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The Social Studies Helper Introduction

The Social Studies Helper—Tried and Tested Lessons


The Social Studies Helper is here to help. Why? Because I want you to be the best teacher you can possibly be, and I know how much time this takes. You have at least 183 days of lessons to create, and good lessons take time. Lessons like these take years to create and craft, and you don’t have years, especially if you’re a new teacher or a parent homeschooling while you do everything else. And being your best, creating a top-notch, Kick-Ass Class, requires attention to many things. The classroom setup, creating and teaching your class rules and procedures, the grading, the meetings, the ambiance and music and visuals, parent conferences, all the tiny details, from books to pens to art materials—the list goes on and on. And it can get overwhelming. Finding time to write detailed, subject-rich lessons like these will, at first, seems impossible. That’s why I put together The Social Studies Helper. I want you to shoot for the stars. I want your goal to be creating a class that flows so tight and smooth that students are just along for the ride, waiting to see what’s next. Each and every element is planned, thought-through, tried and tested. Rules are clear, and fully and respectfully enforced. Class has its natural rhythms, its quiet, silent times, then its engaged times. It moves and flows in predictable ways, then it surprises. Each and every lesson segment is solid and tight; each is rich in well-structured content, rich in excellent, well-chosen visuals, and followed by well-thought-out questions that maximize learning for wherever your students’ skill levels may be. And that’s where these lessons come in; that’s why this is The Social Studies Helper.

Two quotes from Daniel Willingham’s book, Why Students Don’t Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How The Mind Works And What It Means For The Classroom, touch on why these clozed-notes lessons are so effective, although I’ll elaborate on this topic in the next section. Willingham says, “The processes we most hope to engender in our students—thinking critically and logically—are not possible without background knowledge.” His point is that we can’t really think critically about the American Civil War without some context and background knowledge. All of these lessons seek to do just that—provide context and background knowledge. Willingham also states, “Cognitive science leads us to the rather obvious conclusion that students must learn the concepts that come up again and again—the unifying ideas of each discipline.” Again, these lessons do just that, especially with the Historical Themes (which are meant to be emphasized throughout each and every Social Studies subject throughout the year) and the Core Concepts lessons which were made for just that reason—to give students some sense of the basic context, concepts, and ideas behind each historical scenario. With those two mentioned, I would add, however, that all the lessons seek to do both of those things: provide context and background knowledge, and explain concepts and ideas.

These lessons are ready to go, tried and tested. Just choose which work for you, create one teacher copy by filling in the answers from the Answer Key, create the follow-up pictures for each section (which you’ll love doing), and the follow-up questions (made for your current students…), and enjoy learning how to present them (See How to Present below). Once you have each completed, you won’t have to do them again. You may augment or tweak as you learn, but the general work will be done. And that’s the point: you’ll have a solid, rich, lesson ready to go (usually 15-25 minutes, plus follow-up time), thus freeing up time to focus on other dimensions of class.

While the majority of the content is intended for middle and high school Social Studies teachers, elementary school teachers can use the early World and U.S. content, not to mention Historical Themes, Pics of the World/Character Education/Self-Empowerment. There is something for everyone. Beginning teachers will have plenty of lessons ready to go, and veteran teachers will find plenty to augment their curriculum. The hard part, the content—clear, thorough, and easy to follow—is already done. Enjoy!


1. Fill-In the answers from the ANSWER KEY on one Teacher Copy. Keep in binder.

2. Easily download pictures (create corresponding slide shows) to follow up each section.

Save them. Once they’re done, they’re done.

3. Create Common Core follow up questions suitable for your students. Save them.

Note: You can use these questions as your lesson objectives, and just briefly go over them before the lesson, or you can synthesize/tighten the questions into a separate set of lesson objectives. Either way, the objective is for them to be able to answer the follow-up questions.

Note: You can do the lessons without the follow-up pictures, but it’s always better with pics.

Why Clozed-Notes Are So Effective?

  1. They allow you to cover a lot of material/content quickly.

  2. They add historical context to most all content. They provide background knowledge.

  3. They model good critical thinking. Students see how to structure content, how to support any given point.

  4. They model good reading. While close-reading each lesson (and pointing out punctuation, spelling, sentence structure etc.), students learn how words are pronounced and spelled, how punctuation works, and how sentences are meant to be read.

  5. They model good writing. While close-reading each lesson (and pointing out punctuation, spelling, sentence structure etc.), students learn how good writing works, how punctuation (commas, semi-colons, dashes etc.) tells a reader how to read, how good sentences vary in length and structure, how to stay on point, and use smooth, academic, transitions (all of which, again, you are always pointing out…).

  6. They work for all learners, from English Learners to AP students. Just adapt your Follow Up/Assess Questions to Maximize Common Core Thinking, and challenge students accordingly.

  7. They are engaging. They keep even the most distracted students on track, and your follow-up pictures after each section are worth their weight in gold. The right picture really is worth a thousand words!

How to Make Slide Shows For Each Section

I’m not a tech guy. You are likely more savvy than I, and I can only assume that you know a variety of ways to save pictures etc. If not, you can easily find someone to teach you. My main goal here is to provide some perspective on the flow of these slide shows; in other words, how many pictures to use, and how often to stop reading, and slowly (or quickly) walk the entire class through some pictures.

First, choose a lesson. Make enough copies for the entire class. Using the Answer Key, fill in the answers on your copy. You’ll want to keep a binder for these filled-in copies. You’ll probably find that you can fill-in the majority of words without using the Answer Key, so it may be best to just read it over, fill-in words, and only refer to the Answer Key when necessary

Next, have the filled-in lesson before you. Notice how it’s laid out, how many core sections it has. As you read through it, just Google (Images) pictures that you find relevant, that show what you’re reading about. If it’s The Scientific Revolution, start by searching for that. You’ll find some good stuff. Then maybe add some of the key figures etc. The trick is to find good pictures, and the right number of pictures. You don’t want too few, and you don’t want too many. You’ll generally read through approximately a quarter of all text in any given lesson, then stop and turn the attention of the class to the slides, the pictures. You may sometimes stop on a picture and tell a story or explain (STRETCH THE LEARNING), but your goal in creating smooth slide shows is to find pictures that are just right, and in just the right order, that you could, hypothetically, just slowly show the pictures without saying a word. Sometimes you’ll do this, sometimes you’ll repeat information you’ve already said. It’s up to you to find the rhythm that works for you. You’ll get it. It’s fun. The beauty of this process is that you’ll enjoy finding great pictures and creating these visually rich lessons. You’ll see just how much the pictures add, how they pique interest and engagement. You’ll learn to search and find just the right picture, and you’ll get good at doing it quickly. Like most things, the best way to learn is trial and error.

So have fun. I realize that this does involve some work, but seriously, you’ll enjoy it. And once you have each slide show ready to go, they’ll be ready for future years. I organize mine within My Pictures under the same name and categories that the documents are saved in My Documents. Again, these lessons work. They are engaging. They pack a lot of information into a 15 to 30 minute segment. They kick-ass. As stated earlier, if you don’t at first have time to get the follow-up pictures together, you can do the lesson without them. So enjoy. Enjoy the space that having this these ready-to-go-lessons will free up for you to create other parts of class. There’s a reason this is called The Social Studies Helper.

QUICK REMINDER/STEPS—How to Make Slide Shows:

  1. Generally, read about the quarter of the text, then show pictures. Often, this will coincide with the numbered sections.

  2. Generally, the best picture size is something over 700, but this can vary. Just realize that if the picture is under 300, it will often be small when projected.


STRETCH THE LEARNING—Provide more information, tell a story, follow your muse. Students love stories. Let all your learning shine. Show students why learning is fun and interesting. Embody enthusiasm, curiosity, and wonder.

How to Present/Read These Lessons

At the beginning of each Category—Historical Themes, Historical Periods, Particulars, Core Concepts, Major Slide Shows etc.—you’ll find a short explanation of the general purpose of those lessons, for each category of lessons has a different structure, and thus, will read (and be read) differently. You’ll notice that most all of them, however, include numbers etc. This allows you to easily direct your class to the right place. The point is to realize that each category serves a particular general purpose, and you’ll want to read these short explanations to remind yourself of this. You may also want to explain this purpose to your class before the lesson, especially with the Historical Themes, Core Concepts, and Historical Periods. So take a moment to read those short explanations before each set of lessons. The other thing to remember is mentioned above in numbers four and five of Why Clozed-Notes Are So Effective, and that is—especially with the Particular lessons and some of the Major Slide Shows—that these lessons offer a wonderful opportunity for close-reading. Many of our students don’t read much. For some, this may be the only reading they will do that day. So remember to point things out when appropriate. Remind them how punctuation tells a reader how to read, how a comma is a pause, how a semi-colon allows a writer to connect two complete and related sentences, and thus, mix things up. Remind them what is capitalized and why. Point out how colons are ways to make a point and make a list of things, and dashes allow for relevant information to be included within complete sentences. Point out the clear transitions. We want students to learn to use these techniques of good, academic writing, and it helps to consistently reinforce this.

Again, the general rule for the reading to pictures ratio is to read approximately one quarter of all text, then look through pictures. For the Particular lessons, this will usually correspond with the numbered sections. With others, you’ll want to feel it out and find your own rhythm.

QUICK REMINDER/STEPS—How to Present These Lessons:

  1. Remember to read the short explanation/purpose for each category of lessons. You may want to explain this purpose to class before the lesson.

  2. When appropriate, utilize close-reading opportunities.

  3. STRETCH THE LEARNING. Have fun. Embody enthusiasm, curiosity, and wonder.

How to Follow Up/Assess Your Students to Maximize Common Core Thinking

The current educational paradigm here in 2021, is that of Common Core Standards. Essentially, this means to read and write more, to expose students to a variety of texts, from casual emails to prose to academic text, to teach them how to interpret and process, and to teach them how to interact with these texts, to annotate and to academically organize information—to read, write, critically think, and speak better. For Social Studies teachers, Common Core means we teachers can focus less on getting through all the content, and more on going deeper into some content. As my teacher friend Mitch Cohen says, “Teach less, better.” In the context of these closed-notes lessons, this means:

  1. Close-read the lessons as discussed. Explain punctuation etc.

  2. As you read, you may also direct your students to annotate, to circle key information and/or add notes in the margin etc.

  3. Create follow-up questions that teach students how to process and organize information, that teach them to think critically. Stretch them. Go deep when appropriate.

As stated earlier, these lessons work for all students, from English Learners to Honor

Students. Simply adapt your follow-up questions. Lower level students appreciate more scaffolding, detail, direction, and often explanation of key vocabulary. For higher level students you may simply want to ask one short essay question, and force the students to properly organize their answers. For example: Explain, step by step, the events that led to the American Revolution. Or: What evidence from the text supports the statement that Theodore Roosevelt was an important president? For my classes, which include many English Learners, I like to ask a few specific content questions, then include some Common Core questions; it’s all about finding the right balance for you and the flow of your class. Sometimes you may want to go deeper into an issue. Other times you’ll want to just keep it moving. It’s all about the flow within that class’ time frame, and the needs of those students.

For the Theodore Roosevelt question above, after completing our detailed lesson on Roosevelt’s presidency, I may first ask English Learner students to write three important events from Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, followed by the numbers 1, 2, 3. This will make it easy and clear for them, and they will easily be able to find the answers from the clozed-notes lesson. Then, the following day, I may present them with the original question: What evidence from the text supports the statement that Theodore Roosevelt was an important president? I may even include a scaffolded short essay to teach them how to structure a short academic answer with a thesis, solid transitions, and a conclusion. They can then simply add their 1,2,3 important events from the day before into a properly structured short essay. The point is to simply adapt your follow-up questions accordingly, and you’ll find that the structure and layout of the lessons (with clear numbers etc.) will make this easier.

A Final Word

These clozed-notes lessons are not the end-all. I did my best to include any and all relevant information on any given subject. For the Historical Period lessons (in the World History Volume), I sought to hit all regions of the world. For the U.S. Presidents lessons (in the U.S. History Volume), I sought to include the major events for each presidency. For all, I sought to make each lesson thorough yet concise. Any omissions or mistakes (the formatting mistakes are due to my own inability to change in any given format…) are mine alone. I am a Social Studies teacher in America, California to be more precise, and the content is thus structured. Also, these lessons are not meant to constitute an entire curriculum; rather, as stated earlier, they are meant to help, to provide some ready-to-go lessons, the right lessons for your own curriculum, so you can focus elsewhere. Pick and choose. Augment. I just found something—clozed-notes—early in my career that worked, and I ran with it, went wild, got better at it, and you’re now benefitting from my semi-manic nature. I don’t even use them all. But I use many because they work. So enjoy. Be the best teacher you can be. Mix it up, make class vibrant and fun, find your own balance. Having these lessons ready to go, these solid 15 to 30 minute segments, allows you to work on those other things, the daily current events, the rich video segments with questions, the readings and writings, the discussions and debates, the pictures and art and beauty of the world, the games, all the fun stuff that a Social Studies class (or any class) can provide. So use them. I put these together for you. Create a class you can be proud of, one that inspires. And show them how to think. Not what to think—how to think. Embody enthusiasm, curiosity, and wonder. Create life-long learners. Show them the world.


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