Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Engaging Ways to Relate to Current Events: News, Historians and Zombies

By The Editorial Team

There are numerous ways for students to examine current events that relate to social studies. However, studying current events requires a deep understanding of the economic, cultural, political and sociological aspects of a specific event. Without this background knowledge, motives and actions can seem capricious or irrational. However, once a student understands the history of, for example, a war, they begin to realize that the reasons behind it often stem from generations-old animosities.

Learning about the present without studying the past is like studying only the ocean’s surface. Without going deeper, students will never obtain a full understanding of the phenomena before them. Learning about the world is a lifelong process, but it is one that the National Council for the Social Studies has concluded is necessary if an individual is to become an effective citizen. This process is imperative for anyone hoping to fully appreciate the complexity of the world and the effects of globalization.

4 ways to relate current events to social studies

Teachers have an important role in the process as well: providing students with social studies lesson plans that make them want to learn. Here are four strategies educators can use to engage students in topics that deepen their understanding of the world; one of them even uses zombies to teach social studies!

1. The PBS NewsHour Extra

The PBS NewsHour Extra is a site dedicated to giving students from seventh to 12th grade background information on the day’s leading news stories. Students just beginning to learn about the world can see the chain of events that has led to the headlines as opposed to simply picking up the narrative in media res. As the NCSS noted in a 2009 position paper, “social studies classrooms need to reflect this digital world so as to better enable young people to interact with ideas, information, and other people for academic and civic purposes.”

The PBS NewsHour Extra does just that, and, as one of the most reputable news organizations in the nation, is an easy way for teachers to relate current events to social studies.

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2. Guided discussion: DIY NewsHour

In addition to watching and reading the news, discussing it in the classroom can be incredibly beneficial to students. Leading a discussion of current events in class allows students to approach social and political issues using what they have learned from social studies in a constructive manner.

Teach on the Beach, an organization that works in Ghana, has had great success by doing just this. According to their site, one of the benefits of a DIY NewsHour is that students “unpack written and verbal communication skills important to success in college and beyond.” By participating in a discussion and following up with short essays or journal entries, students learn how to speak in public, create and galvanize unique opinions, and learn the most crucial and often overlooked of all communication skills–listening.

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3. Reading like a historian

As much as the digital age has changed education and the way people live their lives, students must still be able to learn from material that is not internet-based. One idea promoted by the Stanford History Education Group, Reading Like A Historian, has students examine a primary source document as though they were professional historians.

Provided the document pertains to a current event, such as, say, the parallels between Shay’s Rebellion and the rise of the Tea Party, this exercise allows participants to think critically about the past, the present and the way in which the two are intertwined. Furthermore, by having students experience a variety of perspectives, they also learn how to think critically — a necessary skill for anyone living in a media age where the line between fact and opinion is often blurry.

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4. Zombie-based learning

Not all current events are news-related. A young social studies teacher recently realized there was a way to leverage the pop-culture obsession with zombies to teach students about geography, economics and patterns of human behavior. David Hunter, a teacher at a school in Bellevue, Washington, has developed an entire zombie-based learning unit that uses the challenge of surviving a zombie apocalypse to get social studies students learning in a creative, multi-disciplinary way. Teachers who want to shake things up in the social studies classroom would be wise to give his clever idea a try.

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