Study Tips Social Studies

Study Tips for Social Studies including History and Geography

While in science, the focus is on questions about how and why, in social studies, we begin by  focusing  on the other basic questions, Who, What, When, and Where.

Tips for Studying History

In the usual history book or class,  students learn the names, what they did that was important, the date this happened and where it took place.  This convinced me and many other students that history was boring, that it was simply memorizing names and dates. How wrong we were!

These facts are important but that isn’t what history is about. Once you know the basics you need to ask WHY people acted this way, WHY certain events took place when and where they did, and HOW this changed history, HOW it affected people and events of that time, and HOW it affects us today.  This approach makes history meaningful, even exciting.

If your teacher doesn’t ask these questions, make them part of your personal study plan. You will learn so much more.

One strategy that is particularly helpful in history is the timeline.  Here is one example of a timeline showing the life of President Obama.Timeline Barack Obama

 How to Create a Simple Timeline

1. Draw a horizontal line marked either in the person’s age or with dates.

2. Mark  important events that took place. If you include too many events the timeline becomes confusing.

3. A good timeline will also include categories, dividing the time into different periods, here shown in colors. While, for this timeline, I used the places where Obama lives for the categories, it is usually  helpful to use more meaningful categories.  I might have used childhood, academic preparation, practical experience, early political experience, and the presidency.

Another strategy that should be helpful is the Compare and Contrast chart.

You might compare the army of the Union (North) and the Confederacy (South) in the US Civil War. You might compare World Wars I and II.  You might compare different political systems.  You might compare the policies of two or more world leaders.

It is always better to remember something because you understand it, because it is meaningful to you.  There are however, still times when you  need to memorize names and dates.  For this check on Rote Memory and Mnemonics.

Tips for Studying Geography

In Geography, you will almost always begin with the question WHERE.  You need to use or create meaningful maps. Starting with a simple outline map, you might add the topography: where the mountains, hills, and plains are. You should learn where the water is. Note the lakes and rivers. Sometimes it is important to know where the natural resources are located. And, of course, you need to know where the people are, the cities and towns.

Now you  read to ask WHY.  Why are the people located in these places. Is the city there because two large roads cross?  Is it there because of the river that once (or maybe still) depends on the river for transportation?  Is a city there because it’s a beautiful location with recreational opportunities to attract tourists?

Geography also includes understanding the economics of the area. How do people make a living?  What crops are grown in the area? What are the major industries. You might be able to relate some of this information to what you learned about area.

History and Geography are Interrelated

To understand history, it is important to understand the geography of the area. Was a battle fought in the mountains, on the plains, in a desert or a swamp. The reasons for a war might include rich natural resources or busy trade routes.

And to understand Geography, it is important to understand the history of the area. Why were the forests cut down?  Why were swamps drained? In some places around the world, the actions of the people changed landed that could be farmed into desert.

In the Midwestern US farmers moved into an area and began to farm. Because of the economy, they began to farm more and more of the land. They didn’t understand that the native grasses were holding the soil in place. Now the wind began to blow the soil, create giant dust storms. Eventually it was impossible to grow anything in the area and the farmers began moving away. It was called the “Dust Bowl.”

To understand what happened in the Dust Bowl, you need to study both the geography and the history, the land and the people. One does not make sense without the other.

To learn more about timelines you might turn to

Timelines              Create a Timeline                How Books Changed my Life 

Multiple Timelines

The page on Multiple Timelines focuses on an important part of history, the Civil Rights Movement.


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