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Past and Present: Teaching History to Primary Students


Teaching social studies is my jam. I love teaching history with a big focus on the past and present to my primary students. But there never seems to be enough time in the school day! However, I do want my students to be socially aware–they are our next generation, right??? But fitting big topics into small portions of the day hasn’t always worked for me–until now! Let me show you how you can cover significant, challenging issues, social consciousness, and past and present history with your primary students! We can help you to create more knowledgeable, civic-minded, engaged citizens!

Morning Meeting including History for Primary Students

Start each day with a purpose! If you start your day with a morning meeting, adding in our social studies digital daily calendars will be easy, peasy for you! In my room, we do ‘Think About Its’. I present the story or video from the calendar, then throughout the day, we ‘Think About It.’ When do they finally answer? During bathroom breaks, through transitions, while in line, etc.!


History During Reading and Writing for Primary Students

To start this lesson, I love to bring some school items (or pictures of objects) from the past that some students may not have ever seen. In the past, we would discuss how schools have changed over time. But, with this slide of schools, past and present, your students can compare their schools to schools of the past with actual visuals and text! The students can cut, glue, and write their comparisons into an interactive notebook or complete a then vs. now activity sort!

If you have 20 minutes or more a week to teach social studies to your primary students, consider using these slides! These social studies slides are no prep and link to other unit activities. No time for the interactive notebook? No problem–put it in a fast-finisher bin, or use the individual practice activity in an early-finisher bin!

Past and Present: Biographies for Independent Reading or Small Groups

I have some strong readers this year who devour my books! But I also have those readers who still require a little assistance (or a lot). Covering non-fiction titles that interest my students isn’t always easy. I never have enough biographies, so I am thrilled when I can make multiple copies in a breeze!

For small groups, I introduce vocabulary, and we discuss a lot of what we are reading with all of my books! We work heavily on comprehension. These biographies for past and present are reproducible and include comprehension! They also have a fun activity on the back of each booklet.

Past and Present: Tough Topics

Last year at Thanksgiving time, one of the kindergarten classes was doing a school-wide performance, dressed in paper bag vests and feathered headbands. I am sure you have seen them, possibly even made them in your own classrooms before. Many other teachers cringed, as did some families, and I knew we all could do better on the topic of the truth behind Thanksgiving and the true sacred nature of the headbands to some tribes.

So I found some resources (although limited) to help guide a more accurate version to fellow teachers and my students. I wanted my school to depict history more accurately in their conversations and lessons with their students.

Do you, too, wish to accurately portray history while leading age-appropriate lessons for students in grades K-3? Incorporating an interactive notebook is a great way to keep students engaged in your social studies lesson while discussing tough topics! For example, interactive notebooks can include graphic organizers, question stems, activity sorts, and more.

Want some thought-provoking discussions on social studies topics? Besides engaging notebook activities, I like my students to partner up and discuss time-relevant issues! Using Point of View pages can help me present the questions that get my students thinking and talking! They also allow my students to see that others may not think or feel the same way they do and that there isn’t a “right or wrong” opinion. We don’t always have to agree, but it is important to respect others’ ideas.


Unit–Past and Present: PBL

Project-based learning (PBL) in social studies can benefit your students. These benefits range from building critical thinking skills to project-management skills and even self-confidence. PBL is also an excellent opportunity for collaboration in the classroom, where students can learn to express their ideas, practice self-regulation, and gain a deeper understanding of content.

I schedule a chunk of time weekly for either a STEAM or a PBL activity. Typically for past and present, I have my students design a new way to use an old item. I put several things out, such as old phones, pens and pencils, dry-erase boards, sunglasses, etc., to give the kids some visuals to talk about. My students are so creative!

If you don’t have the time to schedule whole group PBL, this is also a great extension activity for early finishers to work on in chunks, or as an independent study activity for your high fliers in class.

Arts and Crafts–Past and Present: Timelines

You can also allow students to use their artistic and creative talents when completing activities that teach! Besides drawing pictures depicting the past and present, we usually create a timeline for our school year! I decorate the hall with pictures of our activities each month during the school year. It is so much fun to reflect back on what you did in May!

Need help creating some timelines? Check out these no-prep activities! These no-prep pages are also great to add to a social studies center during your ELA block if you don’t have time to teach social studies. Once the students finish their creations, you could have students share with their table.

Do you still need some ideas for your own social studies unit? There are also multimedia recommendations and assessments included in this unit! These quick checks and exit tickets are outstanding for the end of a lesson so students can show you what they know. Use them when you need a quick 5-minute time filler.

If you want to look at some of these activities closer or find 1000s more, I strongly recommend checking out our unlimited printables Premium Membership!

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And if you want some great ideas from teachers, join our Fearless First Grade Teachers Facebook Group, our Fearless Kindergarten Teachers Group, or Fearless Second Grade Teachers!

Written by: Suzanne Kelley

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