The Social Studies Digital Content List

Author’s Note: This post was originally published on 9/4/17. I have updated it and it is accurate as of 8/25/18.

Back-to-school time always reminds me of my first days teaching history. I used the curriculum from my textbook and supplemented it here-and-there. It did not make for engaging instruction.

Textbooks are static, dated, and give learners one perspective. I constantly searched for supplemental content in addition to making some of my own.  Over time, I found some great resources. Here are digital content resources I used in my classroom or found in my practice as an edtech coach. Not all listed resources are exclusively for digital use though all are useful for 1:1 classrooms. Grade bands are based on Common Sense Media reviews or my personal judgment from using the resource.

Bill of Rights Institute

Grades 9-12

The Bill of Rights Institute has lesson materials for our founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Bill of Rights.  They also have some more US History content such as Civil Rights. The Bill of Rights Institute created a free online course  teachers can help themselves to, Documents of Freedom.

Choices Program

Grades 9-12

Brown University’s Choices program has mostly paid and some free Common Core aligned resources for current issues, US History and World History. I have long been a fan of their products.  Each curricular unit PDF they sell is $37 and comes with good reading passages and a simulation in which students argue for one of four choices. A great bang-for-the-buck use of PTA mini-grant funds. Thank you, Jessica Riley, for sharing the Choices Program with me.

Crash Course Curriculum

Grades 6-12

Crash Course is one of the best educational YouTube channels. Check out their free Common-Core aligned (opens PDF) curriculum for US History and World History.

Digital Breakouts

Grades 6-12

Digital Breakouts are a great tool for adding gamification to Social Studies content. These websites use Google Forms to give students “locks” they have to crack. Have a look at the digital breakouts available for free:

If you use just one digital breakout with your US history classes, please make it my Unbought, Unbossed, & Unlocked breakout. It tells the story of Shirley Chisholm who became the first Black woman to run for president in 1972.

Image links to the Shirley, Chisholm, Unbought, Unbossed, & Unlocked! digital breakout.
US II Teachers: Please use this digital breakout!

Speaking of gamification, have a look at Spent. Usually, gamification should be avoided when addressing serious topics. Spent addresses poverty in a way that builds empathy and understanding. Students can only benefit from playing it.

DocsTeach

Grades 6-12

Common Core aligned free primary source documents and accompanying activities from the National Archives. Thank you, Jane Highley, for sharing DocsTeach with me.

Freckle – Social Studies

Grades K-8

Common Core aligned freemium differentiated activities and assessments. 

History of Philly

Grades 9-12

History of Philly is the website of the ongoing Philadelphia: The Great Experiment documentary series. Their free educational materials are great resources for teaching US History from 1600 through 1994.

Khan Academy – Arts and Humanities

Grades K-12

Khan Academy was one of the first in the digital educational content space. Their Arts and Humanities section includes content for US History, World History, AP World History, and AP US history. Khan Academy is Common Core aligned and includes videos and practice questions.

Listenwise – Social Studies

Grades 6-12

Common Core aligned freemium website that uses public radio content to help students practice listening comprehension. A good resource for current events.

Miller Center

Grades 9-12

Free US History content from UVA’s Miller Center organized by president. The Miller Center is the go-to source for presidential speech transcripts often accompanied by audio and video. Thank you, Jessica Riley, for sharing the Miller Center with me.

Modern Money Basics

Grades 9-12

This is a great site for adding much-needed context to current events discussions. From tax cuts and war to Medicare for All and publicly funded college, the question is often asked, “How can we pay for it?” Modern Money Basics explains how US currency works. This is very helpful context for discussion of current events especially the national debt and deficit.

New York Times Learning Network – Social Studies

Grades 7-12

Common Core aligned free resource that uses New York Times content in lessons that include writing prompts and quizzes. Social Studies content is broken out into sections for US History, global issues, Civics, and Social Studies skills. Additionally, there is a Current Events section.

Newsela

Grades 2-12

Common Core aligned news articles with assessment questions. Newsela is freemium. The free version has some functionality, but there is much more with the paid version. Newsela has content covering Government and Economics, Geography, World History, and US History.

PBS Learning Media – Social Studies

Grades PreK-12

Common Core aligned free lessons from PBS.

Read Like a Historian

Grades 9-12

Common-Core aligned free US History and World History lessons with primary source documents with questions and prompts. This website from Stanford University has primary source documents with modified versions as well. I have long been a fan of Read Like a Historian. Thank you, Adam Washam, for sharing Read Like a Historian with me.

ReadWorks – Social Studies

Grades K-8

Common Core aligned free reading passages and comprehension activities. Thank you, Joshua Howard, for sharing ReadWorks with me.

TED-Ed Social Studies

Grades 4-12

Common Core aligned free videos with accompanying multiple choice questions, short answer questions, and discussion prompts. I’ve long appreciated TED-Ed’s concise but information-packed animated videos and platform for adding assessment and content to any YouTube.

Teaching Tolerance

Grades K-12

Teaching Tolerance is a great asset for addressing diversity when presenting content. For example, when teaching slavery it is important not to whitewash it as a random occurrence of misbehavior by our otherwise valiant founding fathers. Teaching Tolerance’s Teaching Hard History resources help teachers address slavery and other uncomfortable topics. I have a special place in my heart for Teaching Tolerance because their site hosts one of the very best essays on education, Give the Kid a Pencil.

The Great War YouTube Channel

Grades 6-12

There is plenty of great Social Studies digital content on YouTube. Here are some of my favorite channels. However, The Great War stands out as an educational resource because of its depth and breadth. Beyond World War I, it has great content for teaching about World War II (Hitler in WW1) (Churchill in WW1) and the Russian Revolution (Russia Before the 1917 Revolution) (Czar Nicholas in WW1) (Rasputin in WW1) (Lenin and Trotsky in WW1). Other The Great War content especially relevant for Social Studies teachers includes:

The Living New Deal

Grades 6-12

What’s the big deal about The New Deal? Who cares? The Living New Deal is the perfect resource for teaching high school students the why behind learning about it. The site meticulously documents how The New Deal affects our modern landscape. The site’s map currently has information about more than 15,000 New Deal sites. Users can browse by New Deal agency, state, or categories such as art, civic facilities, forestry and agriculture, and more.

So what did I miss? How long after September 2017 August 2018 will this list be woefully out-of-date? Please comment below or tweet me at @tomemullaney. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

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Use Brown University’s Choices Program to Engage Students

Do you struggle to use textbooks as an effective educational tool? If you do, I want you to think about your students. Imagine you are a teenager. You go home from school with a textbook assignment to read. At the same time you are surrounded by screens calling your name. Your SmartPhone buzzes with texts and notifications from Vine and Twitter. Your laptop is the source of endless amusement from videos to the endless content of the Internet to social media. Your television has a new episode of the latest ABC Family drama. Your PS4 has a great new game. And that textbook, how excited are you to read that?

Teachers need to bridge the content gap from textbook disengagement.  They need a source of text that is well-written, informative and visually stimulating with pictures, charts and graphs. A source that clearly explains content with brevity.  It would be great if this text asked students to explore a perspective about a historic issue.

Meet the Brown University Choices Program. The program comes in different units for American History, World History and Current Issues. Each unit provides readings and assessment questions. I prefer to have students work on these in class rather than at home. I like to make Expert Jigsaw groups and divide the reading into chunks for each group. Each group answers questions I make for their assigned section and then shares with other groups. The assessment questions in the Choices Program unit then provide a great exit assessment to ensure students understand the reading.

The readings themselves are great but what makes the Choices Program special is the simulations it provides. The simulation starts with reading for all students involved. Then students weigh four options for a critical situation in history. Groups are tasked with arguing for a specific option. Each group member receives a specific role. Students read the assigned reading for their group and present their option. You can have students conduct further research on the Internet. There is a fifth group that develops questions for the option groups, listens to their arguments and chooses one of the options.

I have used the Choices Program to have students evaluate colonists’ response to struggles with Great Britain, senate ratification of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, JFK’s response to nuclear missiles in Cuba, the United States’ response to 9/11 and other interesting historical issues.  Engagement is increased because rather than simply memorizing facts, students are considering perspective and building an argument.

Debating historical issues can be very controversial. The Choices Program ensures students are never asked to take a stand that would be considered morally repugnant by today’s standards. For example, the Choices Program unit on the Civil Rights Movement goes in-depth about the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and its struggle to be seated at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The unit consciously avoids asking students to argue that the MFDP should not be seated.

The Choices Program supplements your text and provides in-class activities that teach students through role-play and perspective. Is there a catch? There is. Cost. The curriculum units are not free but the price is very manageable. A PDF version of a single unit is $30. I like to order the PDF versions so that the images in the unit print clearly. The units have great images. I have printed large versions of the images and captions in the Civil Rights unit for display in the classroom. I have used PTA grants, my school district’s curriculum funds and my own wallet to pay for units depending on what was most convenient at the time. Colleagues at my school have some printed units (available for $35) but I prefer the PDF so that the copy quality is better.

Free Choices Program Resources

If you want to try some Choices Program materials for free, there are some on their site for free. Give them a try: