Social Education
February 1998
Volume 62 Number 2

Instructional Strategies for the World Wide Web

C. Frederick Risinger

“O.K., I have an Internet connection in my classroom. Now, tell me how to teach with it.”

This was the first sentence of an e-mail message I received recently. The writer, an Ohio high school teacher, has a point. Using the World Wide Web in the classroom has become the most requested workshop at my university’s Office of Professional Development. Professional journals and conferences are filled with articles and presentations on the subject.
Many teachers are being pressured by administrators, parents and their students to integrate the Internet into their instruction. While many teachers have started using the Web, others feel intimidated by a new technological tool that seems to change daily. Nearly all the columns in this series have focused on content, recommending websites with useful content for both students and teachers. In this article, we’ll explore learning strategies for using the Internet in social studies instruction. I will still provide a list of annotated website descriptions, but these will be sites that help teachers with methods and ideas for student assignments.
First, just as there is no single “best way” to use a textbook or library resources in the classroom, there is no one best way to use the Internet in social studies instruction. Instead, the Internet and Web (the two terms are often used interchangeably) offer a tremendous array of information resources and provide opportunities for a wide variety of teaching strategies.
Much depends on computer availability and the type of Internet connection. Is there a computer in the classroom? Is it primarily for teacher use? Is there only one? Or is there a computer lab or resource center where several computers are available for student use? Are the computers linked to the Internet with a high-speed connection such as an ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) line, or via a slow 14.4 modem?
While the optimum situation would have many fast computers (486mhz or Pentium PCs or recent model Macintoshes) linked directly to the Web via an ISDN line and easily available to students, instructional effectiveness and student learning can be enhanced and enlivened with far less. A single computer used only by the teacher can provide primary sources, photographs, and student projects that can be more effective than the collection of ancillary resources that come with textbook programs. One or two computers in the back of the classroom can lead to links with classes in another state or even another nation. In many communities, libraries are opening up computer rooms for public use. We are only at the beginning of the computer revolution in education. I firmly believe that every American teacher and student will be teaching and learning with computers and the Web (or whatever replaces it) within 10 to 15 years.
The Internet can be a powerful source for individual research and writing assignments, but current educational research suggests that collaborative projects enhance student achievement. Projects using the World Wide Web can be collaborative in many ways—with groups of students in the classroom working with each other or peers in other schools. In one midwestern city, seventh grade students worked in cooperation with their peers in Japan to design a “virtual comparative textbook” on their two cities.
First, they selected topics, such as “How Do Students Get to School?” “How is your town governed?” and “What kind of recycling efforts do you have?” The students conducted interviews, took pictures, and wrote stories. The result was a website featuring their two cities and their schools. It was available to anyone and was the “hit” of a Parents’ Exploration Night. The project was completed using only two computers—one each in the Japanese and U.S. classrooms. Learning theorists tell us that this kind of learning—where students actually create knowledge, and where the teacher serves as a guide and resource—is more effective and enduring than memorizing a country’s products and capital cities.
The best way to find ideas about using the Internet in social studies instruction is to examine some of the websites where student projects are described. Many of them will lead you to other links that feature student work or outline the instructional steps that teachers use to design web-based activities. If you have used the Web successfully in your teaching, send your lesson plans or ideas to me and I’ll make them available on my “Social Studies Sources” website at for others to use. Send them via e-mail to

Telecommunications Projects

This site is managed by Melissa Matusevich, a teacher in the Montgomery County (MD) schools, and is aimed primarily at elementary and middle school teachers. Melissa describes several successful projects that incorporate the WWW into her classes. They include Comparisons of Social Problems, Putting Historical Events in Perspective, and World Geography Lessons. At the conclusion of her page, Melissa says, “You’ve read descriptions of a few of the projects I’ve designed over the years. Anyone can do the same with minimal effort. Need ideas? Follow the lead of your students. Every single project I ever ran was the result of a comment or question made by a child.”

This is a commercial site that has hundreds of teaching ideas and links to other teachers who are working with the Internet in their classrooms. It has general Internet information for teachers and special sections for social studies, science, math, and the arts. In the social studies section, lesson ideas for geography, history, personal growth, and social issues are featured. It also has excellent personal information for teachers, such as advice on developing an online resume and searching for positions on the Internet. You can easily spend an hour roaming around this site.

Social Studies Projects and Classroom Activities Using Internet Resources
Margaret Fryatt is the administrator of this excellent Canadian-based site. It has lesson and project descriptions, such as “The Impact of the Kobe Earthquake,” a U.S. Civil War project that combines historical research with writing historical fiction, and an “Intergenerational Project” focusing on the 1940s. You’ll find many more great ideas at this site.

Intercultural E-Mail Classroom Connections
St. Olaf College in Minnesota provides the IECC (Intercultural E-Mail Classroom Connections) mailing lists as a free service to help teachers and classes link with partners in other countries and cultures for e-mail classroom pen-pal and project exchanges. Since its creation in 1992, IECC has distributed over 19,000 requests for e-mail partnerships. At last count, there were more than 6,500 teachers in approximately 70 countries participating in at least one of the IECC lists.

Teaching With Historic Places
Teaching with Historic Places uses properties listed in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places to enliven history, social studies, geography, civics, and other subjects. Some of these excellent lessons have appeared in Social Education, but there are many more “virtual field trips,” and both individual and group activities, at this site.

This site, managed by the South Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium, features “true stories of trials and triumphs with technology in the classroom,” student reactions to a variety of Internet-based activities, and dozens of great ideas for using the Web in the classroom.

Developing a School or District Technology Plan
This is part of the North Central Regional Laboratory’s outstanding website titled Pathways to School Improvement ( It is an excellent planning guide for any school wanting to incorporate technology into the curriculum. It’s based on the experience of one school system (District 54 in Schaumburg, Illinois)as it went through a thorough, multi-year program involving students, teachers, and the community.

Getting Started with Online Learning Projects
This outstanding article by Don Story is featured in T.H.E. Journal, an online “educators guide to the Internet in the classroom.” Their own description may say it best: “Many educators believe in the potential of online learning but do not really know where to begin. This article is a brief guide to getting started with learning projects on the World Wide Web. Listed are several projects currently available, as well as pointers that lead to hundreds of other potential projects to join. Guidelines for organizing your own projects are also given. Finally, there is a list of the very best places to go for further information about project-based learning on the Web.”

C. Frederick Risinger is the director of the Office of Professional Development, School Services, and Summer Sessions at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is past president of NCSS and an inveterate web surfer.

©1998 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.