced with a graphic organizer or a KWL chart that organizes their knowledge base and learning objectives into manageable chunks.

5. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution

The struggle for women’s equality does not garner the same attention as other mistreated groups in many Social studies curricula, but covering the 19th amendment assists the females in the class to take more ownership of the content and exposes the students to women’s issues that still plague the country and the world today. The 19th Amendment can also be used in a larger unit on women’s history. Help Teaching offers a worksheet that can help you to map the unit.

These documents not only had an impact on a specific era, they also connect to so many more events, people, and themes that play a major role in the world today. They also assist teachers in engaging students with critical thinking and higher learning activities. Help Teaching’s library of informational text analysis worksheets will help further your successful implementation of engaging documents in the classroom,  For more tips on using graphic organizers with documents, check out Graphic Organizers in the Social Studies Classroom.