Get Out, Get Active: Three Social Studies Activities Your Students Will Love

Three recommendations to help keep your students engaged via outdoors social studies activities.

By Jonathan Civitella


Get Out, Get Active: 3 Social Studies Activities Your Students Won't Fall Asleep During

When the sky is blue and the sun is out, it is sometimes hard to keep students focused on their school work. One way to keep students' interest level high is to head outside, and conduct some open air lessons. Below are three different ways to supplement instruction with simple, fun and engaging activities that can get everyone outdoors.

Simulating a Blitkrieg-Style Attack

Before starting this activity, you’ll need to have access to several Nerf balls and something that can be used as a protective shield like a Frisbee or trashcan lid. The objective is to demonstrate the military theory: blitzkrieg, a concentrated attack that is both fast and powerful, by simulating Germany's invasion of Poland. First, explain how a blitzkrieg differs from other military tactics and how the Germans used it during their invasion of Poland. Next, take your students outside, or into the gym, and give them the following instructions:

  • Students will be split into four groups: Polish army; German Luftwaffe; German panzer division; German infantry.
  • The Polish army’s objective is to defend their city (which is represented by any object that is placed behind them).
  • The German’s objective is to capture the city and eliminate the Polish army.
  • Each student is given one Nerf ball and allowed to throw it once; if someone is hit with a ball they must sit down; the Luftwaffe and panzer groups are also given a shield (to signify their mobility and armor).
  • The German groups need to attack in order as follows: Luftwaffe, panzer, infantry 

Once everyone is clear on the directions, you can separate the two armies so that they are on opposite sides of each other and commence the attack. After the Germans are victorious (in theory), close the activity by discussing why the blitzkrieg strategy was effective.

Identifying Migration Patterns

Before starting this activity you’ll need to have access to heavy boxes filled with various items. The objective is to introduce students to the topic of migration. In this activity, students move from one location to the next in a game of Three Truths and a Lie. In order to make this activity simulate migration, select four very different locations to take your students (e.g., small student council office, football field, etc...).

  • First, tell students to pack up their belongings and grab the boxes and follow you to location number one. When you arrive, unpack the belongings/boxes and tell them either a truth or a lie about a recent topic of study (this part of the activity is arbitrary).
  • Next, move to location number two, then three and so on.
  • Once you’ve visited all the locations, take the students back to class and explain your reasoning for the activity (i.e., to have students engage in typical migration movements/behavior) and begin the lesson on migration.

Your Small Hands are Hired

Before starting this activity you’ll need to spread litter in locations around the school yard. The objective is to introduce the topic of child labor during the Gilded Age and the early 20th Century by having students collect trash. First, explain that they’ve been selected by the principal to test out a new district-wide program, one in which students become the school's cleaning personnel to save money. Next, you can take students outside and instruct them to pick up all the trash they see until there is nothing left. One student can be the enforcer to make sure the job gets done. Finally, take students back to the classroom and explain your reasoning for the activity (i.e., to have students engage in typical labor practices) and begin your unit.  Students will probably have a lot to say about child labor.

Social Studies Activities:

Human Migration Within and Into the United States

Students explore and answer important migration questions as they pertain to the United States.

Migration: Why We Move

Students compare and contrast early reasons for migration with 21st century reasons.

Unintended Consequences Lesson Plan: Policies that Impact Migration

Students understand the effect government policy had on migration.


Students examine migration photos in an effort to answer important questions.