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Monday, November 9, 2015

Veterans Day, 2015:

On this Veterans Day we are reminded of, and honor, all of the brave men and women who have served among the ranks of our nation's military.  For many of the students we teach, Veterans Day is just another day that is celebrated in school with little meaning to them.  It's not their fault though.  Most of them are too young to understand the significance of the day or they haven't had anyone they've known serve in the military where they've had to worry about their well-being.  

Veterans Day is more than just honoring those who have served whether they are still alive or have passed on.  It is about what those men and women were willing to put on the line besides their own lives.  I'm talking about the lives of their families too.  Many families have had to deal with loss, living with PTSD of their family member who has returned from battle, or having to learn how to care for the person that ha
s normally cared for them due to injuries sustained on the field of battle.  

This Veterans Day on November 11th is just the day on the calendar that reminds us to pay our respects to those who have served.  The other 364 days we can do the same as well.  When you see a soldier in line at the gas station tell the clerk you're paying for the soldier's coffee too.  Pick up the tab of a soldier at a restaurant.  Or simply go up to a veteran and say, "Thank you." 


If you are looking for a way to celebrate Veterans Day with your students here's a neat activity to do in your class.  After your students create them have them write a little thank you note and send these off to your local American Legion, VFW, or military training station in your state.  A small gesture goes a long way.  

Happy Veterans Day!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Gentleman's Warfare vs. Guerrilla Warfare

Here's a fun idea when teaching about the Revolutionary War.  Students are always baffled when they learn that Gentleman's Warfare, which was the primary style of combat by the British, involved each side lining up across from each other and taking turns shooting. Unlike guerrilla warfare that is used nowadays that involves "hide-and-seek" tactics.  

I remind students that they see gentleman's warfare style of combat every Sunday when they watch football.  When the Green Bay Packers take the field, they line up in straight lines across from the opposing team, and only move on command.  It's fair, there are rules, and both sides abide by them and punish those who break the rules. Besides, how fair would it be if Aaron Rodgers was hiding in the crowd wearing a trench coat, a hat, fake glasses, and a fake mustache, and threw the ball to his receivers from the stands when they were open?

To simulate gentleman's warfare vs. guerrilla warfare I decided to buy 15 sets of checkers from the Dollar Tree (which is a store in Wisconsin where everything literally is one dollar).  
I have students pair up and set up the game letting them know that the classic game of checkers is set up like gentleman's style warfare - straight lines across from each other and taking turns.  I have the red team be the British (Redcoats) and the black team be the Patriots.  I have them flip a checker (heads/tails) to decide who goes first because no one really knows who fired the "shot heard 'round the world" at the Battles of Lexington and Concord to start the fighting.  

After a few minutes go by, I stop everyone and say, "The British were way better at gentleman's warfare than the Patriots because they had been fighting this way for many, many years.  The militia was made up of many first-time soldiers who were farmers, and carpenters, and masons, and cobblers, before the fighting started.  To win this war, the Americans had to find a different way to fight - so they went with guerrilla warfare.  Now, after three moves by the black team, who are the patriots, you can take any red checker off the board.  This was done by your snipers who are hiding in the bushes and can't be seen. The game ends when one side has taken all of the other team's checkers."

The red team is, of course, frustrated by this tactic and find it to be unfair.  Which is the point of the activity!  They especially don't like it when a sniper takes a king - which was totally against the rules in gentleman's warfare - killing the one's with more power (or in command) was frowned upon because if the commander is gone, no one can lead the men and it would be chaotic and very ungentleman-like.  

I'd love to hear how this activity went for you and your students!

Monday, October 26, 2015

If You Could Design a Class...
Middle school is meant to be about exploration, yet our students don't seem to get that many options in their day at our school.  Why can't a student who has a passion for music spend three hours of their day in music?  If they love art, what would be wrong with them being able to have more of their day spent in art?  Same for the subjects of English, History, Math, etc...

I know there are arguments to be made either way, but that's not the point of this post.  The point is...if you could design a class that would allow you to be with kids who truly want to learn more about a specific subject/topic that you could teach, what would your class focus on?

For me, I would want to teach a woodworking class using hand tools from different time periods in history.  I'd love to bring back teaching students to be craftsman by using their hands and their minds (I'm pretty sure the term "craftsman" is politically correct in regard to gender neutrality...just like "human").  Let's build a project that you'd like to make.  We'll use hand tools like dovetail saws, planers, scrapers, chisels, files, brace and bit, etc.  Nothing plugs in.  I think some kids would really enjoy a class like this.  I'd bring in some local carvers, sawyers, etc. to teach students their craft. 

I'm a huge fan of technology, but I'm also a huge fan of things being done the old-fashioned way.  I could see having students upload instructional videos to YouTube or showcasing what they've created via class web sites.  This has me excited!

So, what would you teach?

Monday, October 5, 2015

"Less Me.  More Them."

This is my motto for the year. 

I'm one of those people who don't like to sit around and do nothing.  Yes, I am sitting around right now typing this blog post.  Yes, I'll be sitting around uploading some TpT products later this evening.  Yes, I'll be sitting and reading with my youngest daughter in a couple of hours.  Those are just technicalities though in regard to sitting.  Every one of those activities allow me to be actively "DOING" while I am sitting.  

Most students are no different - they want to be doing something.  I teach middle school, and the beauty of that is I every day I have students who are full of energy that just needs to be channeled in the right direction.

Today I channeled that energy of theirs into exploring the Presidents of the United States.  Instead of me being the one who is occupying the majority of the class period by talking at them, I ended up talking with them instead.  What a difference in how the day felt!  I created an activity where students explore the presidents first by seeing them. 

Well, sort of. 

Students are given a packet that has the eyes of all 44 presidents (Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president so he’s in there twice.)  They then use the web site to look at the presidential portraits to try and discover which president those eyes belong to. 

Tomorrow we're going to go through the PowerPoint where the mystery presidents are revealed to see how they did.  Is it for a grade?  Nope.  It is so they begin to develop a background knowledge of the leaders who shaped our nation.

What ended up happening with this activity was that every student was engaged in their education.  They were saying presidents’ names.  They were able to talk to each other.  They were figuring out answers together.  It truly was less me, and more them, and it was wonderful.  

I’m looking forward to more days like this.

If you're interested in this product to use in your own classroom you can check it out by clicking here.

Until next Monday!


Monday, September 28, 2015

What Are We Complaining About?
I had a student say to me today, "Ugh...I hate Mondays!"  I responded with, "Well, I'm sorry to hear that.  You know, it does happen every seven days, which means, if you hate one out of every seven days then you're going to end up hating 1/7 of your life.  In 70 years time you'll have hated 10 of those years.  Are Mondays really that bad??"  This student had that puzzled look on their face like, "Why did he just tell me all of that?  All I said was that I hated Mondays."

I get that a lot.  

I spent this week trying to tune in to all levels of negativity to see what it is I hear people complaining about.  I knew what this week's post was going to be so I was planning ahead.  The things I heard people complain about were the following:

-No cell phone service
-Not having football practice cancelled because of the rain
-Slow Internet connection at work
-A deep sigh when the stoplight turned yellow (that one was mine)
-Having to wait in line at the ATM
-Being out of coffee creamer (also mine)
-Getting tasks to do in school
-Being too full
-Having to take the stairs
-Filling out a form
-Replacing the batteries on the garage door opener (...again...mine)
-Having to fill out a bathroom pass
-Not being able to decide what to eat
-Having too many choices at the bakery

I once had someone tell me that if you look for the negative in life, you'll find it.  As I kept adding to the list throughout the week it dawned on me that there really isn't that much to complain about if you've got access to fresh water, air conditioning, a steady source of food, and a safe, stable environment to live in.  

Let's face it, if you're reading this, you've got some access to an electronic device with internet capabilities and you're probably not too far from a source of fresh water.  That right there puts you at a HUGE advantage over most people in the world to live a healthy life.  

Do kids in America know what it is like in other parts of the world?  Do they know what the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) lets them know about the overall health of a country?  Do they know what the literacy rate means in regard to the quality of education in a country?  Do they know how much the average person makes in a year in the USA versus in a third world country?  Maybe if they did, the little things they complain about during the day might not seem so drastic.  

I love teaching about the difference between first and third world countries.  The ease of the CIA World Factbook is so useful for students to find out information about countries.  Just imagine how much more they would be aware of if they knew what the terminology on this site means.  They'll also have a better idea what the statistics next to the terminology means too, and be even more knowledgeable when learning about the world. 

I've used the product below for years and years in my social studies classroom when learning about the geography of the world.  Give it a try and see what your students think - I'd love to hear how it went!

Will this stop students from complaining about the little things in life?  Probably not, but maybe this activity will help make 10 of the next 70 years of their lives not seem as bad on Mondays.  It has helped how I fell about my Mondays immensely.  

Especially when I have creamer for my coffee.

Until next Monday!

Monday, September 21, 2015

A week ago Sunday I had a super awesome surprise - I had my Articles of Confederation product featured in the Teachers Pay Teacher Newsletter!!  See it in the Newsletter HERE!

That was really cool to see!  So what made my product stand out to be selected??  Honestly, I have no idea.  However, I did enter products quite often to be featured, and I guess its like the lottery...somebody's gotta win!  

How do you enter?  Excellent question.  Let me show you:

1.  Start by clicking on My Tpt and then selecting "See it in our Newsletter" at the bottom:

2. Next, enter your information in the boxes and submit.  You can enter as many products as you'd like each day, so give it a try!  

I know, I know, what are the odds of getting picked?  Well, that's tough to answer.  I do know that if you don't try your chances are 0%.  If you try, at least you're in the game!  

Here are my stats for the week after having my Articles of Confederation product featured in the newsletter:

Followers: Before-302 / After-310
Product Views: Before-2,252 / After-3,742
Product Previews: Before-222 / After-292
Wish Listed: Before-42 / After-67
Products Sold: Before-105 / After-125

I did end up having my highest sales week since starting on TpT, and I know a lot of that came from the sales of the products linked in the description of my featured product.  I'm so thankful for that spot in the newsletter, and because of it, I'm on track to have my highest month ever.  So thankw, TpT!

I had a seller at the conference tell me, "Wait for the'll happen!" 

Sounds good to me!


Have a great week!  Now go submit a product for the newsletter!

Until next Monday...

Matt @ Surviving Social Studies

P.S. - Click my logo below to go to my TpT Store

Monday, September 14, 2015

Celebrate Constitution Day on September 17th!
A very small portion of the internet world might read this post about celebrating Constitution Day.  Tomorrow, it will vanish into the bottomless pit of internet blog posts only to be revived momentarily when it is tapped to be displayed somewhere in the 29,400,000 links in a Google search on “Constitution Day.”  Yes!  Made the top 30,000,000!!! 

Organizing my words for this little blog post puts me in awe at how challenging it must have been for Gouverneur Morris, the penman of the Constitution, to find just the right wording to stand the test of time.

His famous 52 words are the words in the Preamble to the United States Constitution and read as follows:

“WE the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

What Governeur Morris wrote, with the approval of the Continental Congress, has guided our nation through good times and bad for 228 years now.  Many people are at least familiar with the names George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, and Samuel Adams.  Ask 10 people who Governeur Morris was and you’ll most likely get a guess that he was a governor of some state at some time in history.  Governeur was actually his first name, which might have helped steer him toward politics.  Who knows?

52 words.

Ask kids to memorize it, and they will.  Ask kids to explain who their “posterity” is, or what “general welfare” means, or what Morris meant by “secure the blessings of liberty?”  Chances are your students won’t have a clue. 


After Thursday, they should have a pretty good idea.  I use this Preamble Activity every year with my students on Constitution Day.  It gives them a clear and concise way to  break down the Preamble into understandable language.  They then explain it in a way that people today would go, “Ohhh…so that’s what that means?!”

It’s only 52 words, but I love these 52 words that Governeur Morris wrote.  

228 years later we might not have all the wrinkles of our country ironed out yet, but we can look back at those 52 words Governeur Morris wrote like a geographer looks at a compass…for guidance.

Happy Constitution Day! 

See you next Monday!

Surviving Social Studies

Monday, September 7, 2015

It’s Labor Day!
When you’re a teacher and it is Labor Day that means one of two possibilities:

1, You’re either relaxing with friends and family or doing some recreational activity with them
2. You’re at home or at school working on lesson plans

Teaching really is a “Hercules of labor,” meaning it is a task of grand proportions.  When I first started teaching U.S. History I remember thinking, “How am I going to remember all of the people in history and what they did and when they were around to teach my students?”  The truth is, I couldn’t remember every single person, what they did, exactly when it happened, and what it had to do with the next event.  I know these names were delivered to me in a lecture-style format in college, and that wasn’t my way of learning, but that’s the only way it ever was.  The mentality of “If I tell them about it then I’ve covered my responsibility of helping them learn.” 


Middle school students don’t want to be lectured!  Who does??  Then it dawned on me that I needed the students to be in charge of their learning.  History isn’t about being able to recite minuscule facts that really only come into play when you’re playing Trivial Pursuit or watching Jeopardy.  History is about discovery.  

I'll admit, relinquishing that “control” was uncomfortable at first because I felt that my students weren’t ready for it.  They’ve been trained to have information spoon-fed to them their whole lives so they can spit it up later and I was about to break that tradition.  

I decided to just go for it though!  If we’re learning about the American Revolution then let’s find out who was there and why their names are known by scholars of history.  I assign students to one person (so we don’t leave anyone out) and then I let them pick four others of their own choosing to research.  Could I have just told them about each of them via lecture?  Sure I could, but my voice would turn into the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher quite rapidly to them. 

I, at first, shakily handed them the torch of learning.  Now, it is just the way things go in my class.  Are kids quietly working on their own?  Nope.  Am I still covering the curriculum?  Yes, but with them.  Do they sometimes get off task and need redirection?  Of course, they’re middle schoolers!  Am I enjoying my job more?  I am. 

If you’re not sure if letting your students “do” while they’re in class, just think about how you feel when you’re at a staff meeting.  That’s how they could feel 7 hours a day. 

I’ve got a new bundle uploaded if you teach U.S. History and are looking for a way to help students learn about the different figures in history from the Age of Exploration, to the American Revolution, to the Civil War, to the Industrial Revolution, and the Progressive Era. 

Let them be in charge of learning about some of these people.  I assign my students one person and then let them pick any other four that they're interested (from the 32 cards from that unit).  Use your library, computer labs, ipads, or whatever you can provide your students to let them labor for their education. 

It’ll be alright, I promise.

See you next Monday!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Not Everything Has Changed...

I am about to embark on my 17th year of teaching middle school.  We'll, the next five days are inservice first.  Yes, five.  I've got a few more wrinkles, a few (ahem) less hairs, but I've never been more experienced.  I was talking with a teacher friend who has the same amount of years who said, "I've never been better at my job while at the same time I've never been farther away from being 13."  We talked about how we are at a point in our careers where we are teaching kids who:

Weren't even born on September 11th, 2001
Who have always had the Internet
Who have never used a VCR
Who have never had to wait to hear their favorite song
Who have never pushed "Play" and "Record" at the same time
Who have never had a landline phone
Who have always had Netflix available...

...and the list can go on and on. 

However, we came to the conclusion that even though they are exposed to more, a 13 year old today still goes through the same emotions, social awkwardness, and self-discovery today as we did when we were 13.  Every generation will say, "kids aren't the same as when I was that age."  Nope, but the true core of being a kid at any age, is.  That's why being a teacher keeps you young at heart.  Even though we've maybe taught a specific grade level for years and years and might have lost some of the novelty of the "newness" of it all, it is good to remember that it is still brand new to our students.  

Have a great year!
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies

Monday, August 17, 2015

What Are We Even Saying??
Ever since I was young I remember thinking things like, “How did a couch end up being called a ‘couch’ and everyone just went with it?”  Well, some call it a sofa, but I digress.  My point is we all use these little sayings and expressions, but nobody ever seems to know why we say them or where they actually came from.  We just…say them. But what are we even saying?

I’ve recently started putting together a product including the way I’ve started class for well over the past 10 years.  I call it “The Phrase of the Day” and my students have always enjoyed these because they’re fun and also because I give them a mint if they correctly guess the phrase. 

I currently have 20 of the phrases that I use uploaded to my store in the product below.  I plan on adding 20 more at a time until I get to 180 (for 180 days of school).  They will all be bundled together at the end so keep an eye out for them! 

You are getting 140 slides in a PowerPoint and here’s one example from the 20 phrases included in this product:

I think you and your students will love starting class this way!  

See you next Monday!
Surviving Social Studies


Monday, August 3, 2015

Hello Everybody!

Last week I told you that if you teach U.S. History or any Social Studies for that matter you would be in for a surprise!  Well, the surprise is that TpT is having its annual Back to School Sale and my entire store is 28% off!  That means bundles, caricatures, cloze reading quizzes…EVERYTHING! 

Here are a few products I'm highlighting that I think you’d enjoy in your classrooms:

When I first started teaching 17 years ago I remember feeling overwhelmed because I didn’t have a supply of materials to fall back on, I didn’t know how long anything would take, and I was just trying to survive to the bell at the end of the day without any major mishaps.  This bundle gives you 15 different products I’ve used throughout my career that are tried and true and will give you a little breathing room during the day to focus on planning future lessons for yourself. 

This is one of those subjects that you can easily lecture on or show a short video, but why not have your students make a connection to what it was like for the colonists’ struggles to organize a new government?  This activity will give the basics of the Articles of Confederation as well as lead them through an activity comparing their relationship with their parents, which tricks them into realizing the relationship the new government has in regard to its citizens. 

Where’s the Buried Treasure?  30 Latitude & Longitude Treasure Hunts!:
I’ve found over the years that with the invention of GPS technology that the art of knowing how to find a location manually is a bit of a lost art.  These treasure hunts are great to begin class with.  Each student gets the same treasure hunt and an atlas and has to use the coordinates given to try and find which country is at each location.  When they are done, they’ll use the first letter of each country they found to spell out the name of the country where the treasure is buried.  

When I first started teaching U.S. History I taught the way I was taught – I lectured.  Then I realized after sitting through staff meeting after staff meeting that the excruciating pain I was feeling sitting there being talked at while I remained silent and motionless was the way my students were feeling - even with as interesting as I thought I was to them.  Therefore I dedicated my time to creating ways for students to be “doing” more instead of sitting passively.  

I teach middle school, which can definitely be a difficult time for both parents and their teens.  Most of the time the arguments they encounter are based off of each side not realizing that they’re on the same side, but just not understanding the other's point of view.  This activity has both teenager and parent assess their relationship through a series of statements. They score their assessments and then compare answers with each other - hopefully talking about why they were off on certain ones.  

Above all, TpT has a world of teachers offering their lessons and activities that have made their lives easier.  I hope you find something in my store during this sale that will help make your life easier this year while keeping more money in your pocket with the 28% in savings!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hello Everybody!

Alright, here’s the deal.  This blog of mine, well, as you can see by my entries, we’ve been on again and off again…and on again and off again.  Classic blog/blogger drama as I’m sure many of you bloggers can relate.  I guess I could say my blog and I (for those old enough to remember) are the Ross and Rachel of blog/blogger. 

I know this has mostly been my doing.  OK, it has been all of my doing.  My blog has been really good to me.  While I’m neglecting it, my blog has been here waiting patiently for me to pay attention to it – to add something to this relationship.  Selfishly, I’ve been off making new products, or updating old ones.  I’ve been changing covers and adding my logo to them as if I’m just begging for attention.  I’ve been, well, yes, I’ll admit it - I’ve also been spending time with my old previews, but I swear it was just over coffee nothing more.  To my defense though, I thought we were...“on a break?” 

So here it is, for the whole world to read, “Blog…it’s not you.  It’s me.” 

I’m in this relationship 110% and I don’t expect my blog to instantaneously forgive me for my neglect.  I’ll just prove how sorry I am by letting my actions speak louder than my words.   
OK, that was a little embarrassing, but I felt it needed to be done.  I’m going to give my blog and I a week to rebuild our relationship, solidify our foundation, and then I’ll be adding new posts to my blog EVERY MONDAY!  My posts may be about new products, experiences in the classroom, things I’m working on, or who knows, it might at times be just a free-floating rant about whatever is on my mind that day.  Next week Monday, I’ll be back fully-charged and ready to share my thoughts about my first TpT conference I attended this past July.  Also, there will be a deal you can’t pass up if you teach U.S. History!

See you Monday!

Surviving Social Studies

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

As part of the Week 2:“Dare to Dream” TpT Seller Challenge I’ve decided to put those dreams of mine down on paper.  Well, down on a computer screen anyway. 

Dream #1: TpT/Woodworking Full-Time
After 16 years in the classroom teaching middle school Social Studies, I could totally see taking the experiences I’ve had and the lessons I’ve created to turn that into a sustainable business via TpT.  My favorite part of teaching has always been creating lessons and activities to help my students learn better and TpT has given me an outlet to generate an income while doing so. 

I also run a woodworking store on Etsy called Along the Ridge where I specialize in making picture and mirror frames out of slabs of wood that still have the natural edge intact.  This is also a creative outlet that allows me to escape into my happy place of shavings and sawdust.  My store can be found at or at

Dream #2: 48 States in 48 Days Trip
This has been a trip I’ve wanted to do for about 20 years now.  When I was younger I didn’t have the money to do so, and now that I’m 20 years older I haven’t been able to convince my wife and kids that being in the car for 48 days would be, well, fun. 
The idea behind the trip would be to pick a handful of interesting places, historical landmarks, or geological features in each state that I’d like to have seen in real life. 

I’ve never actually mapped out the entire route so now I’ve just added another thing to my list.

Dream #3: Set up a Travel Fund for My Daughters
I didn’t come from the type of family that had a lot of extra money to do things.  Therefore, travelling around the country never really happened.  We went to Phoenix when my sister was considering going to grad school at ASU, but other than that, the vacations involved in state trips riding in the back of a station wagon that involved visiting relatives. 

I had a student tell me a few years back that nobody needs to travel anymore because they can just look at everything on the Internet.  We had a talk about seeing a place versus experiencing a place. 

I want my daughters to be able to experience the world for themselves or with their families someday and not have to worry about whether or not they can afford it.  My wife and I would love to be able to have $50k for both of them that they get when they turn 30.  By then they’ll most likely have settled into being a “grown up,” which I laugh at because I’m turning 40 in August and I don’t feel like a grown up yet! 

Dream #4: Research My Family History and Travel to the Beginning
As a history teacher I’m a huge fan of the past and the stories that the past provides us.  Seeing the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights in the National Archives is always really cool for me because it’s the real deal. 

I haven’t researched my family history yet, but have always meant to start.  I’d like to travel to the places my ancestors have lived and find out about their lives and make a book for my daughters about how they got here. 

My parents aren’t getting any younger and I think my Dad would love to find out our family’s story. 

Now that I look back at my list it seems as though I’m seeking experiences and that my dream is to make these things happen.  The working on it part, well, I’m working on it. 

Hopefully you're working on yours as well!
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cues for Settling In and Starting Class 
by Surviving Social Studies

If you've ever faced a group of middle school students before then you know that they know when you’re struggling.  They can sense it in the same way a dog can smell fear.  Middle school students are at just the right age where they’ve seen enough teachers and have been in just enough classes to know if you’re justifiable.  Because of this, I knew I needed a hook.

The hook that got my students’ attention on my first day of teaching almost 17 years ago was me greeting the students with a, “Good morning students!” as I leaned up against the table in the front of my classroom.  The table apparently didn’t have the pin that secured the leg fully because it collapsed down about two inches on one side causing me to fall that two inches, plus the remaining distance to the floor. 

First class.
First day.
First minute.
First failure.

However…I did have their attention. 

I wasn’t going to be able to fall off a table every day, so I needed to come up with a different, less humiliating way, to start class.  Over the years I’ve found that my students (and I) do better when I start class with a consistent, established routine.

I teach 8th grade United States History and start each class by taking attendance and then projecting my online timer on the screen, which is counting down from 10 seconds.  This visual cue gets students to quiet each other down without me having to talk over them while they’re settling in. 

Once the timer goes off, I switch my screen over to “This Day in History” on  This is a 60-second glimpse as to what happened in history before our present time.  Kids really like it when it is their birthday and they can see what else happened in history on the date they were born.  Sometimes kids ask questions about what they saw, which helps them engage their brains through curiosity.

By this point kids have already managed each other’s behavior, had their visual and auditory senses targeted by This Day in History, and are ready for the next step.  Mind you, we are only two minutes into class. 

I, then, flash this LifeSavers image on the screen, which, like Pavlov’s Dog, gets their salivary glands activated.  They know that if they can accurately guess “The Phrase of the Day” they will win a mint.  Although this is an extra cost, as a teacher I’ve doled out thousands of mints over the years: for getting the Phrase of the Day correct, for random act of kindness, for a kid who needs something positive in his or her life, or sometimes just as a thanks for coming to class.  The benefit, definitely, outweighs the cost. 

The Phrase of the Day is then pulled up on my PowerPoint and students are shown a famous phrase on the projector screen that has some letters missing.  I call on five students by drawing their names from a stack of note cards I have with their names on them.  I allow seven guesses and as soon as a student accurately guesses the phrase I throw them a LifeSaver and ask them to take a guess how they think the phrase originated.  

An example phrase of the day is, "Saved by the Bell." I tell them how it may have originated with the fear of being buried alive.  I then explain where the phrase may have come from.  I’m a big fan of phrase origins, so I’ve got a full year’s worth of these.  

This may seem like a lot to start class, but the kids enjoy it and so do I.  This activity takes about four minutes of class time.  On days where I’ve felt a little rushed for time and have skipped our daily routine, it only takes kids a few seconds to say, “but what about This Day in History and our Phrase of the Day?”  This has taught me the benefit of routine and that connecting with my students is worth the cost of four minutes of class time.  Yes, there are lessons to get through, standards to meet, and activities to enhance learning, but there is, also, the humanity portion of teaching that can get muddied by over-assessing everything.  When people ask me what I teach I always respond with “I teach kids.  We learn about history along the way.”
Fridays are a bit different.  Instead of This Day in History and The Phrase of the Day, students see the 10-minute, uninterrupted, educational, and entertaining CNN Student News with Carl Azuz.  This is fast-paced and geared toward middle and high school students.  CNN Student News airs every day, but we only view it on Fridays.  I encourage students to watch this when they wake up in the morning to find out what’s going on in the world. 

After the news, students spend two minutes reflecting on three questions in a CNN STUDENT NEWS NOTEBOOK:

  1. If you were a news reporter for CNN Student News what would be three good follow-up questions you’d ask about today’s main story?
  2. What struggles do you see people being faced with in the news today?
  3. What made you feel good about the world based on what you saw today?

Sometimes I’ll have students write in each other’s notebooks so they can see what their classmates wrote about the previous week’s story.  This activity is great for Fridays because kids look forward to it all week and sometimes come back on Monday with more information to share about some of the stories they saw on Friday.  It is a great current events connection. 

I have a different free current events activity that I’ve used that you can check out in my TpT store:  Current Events Article Assignment 

Another way I’ve started class that has worked well in the past is by using a “deli-style” system for finding out information.  How this works is every student is handed a ticket when they walk into class.  I, then, pull up my “Deli-Style” PowerPoint (which actually has a bell sound like at a real deli) that lets students know they have five seconds to stand up and share once their number is up. Kids love it!  

Questions might be:

  • What are you doing this weekend?
  • What is a goal you have for this quarter?
  • How were you helpful yesterday?

The possibilities are endless with this one.  30 kids in class, 5 seconds each, takes only 2 – ½ minutes to get kids up and sharing a question they can easily answer in a safe environment that is fun and fast-paced.  It hasn’t failed me...yet. 

Hopefully this gives you some new ways to start your class, manage your classroom, and have fun with your students while doing so.

If all else fails, fall off the table. 

As owner of Surviving Social Studies, my Teachers Pay Teachers store has over 200 products that I've used in my classroom over my 16 year career teaching middle level social studies.  This was done in between raising a family, chaperoning students to Washington, D.C., serving nine years as vice-president for my city’s organization that puts together the Veteran’s Day program and Memorial Day parade, and running a small woodworking business called Along the Ridge.  I also once got stuck under a fence while playing little league baseball when I was 10.