The Best Social Studies Websites

8/1/2008 By: By Larry Ferlazzo

from Educators' eZine

Here's another Websites Of The Year list. This one will be highlighting Social Studies (Geography, United States History, World History, Economics, and Government) sites.

In order to make the list, these sites have to be accessible and challenging to English Language Learners and native-speakers alike. They must also be able to be used by a teacher who only knows how to email and copy and paste a web address.

Since I'm covering such a broad area of topics under the title of "Social Studies," this selection is fairly long. I was only able to get it down to nineteen sites, with a tie for first place.

Number eighteen would be a lot higher, but, since it has a history of not being accessible a lot of the time, I'm putting it last on my list. It's the Holt, Rinehart Winston Social Studies Home Page. It has great free online activities to support their textbooks. Here are two examples. Click on any of the textbooks, then click on any of the chapters, and then go to "Interactive Features" to see the best online exercises. The site has been functioning for the past few weeks, so check it out before it stops working again.

Brainpop is the seventeenth site. It's one of only two sites I ever recommend that costs money. They have great animated movies and follow-up activities on lots of subjects, including Social Studies. It's worth the cost. They have various services at various prices. It costs us a few hundred dollars a year.

Number sixteen is DirectGovKids. It's a very colorful site that, through audio, animation, and text, explains the role of government in the United Kingdom. It's great for students here in the United States who want to learn how another country's government works.

The fifteenth-ranked site is the Social Studies page of IKnowThat. Their free map games and quizzes are a hit with both my ESL and mainstream students.

Number fourteen is Wikijunior's resources on Ancient Civilizations. It's part of Wikibooks, which is collaboratively developing open source textbooks online.

Hot Shot Business is number thirteen. This is a site from Disney where students participate in stimulations of starting businesses. It provides some good basic economics information, and is very well-designed.

Number twelve is an activity called Consumer Consequences. It's a pretty sophisticated interactive designed for users to determine their ecological "footprint" and to help them reflect what they could do to reduce it.

The Field Museum's site called Maps: Finding Our Place In The World is number eleven. The wonderful online activities it offers are too numerous to mention. Just be sure to explore all the links on its "sidebar."

Number ten is the Geography Challenge from a magazine called Mental Floss. It has a series of good map games that are a little more challenging than the ones on IKnowThat.

Number nine is called Nations Illustrated. It has over 7,000 photos from all over the world. They're categorized by country, and they're free to use for non-commercial purposes. One of the neat features it has is allowing any photo to easily be made into an E-Card.

The Zero Footprint Kids Calculator is eighth on the list. It would be difficult to develop a more accessible web tool for people to figure out their own ecological footprint.

Number seven is The Traveler IQ Challenge. This series of geography games is the hardest on my list, and the best.

The next site on my list is designed for use by realtors and people looking to purchase or rent an apartment/house. It's also a great research tool for students. HotPads is number six. It allows you to identify cities and neighborhoods on a map, and then lets you choose key demographic data. It then shows the data visually on a shaded map, along with a map key.

Number five is The Greatest Race On Earth. It's another very well-designed and thought-out sight that details the specific environmental consequences of many work, transportation, home, and leisure activities.

Learn About Congress is a site sponsored by Indiana University and is ranked fourth on my list. It has several videos and animations designed to show how the United States Congress works (or,at least, how it's supposed to work).

Number three is an extraordinary research site called ZIPskinny. All you have to do is type in a zip code for anywhere in the United States, and you immediately get information from the 2000 Census, along with a map of the area. Not only that, you can also compare the data with neighboring zip codes.

The second-ranked site is Awesome Stories. Awesome Stories has been a great source of information, particularly about history, for students since it began in 1999. It has thousands of very accessible stories about countless subjects. It's also made it on this year's list because it's just started to provide audio narration to its content.

And, now, for the site with the number one ranking this year:

One is HippoCampus. It has great (and complete) online and accessible textbooks for many subjects, including History and Government. Their resources include extraordinary multimedia presentations.

Links to these sites, and more, can also be found at the Geography & United States History page, and the World History page, on my website.

Email: Larry Ferlazzo

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