Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I'm New to Teaching Sociology: Now What?

Let's assume that you were like me 25 years ago and given an assignment to teach sociology at the high school level.  I had taken some sociology courses, but I had no usable textbook and was pretty clueless.  Where do you begin?  What should you teach?  What the heck is sociology and how is it different from psychology or history anyway?

There are a few steps to take if you are completely new to sociology.  Feel free to skip steps based upon your experience level.

Step 1:  Determining what sociology is

Check out this entry of defining sociology:

Get your hands on as many good sociology readers as you can find.  Read the intro chapter from at least three different texts.  That will give you a good idea of the readability of the text as well as a better understanding of the sociological perspectives.  It will take some time, but will be well worth it.

Step 2:  What should be in my sociology course?

The American Sociology Association Curriculum--click here for link
This is an intro college curriculum, so high school teachers can leave out a few topics.  What I teach can be found at this blog entry.

Step 3:  What are some basic tools that I can use to make sure I stay ahead of the kids?

Read, that is to say, actually study the textbook/reader you are using.  Underline, highlight and mark up the text with questions in the margins.  This intellectual dissection of the material will give you knowledge of the topic, but also insight into what the students are experiencing.

But as I was reminded at the AP Psychology reading, when faced with a question, ask the student, "how would you understand it?"  As they explain, listen and see if it makes sense.  If it does not, ask follow up questions for clarification.  You do not need to know everything.  Keep some notecards around for kids to write questions on.  Admit when you do not know an answer.  Tell the kids that you'll need to look it up, that you do not want to give them wrong or misleading information.  The more honest you are about this, the more forgiving and supportive they will be.

Step 4:  How can I get my kids interested and still "teach" sociology?

This is where projects come in.  Sociology is not on anyone's list of standardized testing.  It's nearly always an elective.  Know your students.  What interests them?  Using your library media teacher (if you are fortunate enough to still have one), co-create at least one project where the kids are NOT doing a "bird project*"  Make the project on that allows the kids to get creative but still deal with sociological concepts.

Find some controversial readings about a topic that interests them.  Ask questions.  What do they think?  WHY have they reached that conclusion?  How does this debate tie into sociology?

Check out the various projects on this blog and in other teaching sociology blogs.  There are some really amazing ideas out there.

*a bird project is one where a student tells you the name of the bird, what it looks like, what it eats, where it lives, how long it lives, etc. It is a regurgitation of easily 'googled' facts and requires virtually no thinking. These are to be avoided like the plague and replaced with projects that include critical thinking and higher order thinking skills. Acknowledgement to Dr. Doug Achterman who has helped me create a variety of projects in my classes.

Step 5:  Where can I get support?

The ASA Sociology listserv
The Teaching High School Sociology Blog
Sociology Sal's Blog, "Ways of Thinking"
Join the ASA High School Affiliate Program (January to December)

Step 6: Knowing Yourself

Know that it will take you at least a couple of years (four or more times teaching the course) to get comfortable with teaching sociology.   Accept that.  The sooner you do, the more you will enjoy the course while you keep learning about it.

photo credit:

The Teaching High School Sociology web site


  1. I have been asked to draft a new Sociology course. I once saw curriculum standards from the ASA but can no longer fing =d the document. Any help?

  2. This is the outline for the potential AP Soc Course:

    Here is the link to the ASA sociology course:


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