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High School — Social Studies
Social Studies Skills and Methods


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    Social Studies Skills and Methods


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      Activities: Help with Fundamentals

      These activities can help you address the fundamentals of Social Studies Skills and Methods with your students.

      Define the terms

      Review with students the fundamental distinctions between primary and secondary sources:

      • Primary Source -- An account of an event by someone who was present at the event.
      • Secondary Source -- An account of an event by someone who was not present at the event.

      Students can chart the different types of primary and secondary sources, including (but not limited to) those below:

      Primary SourcesSecondary Sources
      • Interviews with eyewitnesses;
      • Period political cartoons;
      • Official documents, for example, Ellis Island artifacts;
      • Diary entries and letters written during a specific era;
      • Photographs and films of actual events;
      • Paintings done by eyewitnesses;
      • Live radio/television broadcasts;
      • Speeches by event participants;
      • Reports of original investigations;
      • Autobiographies.
      • Textbooks;
      • Reports written based on primary sources;
      • Biographies;
      • Encyclopedia articles;
      • Stories about prior events or persons.

      Students should be made aware of the advantages and limitations of primary versus secondary sources. Teachers should ask if one type of source would be better for a particular type of inquiry.

      Identifying Fact and Opinion to Detect Bias

      Present students with statements that are obviously either fact or opinion. Then present statements that require the students to use context to distinguish between fact and opinion. Remind them that factual statements are generally precise, testable and certain. Opinion statements often contain judgments, emotional appeals and uncertainty. Using primary sources on a topic being covered in class, have students work in pairs to highlight facts in one color and opinions in another.

      Have students reflect on the facts and opinions that they discovered:

      • What do the opinions reveal about the writer's point of view?
      • How does the writer use facts to support that point of view?
      • Overall, what bias can be determined (based on the opinions expressed and the facts selected)?
      How to Gather and Organize Data

      Teach students how to find information to support their ideas. First create a relevant topic for students to research. It may be helpful to create a topic based on material studied in class. Next, demonstrate ways to search for information on the topic. For example, if students are assigned to research art and music education, they might try searching for information using different research terms. A sample entry on a chart that helps students organize information might look like this:

      Topic Possible Search Terms
      Art and Music Education
      • Secondary art and music education;
      • Fine and performing arts education;
      • Art instruction;
      • Teaching band, chorus and orchestra.

      Next, students can classify their information into categories using the following template.

      Title of source and relevant information from source (include page number) Which aspect of my thesis will this help me support? Is this sufficient support? Why or why not? Is this source credible? Why or why not?
      Creating and Choosing a Thesis Statement

      Help students understand how to create and support a position in a thesis statement.

      • Prepare several topics for students to research;
      • Have students identify what they know about each topic;
      • Students determine if they can create position statements about the topics.

      Remind them that a position/thesis statement must be arguable and that they must be able to support a position or thesis statement with evidence.

      They can organize these initial steps using the following template:

      Topic Possible Position Statements What must we show to justify these positions?

      Students can then search for evidence to support these possible position statements.

      Help students reflect on the evidence supporting their position statements. Students can ask:

      • Which position statement generated the most evidence?
      • Which position statements generated the least evidence?
      • Based on my initial research, which position statement should become my final thesis statement?
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