How to Apply Social Studies Best Practices to the Classroom

What are some best practices in social studies that teachers can apply to the classroom this upcoming school year?

Best practices for teaching social studies are defined as the ability to implement instructional balance while involving students in high density reading and writing instruction. Also, focusing on student-centered or constructive learning helps students become independent, critical thinkers. Cooperative learning, grouping, and technology are just a few best practice strategies we can implement in our classrooms.  The following social studies best practices can help educators with lesson planning, classroom management, and inspiring student thinking in the classroom.

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning can help support many forms of student learning in your classroom.  With the paradigm shift of learning to focus on student social and emotional skills, cooperative learning fits the bill as a one-stop shop for students to interact socially with each other. Based on the article, “What is Cooperative Learning?”, there are five key elements that are essential to students.


Positive Interdependence

The first step is positive interdependence.  Students rely solely on each other to work together to ensure that they find a solution.  Group members must support each other’s efforts and believe that working together as a group will benefit the final outcome of the individual. Students in the group develop a mutual understanding and respect for finding the answers together in order to find a common solution.

Individual Accountability

Second, students have individual accountability. When lessons are assigned, students are given specific tasks to complete. While students are working individually, they are responsible for contributing to the group to ensure everyone is successful.

Student Interactions

Third, face-to-face interaction supports cognitive activities and interpersonal dynamics when students promote each other’s learning. Oral discussions and explanations promote the success of the students meeting their mutual goals.

Interpersonal and Social Skills

Fourth, students develop interpersonal and small group social skills. Working in these types of groups help students develop the skills they need to function socially in a group, providing effective leadership, decision making, trust building skills and effective communication. Continuing to work cooperatively makes these skills rote and permanent.

Group Processing

Finally, group processing is a tiered process that allows the students to build on prior knowledge of cooperative learning tenets. It involves both team work and task work as the group continues to work together cooperatively.


Group Learning

Grouping students together based on the following techniques: one-to-one peer tutoring, small ability grouping, and team grouping. These methods can provide students with social and emotional skills by building confidence and self-esteem through intimate participation with one another. Teachers can also use this learning technique to develop teamwork efforts.

One-to-one peer tutoring can support learning through pairing students together based on their diagnostic learning levels or the depth of knowledge about the subject. Teachers can group students who already have an understanding for the material you are teaching, or mix students with varying levels of skills. Pairing a high level learner with a mid to low level learner can support instruction in your classroom maximizing one-to-one indirect instruction via a student.

Ability grouping can be fostered through several types of diagnostic assessments that you give in your class. Teachers can then group the students based on their test scores or grades they make on daily assignments. Team grouping can also be created selectively by teachers, or by students volunteering to work with classmates who will help them to accomplish their academic goals. These strategies can also be used if your class is rich with project-based learning activities.



Digital Learning

In our post-COVD-19 world, effectively utilizing digital learning is a must. Implementing aspects to support students digital learning is a best practice because this is now a societal trends. Technology is likely what many students are used to using and can also address the needs of all learning modalities. Digital learning as a best practice can take many forms, but in today’s classroom, we as educators must ensure we are implementing the latest technology to stay abreast of the trends in society.

Years ago, our classrooms did not need to mimic society, but we are educating different students today. Equipped with the knowledge of how to use various technologies, students will become viable assets to the work force. Many companies are using Smartboards for meetings and presentations, video conferencing, team messaging, and interactive presentations.  Technology is a best practice based on us emulating the needs of the work force. Ensuring that our students are college and career ready couples with the technology we share in our classrooms.


Best practices ensure that we are delivering the best we can possibly give to our students in our classrooms.  Here are a few other best practices that can be used in your classroom:

  • The jigsaw method, which supports developing higher order thinkers, can be used in your group or cooperative learning scenarios. It supports students by giving them a small passage to read from a larger literary piece, annotating the passage, and sharing out the assigned portion with group members or the class. Students can create and develop questions concerning their parts and have discussions with their groups peaking their intellect.
  • The backwards-by-design method focuses on what you want the students to learn and master in your classes. You start with the end in mind and plan your instruction based on the standards and objectives of the units of study and the types of assessments that your students will complete at the end of the unit. The types of assessments you administer in your classes help you to determine if your students mastered the lessons you facilitated in your units.
  • Finally, the greatest best practices for learning in your classrooms is creating meaningful, didactic, memorable, and indelible lessons. Challenge and engage your students to the best of your ability.

Seeking more professional development resources?

Sign up to receive our blog updates.




What is Cooperative Learning? (2018, May 7). Retrieved from

Sheree Turner, Ph.D. is a Master Teacher Leader in an urban school district in Atlanta and a 27-year veteran educator specializing in English language arts (ELA) and social studies. Dr. Turner is also an adjunct professor with University of Phoenix in the School of Education graduate studies. She is certified in middle grades social studies, gifted-learner endorsed, and reading endorsed. Her area of interest is ensuring social studies does not become extinct in the 21st century classroom.

1 thought on “How to Apply Social Studies Best Practices to the Classroom

  1. The practices you discussed are great suggestions as we return from a year of remote and hybrid learning. I am a huge fan of collaborative learning. I preach to my students the idea of “togetherness,” that when we all learn and are successful, we all win. Despite the limitations presented by Covid, I plan to incorporate collaborative learning as much as possible in the new school year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.