A few years ago, I was sitting in a faculty meeting and heard many teachers complaining that they didn’t want to teach another US History SOL. Several lamented that the subject was “boring” and that there was “no way to make it hands-on.”

If you’re one of those teachers who thinks the US History Standards of Learning are boring, I’m here to change your thinking!

This blog post is packed with US History lessons and activities for EVERY SOL. And, what you’ll find here is anything but boring! You’ll discover hands-on activities and games to get you and your students excited about US History.

Note: This blog post specifically covers the US History to 1865 (Part 1) Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

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Are you a Virginia teacher? You can find all of my hands-on history blog posts that are aligned to the US History SOLs HERE. You can also sign up for my free newsletter for Virginia teachers to learn when I upload new posts and resources specifically aligned to the Virginia SOLs.

How to Teach the US History SOLs

You will notice below that this blog post begins with US History SOL USI.3. Before you ask where the first two SOLs are, let me take a moment to explain…

US History SOL USI.1 is a list of social studies-related skills. This can include things such as interpreting maps and graphs, analyzing sources, and researching topics. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) does want these skills to be taught in isolation. Rather, they should be integrated into all of the US History SOLs and taught throughout the school year.

North American geography is covered in US History SOL USI.2. I also like to incorporate this SOL throughout the school year. While I prefer to spread this SOL out, many Virginia teachers choose to teach this SOL on its own. There is no right or wrong way to teach this US History SOL. How USI.2 is taught is a matter of preference.

To summarize, you will not see USI.1 or USI.2 listed below because those SOLs are integrated throughout the other SOLs that are listed.

SOL USI.3: Early Cultures in North America

US History SOL US1.3 is about a few of the early cultural groups in North America. The SOL specifically addresses the Inuit, Kwakiutl, Lakota, Pueblo, and Iroquois tribes. Topics include:

  • Describing how archaeological evidence tells us about early American cultures.
  • Locating where Native American cultural groups (listed above) lived.
  • Describing how Native American cultural groups (listed above) lived and used natural resources.
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These worksheets are included in my Native Americans Unit. You can find the unit HERE.

Previously, I mentioned that I like to teach North American geography throughout the school year. These Native American lessons allow for many opportunities to integrate SOL USI.2.

Throughout the teaching of this US History SOL, I have students make a map of North America. They label the map with the locations of the various early cultural groups. They also label any areas of geographic significance that may have influenced the early cultural groups such as water sources, mountain ranges, etc.

SOL USI.4: Early Explorers

With US History SOL US1.4, students learn about European exploration in the Americas and West Africa. Topics include:

  • Describing the motivations, obstacles, and accomplishments of the Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English explorers.
  • Describing the interactions between the European explorers and American Indians.
  • Identifying and describing West African societies.
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Throughout the teaching of this US History SOL, students take on the role of modern explorers as they investigate the places visited by the early explorers. At the beginning of my early explorers lessons, I have students create a paper camera. Students assemble the camera using paper, scissors, and glue. By attaching yarn to the camera, students can then wear it around their neck during the lessons.

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This camera activity is part of my Early Explorers Unit. You can find the unit HERE.

I also give students small pieces of paper that look like blank Polaroid pictures. At the end of each lesson, students draw a picture that relates to the explorer they learned about on one of their Polaroid pictures. For example, a student might draw a picture of the Grand Canyon after learning about the Spanish explorer, Francisco Coronado.

Today, students are obsessed with pictures and videos. This activity leans into that interest and makes for a great formative assessment throughout the unit.

SOL USI.5: Colonial America

US History SOL US1.5 teaches students about the first North American settlements and the development of the 13 colonies. Topics include:

  • Describing the reasons for American colonization.
  • Identifying and explaining the similarities and differences between the New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Southern colonies.
  • Describing colonial life.
  • Explaining the relationship between the American colonies and Great Britain.
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This history mystery activity is included in my Colonial America Unit. You can find the unit HERE.

What better way to get students’ attention than with a history mystery?

Something that always catches students’ attention is the mystery of what happened to the settlers at Roanoke Island. I provide students with a variety of passages and accounts about the Roanoke colony. Students research the colony and draw conclusions about what they think happened to the settlers.

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This 13 colonies activity is included in my Colonial America Unit. You can find the unit HERE.

If students need to read a lot of information, find ways to incorporate movement into the reading.

For example, I have created cards with a brief history of the development of each of the 13 colonies. Rather than having students just sit and read the information, I place the cards around the room. Students rotate through the cards and answer comprehension questions as they move around the room.

SOL USI.6: American Revolution

US History USI.6 is all about the American Revolution. Topics include:

  • Explaining the causes of the American Revolution.
  • Describing the ideas that shaped the revolutionary movement in North America and led to the Declaration of Independence.
  • Describing key people and events that were part of the American Revolution.
  • Explaining how the colonies were able to defeat Great Britain.
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This Stamp Act simulation activity is included in my American Revolution Unit. You can find the unit HERE.

Simulation activities are another great way to get students excited about history.

During the American Revolution unit, I use a few different Stamp Act simulations. One simulation allows students to earn money through a classroom economy system. Then, they must use that money to purchase stamps. All paper assignments throughout the unit must have a stamp attached to it.

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You can find this Boston Massacre Investigation HERE.

Every story has many sides to it and the Boston Massacre was no exception!

Another popular American Revolution activity is this Boston Massacre investigation. During this activity, students become detectives. They read several primary and secondary sources about the event and draw conclusions about what actually happened in their detective notebooks.

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A teacher in Virginia took this Boston Massacre investigation to the next level. She set up an actual crime scene in her classroom to bring the activity to life!

SOL USI.7: US Constitution

US History SOL USI.7 has to do with the creation of the US Constitution and government. Topics include:

  • Explaining how the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation led to the creation of a new constitution.
  • Describing the development of the US Constitution.
  • Describing the major accomplishments of the first five US presidents.
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This Constitution scavenger hunt is included in my Constitution Unit. You can find the unit HERE.

Who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt?

For my Constitution scavenger hunt, I divide students into teams. Each team receives the constitution scavenger hunt worksheets and a way to access the Constitution (such as a pocket constitution or a digital version on a tablet). The constitution worksheets require students to research information about each article. Using their copy of the US Constitution, each team races to find the correct answers and information.

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This Bill of Rights foldable activity is included in my Constitution Unit. You can find the unit HERE.

One aspect of the Constitution SOL that can be challenging is all the memorization. When there is a lot of memorization involved, it helps to have students list out the important information in a foldable.

For example, I have students summarize the first ten constitutional amendments in the Bill of Rights foldable that is pictured above.

SOL USI.8: Westward Expansion

With US History SOL USI.8, students learn all about westward expansion and reform from 1801 to 1861. Topics include:

  • Describing territorial expansion and showing it on a map.
  • Explaining the factors that influenced westward expansion.
  • Explaining how westward expansion affected Native Americans.
  • Describing the importance of inventions such as the cotton gin and steamboat on American life.
  • Explaining the main ideas of the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements.
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When I was young, I loved playing the Oregon Trail computer game. Anyone else? 🙋‍♀️

I wanted to find a way to recreate the computer game in a meaningful way for my students. So, I created this Oregon Trail Board game. As part of the game, students must successfully travel from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon by rolling a die. Along the way, they must overcome surprise challenges and keep a food log to make sure their family does not starve.

This is a game that my students ask to play over and over again throughout the school year.

SOL USI.9: Civil War

The final SOL of the US History Part 1 curriculum is US History SOL USI.9, which has to do with the Civil War. Topics Include:

  • Describing the issues that divided Americans leading up to the start of the Civil War.
  • Explaining how the issues of states’ rights and slavery increased tension between the North and the South.
  • Locating states on a map and identifying whether they seceded from the Union.
  • Describing key people and events during the Civil War.
  • Explaining the effects of the Civil War on different groups of Americans.
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These Civil War profile worksheets are included in my Civil War Unit. You can find the unit HERE.

When analyzing conflicts, students need to be able to describe the key differences between each side. I have students keep profiles for both the Union and the Confederacy throughout the Civil War Unit. In each profile, they store information such as leadership, core values, capital location, and members (states). These profiles make for a quick reference tool while learning this US History SOL.

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This Civil War battles worksheet is included in my Civil War Unit. You can find the unit HERE.

Allowing students the opportunity to research information on their own helps them to retain the information better.

There are a lot of Civil War battles students are expected to know. I give them time to research each battle independently and record their findings in a chart.

SOL-Aligned US History Review Games

Not only are there many ways to improve your US History lessons by making them more hands-on. There are also engaging games you can use at the end of a unit or as part of your SOL test prep at the end of the year. These games will continue to provide lots of student engagement and fun as you review the US History SOLs.

US History Escape Rooms

I’ve shared a lot about classroom escape rooms on this blog. That’s because I’m obsessed with them and students love them too. Why do I enjoy classroom escape rooms, you ask? Here are just a few reasons—

  • Escape rooms get students up and moving.
  • Escape rooms incorporate critical thinking skills as students solve puzzles.
  • It is easy to integrate other subjects such as math and ELA into escape rooms
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You can find this Colonial America Escape Room HERE.

To save you time, I have already created escape rooms for most of the US History SOLs.

In all of my US History escape rooms, students are in the process of time traveling back in time to study a time period in American history when their time machine malfunctions! The only way for students to repair the time machine and return to the present is for students to successfully complete several challenges that integrate social studies, math, and ELA skills.

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You can find this Native Americans Escape Room HERE.

Some of the activities include:

  • Solving puzzles to reveal hidden information or codes.
  • Decoding messages using a key.
  • Reading passages and using information from the passages to reveal hidden information.
  • Solving math problems related to US History to create a code.
  • Identify true and false facts about people and events.
  • Using coordinates to find information.
  • Finding locations on a map.
  • Matching people, places, and events to correct descriptions.

You can find all of my SOL-aligned US History escape rooms HERE.

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You can find this Early Explorers Escape Room HERE.

US History Task Cards

Another review activity that works well for social studies is a game with task cards. Even though I use task cards a lot throughout the school year, I find that students rarely get bored because there are so many games you can play with task cards.

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You can find these Civil War Task Cards HERE.

An easy way to use task cards is to pair them with a board game that you already have in your classroom.

For example, during my SOL test prep, I assigned students to groups of four. Each group was given the game Trouble and a variety of task cards that included questions related to every US History SOL. Students played the game Trouble the same way they normally would. But, in order to take their turn, they had to correctly answer a question on a randomly drawn task card. If they answered incorrectly, they missed their turn for that round.

You can find a complete list of my favorite task card games in THIS blog post.

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You can find these US Constitution Task Cards HERE.

You can find all of my SOL-aligned US History Task Cards HERE.

Conclusion

One of the best compliments I ever received as an educator was when a 5th-grade student told me his favorite subject was US History. He said he used to hate history but I made it fun.

With the US History lessons and games I’ve listed here, you’re certain to start getting the same compliments from students too!

If you’re looking for more engaging ways to teach a specific US History SOL to your students, make sure to check out my complete list of blog posts about each US History SOL. These blog posts provide several activities, games, and resources to use with each US History SOL. You’ll also find ways to prepare for the SOL test at the end of the school year.

I also have lesson plans and activities for every US History SOL in my store.

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Pin for later.

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