There are so many different school subjects, from math to language arts to science, and it can be difficult to devote as much time as we’d like to every subject given the limited time and resources. One subject that we feel tends to get overlooked more often than not is social studies.
We may not talk about it as much as writing and language arts, but we happen to love social studies and want to help it get more time in the classroom as the star of the show! It’s in this spirit we’ve put together a list of fun social studies activities for 5th-grade students. This list of adaptable ideas will help you save time on your lesson plans, leaving you with more time to teach!
1. Create Landform Exhibits
As a capstone project for your lessons on landforms, have students work in pairs or groups to create dioramas, posters, models or other visual examples of landforms. They’ll also write pamphlets about their landform of choice that discuss all kinds of pertinent information, such as the climates, their identifying features and the plants and wildlife that make their homes there.
Each group should choose or be assigned a different landform for more variety and to make sure all the landforms get some attention. Alternatively, you can keep things local by focusing on landforms in your area, tying back to themes of community and taking pride in where you live.
2. Press Flowers and Leaves
Your students might be surprised to learn that some of the roughest toughest explorers in history were also accomplished artists and botanists! Explorers were known to collect various specimens of flowers and plants to bring home, along with maps and illustrations of terrain and animals. This helped their patrons back home learn about different parts of the world.
Go outside with your class and take a walk around the playground, the block or a public park and have your students collect flower specimens of their own. After you get back to the classroom, press the collected flowers inside a heavy book (remember to put paper towels on both sides of the flower to protect the pages from errant natural dyes).
As an added bonus for this activity, have your students laminate the pressed flowers and turn them into a fun bookmark!
3. DIY Archaeology
For a fun class project, introduce them to the basics of archaeology! Get a clay pot, break it into pieces (be careful while you do so!), then hide the pieces in sand or dirt. Your students’ task is to collect all the pieces of the clay pot before working together to rebuild it.
This activity works best for smaller classrooms and could be ideal for an after-school club activity. If you work with multiple broken pots, make sure you have a way to identify which pieces go together, like by using different colored pots or by marking each piece with a symbol to indicate which pot it’s from.
For an added archaeology surprise, create a message on the pot before breaking it that will be revealed when your students put it back together!
4. Historical Role Play
Write down the names of influential historical figures and put the names into a hat or basket. Have each student draw a name and research the person they’ve chosen.
After some research, your students will give a presentation in front of the class as if they are the influential historical figure they’ve chosen. Remind them to cover the basics, like where and when they were born, along with what the person is known for, the impact they had on history and any other facts they’ve discovered that they’re especially interested in sharing.
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5. Immigration Stories
The United States is famously a nation of immigrants, which makes learning about immigration stories an engaging and fun activity—after all, if you go back a handful of centuries, we’re all descendants of immigrants!
Explain the reasons why different groups of people have immigrated to America throughout history, why they chose to leave their home country and the process of adjusting to a new country.
One of the best ways for young learners to connect with their own heritage and learn more about the heritages of other groups is by reading stories written by or about immigrants or the children of immigrants.
Many picture books and books for early readers focus on this topic and are the perfect way to inspire a discussion about diversity and other cultures, along with the historical immigration process and reasons people have had for immigrating to America throughout history.
6. Interview a Historical Figure
Start by finding a famous piece of historical art, poetry, music or anything else showing the creative effects of a historical event. Share this artifact and its surrounding context with your class so they’ll have a better understanding of what it means now and what it represented at the time.
Next, set the scene: your students are junior reporters in a year contemporary to when the artifact was created or when it gained popularity. Their first assignment is to interview the creator of the artifact! They can ask questions about the person’s experience, their inspirations or anything else they think is important enough to print in the newspaper.
7. Current Events
The present is a type of history, just as worth paying attention to as the past and the future. Get your students interested in what’s happening in the world right now by asking everyone to choose an article about current events to present to the rest of the class.
Set a topic or a challenge or let your students have free reign to choose whatever they’re most interested in talking about. After a bit of close reading, they should have no trouble explaining the who, what, when, where and why of the topic or event they want to share. Encourage other students to ask follow-up questions, identify patterns or connections between articles and make other observations about what’s happening.
This activity is the perfect opportunity to create a classbook using one of our FREE classbook publishing kits! Classbooks compile your students’ writing and illustrations into a professionally bound, hardcover book, turning your students into published authors.
Classbooks make for a great time capsule for your classroom, and this particular classbook will be an especially effective time capsule, as it will contain your students’ thoughts on events that were current at the time!
8. Ruler for a Day
Have all of your students pretend they’ve just been crowned the sole and sovereign ruler of a small, largely unknown country after it was discovered they were distantly related to the previous ruler. Now that they’re in charge and no one can say different, what rules will they establish in their country?
First, students should work independently on their country’s rules to decide what they think is important. Next, lead a conversation about the different rules students have chosen. They can volunteer to share a rule and other students can give opinions on the rule and share other rules of their own. As the discussion progresses, ask your students what they think about this kind of government versus a government where more than one person gets to decide the rules.
9. Class Constitution
Your students can participate in their own mini democracy by helping to write your class constitution! The existing classroom rules are a good place to start, along with positive mantras and affirmations that will encourage a supportive classroom community. Once the constitution is written, create a display version on a large piece of butcher paper with fancy script writing. Students can all sign their names in their favorite color!
Ideas to include in your class constitution:
- Do our best
- Make good choices
- Listen first, then think, then speak
- Be respectful
- Help each other
- Work together
- Don’t distract others
- Care about each other
- Share compliments and praise
You can watch this class Schoolhouse Rock video if you want to teach your students about the Constitution’s Preamble.
10. Historical Journal
Make history more of a reality by inviting students to participate in imaginative exploration of the time by journaling themselves into it! At the beginning of teaching a historical time period, show your students how to fold their own small notepad by cutting up and folding a paper bag, butcher paper, construction paper, etc. Now that they have the journal all set, it’s time to move forward in your history curriculum and backward in time.
As you progress through history, ask your students to write journal entries as if they’re a contemporary person living in that time period. They can write about daily life activities, the community and larger historical events that would have recently happened. Have some fun by encouraging them to predict future events when you know something big is going to happen in the next lesson.
11. Economics: The Basics
Start out simply with an illustrated cheat sheet of economic terms. On a piece of paper, your students will write the words “Goods,” “Services,” “Producer,” “Consumer,” “Supply” and “Demand.” Explain each term and have students write a short explanation and draw something to represent that term.
Once you have the cheat sheets all finished up, give students a sentence or two with an economics scenario and have them identify each economic term in the sentence. After your kids get the hang of it, get a little tricky if you want to! Even a short statement like “Chocolate was sold out at the store” involves five of the terms.
12. Then or Now?
This is one of those fun games you can break out whenever it fits the vibe—perfect for those last few minutes of class while you’re waiting for the bell! Find modern and historical images, display one of each side by side to your class and ask them which is which. Have them examine the clothing, background, posing and photo quality to help figure it out.
While it seems like this would be an easy task, sometimes photos can be deceiving, especially if you’re willing to get a little sneaky by showing viral “time traveler” photos!
Every few years, a photo will go viral when the internet gets excited about seeing someone in the 1940s wearing sunglasses and a t-shirt, which they’ve identified as evidence of time travel. Of course, there are sadly much less fantastical explanations for this that don’t include time travel, such as sunglasses having been invented in the 1920s and t-shirts beginning to be mass produced in the 1910s.
13. Just Add Music
There are plenty of ways to add music to social studies lessons, and there are plenty of benefits you’ll see from doing so. The novelty of adding music to any lesson will help it stand out in your students’ minds, and music played at a low volume during learning has been shown to improve recall and retention of information.
Playing music that matches your lesson—such as historical music from the time period you’re learning about or classical music paired with a math lesson—helps students build a better understanding of context, resulting in deeper learning.
Besides background music, also consider teaching your class songs that were popular during historical times and explaining the songs’ meanings and contexts. The final form of music is, of course, catchy mnemonics set to simple tunes: there are songs about the bill of rights, the fifty states and anything else your students should be working on memorizing for the rest of their academic careers.
Help Your Students Become Published Authors
One of the best ways for your students to demonstrate what they’ve learned is to publish a classbook! You can use one of our FREE classbook publishing kits to turn your young learners into published authors. The prospect of becoming real, published authors themselves may be the extra incentive your students need to do their best work.
The process is easy. All you need to do is sign up online, and we’ll ship your publishing kit straight to your school. A classbook anthology of your students’ writing and illustrations will be a meaningful keepsake and time capsule for your classroom, and parents can order copies, too!