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High School — Social Studies
Social Studies Skills and Methods

In social studies, we combine our understanding of geography, economics and government with our understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizens within nations. To draw conclusions about history, we need to analyze, organize and evaluate a wealth of information. We generate our own ideas from the information, and present them to others.

In their study of history, students should be able to identify primary and secondary sources of information, and evaluate the relevance and value of the claims in these sources. They should be able to form opinions and determine their positions on the issues presented to them. In addition, students must identify and utilize evidence to effectively defend their positions.

Ohio's Academic Content Standards establish the following expectations for student performance in Social Studies Skills and Methods:

  • Students must be able to apply skills and methods to thinking and organizing;
  • Students collect, organize, evaluate and synthesize information from multiple sources to draw logical conclusions;
  • Students must be able to understand the most effective way to communicate information using appropriate social studies terminology.

The content in this Teaching Tool is based on Ohio's Academic Content Standards: K-12 Social Studies and includes types of questions asked on the Ohio Graduation Test. While various suggestions and activities for working with students are included, this Teaching Tool is designed to complement a rigorous, research-based curriculum, not to substitute for one.


Beyer, Barry. Practical Strategies for the Teaching of Thinking. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1987.

Mowat, Linda. "Distinguishing Between Fact and Opinion -- A 'One Size Fits All' Process for Grades 6 to OAC." Journal of Ontario History and Social Studies Teachers' Association. Fall 2001.

Social Studies Skills and Methods

1. Social Studies Skills and Methods

Click on the following benchmarks for more information and for links to annotated OGT items.


Benchmark A: Evaluate the reliability and credibility of sources.

Benchmark A: Evaluate the reliability and credibility of sources.

Evaluate and determine the credibility and reliability of sources. A credible source is one that is trustworthy or believable. Credibility is the quality or state of offering reasonable grounds for being believed. Help students understand whether primary and secondary sources are credible or not. Students should take the following steps when evaluating a source's credibility.

Evaluate sources. Students can determine if a source is credible by watching for:

  • Logical fallacies: A logical fallacy is a mistake in reasoning, an unsound element in an argument, or a false idea or notion.
  • Consistency of arguments: Students can check a source's credibility by comparing it to other sources. If information is consistent across multiple sources, it is probably credible.
  • Unstated assumptions: Students can examine text to determine if the author clearly supports all contentions, or if the writer makes subtle assumptions, supposing or taking for granted information that is not proved or relevant.
  • Bias: A bias is a prejudice toward one particular point of view. Students can identify bias by considering whether opinions in a source are impartial.

Check the overall reliability of a source. Reliability is the degree to which something is trustworthy. To judge a source's reliability, students should look for:

  • Accurate use of facts;
  • Adequate support of statements;
  • Recent date of publication: Newer sources tend to have the latest information on a topic. Older sources might include information that is no longer valid.

Check the overall quality of the argument. Help students recognize the criteria of a high quality argument, thesis or opinion. They can ask:

  • Is this argument obvious and a generally accepted position, or is it obscure and unconventional?
  • Is the argument presented with considerable factual support from a variety of sources, or is the factual support limited?
  • Is the wording of the argument thoughtful and specific or vague and general?

Students must critically evaluate the evidence being used to support a thesis.

Consider the qualifications and reputation of the writer and consider the circumstances in which the author prepared the source. What makes this writer an expert in the subject? As students consider an author's authority and ability to write about a topic, they can explore the following questions:

  • Is the writer preparing a primary or secondary source?
  • Does the writer use original research or rely on the research of others?
  • How does the writer's experience, field or expertise inform the piece?
  • What is the writer's point of view?
  • What may have led her to have this point of view?
  • Which facts and opinions suggest why the writer might have this viewpoint?
  • Who is the author's intended audience?
  • What response is the writer attempting to elicit from the audience?

Recognize stereotypes. Students must also consider what bias might be present in the source. At times, people develop stereotypes, standardized and oversimplified conceptions, often negative, regarding particular groups of people. For example, a common stereotype about athletes is that they are unintelligent. Students should look for evidence in a text that indicates an author's propensity towards stereotypical representation.

  • Is there language in this source that suggests that the author presents an unsubstantiated, or unsupported, view of a particular group?
  • What language suggests that this source is prejudiced against one particular group of people or uninformed about the full complexity of issues related to this group of people?
  • Is there language in this source that presents an oversimplified view of a particular group?

Research the accuracy and consistency of sources. As students question the evidence, they should consider:

  • Can the information provided be verified?
  • Who supplied this evidence? What do I know about that source's biases?
  • Does evidence from various sources support the thesis?

Click here for an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.


Benchmark B: Use data and evidence to support or refute a thesis.

Benchmark B: Use data and evidence to support or refute a thesis.

Initial collecting of data -- When undertaking a research project, students must develop theses. To do so, they must gather sources and identify supporting data:

  1. Teach students to think of all the ways that data might be organized in source books and data banks (i.e., chronologically, alphabetically, topically, thematically, etc.).
  2. Gather and skim as many sources as possible. This makes it possible to identify facts that are consistent throughout multiple sources.

Evaluate information and refine the topic -- After gathering information, the next step is to evaluate it:

  • Is the data reliable?
  • Does the data adequately match what we know about the topic?
  • Is there enough data to create a thesis about the topic?
  • Is there too much data to allow a thesis to be made?

Next, students must decide:

  • If they need to make the topic more specific. If so, they should isolate data that supports this more specific topic.
  • If they need to broaden the topic; for example, if there is not enough evidence to support the topic.
  • If they need to choose another topic; for example, if there is absolutely no evidence to support the topic.

Construction and support of thesis -- Teach students to understand the difference between a topic and a thesis:

  • A topic is a general category of interest and research.
  • A thesis is a statement about this topic that can be supported with data and evidence.

Here are some examples of topics and thesis statements:

TopicsThesis Statements
Subjects taught in schoolStudents who take art and music classes in high school are happier and more successful than those who do not.
CurfewsWhen parents enforce curfews, they encourage their children to break them.

When discussing the construction of thesis statements, use familiar examples from history and pose them as questions. For example, "Were the British imperialists justified in colonizing African nations?" Explain that there are two sides to this issue and help students frame a declarative response for each side. This statement will become a thesis the student must support with evidence. It is vital that students practice this skill before they begin researching and writing.

Supporting a thesis statement -- In order to communicate an idea effectively, a thesis statement must be well supported with credible data. Teach students that as soon as a thesis statement has been created, they must find evidence to support it.


  • Thesis: Students who take art and music classes in high school are happier and more successful than those who do not.
    1. Evidence: In a study of 60 high school seniors, those who participate in 3-4 hours of art and music per week achieve grade point averages 2-3 points higher than their classmates.
    2. Evidence: In a survey of 50 high school students, students who participate in 5-6 hours of art and music per week report lower levels of stress than those who do not.
    3. Evidence: According to college admissions statistics from five local universities, students who take art and music classes in high school are twice as likely to be accepted to top ranked colleges and universities as those who do not.

Students should identify data that are specific and that support the thesis statement.

Creating a persuasive argument -- Students can develop a persuasive argument in the following way:

  • Determine alternative positions to the ones they are considering;
  • Decide which position they identify with most;
  • Finally, gather additional data to support that statement.

Once they've followed this process, students can then use a basic outline to frame the presentation of their persuasive argument:

    • Reason #1 - (with data)
    • Reason #2 - (with data)
    • Reason #3 - (with data)

Click here for an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.



Help With Fundamentals

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

Activity 1

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.

Activity 2

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)?
Activity 3

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?

Activity 4

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?

Additional Instruction and Practice

These activities may be useful for students who require additional instruction and practice with Social Studies Skills and Methods.

Activity 1

Strengthen a Weak Thesis

Create and present weak thesis statements for student evaluation. Discuss what makes these thesis statements weak. Students can create stronger thesis statements and identify specific supporting data. Have students organize their thinking with the following sample chart:

Weak Thesis Statement Stronger Thesis Statement Possible supporting evidence Specific data to serve as supporting evidence
Students should take more art and music classes. Students who take art and music classes are happier, more academically successful students. Students who take art and music classes receive higher grades than those who do not.In a study of 60 graduating high school seniors, students who participate in 3-4 hours of art and music per week achieve grade point averages of 2-3 points higher than those who do not.

Activity 2

Practice Refuting a Thesis

Help students look critically at position statements and understand that just as they are called upon to defend thesis statements, they may also be called upon to refute them. To refute a thesis, a writer might either find "holes" in the argument presented (point out ways that the thesis is unsupported or untrue), or prepare and present a counterargument (develop evidence that proves an alternative position).

First, prepare position statements for students to critique. Next, ask students to evaluate the position being made in each statement. Is the statement vague and dubious, or is it specific and credible? If it is not a strong thesis statement, have students explain why not. Students can next determine what position they must take to refute the thesis statement.

Finally, have students prepare evidence to support a counter position. Remind them to respond to the initial thesis statement and develop evidence in presenting their position. For example:

Thesis: The United States took appropriate action when it ordered the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Counter argument:

Evidence to support this position:

Activity 3

Evaluate the Credibility of Sources

Present students with a variety of sources on the same topic. Review with them the criteria for evaluating a source's credibility. Your criteria might include:

  • Qualifications and reputation of the writer;
  • Agreement with other credible sources;
  • Avoidance of stereotypes;
  • Accuracy and consistency of sources.

Create a rubric for evaluating each source for each of the criteria listed. Students can assign each source a value or rank on a scale of one through five with "five" being most credible and "one" being least credible. The rubric might look like this:

SourceQualifications and reputation of the writerAgreement with other credible sourcesAvoidance of stereotypesAccuracy and consistency of sources

Students can reflect on their rubric and determine:

  • Which sources seemed the most credible? Why?
  • Which sources seemed the least credible? Why?

Advanced Work

These activities can help your students reach the next level in their understanding of Social Studies Skills and Methods.

Activity 1

Judge Debates

Have students act as judges for their classmates' debates. Judges should set the expectations by considering some of the following before the debates:

  • How will you evaluate the arguments?
  • What kind of sources might be credible for this debate?
  • What kind of sources might be reliable for this debate?

During the debates, judges should evaluate the following:

  • Is this a strong position statement?
  • Is the argument effectively supported by evidence?
Activity 2

Evaluate the Claims Made in Advertisements

Have students gather advertisements from popular magazines and critique the claims that are made in each. For each advertisement they examine, students can:

  • Identify the claim being made;
  • Identify any data or other evidence used to support the claim;
  • Evaluate the reliability of the evidence using criteria learned in class.

Finally, students can draw conclusions and determine whether the advertisement is successful. Students should also discuss other factors (such as popular music, celebrity spokespersons, and catch phrases) that may convince customers to purchase the advertised products and services.

Activity 3

Create Political Cartoons that Show a Clear Bias and/or Serve as Examples of Propaganda

Ask students to choose a historical period for which they can create political cartoons. Students should create a political cartoon that includes both illustrations and text that reflect the period. Have students write commentary to show the bias and assumptions that they are communicating through their cartoons.

Students can practice identifying bias by evaluating each other's political cartoons. They can ask one another the following questions:

  • What is the writer/illustrator's viewpoint?
  • What in the cartoon suggests why the writer/illustrator might have this viewpoint?
  • What does this writer/illustrator want me to think about the topic?
  • Is this an example of propaganda (the spreading of ideas to promote a certain cause or the spreading of ideas to damage an opposing cause)?