Engaging Social Studies Instruction in a Classroom Low on Time and Money

Engaging Social Studies Instruction in a Classroom Low on Time and Money

In an ideal world, every classroom would have an abundance of time and resources to dedicate to social studies instruction, enabling educators to engage their students in immersive, hands-on learning experiences. However, the reality for many teachers is quite different. Limited time and tight budgets can pose significant challenges when it comes to delivering effective social studies instruction. Nevertheless, with creativity, strategic planning, and a commitment to student engagement, educators can still provide meaningful learning experiences in this crucial subject area.

Practical strategies to make the most of social studies instruction in a classroom with constraints on time and money:

  • Prioritize Key Concepts: To maximize social studies instruction in a time-constrained classroom, it’s essential to focus on the most critical concepts and skills. Start by identifying the key standards and learning objectives for your grade level or curriculum. By prioritizing these concepts, you can ensure that your students receive a solid foundation in social studies even with limited time. I have created units that touch on key concepts which you can find in my store HERE.
  • Integrate Social Studies Across Subjects: Consider integrating social studies into other subjects whenever possible. This cross-curricular approach not only saves time but also enriches students’ understanding by connecting social studies concepts to other areas of their education. For example, you can incorporate historical events into English language arts through literature, or explore geography through mathematics. I offer several novel studies that address historical themes such as Number the Stars, Esperanza Rising, Projekt 1065, One Crazy Summer, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Little House in the Big Woods, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and Blood on the River.
  • Leverage Technology: Inexpensive or even free digital resources can provide students with access to a wealth of information and interactive learning experiences. Websites, apps, and online videos can supplement your classroom instruction, making it more engaging and informative. Look for resources aligned with your curriculum and objectives to make the most of your limited budget. I have created units that incorporate free resources which you can find in my store HERE.
  • Use Primary Sources: Primary sources, such as letters, diaries, photographs, and documents from historical periods, can provide valuable insights into social studies topics. These resources are often available online for free or at low cost. Incorporate primary sources into your lessons to give students a firsthand look at historical events and perspectives.
  • I have created units that link to primary sources which you can find in my store HERE.
  • Collaborate with Community Resources: Take advantage of local museums, historical societies, and community organizations that may offer educational programs or field trips at little to no cost. These experiences can enhance your curriculum and provide students with a deeper understanding of the world around them. Collaborate with these resources to make social studies come alive for your students.
  • Encourage Student Inquiry: Foster curiosity and critical thinking by incorporating inquiry-based learning into your social studies instruction. Pose open-ended questions and encourage students to explore topics independently. This approach can be particularly effective when time is limited, as it empowers students to take ownership of their learning.
  • I have created units that utilize these strategies which you can find in my store HERE.
  • Embrace Flexible Instructional Models: Adopt flexible instructional models. Each of my units provides an interactive notebook format, a Google Drive format, and a short-on-time IntelliNotes format which you can find in my store HERE.
  • Make the Most of Classroom Materials: Utilize the resources you already have in your classroom. Repurpose materials, textbooks, and educational tools to create engaging social studies activities. The units that I provide HERE can easily pair with textbooks that you may have available.

Each of my units contains an informational slideshow that goes along with the activities to help if you have limited resources. I also include links to free online resources that can be utilized while working through the units.

It is critical that you keep social studies instruction in your classroom to help students understand cultural identity, foster civic responsibility, recognize the impact of historical events, promote critical thinking, and encourage empathy and tolerance. Social studies instruction is a vital component of a well-rounded education. By providing students with a deep understanding of their nation’s history, we empower them to become responsible, informed, and engaged citizens.

My product line for the 4th-6th grade student contains units that take you from the early days of North America to the beginning of the 20th Century.

There are 53 units total and they are:




























Download a free sample from each section to try before you buy!

All of the units follow a similar format and contain both a printable and Google Drive format and include:
  • Contain a cover sheet in both color and black & white.
  • Informational slideshow presentation for instruction
  • Links to helpful online resources.
  • Guide with a link to a Google Drive file and instructions on how to use it.
  • IntelliNotes™ format to use when you are short on time.
  • A tutorial guide showing how to make all foldable activities.
  • Two different vocabulary activity versions (foldable or flash card). The file also contains blank editable pages so that you can add or change the vocabulary to best fit your needs. **This is the only editable portion of the products.
  • Interactive notebook activities to cover each topic within the section to help students pinpoint and highlight the main ideas and concepts.
  • An End of Unit Assessment.
  • Answer keys for all included activities

From the first unit, Early People of North America:

Teaching social studies in a classroom with limited time and money requires adaptability and creativity. By focusing on essential concepts, integrating subjects, leveraging technology, using primary sources, collaborating with community resources, encouraging student inquiry, embracing flexible instructional models, and making the most of existing materials, educators can provide meaningful social studies instruction that prepares students for a well-rounded understanding of the world around them. Despite the challenges, dedicated teachers can inspire a lifelong love of social studies and foster critical thinking skills that extend far beyond the classroom.

You can buy each unit individually, topics bundled together at a 20% discount, or find the full-year bundle at a 25% discount.

The Teaching Bank’s Most Frequently Asked Questions-FAQ

The Teaching Bank’s Most Frequently Asked Questions-FAQ

Here are a few of the most frequent questions that I am asked from buyers, and potential buyers, about my resources. Hopefully, you will find these answers helpful.

If you cannot find the answer to your question. Please email me directly.Email The Teaching Bank

The Teaching Bank PDF FAQs5 The Teaching Bank PDF FAQs6


If you still have questions, please email me directly.Email The Teaching Bank

Celebrate Nebraska’s Birthday with a State Study!

Celebrate Nebraska’s Birthday with a State Study!

March 1st is Statehood Day in the state of Nebraska. We will be celebrating 152 years since officially becoming the 37th state on March 1, 1867!

I moved to Omaha, NE, for my first teaching job back in 1995. My assignment was 4th grade. The biggest part of the Social Studies curriculum for 4th grade is to teach Nebraska History. I had just moved to Nebraska, living here for only 2 months. Omaha was the only part of Nebraska I had ever been in! If you are familiar with a Nebraska map you will see that Omaha is on the extreme east side of the state, you don’t even need to drive through other areas of Nebraska to arrive in Omaha. You head over the Missouri River (Iowa border) on I-80 or I-29 and go directly into Omaha. So needless to say I did not have one bit of background knowledge of the state of Nebraska or its history!

In addition to a lack of personal experience, the district gave me ZERO resources to use to teach this curriculum, no textbooks, no informational books, no teacher’s manuals, nothing, zero, zip! So to say I really was not qualified or prepared to teach this required Social Studies curriculum is an understatement!

I made it through that first year, how I’m not quite sure? I learned about Nebraska right along with my students. The second year I was able to start to refine the resources that I created and by the third year, it was looking even better. The silver lining of the experience is that by being given nothing I was able to refine my creating skills and have been able to utilize those skills with my The Teaching Bank adventures!

When my son was in 4th grade his teacher contacted me asking if I had any resources to help with her Nebraska Unit. I enjoy sharing my resources with my children’s teachers and her email sparked an idea to create a product line using the materials I had created for my own classroom. I would have been in heaven to have something like this available in my first year of teaching! So with that my Complete Nebraska State Study Interactive Notebook Unit was born!

I do understand that this product doesn’t have the widest audience, mainly Nebraska teachers! I created it with 11 distinct sections that can be used in isolation or as a full-year curriculum so that teachers can pick and choose to fit their needs. This also gave me the opportunity to offer the Lewis & Clark section and The Oregon Trail section as separate, stand-alone items to market to the wider US audience. You don’t have to be a Nebraska teacher to use either of those!

The unit is broken into the following sections:

Section 1: Nebraska Maps, covers Nebraska’s location within the United States, surrounding states, populous cities, regions, waterways/aquifers, and weather.

Section 2: Nebraska State Symbols & Government, covers Nebraska’s flag, seal, state symbols (bird, tree, etc), federal government representatives, state representatives, introduction to the Unicameral Legislature, and the steps of how a bill becomes a law.

Section 3: Nebraska’s Notable People, Places, & Facts,  covers Nebraska’s notable people, places of interest, and fun facts about the state.

Section 4: Prehistoric Nebraska, covers Nebraska during Prehistoric times. Activities include vocabulary, Ashfall Fossil Beds, animals in Nebraska during the Ice Age, and the first humans in Nebraska.

Section 5: Indigenous Peoples of Nebraska, covers the tribes of Nebraska, the study of an Earthlodge, Earthlodge vs. Tipi comparison, and investigates the many uses of the bison.

Section 6: Lewis and Clark, covers the location and exploration of the Louisiana Purchase, maps the journey of Lewis & Clark, investigates supplies needed for the journey, a timeline of the journey, journals the journey, and the impact of the exploration. *This section is not Nebraska-specific and can be used nationwide!

Section 7: The Oregon Trail, covers the first pioneer settlers, mapping the Oregon Trail, investigates reasons for traveling the Oregon Trail, research supplies needed for the journey, hardships endured, journals the journey, and the Mormon Trail. *This section is not Nebraska-specific and can be used nationwide!

Section 8: Nebraska’s Road to Statehood, covers Nebraska’s road to statehood, including activities for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Homestead Act, housing on the prairie, life of a pioneer child, the impact of the railroad to NE, and NE becomes a state.

Section 9: The Age of Progress in Nebraksa 1870-20th Century, covers how the issues (suffrage, prohibition, race relations, Native Americans, child labor, worker’s rights, election reforms, political reforms, and anti-monopoly reforms) during this time period affected the people of Nebraska.

Section 10: WWII and the Cold War, includes 2 informational articles along with activities touching on Nebraska’s role in World War II, the Cold War, and the role of SAC and STRATCOM.

Section 11: Nebraska’s Major Industries, includes activities dealing with Nebraska’s major industries: crops, livestock, and other important NE industries.

All sections come in a printable Interactive Notebook format, a quick IntelliNotes™ format, and a digital Google Drive™ format.








Also included in each section is an informational slideshow to aid in instruction.

Click here to try out a sample activity from the unit.

All of these sections are available on their own so you can tailor it to your own classroom needs. You can also buy the entire unit together as one bundle at a reduced cost.

This can save you money and it includes everything you need to teach your entire state study for Nebraska. The alignment to the newly adopted 2019 Nebraska 4th Grade Social Studies State Standards is included with every section to make planning even easier!

In creating my resources I made a conscious effort to use only historical images and clip art. I know there are a lot of resources out there that utilize cutesy type clip art in their history products with a goal to entice children into thinking it is “fun”.  I don’t subscribe to that line of thinking, especially when dealing with topics such as war, slavery,  genocide, or in the depiction of indigenous people, enslaved people, or immigrants. I feel very strongly that using cartoonish imagery sends the wrong message to students preventing them from seeing the people and events as real and serious in nature.

You don’t have to make these topics “fun”, but you can very easily make these topics interesting through deep discussions.  Children are naturally empathetic and tolerant. It is a perfect time to tap into that empathy and tolerance as they learn of the atrocities of the past. This doesn’t need to be sensationalized or cutesy, these discussions of the events of the past taught in an honest and real depiction will engage the student’s interest. The deep discussions you have as you learn together will spark an understanding and appreciation for what has come before and hopefully will lead to the goal of learning this uncomfortable history, which is not to repeat it.

I hope this product can be the lifesaver for you that it would have been for me back in that first year of teaching! This covers everything that you need for the Nebraska study in an interactive way. Your students will be motivated, involved, and at the end have their very own Nebraska State Guide!

Using Google Classroom to Survive E-Learning Days

Using Google Classroom to Survive E-Learning Days

Having your students there in front of you is obviously the ideal way to monitor their understanding of a topic, to see the need for differentiating the instruction, etc. There are days, however, where this just might not be possible. With more and more students having access to laptops and other devices the “free” snow-days of the past are being turned into E-Learning days more frequently in order to avoid adding days to the end of the school year.

man clearing snow with a snowblower in a blizzard

Natural disasters are causing schools to close for short periods of time, for example, here in Nebraska many schools had to deal with flooding issues last spring and again in the fall which got a bit chaotic with school closings. Sometimes, it’s just the individual student missing out due to a short illness, to a student with an extended illness that prevents them from being in the classroom for a long period of time.

Another example is, homeschoolers might be using e-learning in their co-op groups/classes. There are many different reasons that we might not be able to be in front of our students in a literal way, but thanks to technology we can be in front of them in a virtual way during times of need.

As a curriculum writer, I try and incorporate as many choices and options as possible in my products. I know when I was teaching so many different things would come up and a simple textbook is just not designed to handle the changes and issues that come at you every day. My philosophy holds that ideally, a student will have that book in hand and be using as many of their senses to fully move that information from learning to knowledge. All of my products have a hands-on component that is printable and tangible that the student and teacher can work with together.

I also am a practical person and know that this ideal is not always possible so I have also added to almost all of my products a Google Drive format so the teacher has options. The Google Drive format covers all the same areas but can be done in a paperless environment using Google Drive (Slides and Forms).

The majority of my printable & Google format products are a mix of novel studies, social studies, and financial literacy materials. I also have a few ELA and Math centers that are interactive for Google Drive in addition to printable. In every download, you will find the full printable content as well as a page like this that contains links to add the Google format files to your Google Drive along with directions on how to do it.

Once you click that link your file will now appear in your Google Drive account. It is named “Copy of File Name”. You can easily change that to whatever you want it to be simply by clicking on the name box. From there you can assign the files to your students using Google Classroom.

How to use Novel Studies in an E-Learning Format?

For novel studies, your students will still need a copy of the novel to accompany the printable or Google Drive format of the novel study. With that copy, they can move through the novel study answering the comprehension questions, vocabulary activities, and extended writing activities all in the Google Slides, just as they can with the printable version. The teacher can monitor their progress in Google Classroom and I would suggest check-ins with small groups of students using platforms such as Google Talk (also known as Google Hangouts or Google Chat) or Zoom, to touch base with your students with a discussion of what they’ve read to make sure they are understanding the content and help them dig deeper in their understanding of the novel. This would be the same thing you would do with class discussions in the classroom, just using technology to cover the distance between you.

All of my novel studies contain assessments that can be completed in Google Forms. All of the multiple-choice comprehension and vocabulary assessments are self-grading which saves you a ton of time! The writing assessments can’t be in a self-grading format since they are not multiple choice in nature, but there are generally only one to two questions per assessment and can be turned in via Google Classroom for you to read and grade.

How to use Social Studies and Financial Literacy Activities in an E-Learning Format?

My social studies and financial literacy formats are very similar to the novel studies in Google format, however, there is no book or textbook needed to complete them. I include Webquest links for learning content and include slideshow presentations in all of my social studies materials to help the student gain the knowledge to complete the activities.

Again, Google Slides is used for the slideshows and for the completion of activities. Google Forms is incorporated in some of the financial literacy activities in the Escape Room activities to explore the content in addition to the Google Slides.

How to use ELA and Math Centers in an E-Learning Format?

All of the interactive ELA and Math Centers are completed in Google Slides. Students will manipulate the components to practice the skills. This can be monitored by the teacher in Google Classroom.

What can I do if my student doesn’t have access to equipment or the internet?

Most of us take for granted that we have access to computers/laptops and internet access at home. We know that there are some students where it is simply not accessible to them. In public schools, we have the obligation to provide equity for our students. If your school doesn’t have 1:1 capability or you have a student who does not have access at home again, all of my materials are also provided in a printable format within the same product download. All these activities are the same, just on paper instead of the computer. You can send these packets home with your students. To touch base you could try phone calls with those students or maybe something like Facetime or Skype if they have access to that via a parent cell phone. Again, the same content, just a different format.

Technology has given us so many options on how to work with our students. I am not an advocate for screentime for all learning as I feel very strongly that using all of our senses through reading, writing, manipulating, and discussing is the optimal way to learn, but there are times when this is not possible and I hope that my materials can help provide you with different options to utilize at various times when e-learning is called for.

Take a look at these free samples available in my store that contain both a printable and Google Drive™ format to help you get a feel for how it all works.

Sample from my Wonder Novel Study
Sample Social Studies Activity

You can find some tips in this post, Tips for Using Google Drive in Your Classroom, about how to more easily customize Google Drive products to better fit your individual needs.

Integrate Social Studies and ELA Using Blood on the River

Integrate Social Studies and ELA Using Blood on the River

In our busy classrooms, we often find that social studies gets pushed to the side to make room for things that take priority for testing and data collection. It’s not that we don’t want to teach social studies, it’s just sometimes hard to find the time. One great way to incorporate social studies is to use a historical fiction novel study in reading. You get all the work on the high priority reading skills and hit the social studies curriculum at the same time. This method can be very engaging for students and they end up with a deeper impact when history comes to life for them in the story. One great book to use while teaching about the early colonization of America is Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone.



Blood on the River was first published in 2006. It tells the real-life story of Samuel Collier who voyages to the New World along with Captain John Smith to colonize Jamestown in 1607.

Summary of Blood on the River:

*From the book jacket

Twelve-year-old Samuel Collier is a lowly commoner on the streets of London. So when he becomes the page of Captain John Smith and boards the Susan Constant, bound for the New World, he can’t believe his good fortune. He’s heard that gold washes ashore with every tide. But beginning with the stormy journey and his first contact with the native people, he realizes that the New World is nothing like he imagined. The lush Virginia shore where they establish the colony of James Town is both beautiful and forbidding, and it’s hard to know who’s a friend or foe. As he learns the language of the Powhatan Indians and observes Captain Smith’s wise diplomacy, Samuel begins to see that he can be whomever he wants to be in this new land.


See what people are saying about the Blood on the River Novel Study by The Teaching Bank!

Try a free sample of the novel study for Blood on the River 


Elisa Carbone takes some creative license with the story of Samuel Collier, but the story is rooted in fact and is deeply researched. It gives students a thorough idea of what it must have been like to come to the New World at this time in history. It also chronicles the relationship, both positive and negative, of the colonists with the Powhatan tribe living in the Virginia area. Students learn the real-life story of Pocahontas and how she worked with Captain John Smith toward peace and cooperation with the colonists.

I offer a complete novel study to accompany Blood on the River for use in the classroom or homeschool. The unit includes both a printable format and a Google Drive™ format for use in a paperless classroom or with Google Classroom.

You can purchase this novel study at the following locations:

You can also use this novel study alongside my social studies units for Eastern Woodlands Region US History Unit to learn about the Powhatan Empire and learn about the colonization of the Virginia Colonies, including Jamestown.

You can buy these units bundled with the Blood on the River Novel Study, at a discount.

I think you will find that using historical fiction to integrate your social studies and ELA curriculum will broaden your students’ learning to make it more lasting and meaningful.

Are you interested in reading about and sharing ideas with other educators on using children’s literature in your classroom? My goal is to bring together teachers and homeschoolers who teach grades 3-8 and use novels with their students. I’d love for you to join me to learn, share, and grow together!

Click here or the image below to join my Facebook group, Book Talk with The Teaching Bank!

Click to join Book Talk with The Teaching Bank

*The Teaching Bank participates in the Amazon Associate Program and earns a fee from qualifying purchases made on the Amazon.com site.