How To Develop Student Writing Through Social Studies

Bryn Bonino
5 min readJan 8, 2019

Writing is such an integral part of a social studies class. So much that once students get to advanced level classes, the bulk of focus is on writing reactions to what is read. My last post focused on teaching reading in the social studies classroom, and this post is the natural succession to teaching writing.

My own professional experience teaching high school and graduate classes told me that too many students don’t write well. But then I read in this New York Times article on the topic that, “More than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing — in 1874.” So here we are nearly a 150 years later with the same problem. Let’s see if this post can give a few good ideas to tackle this age-old issue.

Use Visual Writing Prompts

One of the first steps to doing anything is to just get started. That’s why I’ve found starting class with a writing prompt gets students in the mood to express their thoughts on paper. And there’s nothing like a visual prompt to give anybody’s imagination a jump start. To prove this point, I like to refer people to this Jeff Bullas article on the power of visual images for marketing content. The same principals apply to educational content. But the question is where to look?

For visual prompts for a social studies classroom, check out these prompts to get students thinking and writing. Visual Prompts is a site that is just getting started, but they have eye-catching images and prompts for any humanities class.

Nat Geo’s Instagram account is another place were students can get visual inspiration. Short commentary goes with each post to get viewers thinking, and the nature of the publication fits well for a social studies classroom.

Finally, I like the idea of getting students to supply their own photos. I first wrote about the idea in this post on incorporating photos in a language classroom. As the teacher, you can assign homework for students to take a photo of something they did or saw over the weekend. Then the photos can be uploaded to a Padlet board, and each student in the class can choose what image they want to about.

Planning Out What To Write

Bryn Bonino

Educator, marketer, and photographer. Learn more at