Skills Students Need to Succeed in Social Studies Classes

According to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), "The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world." As such, students need to possess a number of skills to be successful in social studies classes. Following is a list of essential social studies skills that students should practice and master.

01
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Using Maps

Mexico, Mexico City, children looking at large wall world map
Anthony Asael/Art in All of Us/Contributor/Getty Images

Maps are used throughout the social studies to help impart spatial information in the most efficient way possible. Students need to understand the type of map they are looking at and be able to use the map conventions like keys, orientation, scale and more.

More about the Basics of Map Reading

02
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Understanding and Using Timelines

Timelines are a useful tool for students to connect the disparate bits of information that they learn in social studies classes. Sometimes students can lose sight of how the information that they are learning fits together in history. For example, a student in a world history class needs to be conversant in the use of timelines to understand that the Russian Revolution was occurring at the same time that World War I was being fought. Timelines provide context for this type of situation. Therefore, students need to understand how to construct and use timelines.

03
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Interpreting Data From Graphs, Tables, and Visuals

 Students will be faced with many sources of information that will be presented through graphs, images, and tables. Often a visual representation is the best way to convey information. Therefore, it is important that students are taught how to understand and create tables, graphs, and other supporting visuals. In addition, students need to be able to critically look at visual data in order to better understand primary and secondary sources.

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Comparing and Contrasting Skills

 Sometimes, social studies classes can become bogged down in learning individual facts. Comparing and contrasting allows students to move beyond this and instead use their own critical judgment to determine how groups of ideas, people, and facts are similar and different.

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Recognizing and Understanding Connections and Relationships

 Students need to be able to understand and communicate cause and effect relationships in order to show not only what happened but why it happened in history. Students should understand that as they read a text or learn information they should look for keywords like thus, because, and therefore. 

In addition, students need to have enough background information to be able to make informed guesses about what could happen in the future. In other words, they need to be able to extrapolate from current relationships and events future outcomes. 

06
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Critical Analysis of Primary and Secondary Sources

 Students need to recognize the difference between primary and secondary sources. In addition, they need to be able to look at each of these types of sources critically. They need to be able to understand the role that the author has in each of the sources and recognize bias where it exists. They also need to be able to understand the context for primary sources in order to better interpret the information that is presented there.

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Making Generalizations From Specific Information

Students in social studies classes need to be able to make generalizations based on looking at a number of specific examples and information. A key skill for historians is to read individual accounts of events and extrapolate from this information an overall sense of what really happened. Students need to be taught how to use this skill in their own history and social studies courses.