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Engage your students: the four social science mechanisms

History is not compulsory. Students need to be convinced of the value of history to engage in studying it. Engaged students work more enthusiastically and productively. They are ready to accept greater challenges.

Effective teachers use a range of approaches to engage students in learning history. Effective Pedagogy in Social Sciences/Tikanga ā Iwi: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES) identifies four mechanisms that are most likely to facilitate student learning in the social sciences: connection, alignment, community, and interest.


Make authentic connections to students’ lives, for example, by:

  • using team photographs of the current All Blacks and of the 1905 All Blacks to introduce the concept of migration and/or diversity in New Zealand society
  • taking students into a local church/synagogue/mosque/temple to introduce the concept of religious change.


Align learning experiences to important outcomes (including the achievement objectives or key competencies), for example, by:

showing the documentary Dawn Raids and/or advertisements from the 1960s and 1970s and then leading a discussion to foster students’ critical thinking about changing attitudes to diversity in New Zealand society

inviting a member of the local Jewish community to share experiences of the Holocaust so that the students can begin to understand how the experience of persecution is significant to New Zealand (AS7.2).


Build and sustain a learning community, for example, by:

  • having students draw on their own backgrounds using the methodology of oral history and then share the results of their research
  • having students work in groups to critique historical sources in a case study of religious persecution so they can identify and explain perspectives of people in the past.


Design experiences that interest students, for example, by

  • having students reconstruct the life of a chosen individual from a particular place and time (for example, by using gravestone information) and place that person in his or her authentic historical context
  • having the students choose and research an aspect of the past that is of high personal interest to them, such as the origin of a particular historical event.

In practice, the mechanisms overlap fruitfully. The example given above under connection (using team photographs of the current and 1905 All Blacks to introduce the concept of migration and/or diversity) connects to students’ experiences of a multicultural society and also appeals to those students who have an interest in sports.

Last updated August 25, 2023