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Formative Assessment

Activity 2: Formative Assessment

Divide the class into groups. Have each group brainstorm one of the following questions, jotting down notes to share with the rest of the class. Have the groups share their notes with the rest of the class. Have each student use the brainstorming from the group and the class discussion to individually address one of the questions in writing.

Printable Student View

  • How have physical and human geographic factors influenced major historic events and movement?
  • How have the allocation of resources impacted world competition and conflict?
  • How does the spatial organization of society changed over time?
  • What are significant physical features that have influenced historical events?

Have the students create a concept map using one of the concepts discussed in class. Have them present their map to the class, explaining how the items on the map are related and how this group of ideas makes sense to them.

Scoring Guide

Skills and Best Practices

Activity 2: Skills and Best Practices

Using Maps in Social Studies

The site below provides an lesson plan illustrating the use of maps in the social studies classroom. This lesson helps students evaluate how different types of maps can provide both historical and geographical information for use in problem solving and decision-making situations.

Pertinent questions addressed by this activity include:

  • What topographical changes can be traced through comparing various maps?
  • How do maps demonstrate the view of the world and what countries or regions are significant in the world at different points in time?
  • What political changes can be traced through the use of maps?

Alison Zimbalist, The New York Times Learning Network

Concept Formation

The site below contains a formal definition of concept formation. Teachers have been doing concept formation activities with students as a component of higher order thinking for a long time. However, few have taken the time to analyze the process as a psychological process.

This site also discusses:

  • How young children first learn concepts
  • Theories related to concept formation
  • How interests, beliefs and values affect concept formation

Formative Assessment

Activity 1: Formative Assessment

Printable Student View

In your journal, respond to the following question:

  • Will students standing on the time line in the year 3000 be standing closer together or farther apart as the timeline continues to record significant events and changes in our history? Explain.

Create a PowerPoint using graphics to create a timeline of your life history. Compare it to the classroom timeline representing the last 40,000 years.

  • How much of the timeline does it take up?
  • How significant is your life in the course of world history? Write a paragraph in your journal commenting on this question.

Scoring Guide

Skills and Best Practices

Activity 1: Skills and Best Practices

Using Drawings and Photographs to Teach Social Studies

The best way to teach social studies is take students to the sites you are talking about. For example, no one can truly say they understand the vastness and uniqueness of Alaska until they have visited Alaska. However, since this is not practical for most of our students, the use of the pictures is a necessary substitute. Fortunately, the Internet has become a wonderful source of graphic material for most of the units we teach.

Using Pictures in Lessons:

Using Timelines to Teach Social Studies

The site below provides a unique way of using a time line to make comparisons. For example, the following themes in world history are compared from 1900 to the Present to illustrate the sweeping changes that have occurred since 1900.

By making quick comparisons between 1900 and today, students can see the breadth of change over time. In addition, students can take a snapshot of significant people and events that impacted the last 100 years. For example, they can analyze:

  • Leaders and revolutionaries
  • Artists and entertainers
  • Builders and titans
  • Scientists and thinkers
  • Heroes and icons
  • The person of the century

Activity 3

Activity 3

Essential Question

What are the distinguishing characteristics of a complex society?


In many places, the resulting improvements in agricultural technology helped to produce a surplus of food which enabled some members of the community to engage in occupations other than farming. This, in turn, resulted in further innovation and the production of trade goods. For many people the quality of life improved. All of these changes encouraged population growth. Over time, as the population grew, the level of collective learning grew with it, resulting in ever more innovation and specialization. Communities soon crossed a threshold of size and complexity that required new, more complex ways of social organization.

Ancient Inca Irrigation Works

Instructional Strategies

Strategy 1

Gathering Information: Using Artifacts, Pictures, and Text to Learn About Civilizations

Have students work in small groups to examine pictures, artifacts, and related text that illustrate aspects of an early complex society. The following website might be a good starting point for their research:

Use a graphic organizer to help students take notes on their research. For example, a mapping activity helps students to brainstorm ideas. Add additional lines as needed to take notes

Strategy 2

Extending and Refining Information: Deductive Reasoning

Have the students use their notes to answer the following questions. Use a think/pair/share before involving the whole group.

Printable Student View

  1. Why was the development of cities an important indication that a civilization was growing and expanding?
  2. How does the specialization of labor lead to a more complex society?
  3. Why is an organized government so important to the development of civilizations?
  4. What part does religion plan in a civilized society?
  5. Why do social classes develop as a society becomes more complex?
  6. Why is trade important to the continued growth of a civilization?
  7. What role does communication play in helping a civilization grow and expand? Why is record keeping important?

Have students go to the media center to find pictures of early developing civilizations. Make each student responsible for bringing one picture to class for discussion. Have them use the following information chart to organize their presentation.

Printable Student View

of Cities
Social Classes Religion Organized 
Trade Writing Labor















Be sure students select pictures that provide information in several of the categories above. Have them record information in the appropriate categories.

As the students make their presentations, make a master list showing the supporting data for each of the characteristics of a complex society. Display this list in class on the bulletin board and refer to it often during the course of the unit.

Strategy 3


Have students review the characteristics of a complex society. Ask them to think about our own society today. Which of these characteristics are still valid today?

Printable Student View

  1. Is the development of cities still important today? Do cities play as important a role today as they did in the past? Why are states trying to revive their cities? Do they still have a role to play in a complex society?
  2. Do our social classes serve the same function as those in earlier times? Is it easier to move from one social class to another? Will there always be social classes in a complex society?
  3. Is religion as big a factor in our complex society as it was in the past? Will religion continue to influence the actions of people in our society?
  4. Does our government provide a safe environment for civilization to flourish? Do governments change with the times? Is this good or bad?
  5. Is trade important to our economy? Is it still important that we have good trading partners all around the world?
  6. Is writing and communication still important to the development of our society? How has technology affected this characteristic of a complex society?
  7. Is labor as specialized as it once was? Do people choose one profession and stay with it for the rest of their lives? How has the ability for people to move about freely helped to change this characteristic?

Have each student select one of the above questions to think about. Have them apply what they have learned about the characteristics of a complex society by preparing a PowerPoint presentation for the class addressing the question and its component parts.

Students may work with other students who have selected the same question and present their PowerPoint as a group.

Activity 2

Activity 2

Essential Question

Where did agricultural communities arise and how did their development lead to the rise of complex societies?


The transition to an agrarian lifestyle occurred gradually over a period of thousands of years. Humans did not suddenly decide one day to give up hunting and gathering and begin to farm. Humans had to have a compelling reason to give up a way of life that had worked so well for roughly 32,000 years.

Typical agrarian lifestyle in Southeast Asia

The shift to agriculture began in areas where hunting and gathering could no longer sustain populations because those populations were growing faster than available resources and/or because resources were declining as a result of a changing environment. Oddly, the regions where agriculture first appeared were not in environments that would seem to easily lend themselves to growing crops. Catal Huyuk, Jericho, and other early settlements in Southwest Asia were all located in challenging environments. Other early agrarian communities elsewhere in the world had similarly challenging environments.

Instructional Strategies

Strategy 1

Gathering Information: Using Climate Maps as a Source of Information

Have the students visit the following website. Give them sufficient time to investigate the site and try out some of the links.

Use the following questions to establish a purpose for the activity and to guide students to more in-depth information:

Printable Student View

  1. What kind of information do climate maps give us?
  2. What is this information used for?
  3. What predictions can we make about how people live based on the information we get from climate maps?

Have the students work in small groups to analyze several of the climate maps. Ask each group to make predictions about areas of the world were favorable to the emergence of early civilizations. Put these predictions on the board or chart paper.

Have students confirm their predictions by reading in their textbooks about the emergence of the first civilizations

  • Mesopotamia
  • Egypt
  • The Indus River Valley

Have them visit this website to find additional information

Have the students make a chart summarizing the information they have gathered.

Printable Student View

Area of the World Climate Obstacles they had to Overcome






The Indus River Valley



Strategy 2

Extending and Refining Information: Concept of Collective Learning

Conduct a demonstration to illustrate the concept of collective learning.

  • Select two students from the class to assist with the demonstration.
  • Give one a peanut. Explain to the other that she/he must pretend no knowledge of peanuts, not knowing that peanuts are edible or that they must be opened to get the food.
  • Tell the student with the peanut that his/her task is to explain the nature of the peanut to the student with no knowledge. The only restriction to the explanation is that it must be done without talking.
  • Ask the student with no knowledge to confirm that she/he understood the message conveyed by the first student.

Repeat the demonstration. Again, the student with no knowledge is to pretend to know nothing of peanuts and the explainer must convey the nature of a peanut to the other student without talking. This time, however, do not give the explainer a peanut with which to demonstrate.

Ask the two students to describe how they felt during the demonstration.

  • What frustrations did they feel?
  • Were you able to communicate?
  • Why would the task have been easier if you had been able to communicate orally?
  • Are animals able to communicate? Is it easy for them to communicate with us?

Explain the Concept of Collective Learning.

  • The ability to communicate through spoken language makes humans unique.
  • Humans can describe things that are not present, explain abstract concepts, and discuss the past and future.
  • Humans have the ability to share and accumulate knowledge over time. This ability is called collective learning.
  • In human communities, if one member of the community comes up with a new idea or invents something useful, all members will learn of it and that knowledge can be passed to later generations.
  • The larger the community, the more collective learning will take place, since a larger community will have a larger pool of knowledge, ideas, and experience from which to draw and learn.

Strategy 3


Have the students apply what they have learned about early communities by using the concept of collective learning to think about the following questions:

Printable Student View

  1. How did the ability to communicate accelerate the agricultural revolution? What processes would have been impossible without this ability?
  2. Are you able to compare and contrast this revolution with the technology revolution we are now in the midst of? How is comparing and contrasting an example of the concept of collective learning?
  3. How is your reading assignment and your website assignment an example of the concept?

Share one new idea you learned about early civilizations with your group. Explain it carefully so that you are sure they understand it and can pass it on to others.

Join your group with another group and talk about what you have learned so far about early civilizations. How is adding more people to the group an example of collective learning?

Activity 1

Activity 1

Essential Question

Why have civilizations changed slowly over time with more rapid changes occurring during the modern era?

Background Information

Modern humans appeared about 40,000 years ago. They lived successfully in small nomadic hunting and gathering bands until around 10,000 years ago when agriculture began to gradually replace hunting and gathering as the dominant way of life.
The rise of agriculture allowed for the 
development of more complex societies

The transition to agriculture was a critical trigger for the development of more complex societies since it allowed people to establish permanent settlements and live together in far greater numbers than ever before.

Instructional Strategies

Strategy 1

Gathering Information: Using Pictures and Pictographs

Use the following website to give students an understanding of the slow pace of change prior to the emergence of modern Homo sapiens about 40,000 years ago.

Talk with students about the importance of gathering information about a topic prior to drawing conclusions. Use the KWL Chart to record what you already know about prehistoric people.

Printable Student View

KWL Chart

What I know




What I want to know




What I learned from the pictures




Use the following website to show students pictures about hunting and gathering civilizations. Use the guide questions to ensure that students get as much information from the pictures as possible.

Guide Questions: The U. S. National Archives and Records Administration suggests three steps to help students analyze photographs.

Step 1: Observation

  • Overall impressions
  • Details in each section of the photo (people, objects, activities)

Step 2: Inference

  • What can you infer from the photograph?

Step 3: Questions

  • What questions does the photo raise in your mind?
  • Where could you find answers to your questions?

The National Archives also offers a Photo Analysis Worksheet on their website.

Ask students to look more carefully at the pictures and draw inferences from what they see.

  • What can you infer from what you see in the pictures?
  • Why are these logical inferences?

Have students refer back to their KWL chart.

  • What information is confirmed by the pictures?
  • What information is challenged by the pictures?

Now have the students go to the Internet to collect a group of their own images of historical and modern hunters and gathers using such key words as:

  • Hunter/gatherer
  • Prehistoric people
  • Bushmen
  • Aborigines
  • Pygmies/Itruri Forest People
  • Native Americans
  • Foragers

Have students review the guide questions for analyzing pictures. Have them use these strategies as they examine their own set of images. Ask more specific questions to help students see the relationships among the pictures:

  • What do all these pictures seem to have in common?
  • In what parts of the world do the people in these pictures live?
  • In what time period do you think they live?
  • What kind of clothing do you observe these people wearing? Why do you think they wear this type of clothing?
  • In what kind of homes do you think these people live?
  • What do you think these people do for a living?
  • What kinds of foods do you think they eat?
  • What kinds of transportation do you think they use?
  • Would you want to live a similar lifestyle to these people? Why or why not?

Using the new information gained from the discussion, have students go back to their KWL chart and fill in what they have learned.

Check for Understanding

Use the essential question to determine how much student thinking has expanded?

  • Why have civilizations changed slowly over time with more rapid changes occurring during the modern era?

Strategy 2

Extending and Refining Information: Using Timelines and Video Clips

Create a timeline of human history that spans 40,000 years. This can be done in a variety of ways.

  • Marked adding machine tape or rope can be stretched out to illustrate the time span.
  • A very long hallway can be used with the tiles on the floor representing intervals of time.
  • An athletic field with yard markings may be used in the same way.

Position students at points representing the beginning of the timeline (40,000 B.P.), the transition to agriculture (10,000 B.P.), and today. Talk about the relative distances of the students.

Use the Internet or the textbook to look for examples of completed timelines. For example, students could print out the timelines from the following site for use in this activity:

Ask students to look for events on the timelines that they think were as important as the transition to agriculture in 10,000 B. C. Use a timeline such as this one to record five events you think are as important as the agricultural revolution:

List all events on chart paper and after class discussion, have the students star the top five events. Extend student thinking about the magnitude of the agricultural revolution by asking the following questions:

  • Why do you think these events are equal in importance to the agriculture revolution?
  • What changes occurred as a result of these “revolutions”?
  • Why are these events closer together on the time line?

Use the timeline to help students scaffold their thinking. Begin with factual questions then extend and refine their thinking to encourage higher levels of thinking. For example:

  • For how much of history did humans spent as hunter gatherers?
  • Why did humans maintain this way of life for so long?
  • When humans transition to agriculture as a way of life, what happens to the pace of events on the timeline?
  • What do you think accounts for the change in the pace of events?

Check for Understanding

Students should discuss these essential questions:

  • Can change happen too quickly?
  • What are some of the problems associated with rapid change?
  • Is society becoming too complex?

Strategy 3

Application: Transfer

Have students review their KWL Charts and their notes. Discuss the rapid change in society after 10,000 B. C.

Have students predict the next event on the timeline which could be considered a revolutionary change, altering the way people live. Use these questions to help you predict what life might be like after your next event on the timeline.

Printable Student View

  • What technologies might drive the next revolution?
  • In what parts of the world will these technologies be most evident?
  • What kind of clothing do you observe these people wearing? Why do you think they wear this type of clothing?
  • In what kind of homes do you think these people live?
  • What do you think these people do for a living?
  • What kinds of foods do you think they eat?
  • What kinds of transportation do you think they use?
  • Would you want to live a similar lifestyle to these people? Why or why not?

Check for Understanding

Summarize this discussion by having students write an essay about what life might be like in this new era. Have them decide if life will be better in this era and to support their decision with information from the class discussion. Before they begin to write, review these thought questions with them:

  • Can change happen too quickly?
  • What are some of the problems associated with rapid change?
  • Is society becoming too complex?

Formative Assessment

Activity 3: Formative Assessment

Use the article from strategy 3 to answer the following questions.

Printable Student View

  1. What problem is the news article discussing?
  2. Why is the problem important?
  3. So far as the problem is concerned,
    1. Should one level of government have the main responsibility for dealing with the problem? If so, what level of government do you choose? Justify your answer based on law and other relevant factors.
    2. Should more than one level of government share responsibility for dealing with the problem? Justify your answer based on law or other relevant factors.
    3. What level or levels of government should have no responsibility for dealing with the problem? Justify your answer based on law or other relevant factors.
    4. Should no level of government have any responsibility for dealing with the problem? Justify your answer based on law or other relevant factors.
  4. What do you propose as a solution to the problem?
  5. What are costs and benefits of your proposed solution?

    Note to teacher: As costs and benefits are contemplated, consider the likely consequences of your solution and how your proposed solution relates to values we associate with democratic political systems, such as (but not limited to) freedom, justice, equality, and the general welfare. The fact is that a solution that is based upon and supportive of one value may weaken or be inconsistent with another value. Sometimes, we have to make choices between two values which we happen to cherish, which might place us on the horns of a dilemma. It is also important to define our terms clearly because different people may define the values in different ways. For example, one person might define equality in the sense of everyone having equality of opportunity, whereas another person may define equality as everyone having access to basic human material needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, medical care, etc., and a third person might think of equality as everyone having certain fundamental human political rights.

  6. Why should your proposed solution be adopted?

Scoring Guide

Skills and Best Practices

Activity 3: Skills and Best Practices

Jurisprudential Approach to Teaching Social Studies

According to several studies, students taught using a jurisprudential approach will develop a greater interest in contemporary issues and increased skill in analyzing these issues.

This approach, according to Shaver1, may be used to involve students in an in-depth analysis of public policy issues. The approach is based on the following assumptions:

  • Controversy over public issues is inevitable because different people have different views of the world as a result of their different backgrounds (ethnic, religious, socio-economic, family, etc.).
  • Important social values (values or principles for judging worth) that people hold may conflict with each other in specific cases. (For example, in a zoning issue a person’s freedom to use land he owns as he pleases may conflict with the general welfare in one or more ways.)
  • There is an analytic perspective that is useful in analyzing issues and in making decisions with regard to them. The perspective includes these elements:
    • Consciousness of differing points of view or frames of reference.
    • Knowledge of how to use language with some precision. (This involves being aware of the meanings of words, of how some words have emotional attachments, of how the same words may have different meanings for different people, and of how to resolve disputes over the meanings of words.)
    • Knowledge of how to determine and validate factual claims.
    • Knowledge of identify, define, and weigh values relevant to the issue.
    • Knowledge of how to make a reasoned decision, taking into account language problems, factual uncertainties, and value discordances.

1 Shaver, J.P., Social studies. In Cawelti, G. (ed.) (1995). Handbook of research on improving student achievement. Arlington, VA: Educational Research Service, 147-48.

Decision Making in Social Studies

Decision making is a process that is taught from the early grades through high school. And yet, most students have difficulty telling you the steps in the decision-making process. This is partly because teachers are not consistent in teaching the steps in the process. This site is useful in:

  • Teaching students how to apply the decision-making process to real life
  • Reviewing the six steps in the decision-making process
  • Connecting the decision-making process to role planning and group decision making
  • Providing students with an assessment to see if they understand the process
  • Helping students evaluate how they make their own decisions

Formative Assessment

Activity 2: Formative Assessment

Have students answer the following questions, which may either be on-demand essay questions or may be questions that may be answered with students given access to their notes and to other resources while answering the questions.

Printable Student View

  1. The Great Depression dominated events in the United States during the 1930s.
    1. Describe in one sentence how the U.S. government response to the Great Depression changed the nature of U.S. federalism, and
    2. b. Describe three separate, specific pieces of evidence to support your position, explaining how each piece of evidence supports your position.
  2. World War II came on the heels of the Great Depression, and following World War II, came the Cold War, which caused the United States to believe it was endangered by Communist regimes, which opposed democracy and the United States economic system.
    1. Based on your understanding of how the threat of the Great Depression had an impact upon the United States federal system, describe in one sentence how World War II and the Cold War probably had an impact on the nature of U.S. federalism, and
    2. Provide a reasoned argument to support your position.

Scoring Guide