3 Easy Distance Learning Lessons for Social Studies – Free Lesson Included

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How many of us have been forced, overnight, to enter the 21st century and start using Google Classroom? Who has suffered a steep learning curve with no time to absorb the applications? Students get to see you mess up in real time (at least me). But, it’s all good; if teachers aren’t wiling to learn why are they teachers?!

I have 2 styles of Google Classroom distance learning lessons to cover in this post. The first one is something I’ve  dubbed “virtual gallery walk” which is a PowerPoint or Google slide presentation with pictures and, when possible, audio. The second uses Google Forms to chunk down content and infuse multiple-choice questions in between each “chunk” of information.


Virtual Gallery Walk

Have you ever used a gallery walk in your classroom? You post pictures, documents, charts, etc. around the room covering a certain topic. Students, often clutching some kind of graphic organizer, walk around the room studying the documents and filling in their handout. I usually end the gallery walk with discussion questions that students engage in groups to answer.

So a virtual gallery walk is similar. Students analyze pictures and other visual content and synthesize it with guided questions, a writing prompt, etc.

Let’s make one for the civil rights movements of the 1960s. First create a slide for each topic you want the students to learn about. Just name the slide to organize your thoughts: African American vote (Civil rights Act of 1964), American Indian Movement, Women rights, desegregation of schools (Little Rock).

gallery walk example
This is part of my Civil Rights Movement Gallery Walk. Each slide has the same question: Who is fighting and for what kind of rights?

Once you have your ideas go hunting for pictures, political cartoons, short primary source documents for each topic. Paste them in the slides. Include few to no words. You heard me right, this is a gallery walk; students learn through visuals, not blocks of text. This is an important component of the lesson design.

Now if you can add a few of audio segments  your virtual gallery walk will really pop. Add an appropriate song. Archive.org has a TON of interviews, radio shows, audio speeches, videos — you get the idea — check it out. To embed, simply click on insert and choose audio.

You can also record yourself in order to add a bit of lecture type content. Ham it up and make believe you’re a gallery tour guide! I’m not very techie and just record a voice memo, send it to myself and transfer it to an mp3 file (many free sites do this) an imbed on to the slides. Voila, done!

You’re almost there. I like to add a question at the bottom of many of the slides. Students can answer directly on the slide as they study it. Finally, my last slide is almost always a writing prompt. “How have the civil rights movements of the 1960s changed America?” An extension assignment can be included for further content knowledge. “Research one of the civil rights movements you studied today.”

Technical Directions for Your Virtual Gallery Walk

There are 2 steps to creating the slide presentation that students will engage in. First, make a PowerPoint or Google slide presentation with everything on it; pictures, questions at the bottom, an extension lesson as the last slide. Now “save as” a PowerPoint and then save again as a png file. this is an option. It will ask “all slides”? Answer: Yes.

Save your PowerPoint as a png file

Once you have what are basically pictures of all your slides open a blank google slides and simply insert a picture of slide 1, 2, 3, etc. as the background of the slide. Then create a text box any place that students are supposed to write. The reason for doing this is that students cannot mess with your presentation. They can’t “accidentally” delete the question or alter the presentation in any way. The only place they can edit is in the text boxes you created.

If you want a done-for-you virtual gallery walk I’ve made several. I like this World War I technology for both U.S. History and World History:

WWI Technology Virtual Gallery Walk


This is a fast way to create an assignment AND it grades itself; woohoo!

Find content that you want your students to learn, between 5 and 10 paragraphs is ideal. You can use a reading from prior lessons or find something on line. As an example let’s use causes of World War I. I have a reading with the 4 long-term causes and the immediate cause for a total of 5 “chunks” of reading.

The idea is to have students read part one or “chunk one”, then answer a couple of multiple choice questions about the content. Then they move on to chunk 2 and repeat the process. Once the assignment is complete they will have read all the content and answered 10 multiple choice questions, which are graded once the student submits the work.

Technical Directions for Google Forms

Here are the technical directions. Open up Google Drive. On the  upper left-hand corner clock “new”. You will get a drop-down menu; go to more and google forms. Once you’re in form click on the gear in the upper right, quizzes and toggle “make a quiz” button on. Don’t forget to save. That’s it, now your assignment will be self-grading!

Set Google form as quiz

Take about one-fifth of the reading you want the kids to read and copy and paste it where it says “untitled question”. Note: do not toggle the required button for the reading content; you don’t want that to count as a question. Next hit the plus sign to create another “question”. Type your question and then the possible answers. Now toggle the “required” button in the lower-right of the question.

Next click on answer key. Here you choose how many points the question is worth (I always use 10) and click the correct answer. That’s is, you’re done with the first question. I find 2 questions for each chunk works well, but it doesn’t matter how you apportion the questions out.

Further thoughts on Google Forms

The first time I made a quiz in Google Forms it felt like it took forever. And, if you forget to do something, like toggle the required button for each answer it won’t work properly. Once you do a couple of them it’s easy-peasy.

You can get fancy and change the color, style and font in your form. Click on the paint palette at the top to make changes. Finally, you can see what the assignment will look like by clicking on the eye at the top.

This is a great basic lesson for distance learning using Google Classroom. It’s not fancy-smancy, but it gets the job done. Try using primary source documents or political cartoons to reinforce the content. You can introduce new content or review old stuff using this method. It’s user friendly for students. And did I mention it grades itself?

Want a free Google Forms lesson? Just click on the picture below:

WW2 Summary & Questions – Free Lesson

Utilize Videos

Videos are a quick, easy and effective way to engage in distance learning. There are thousands of videos being uploaded onto YouTube every hour; some of them will pertain to content you are teaching your students.

Surf YouTube to find a clear and concise video about whatever topic you want your students to learn about. The video should not be too long and should not speak too fast. Once you have found a good video simply copy the link into a Google doc, or Google forms and create some constructed response questions for kids to answer. If you find a 5 to 10 minute video it’s a perfect assignment for distance learning.

You can ask straight-forward questions that are addressed in the video. Or you can ask an opinion question. Another idea is to give students a statement that they need to support with evidence from the video. One more idea is to ask a what if question: What if Hitler had won World War II? What if the Bay of Pigs operation had been successful?

I have started to create some short informational videos that start with a question that students should be able to answer from watching the film. If you want to try a couple of these, with done-for-you questions go to History and a Riddle.

History and a Riddle YouTube site


I hope these ideas have gotten you a bit excited about this whole distance learning adventure. Yes, this too shall pass. But in the meantime try and make this “adventure” as painless as possible for yourself and your students. A few new skills will make all the difference and set you on the path for success.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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