Tips for Teaching the Concepts of Social Studies Thinking

Understanding Social Studies Thinking Concepts: A Guide for Teachers Based on Ontario’s Social Studies Curriculum

If you’re not sure how to teach the “Concepts of Social Studies Thinking” to your junior-level class, you’re not alone. The key thing to remember is that Social Studies is more than just remembering dates and facts! Students need to make sense of the world around them, and we can get our students truly excited and involved in this through the use of the concepts of social studies thinking!

The Ontario Social Studies Curriculum outlines six key thinking concepts that are key to effective teaching and learning in social studies. These concepts include:

  • Significance
  • Cause and Consequence
  • Continuity and Change
  • Interrelationships
  • Perspective
  • Patterns and Trends

Let’s chat briefly about what each of these concepts might mean to your teaching!


  • Significance refers to the importance of an event, development, or individual.
  • It helps students understand why certain aspects of history or geography are studied while others are not.
  • In a Grade 4-6 classroom, students can evaluate the significance of an event or person by whether they caused a change. An event that creates a huge change for a large group of people over a long period of time would be considered significant. An event that affected only a small group of people for a short time might be less significant.
  • Students also need to learn that an event or person that is very significant at one period of time or to one group of people may not be as important to another group or at another time. (Think about the significance of 9/11 to people of different ages!)

Here’s what that might look like in Grades 4, 5, and 6!

  • Grade 4 Early Societies: Show students pictures of items used in a few different ancient civilizations or artifacts from a few different societies and ask them which one might be considered the most significant to people of that time period, and to people today.
  • Grade 5 Government: Find an online timeline (such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s Human Rights Milestones), have students choose two milestones, and discuss which they feel is most significant to Canadian youth today. How are they judging these two events?
  • Grade 6 Communities in Canada: Explore the cost of food in Canada’s far-north communities. Identify the various factors that make food so expensive there, and discuss which factor is most significantly tied to cost.

Cause and Consequence

  • Understanding cause and consequence involves analyzing the reasons behind an event (cause) and the outcomes that resulted from it (consequence).
  • Students need to explore the idea that change can be driven by multiple causes and that it can result in many consequences. Some consequences can be short-term while others are long-term.
  • Some consequences can be intentional, while others are unintended because people can’t always predict the outcome of an event or an action.
  • Grade 4 Political and Physical Regions of Canada: What impact do human activities in the different regions have on the environment? What can people do to reduce their impact?
  • Grade 5 Interactions of Europeans and Indigenous Peoples: What were the major consequences for the Wendat of contact with the French explorers and settlers?
  • Grade 6 Canada’s Interactions with the Global Community: What impact does Canada’s consumption of items like chocolate have on the people and the environment where the chocolate is made?

Continuity and Change

  • This concept involves understanding how and why societies change over time, as well as what remains consistent.
  • Students can explore the drivers of change (e.g. technology, ideologies) and continuity (e.g. traditions, institutions).
  • Students can make reasoned judgments about continuity and change by making comparisons between two periods of time.
  • Grade 4 Early Societies: What modes of transportation from the early Greeks and Medieval Europeans still exist today? How have they changed?
  • Grade 5 Interactions of Europeans and Indigenous Peoples: How has education for First Nations people changed since before Europeans arrived in North America? Has it changed for the better?
  • Grade 6 Communities in Canada: How have immigration policies changed the experiences of Asian immigrants to Canada?

Patterns and Trends

  • Students explore things that are similar and that repeat themselves. in an environment or as a community characteristic in a particular setting or over a period of time.
  • The patterns and trends may be social, economic, physical, or environmental
  • Grade 4 Political and Physical Regions of Canada: What are the characteristics of a physical region as opposed to a political region?
  • Grade 5 The Role of Government and Responsible Citizenship: How have municipal, provincial/territorial and federal approached the issue of food security? How are their approaches similar and different?
  • Grade 6 Canada’s Interactions with the Global Community: When you locate on a map the countries that are the most common tourist destinations for Canadians, do you notice any patterns?


  • Students need to start appreciating that there can be a huge difference between current worldviews (beliefs and values) and those from earlier times.
  • Perspective is about understanding the viewpoints, beliefs, and values of individuals and groups.
  • The role of primary sources is very important in determining the differing perspectives of people, communities, and cultures.
  • Grade 4 Early Societies: How was education for poorer people different that for wealthy people in Medieval England?
  • Grade 5 Indigeneous Peoples and Europeans: What were some differences in the ways First Nations and settlers viewed land ownership?
  • Grade 6 Communities in Canada: Whose voices were not heard in the development of Africville, Nova Scotia in the 1960s?


  • Students spend time exploring connections and interactions between individuals, groups, and their environments.
  • Attention is paid to the role of power, wealth, and status when exploring human relationships.
  • Grade 4 Political and Physical Regions of Canada: How has the increase in mining in northern Canada affected the environment?
  • Grade 5 The Role of Government and Responsible Citizenship: Which level or levels of government should address the issue of homelessness?
  • Grade 6 Canada’s Interactions with the Global Community: How have different NGOs, groups and individuals responded to the issue of child labour in Asia?

In conclusion, these six thinking concepts form the backbone of the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum. By incorporating these into your teaching, you can help students develop a deeper understanding of social studies and equip them with critical thinking skills that will serve them in all aspects of life.

Remember, social studies is not about rote memorization but fostering curiosity, inquiry, and a deeper understanding of our world. Happy teaching!

Source: Ontario Ministry of Education. (2018). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: Social Studies.

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest