10 of the best websites for bringing history & social studies to life

Here are some great resources to deliver authentic learning experiences

History and social studies bad reputations for being boring. To many students, these subjects mean reading long-winded textbooks and memorizing incessant facts. They don’t necessarily see the importance of studying something that happened hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Getting students to really care about what they’re learning involves bringing the subject to life for them. Thanks to the internet, there are so many ways for students to experience the past. History and social studies feel more real as students participate in these interactive and immersive activities. The resources are endless, but here are our online charter school’s 10 favorite websites.

1. Google Earth
Much of history involves understanding the geography and settings for key events, and with Google Earth, students can explore those places. The free software lets them view the globe from a high altitude or zoom in on countries, towns, and even street corners. The overlay feature allows students to drop a map over a historical site, which gives more context to its significance. With Google Earth, students can also view 3D models of various sites and create “flyovers,” where they can use placemarks to “fly” from one point to another over a specific route.

2. Google Lit Trips
For some students, the best way to experience history is through storytelling. Google Lit Trips takes the locations and journeys of beloved literary characters, and drops them into Google Earth. The program also offers relevant media, thought-provoking discussion starters, and links to supplementary information about real-world references to bring the story back into a historical perspective.

3. YouTube
YouTube is a treasure trove for historical film clips from more than 100 years ago—when motion pictures were invented—to the present. Learning about presidential elections? Search and view the first-ever televised presidential debate between Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon. There are also an abundance of channels that help students visualize historic concepts. For example, American Rhetoric compiles speeches of political, cultural, athletic, and religious significance. Other channels, like Crash Course, give students mini-lessons on social studies, U.S. history, world history, and government.

4. iCivics
iCivics makes learning about social studies and politics interactive and fun. Founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the website uses games to transform abstract concepts into real-life scenarios. Students get the chance to learn how the government works by stepping into the role of a judge, member of Congress, community activist, and the President, and engaging in challenging and thoughtful role play. To top it off, the points students earn while playing can be used to vote on their favorite “impact project,” which the site then donates to every three months.

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