Social Sundays: 911 for Turning Around a Class

Ever have one of those days where a lesson just didn’t work as you thought it would?  I have.  I  think the students are going to love it, and they don’t engage.  Or I think the activity will take 45 minutes and it only takes 10 minutes.  Sometimes the whole class vibe is wrong and what I thought was going to be a rousing debate turns into a series of long silence in between my prodding questions. 

When a class falls flat, I like to be ready.  Here are some of my favorite go to activities for filling or pivoting in class which require little to no prep:


  • Investigations:  I have lots of magazines and non-fiction books related to social studies topics in my classroom.  For investigations, students (individually or in partners) select a non-fiction source.  Each student/group selects one section from the source such as an article in the magazine or one chapter or section of a chapter in one of the books.  The goal is to first investigate what it’s about and then create a short summary of the piece. 
    The summary can be as simple as a couple of paragraphs or an advertisement or a drawing.  I challenge students to stretch their creativity.  For the last 10 minutes or so of class, we have a gallery walk and learn about what each other discovered. 
  • What’s the question challenge:  The what’s the question activity is a weekly ongoing challenge in my class.  I put up an “answer” for example Leonardo DaVinci, and students can post their questions on the bulletin board.  The goal is to make the questions difficult.  For example, the simple question for DaVinci might be "who painted the Mona Lisa?"  The more complex question might be "who created a model of a weapon in order to secure a position in a court in Renaissance Italy?"  For the in-class what's the question challenge, I divide students into groups of 3 to 4.  I give each group a set of answers related to the topic we are studying.  Each group has an unique set of answers.  The groups develop complex questions related to the answers.  The questions are posted around the room.  Groups view the questions posted by other groups.  They use colored post-it notes to guess the answer.  This is great for review and easy for a quick pivot in a class that isn't going so well. 

  • What’s in the news: integrating current events into the class helps in making content relevant.  We discuss the "news" often. When my class is in need of "9-1-1", the newspaper can save the day.  I pull out some of the latest newspapers.  Students look for articles of interest.  The pieces can be front page headlines, opinion pieces, sport articles, or lifestyle pieces.  This activity is about student-interest.  Students read their articles and create 1 page posters on the article.  They write a note card summary of the article including the source of the article.  We post the posters and notecards together on a bulletin board.  Students are fascinated to see the variety of information that can be found in the newspapers, and often students will read additional articles based on each other's posts.
  • Its completely taboo: one of the favorite review games among students is a taboo-style game.   Although I can't use this pivot strategy at the beginning of the unit, this is a great strategy to save a class.  
    Using a list of topics from the unit, students develop information cards about each topic from the unit.  On a second card, students create a card that includes the topic and 3-5 words that cannot be said in describing this topic.  We, then, play a taboo style game.  Try it out with this free sample game.

These are just some of my 9-1-1 strategies for the class disaster.  You never know when a class won't go well.  A little flexibility, plus some ready to use back up plans, can save even the most disastrous classes.

Social Sundays is a bi-weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message in the comments below or at the store in the question and answer section.  


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