Teaching Social Studies

In elementary school, students take social studies every year, beginning with the most basic elements of geography and history, and gradually progressing to more specific and detailed subjects as years go on. In middle school, students take a specific social studies class each year, usually revolving around world history and U.S. history, and in high school, classes are more dedicated to completing a thorough study of a particular subject, like modern American history.

A few of the different areas social studies covers are geography, history, government and current events.


Geography is the study of different countries, which includes factors like population, culture, location, climate, economy and physical land properties. In elementary school, general concepts of geography are incorporated into social studies such as different land forms and the basics of the world’s map and population. Middle schools tend to go more in depth on the topics covered in elementary schools. Some middle schools will devote an entire class to geography, which involves much more memorizing of locations on maps, and an in-depth study of physical conditions and climates. Many school districts that offer geography as a specific class in middle school do not offer a class in high school. Oftentimes, aspects of geography in high school are also incorporated into earth science and history classes.


History is a general branch of social studies that is taught in the upper levels of elementary school and in middle school. In middle school and high school, however, it is typically broken down into two different categories: world history and U.S. history. The foundation for U.S. history is incorporated into social studies in elementary school, where a basic timeline of United States history from before the Revolutionary War up to the present day is constructed. In middle school, this timeline is built upon and different ideas within the study of America are fleshed out and developed. In high school, the history of America can be taught over the course of two years, and involves a deep analysis of historical events, systems of government and important figures. World history, on the other hand, takes a global perspective and covers a broad range of topics including the ancient history of eastern and western civilizations, the secular history of religions, globalization, colonialism and major international conflicts.


The study of government includes the history of governments, the basic principals and types of governments, and the current state of both the American government and governments worldwide. Oftentimes, government is incorporated into other social studies classes, such as U.S. history, world history and current events. However, some schools have a specific class dedicated to the study of the government. In elementary school social studies, students learn about the branches of the U.S. government and other basic topics, such as the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Middle school classes build off these principals, going more in depth into the study of government, though usually still focusing on the United States. In high school, however, students may begin to learn about other types of government around the world and other political models, such as communism, socialism, dictatorships and monarchies. They may also learn about political revolutions and conflicts between governments.

Current Events

Current events is the branch of social studies that examines the present world. This subject analyzes a wide range of current social, ethical, political, legal, educational and environmental issues. Typically, a current events class blends presentations from both the instructor and the students to keep students actively engaged. In elementary school, social studies classes will generally cover current events on a basic level to promote awareness. The teacher will frequently report on recent developments, or ask students to keep an eye on and present interesting happenings. In middle school and high school, current events becomes a specialized class that actively develops the students’ ability to monitor and interpret the pressing issues occurring in the world around them.

Social studies is defined by the National Council for Social Studies as “the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence.” General social studies establishes a foundation for all of the subsequent, more specific classes that students will take in history, civics and the like. Typically, students take general social studies in elementary school, then move to more specific areas of study in middle school, and even more in-depth subjects in high school and college.