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Tip of the Week: Social Studies and the Common Core

In the perfect world in which my brain sometimes lives, my friends and I start our own private school. We design and run it the way schools are supposed to run. Problem-based / constructivist learning, integrated technology, the elimination of seat-based credit, tons of resources, and appropriate / effective assessments.

The school’s curriculum? Science and social studies.

That’s it. Science and social studies.

Kids would learn the skills embedded in math and language arts but only in the context of science and social studies. I’m a social studies guy – I know the world revolves around my content. So kids would learn the parts of speech, literature, technical writing, and all of the other stuff that English teachers have traditionally taught, as part of our study on the Civil War, the expansion of Islam, and economic theory.

It’s my perfect world and I know it’ll never happen but I think I could pull it off. I just need a little time and a couple of million bucks.

But when you think about it, this sort of integrated curriculum idea has already started. With the coming of the Common Core, English teachers are being asked to include more social studies content into their instruction – a good thing.

But social studies teachers are also being asked to include much more reading, writing, and communicating into their stuff – which is a very good thing. Quality social studies folks have been doing this sort of thing forever. There’s just no way to do Social Studies right without “English/Language Arts” skills embedded into our instruction.

But I know that the Common Core is freaking some of you out. So today a few things that might help settle the nerves a bit.

Grades 6-12 Literacy in the Social Studies
Common Core State Standards Initiative
Let’s start with the basics. These are the things that are expected to happen at the secondary level. Be sure to browse through the Anchor standards as well as the various grade level bands. Here’s the cool thing – do you see anything in the list at your grade level that we don’t want kids doing in a social studies classroom? Exactly.

Trickle or Tsunami?: Getting Involved with the Common Core Standards
National History Education Clearinghouse
Daisy Martin is the Director of History Education at the NHEC and does a great job of unpacking the Common Core literacy pieces for you. She provides specific examples and rational while calming us all down by letting us know that we’ve been doing this all along:

Is this sounding familiar? In fact, the six facets of historical thinking in our What is Historical Thinking video and poster focus on these kinds of disciplinary skills.

Teaching the Common Core
Tim Bailey
Tim was the 2009 Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year and is a middle school teacher in Salt Lake City. He’s one of those guys who does social studies right. He has his kids read, write, argue, analyze, ask questions, and construct new knowledge. In this article, Tim talks about some of the ways he does this:

the Common Core Standards emphasize analyzing, evaluating, and then critically writing about a historical piece by using evidence and information gleaned from the text. This kind of deep analysis, and eventual deep understanding, of primary material is the culmination of a well-taught, process-oriented series of lessons or units.

And most importantly, he shares 10 sample lessons that incorporate Common Core literacy pieces into social studies instruction.

What Do the Common Core State Standards Mean for History Teaching and Learning?
National History Education Clearinghouse
This NHEC article highlights a round table held late last year with teachers, curriculum directors, ed professors, and the director of the Common Core during which participants shared ideas, suggestions, and encouragement. Some veryuseful and practical advice here.

Reading Like a Historian, History Matters, and Other Awesome Resources
This list provides a wide variety of sites, resources, teacher materials, and lessons that don’t focus on the Common Core. They focus on quality social studies and history instruction.

And that’s the point. The Common Core literacy pieces embedded in the document support high-quality history/social studies instruction.

Yes. The document emphasizes math and language arts. Yes. The educational and political environments are not worrying enough about history and the social studies. But it’s a start.

K-5 teachers are going to be using more social studies content as part of what they do. ELA teachers grades 6-12 are going to be using more social studies content as part of what they do. It’s not the perfect school that I see in my head but there will be more Social Studies in other content areas while we use the Common Core literacy standards to support great social studies instruction.


Updated April 21, 2012

Connecting Lessons to Common Core: Nationalistic Travel Brochures
Michael Milton
Just found this site that focus on high school world history. Michael has taken some of his current lessons and adapted to the Common Core. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the posts for more lessons.

Common Core Online
A handy ScoopIt curating Common Core stuff. Nice resource.

Have fun!


18 Comments Post a comment
  1. You may find my post interesting – the “perfect world” of a math teacher looks very similar to yours.

    May 1, 2012
    • glennw #

      I like your idea of keeping the “specialists” around to help with the tricky stuff. You, sir, have just been hired as the math specialist in my new school. And curriculum coordinator in charge of designing how all of this if going to fit together.

      I’m just the big picture guy! 😉

      Thanks for the link – couldn’t agree more.


      May 1, 2012
  2. Rebecca Robertson #

    OK, Glen, because I am a retired elementary principal and want to create a constructivist social studies curriculum for a 4th grade class, I need resources. Lots of kid friendly computer resources. Can you direct me? I’ve not had much luck….Rebecca

    September 19, 2012
  3. michele goddaard #

    I have always believed that Social Studies should drive the curriculum. As a former English teacher and now a 7th grade history teacher, it only makes sense to not confuse students more by reading Anne Frank and being in an ancient civilization at the same time. Especially, when most of our students are English Learners. Next year, as I implement Common core, I am going to create the longest timeline and have it going around my room, and around again. Hopefully, this will help students understand the concepts of time periods in history in regards to the literature that they are reading which never matches the time period! Really enjoyed your web site.

    May 13, 2013
    • glennw #


      Love the timeline idea! And yes, if I had my way, the entire curriculum would be science and social studies.


      May 13, 2013
  4. Wow, such a useful internet site.

    July 16, 2013
  5. I completely agree – science & social studies with embedded math & language arts. May I come teach in your educational Utopia?

    September 11, 2014
    • glennw #

      We are still looking for rich investors!


      September 11, 2014
  6. Nancy Harby #

    Oh, ha ha!

    I AM a teacher, so I’m loaded!

    September 12, 2014

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