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Social studies is a multidimensional subject that focuses on people and places. It incorporates aspects of history, economics, law, philosophy, geography, ecology, political science [1] , and many more. Themes within social studies include ares such as: global connections, individual development and identity, production, distribution and consumption and culture[2] . Effective creative assessment within social studies reflects the diversity and richness of the subject itself. Because social studies covers many academic spheres there are many different ways to teach it, as well as assess student performance.

1. What is Creative Assessment?

Creative assessment uses imaginative, artistic, and innovative ways to gather information about student learning. It contrasts the traditional educational methods that include: worksheets, memorization, textbook questions, essays, and multiple choice exams. Creative assessment recognizes the fact that a classroom may contain students with a multitude of diverse learning styles, and provides opportunities for each student to achieve success.

2. Assessing Social Studies in the Past

A typical exchange between a social studies major (Josh) and a non – social studies major (Bobbie) goes like this:

Bobbie: “Hi Josh, I’m Bobbie, what is your major?”
Josh: “Social Studies.”
Bobbie: “... is that like history and stuff?”
Josh: “Yes that is part of it.”
Bobbie: “Ugh... I hated writing essays and memorizing things.”
Josh: “Well you see...”
*Bobbie walks away*

There are many misconceptions around the social studies discipline, probably none greater than the idea that history is, “boring”. As history majors and aspiring social studies teachers we feel it is our goal to dispel these myths and provide examples of how history and social studies may be taught creatively and interactively. We will work on highlighting these misconceptions of social studies education shortly however first it is important to provide some historical background on how Social Studies has been assessed in the past.

Teaching history is about helping students make connections, assimilate new information and apply their learning to new contexts. [3]

As far back as 1899 the goal was for historians to make history, “’educational’, and not just an ‘informational’ subject." [4]

Throughout the early 20th century the mostly widely used assessment strategy social used was the problem-method.
The problem method of studying consisted of two streams. The first involved studying the people of the past and seeing the world through their eyes. The other was meant to see history itself as problematic. In the words of a British teacher in 1917:
"The first educational use of the study of history lies not in the knowledge acquired (and subsequently forgotten), but in the method of acquiring it. It is the business of independent selection and analysis which is of the greatest educational value" [5]

This approach was not without its issues. As with all methods of teaching the problem-method could become static and mechanical as an all encompassing approach. It did have its supporters though. One American history educator in 1926 was particularly fond of it saying:
"It involves more or less of interpretation, but this should originate with the student himself and be guided by the teacher instead of being foisted upon him in a superficial fashion as is too often the case."[6]

How is it, if a century ago historians were trying to dispel the myths surrounding the instruction of social studies, that people still observe these misconceptions? What are all the misconceptions? What are some creative ways that we can use to assess the knowledge of modern social studies students? These are the questions readers devoted readers shall have answered in this wiki.

3. Misconceptions about Social Studies

There are a number of misconceptions demonstrated not only by students, but also teachers in relation to Social Studies. As illustrated earlier, a common misconception about Social Studies is that it is one-dimensional. For example, many believe Social Studies is primarily structured around the teachings of history; however, Social Studies includes a range of disciplines including, economics, law, philosophy,geography, ecology, and political science. In addition, here are a number of common misconceptions in relation to Social Studies:
  • Teaching practices are consistent with each other and lack variation and originality
  • Assessment is usually accomplished through standardized tests or essays
  • Social Studies fails to focus on contemporary issues
  • Social Studies focuses on memorization of material rather than being able to apply learning and skills to new situations
  • Difficult for students to relate with figures and events of the past
  • Social Studies is "boring"
This YouTube clip provides a dramatic example of how elements of Social Studies can be demonstrated by the teacher and students.

4. Issues Surrounding Creative Assessment

Standardized Testing
  • Puts pressure on teachers to rush through material at times, and to focus on what will be tested on the exam
  • Emphasizes a one-time exam that assess knowledge on a particular day at a particular time
  • Treats students in a uniform way
  • Largely ignores different learning styles

Teacher Apathy
  • It can be more difficult to assess, because it requires a range of rubrics
  • Some teachers are content with the status quo, and their traditional teaching practices
  • Creative assessment is more successful if teachers are enthusiastic, and willing to try new and unorthodox methods
  • It requires extensive planning in some cases

5. Theory Behind Creative Assessment

This section is meant to highlight the more positive aspects attributed to the Creativity Assessment movement, and what the advocates say are the learning benefits of student/teacher interaction in creating the assignment, scaffolding, ability for differentiation and the deeper understanding of the material being covered. For the most part, our group has come to realize that while there are specific elements of assessing creativity, these are not mutually exclusive to Social Studies and can be widely varying in their execution throughout the classroom subjects. The "Why" section in our Teaching and Assessment Strategies provide the rationale for the usefulness of these tasks, which are designed to engage students in more meaningful learning situations.

The link that is attached here describes the issues facing student-teachers in teaching Social Studies. It is primarily based on American models and events, but the insights on why teachers continue their styles based on how they were taught is well worth a look.[7]

[8] If you have the time, this research report may have some use on the theory behind this subject matter. 2.2.5 and 3.1 in particular. 3.1 Talks about the 5 Creative Dispositions that need to be instilled in learners through the tasks that will be assessed. Argues against "dreamy" notions of creativity but still incorporates everything else you might expect when creativity is thought of. 2.2.5 has one point where effectively used formative assessment (which can often be found in the examples of tasks we have listed, which need good rubrics to succeed) can improve student learning and speed by staggering numbers. Theory is not directly tied to social studies or the tasks that we do necessarily, but talks about assessment and how it can or should be measured for levels of creativity.

6. Teaching and Assessment Strategies

Teaching and assessment strategies move beyond the traditional and into the creative realm increase the chances that students will be engaged within a lesson, and therefore more successful. Below are seven different ideas to try in the classroom.

Grade level appropriateness legend:
*E=Elementary* *M=Middle School* *H=High School*

6.1 Role Plays and Drama


  • This strategy involves the students to think creatively, and tests their background knowledge about historical events and people. It puts students in positions that allows them to bring history to life. Within Bloom's Taxonomy it falls within the upper echelons of synthesis and evaluation.

  • Helps creates an emotion connection with the past
  • Makes the information easier to retain for some students
  • Imitates real-world situations

  1. Create a simulation of an assembly line involving all students by having them perform a single task on an assembly line in order to produce a class product. Have students or pairs repeatedly perform a single task. Afterwards, give time for a discussion about the pros and cons of the assembly line model. [M, H]
  2. Have students design a role play that shows their knowledge of a past historical event, such as the Fall of the Berlin Wall. [E, M, H]
  3. Have students work in cooperative groups to put an infamous historical figure on trial. Designate roles, such as: jury members, defense attorney, prosecuting attorney, bailiff, and witnesses to take part in the activity [M, H]

6.2 Storytelling

  • Transmitting information through written and oral mediums. The content of the story needs to relate to the learning targets, and should involve active listening on the part of the students.

  • Develops communication skills
  • Fosters a sense of classroom community through shared experiences
  • Students can express their own ideas and thoughts

  • Place students in small groups and have them research a historical event, like the Battle of Vimy Ridge or the Red River Rebellion. Have the students compare and contrast multiple primary source events, and get them to consider different perspectives and what makes a source reliable. [M, H]
  • Get the students to write from the perspective of a person from history (diary, letter), and share it will the class. [E, M, H]

6.3 Music, Rhythm, Rhyme, and Rap

  • This strategy allows students to become actively engaged with course material. Music is not only creative, but also an effective tool teachers can employ to ensure that students are able to synthesize what they have learned in alternate forms. In addition, music provides students with the opportunity to memorize course material in a fun and unique way

  • Develops effective memorization techniques
  • Facilitates student understanding of people from different cultures and countries
  • Improves student achievement, creativity, and motivation
  • Creates a fun and interactive learning environment
  • Establishes a sense of community within the classroom

  • Introduce students to Canada's diverse cultures by having them listen to the music associated with that culture. For example, teacher's can incorporate music that is specific to French or Inuit culture. Then lead students in a discussion on how that particular music reflects the values characteristics of that culture. (E, M)

  • Following an overview of a major social studies concept. have your students write an original song, rhyme, or rap to demonstrate their understanding of the concept. (M, H)

6.4 Movement


  • Involves the students being physically active within the classroom in order to stimulate and enhance learning.

  • Increases student motivation
  • Breaks up the lesson and can help students refocus
  • Can engage students who struggle paying attention
  • Information can be stored into multiple memory systems (long-term, procedural and muscle). That is why people can remember how to ride a bike or drive a car after months or years of not doing it.


  • Create a living timeline by handing out index cards to various students with historical events, and have them come up to the front of the room and arrange themselves in chronological order. [E, M, H]
  • When a student provides an answer have the other students stand if they agree, and sit if they disagree. [E, M, H]
  • Post pictures or readings on the walls around the classroom and have students move around to answer questions related to them. [E, M, H]

A couple girls created a song and dance about explorers:

6.5 Games

  • This strategy has unlimited potential due to the variety of ways that it can be employed. Teachers can assess anything they wish in almost any way that they wish. Using games and activities teachers can provide themselves with the opportunities to incorporate several levels of Blooms Taxonomy. The only real limit on the strategy is the teacher’s creativity.

  • Cultivates enthusiasm surrounding curriculum
  • Allows hands on experience with learning
  • Motivates student learning
  • Jeopardy! Game show review game. Questions can vary from simple true/false knowledge questions to evaluating certain key events or figures in material covered in class. [E, M, H]
  • “Q & A Ball” Start with the teacher holding a soft ball. Ask a question and then pass the ball gently to a student. That student now must answer the question. If he/she is correct then they may pass the ball to the a different student who then must answer the next question. If he/she is incorrect they pass the ball back to the teacher who chooses a different student to answer the same question.
    [E, M, H]

6.6 Graphic Organizers, Semantic Maps, and Word Webs

  • These are tools for planning, providing, and assessing instruction. They graphically illustrate relationships between ideas and organize thoughts.
Why? [9]

  • Enhance comprehension and memory
  • Can show patterns and relationship between concepts and ideas
  • Students can make connections between information, and break that information into manageable chunks.
How? [Applies to all grade levels]
  • Can be used to review content is a simplified fashion
  • Compare and contrast local, provincial and federal responsibilities through a ven diagram.
  • If students need to put things in chronological order they can draw a sequence map.
  • Students can organize the different branches of Canadian government by creating a concept map.

Here is a video that demonstrates how students can organize concepts from text:

7. Resources

Combs, M.A., & Beach, J.D. "Stories and storytelling: Personalizing the social studies." The Reading Teacher 47, no. 6 (1994), 464-471.

Martorella, Peter H., Candy M. Beal, and Cheryl Mason Bolick. Teaching Social Studies In Middle and Secondary Schools. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Pearson, 2002.

Tate, Marcia L. Social Studies Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin, 2012.

Canadian Geographic Magazine. A GREAT resource for extra ideas in general for Social Studies and current event topics.


  1. ^ Social Studies Program of Study
  2. ^ Marcia L. Tate, Social Studies Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites (Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin, 2012), 6-9.
  3. ^ Government of Alberta, Education. "Canadian History in Alberta's Revised Social Studies Curriculum."
  4. ^

    Ken Osborne, Voices for the Past: “New Teaching” or “Idealistic Twaddle”? A 1920s Model of History Teaching., Retrieved on September 29, 2012.
  5. ^ Osborne, Voices for the Past, Retrieved September 29, 2012
  6. ^ Osborne, Voices for the Past, Retrieved September 29, 2012.
  7. ^

    Maloy, Robert W. and Irene LaRoche. "Student-Centered Teaching Methods in the History Classroom: Ideas, Issues and Insights for New Teachers." Social Studies Research and Practice 5, no. 2 (Summer 2010),
  8. ^

    Spencer, E., Lucas, B. and Claxton, G. Progression in Creativity: developing new forms of assessment – Final Research Report. Newcastle: CCE. (2012).
  9. ^

    Novak, Joseph D and Alberto J Canas. "The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them."