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Tip of the Week: 8 great elementary social studies teaching ideas and one great conference

It seems like a natural fit. Combine social studies content such as early American colonies with important ELA skills such as close reading and writing to support a claim. Great secondary social studies teachers have been doing this sort of thing forever. Create an engaging question. Encourage the use and analysis of primary, secondary, and literary sources. Provide print and digital tools for the creation of solutions to the question.

But for elementary teachers, this process can seem intimidating. And time-consuming. And confusing. For years, NCLB encouraged a focus on math and ELA. Social studies found itself on the fringes of most elementary building schedules. So most K-6 teachers, many without a strong background in social studies and without the support for finding ways to integrate social studies into their instruction, have been doing very little with the discipline.

That’s changing. Current state and national standards in both ELA and social studies are now asking grade schools to shift their instructional model. Common Core literacy standards for history and government are encouraging the use of social studies content as the vehicle for developing reading, writing, and speaking skills.

That’s the good thing. The bad thing?

Many elementary teachers aren’t sure what that can look like. So if you’re looking for ideas and great strategies for integrating ELA and social studies, this list should help. And even if you’re not teaching at the grade school level, you probably know someone who does. Be sure to pass this stuff on. Why? Because their students will eventually become your students.

The list:

Start by making plans to attend the ESSDACK Elementary Mini-Conference. It’s scheduled for November 2 in Hutchinson, KS and you’re going to find great social studies integration ideas as well as sessions on technology tools, math, Makerspaces, and ELA.

Can’t make the 2nd? Browse through some of these:

  • Teaching with Primary Sources – BARAT
    Primary source images are great resources for integrating language arts with social studies into activities that meet Common Core State Standards for writing. The BARAT Education Foundation has some great ideas for each grade level K-5.
  • Newsela
    I’ve written about Newsela before. If it’s new to you, Newsela is a wonderful source for leveled current events articles and primary sources.
  • A recent National Council for History Education conference session highlighted ways to use chapter books to teach historical thinking skills. I especially love their “keyring” strategy!
  • The National Council for the Social Studies has a strong list of resources. Their Notable Trade Books list is a must-have for every elementary teacher looking for social studies content.
  • Several years ago, I had the chance to share some with ideas with Deb Brown. She put together some excellent resources and suggestions for teaching social studies content to elementary kids.
  • Grade school teachers Lyndsay and Amy from the Olathe, Kansas school district shared their successful methods for blending social studies and ELA. Scroll to the bottom of the post to download their materials.
  • Every teacher should have access to Every Book is a Social Studies Book. It provides practical suggestions for using picture books, trade books, and chapter books to teach social studies.
  • The Kansas State Historical Society has some wonderful resources, including the awesome Read Kansas cards, for integrating social studies into elementary level instruction. And trust me, non-Kansas folks, most of the Read Kansas Cards are very adaptable and useful no matter where you are.

So. Let’s review:

  • Current standards encourage the integration of social studies content with ELA skills.
  • Teachers might find this difficult.
  • The ESSDACK mini-con can help.
  • There are lots of other resources available.


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