What are some ideas for getting students to participate in social studies activities in front of a class?
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This is a good question. I suppose that you have two issues here. First, you would need to make social studies exciting enough that students would love it. Second, you need to get students bold enough to get up in front of the class to share with their peers.
The first objective should be to teach the material well. In order to engage students, you might want to try different teaching techniques. Lectures are good, but you can do other things such as multimedia presentations, discussions, and field trips. Mixing things up might make social studies more alive.
In regards to getting students to participate, here are some suggestions. You might want to put on a skit. Many students love this type of thing. The less shy students can have the lead roles and the shy students could have the minor roles. Doing a project like this, gets the students right in front of the class and used to public speaking. You might also think of having group project with a presentation portion.
Some students are painfully shy and nothing you can do will make those students ENJOY presenting in front of the class. It is a valuable skill, though, and the more practice students get the better they are at it. The discomfort does lessen, too. My suggestion is to start small. Let students stand by their desks and answer a question you have given them in advance. Next try some fishbowls and eventually work up to longer presentations with the students in front of the class. Make sure you provide students with detailed assignment sheets explaining exactly what you expect. Like readerofbooks said, teach the material well. Students are more comfortable presenting when they understand and feel ownership of the material.
One key is giving students the confidence that they know what they're talking about. That can be accomplished by giving them readings to quote from, excerpts from primary source documents to read aloud, and other activities, especially early on, that emphasize more of the mechanical aspects of delivering content in front of a class.
Choose controversial topics and have students take, and support positions in groups. Scaffolding, as post #3 indicates, is important--students need to start small. Fishbowls are good, and you can also have students assume small roles in groups, like scribe, presenter, etc., that rotate over time. When students do have to present material, make sure that you have clear expectations, though I often think we emphasize things like making eye contact, etc. far too much. Overall, you just have to create a climate in the classroom that makes students comfortable speaking. Easier said than done, and it has to begin on the first day.
Which do you want to be your focus, the historical content of the activity/presentation or the public speaking practice and skill? If students are by themselves presenting to a class, they are much more worried about how they will look/sound than they are about getting a good grade on the assignment, or learning the history. If the speaking skill is your goal, then coaching them through this is a fine approach. It's labor intensive though, and kids will resist it.
If your goal is the social studies content, try to get them up there in groups instead of solo. Set them up for success. Be up there with them, and interject humor into the activity wherever you can, it relaxes kids.
One specific idea is to have the students, in groups, become a panel of experts on a particular aspect of the material being covered. The class can then ask the panel questions to help as a review for an exam. You could turn this into a "game show" format if the class is more creative -- one group is the question creators, one group is the contestant panel. I very much agree that being in a group is more comfortable than being alone, especially for the shy ones.
You have gotten a lot of great suggestions here, but I'll toss one more into the mix - visual aids. If students are uncomfortable in front of the group, they may find it is easier if they give the audience something to look at besides themselves. They could make posters, illustrations, or PowerPoints to use as visual aids during a presentation. Alternatively, they could dress us as historical characters, which sometimes helps shy students because they can act as if they are somebody else.
If you have access to a SmartBoard, you can create or download a huge variety of tools - choice boards, game show type tools, matching games, puzzles, the list goes on and on- and let students get used to being in front of the room by having them interact with those sorts of tools first.
I watched a teacher at the school where I work involve the students in a discussion about Feudalism. Normally, this type of subject would be dreadfully boring to most people, let alone 4th graders. But, she had cards that were labelled with each member of the Feudal society, and each card hung from a string so that she could place it around a student's neck. She had them stand up front and wear a card as she discussed the way those people lived. The kids were clamoring to be able to come up front and wear a card! She drilled them and drilled them in the terminology and how the system worked. Then, she took away all the cards and written information and gave them a test. Without exception, all thirty of those kids got 90% or better on their test! That teacher turned boring into fantastic! Those kids had fun,and I just bet you they never forget what feudalism is!
If you absolutely want/need students to do solo presentations, the best thing you can do is to demonstrate exactly what you want/expect and what is not acceptable. Ham it up and help the students to realize that you are trying to help them succeed by overplaying the worst possible outcomes, so they will know what not to do. Frequent short presentations throughout the year will give the shy ones more opportunities to summon up their courage, which will hopefully make each experience slightly less intimidating.
This may have been said, but have them dress up in costume and even speak in the language of the times. Food from the time period might be served, too. We did this in covering the Elizabethan era, while studying Shakespeare. The kids enjoyed it, and everyone seemed to have fun, while groups made their presentations.
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