Why I Teach Social Studies

There seems to be barely enough time in the day to fit in all the required material that the school district throws our way.  On top of that, imagine being in a class with students who have the most significant disabilities in the school, and it can be a recipe for pure survival mode.  But, even during my most challenging years, I still made time to teach social studies.  Although the subject matter was not on any state wide assessment, I still found it a valuable use of instructional time.  Here is why I did it.

1.  Content

Many of my students with autism, even those most severely affected, often had pervasive or narrow interests.  Sometimes, these interests fell in the area of history, politics, or other social study fields.  For these students, it was easy to come up with lessons and activities to keep them engaged.  In addition, on more than one occasion, I discovered a hidden interest in this content area that a student had which I had not realized before.  This gave me more opportunities to grow and use prior knowledge and interests in other subject matters.  Finally, the content I was teaching is what their peers in the regular education setting were being exposed to.  I strongly feel that ALL students deserve to be taught and exposed to grade level material.  It may not look the same, or even take as long, but the core of the content should be very similar.

2.  IEP Goals

As with all subject areas, there were plenty of opportunities for me to target and work on individual IEP goals while teaching social studies.  While working on my presidents unit, I made a few file folder activities where students simply matched identical pictures of presidents.  They may not have known who the picture depicted, but we would review them daily as they worked on the IEP goal of matching identical pictures.  I also created many sorting tasks so students could manipulate the content in that manner as well.  It could be as simple as sorting pictures that were different types of homes to a more complex task of sorting the duties of each branch of government.  Lots of differentiation took place to target the multiple learning levels in my class.

3.  General Classroom Skills

As with any content, there are opportunities to practice basic classroom skills such as sitting and listening to the teacher, using a communication device, asking and answering questions, participating in classroom discussions and activities, collaborating in small groups, and more.  For students with significant disabilities, especially autism, these skills need to be practiced often across many different people, settings, and content.  In elementary school, I felt an obligation to strengthen these skills prior to the kids going to middle and high school where there would be an expectation of more independence and collaboration.

Of course, I tried to find the most relevant social studies material I felt was worthy of their classroom time.  Some topics I liked to cover were:

  • Maps and Globes
  • Geography and Landforms
  • Government
  • Citizenship
  • Colonial America
  • Native Americans
  • Community
  • Presidents
  • Careers/occupations
  • Transportation

I always tried to incorporate as many hands on activities as possible as well as a book or power point I would write to accompany the content.  Overall I felt it was a very successful addition to the day.  Most of my students could only handle a 15-20 minute block of instruction so there were lots of blocks of time to fill during the day.  Social studies was often one of those blocks.  Structured time and consistency were critical for the success of my students.

I have several social studies units available in my store that I used in my classroom every year.  Grab them by clicking HERE.  Each unit includes a book covering the content in a simple manner, activities, communication aids, and assessments.

Best of luck in your social study adventures!!

Thoughts welcome and appreciated.

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