6 Ways to Avoid Lecturing in Social Studies

One of the most irritating stereotypes of history teachers is that of the long-winded lecturer who drones on while the whole class sleeps. Maybe you experienced a class like this one in college. 

It's one of the simplest ways to present a lot of info and lends itself to many teachers' natural ability to communicate. Lecturing can be great, also. There are some captivating storytellers that can enthrall and educate students with nothing but their own stories. 

Most of us, however, don't have that ability and many students struggle to pay attention through an entire lecture. That's why, when I do use a PowerPoint to cover content, I keep things short (20-ish minutes), make it as visually appealing as possible, and ask lots of questions to get students involved. 

While all of that certainly helps, you still might find it beneficial to change things up throughout the year and do some different things to avoid lecturing. Here are a few ideas you can try out in your history classrooms to avoid the dreaded "death by PowerPoint"! 

PowerPoint Slides As Stations

Let's say you have a great PowerPoint that covers all of the American Revolution, or Battles of World War 2. You don't have to present it to students. You can instead print out all the slides and post them around as stations. Students receive guided notes worksheets and move through the stations to complete the notes. 

They're still getting the same basic info, but they are missing any background or explanations you might share. For that reason, it's a good idea to have an analysis activity afterwards or a worksheet to help students connect the concepts from all the notes. 

Short Readings As Stations

This one is similar to the activity above but adds a little more complexity. Students again receive guided notes worksheets that they carry to stations around your classroom. However, instead of PowerPoint slides, you have readings at each station. 

I like to keep the readings short (just 2-3 paragraphs) so students can complete each station in about 5 minutes. To keep it simple, I use same guided notes worksheets I had, but turned each notes slide into a reading. Wikipedia is a great source for this since the introductory paragraphs to a page usually do a good summary. I take that summary, edit it a bit, add some points that students need to know, and then align it with the notes so that students can easily figure out how to complete the guided notes. 

If you want more tips about how to use stations, this is a whole blog post about them

Flipped Classroom Videos

These are an amazing way to free up a LOT of class time for more engaging activities. One of the best parts is that you can use those storytelling skills you built up lecturing and put them to use in a video! 

I recorded every PowerPoint I used to go through in US History and now have over 35+ flipped classroom videos I can assign to students. The process is still somewhat the same as a traditional class, just "flipped". Students receive the guided notes but watch the videos at home (or on the bus, in homeroom, etc) and complete the notes. 

The videos are all short (17-30 minutes with most being about 24), so it's a simple assignment for them to complete. I will often mix in questions from EdPuzzle to check their understanding.  We also begin the next class with a short discussion on what they learned from the video and any questions they might have. 

Interactive Notebooks 

I LOVE interactive notebooks. I was an artistic kid and always was doodling and coloring my notebooks in school. Naturally, as soon as I learned about this trend years ago, I started using them in my classes. 

At first, I paired them with PowerPoints. Then I realized, they weren't really "interactive" if I was giving students all the info for them.  That's when I brainstormed other ways to use the interactive notebook pages in class but without feeding students all the info. 

Now, they are an awesome truly interactive tool to pair with a textbook, online reading, or primary source excerpt. 

Digital Interactive Activities with Google

As our access to technology increased over the years, I sought ways to bring the same strategies I knew worked into the digital realm. I developed Digital Interactive Notebooks that looked a lot like their traditional paper counterparts. 

Each digital page includes links to online sources that students use to learn the content. Then they have to summarize, reflect, or interact with the content on the pages. This could be a graphic organizer, set of questions, or drag-and-drop activity. Google Slides offers lots of features that can make simple slides really interactive. 

You can also take them further by inserting videos or integrating Pear Deck to add interactive questions and formative assessments right in the Slides. 

Expert Groups

Break up the major topic you want to cover into 7-10 parts. Then, divide students into these groups and either provide them a reading, set of web links, or guide to learn more information. You can give them 20 minutes or so for this depending how how big the concept is and what resources you have. 

Once every student in the groups is an "expert" they break out into new groups with 1 student from each expert group. Each student "teaches" the other students in her or his new group. You can use guided notes sheets to provide some guidance on key points or just a graphic organizer to help students. 

That's All for Now! 

Do you have any strategies you use to avoid lecturing in your history classes? I'd love to hear them! Or do you have any questions about how to use any of these strategies? Please don't hesitate to reach out! 

Intimidated about trying to create activities like those described here? Don't be! I have hundreds of interactive notebook pages, digital Google Docs, Flipped Classroom videos, and more in my curriculum subscriptions! You can download a free sampler pack with the green button here on the page. 

If you like the resources, I have complete curricula available for Civics, World, and US History! You can learn more and sign up here

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