Focus on the Doing of Social Studies, Not Just the Model

Back in the day, Madeline Hunter ruled.

I never actually met Madeline but for a time, it was like we were joined at the hip. College of Ed professors loved her. Principals loved her. Teacher observation and evaluation tools loved her even more. And so all of my early teaching years were focused on her theories and lesson plan designs.

For the non-Boomers in the room, a quick review of Madeline’s design:

  • Anticipatory set
    Do something that introduces the lesson, hooks kids into wanting to learn the lesson, and establish your objectives for the lesson.
  • Direct instruction
    Foundational knowledge – the facts, ideas, and skills – is delivered to the students. Usually some sort of lecture, video, or reading.
  • Guided practice and application
    The teacher helps students apply what they have just been taught.
  • Independent practice and application
    Students apply the learning on their own.
  • Assessment
    The teacher measures how well students have met the objectives.

It’s not like this is terrible instruction. Making it clear to kids what our expectations are is good. Finding ways for them to collect and organize foundation knowledge? Good. Independent application? Absolutely. Done right? Pretty darn good.

But like a lot of things, Madeline’s best intentions rarely made it into actual practice. Back in the day, I was usually okay with step one. I could hook kids into content. But after that? Not so much.

I ended up teaching like I had been taught. How the teachers down the hallway were teaching. Direct instruction to me meant lecture, the occasional video, and a lot of assigned readings. If there was any guided practice and independent practice, it usually involved lots of homework and worksheets.

I got better. I started doing more hands on projects and cooperative learning. But there was still a lot of direct instruction. And while the projects were engaging and kids enjoyed them, I didn’t work super hard at making them relevant or tying them to big ideas. So I had a fun class but I’m not really sure students walked any out any smarter than when they walked in.

As my own kids entered and left social studies classrooms throughout their 13 school years, it became clear that they were having similar experiences. There were some hands on projects and occasional awesomeness (thanks Mr. Robb.)  But they still experienced a lot of direct instruction and “independent” practice in the form of study guides and worksheet packets.


Is it possible to take the best parts of Madeline’s model and adapt it to a world that needs our students to be engaged, informed, and knowledgable citizens? I think so.

For the last year or so, a group of us have been getting together to revise our current state standards. The focus is all about encouraging teachers to incorporate application pieces into their instructional design. And finding ways to tie that application to big ideas that are relevant to their students.

This means clear overarching ideas, better compelling questions, historical thinking skills, and summative assessments that give students flexibility in developing products that address the compelling questions. It’s this last piece – the doing, applying, authentic piece – that we want teachers and kids to focus on.

Here’s a draft version of an infographic we’re messing around with:

Instructional Steps for High Level Learning

(Image credit: Glenn Wiebe)

I get that some of this won’t make sense without access to the actual draft document. But the idea is simple. Give kids a great compelling and relevant question aligned to a big idea like Choices have Consequences. Help them access evidence that addresses the questions. Design an authentic task that lets them answer the question. And along the way, incorporate effective and proven instructional practices.


But like Madeline’s model, having a simple infographic doesn’t mean easy. What can it actually look like in practice?

Explore some of these resources:

  • Stanford History Education Group
    The gold standard in history inquiry best practices.
  • Honing Our Questions to Deepen Historical Learning
    Love this article about creating great question and integrating them into lesson design.
  • Doing Social Studies
    The KCSS blog – lots of ideas and strategies.
  • Read Inquire Write
    The people behind RIW started at SHEG and are taking things in a slightly different direction that I like. One of my new faves.
  • C3 Teachers
    I love love love this site. Inquiry Design Models are the next big thing and support what the Kansas standards document is doing. Question. Evidence. Critical thinking. Make a claim that addresses the question. All in one neat package.
  • PBL Works
    Problem-based learning is what good instructional is all about.
  • DocsTeach
    The National Archives interactive take on historical thinking.

And then go and follow these teachers. You’ve got national and state level teachers of the year. You’ve got amazing users of tech. You’ve got proven conference presenters. They’re all rock stars. And they all love talking best practice so don’t be afraid to chat them up.

Make Madeline proud.

cross posted at

Glenn Wiebe is an education and technology consultant with 15 years' experience teaching history and social studies. He is a curriculum consultant for ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas, blogs frequently at History Tech and maintains Social Studies Central, a repository of resources targeted at K-12 educators. Visit to learn more about his speaking and presentation on education technology, innovative instruction and social studies.