Connect the Common Core ELA standards with history by employing a balanced literacy approach to reading.
The Common Core standards are aimed at creating a more meaningful and academically rigorous curriculum as a means of preparing students to be college and career ready in the 21st century. By fostering high expectations for all learners, and emphasizing a solid foundation in reading and math skills, teachers can deliver effective lessons building strong content knowledge and promoting cultural appreciation. Developers of the Common Core standards argue that language arts is the basis for the acquisition of all other subject areas. When these skills are mastered, learners are better equipped to comprehend new information. Although the old adage, "We learn to read in the primary grades so that we can read to learn in the upper grades" rings true, it does not mean that teachers can focus exclusively on language arts, omitting other disciplines from their daily teaching. It is critical that even from the early days of preschool, that reading and social studies be integrated often in order to create a more balanced and meaningful approach to teaching.
Focus on Comprehension
There are specific skills that must be mastered (the sooner the better) in order to enable readers to make sense of what is being read. It is not enough to merely pronounce the words correctly; reading is a continual process of connecting new learning to what is previously known. Moreover, reading is not just making meaning of the words, but thinking critically about that meaning and connecting it to another text, the world, or to oneself. Many of the standards, such as RI.4.5. Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of text, emphasize the need to teach basic reading comprehension strategies.
Here are some ideas for integrating social studies content with reading lessons:
- Cause/Effect: Use an event such as the sinking of the Titanic as a springboard for teaching about cause and effect. This event is a great choice because pupils learn that multiple events can lead to one effect, and one effect can have multiple causes. Engage readers by using the chapter book great chapter book Tonight on the Titanic (Magic Tree House, No. 1) by Mary Pope Osborne and Sal Murdocca.
Compare and Contrast: Again, historical events can be helpful in strengthening this skill. An obvious choice would be to compare two similar historical events such as WWI and WWII. Another option is to compare and contrast a fiction and a non-fiction text based on the same historical concept. Try comparing a historical fiction picture book such as I Will Come Back for You: A Family in Hiding During World WarII by Marisabina Russo, to the non-fiction, informational text, World War II for Kids: A History with 21 Activities (For Kids series).
- Summarizing: Students often have trouble summarizing a particular story because they cannot discern between important events that need to be retold and smaller, less important details. This is a great opportunity to link summarizing with non-fiction texts. By using non-fiction expository texts, emergent or struggling readers can summarize without the added pressure of sequencing the events (any of the DK Eyewitness books will work well for practicing this skill). Readers can begin by summarizing the main events chronologically. Fourth and fifth graders will learn a lot about European history by reading and summarizing the emotional novel Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Childhood Friend by Alison Leslie Gold.
A well balanced literature-based reading program that incorporates varied content areas will undoubtedly help increase learners' self and global awareness. Specifically, social studies-based literature books illustrate a specific topic while allowing the reader to make sense of it in his or her own way. Teachers can use fiction and non-fiction narratives to set the stage for meaningful classroom discussions and writing pieces.
Here are some strategies for encouraging young readers to think critically about the text itself, as well as the underlying social studies concepts:
- Moral/Lesson: Many teachers rely on basic fables to teach about morals and lessons within a story (RL.2.2. Recount stories, including fables and folktales from diverse cultures, and determine their central message, lesson, or moral), but there are ample sources of high-quality literature with a social basis to teach this concept. One amazing picture book, What If the Zebras Lost Their Stripes? by John Reitano and William Haines, will challenge pupils to examine racism in a kid-friendly and age-appropriate manner.
- Theme: Another challenge for teachers is to distinguish the main idea from theme. The theme is never explicitly stated and thus requires more advanced critical-thinking skills and the ability to make a connection between the text and the real world. It can be more difficult to find historically based literary texts. Try using a book like September 12th: We Knew Everything Would be All Right by Masterson Elementary Students. This work combines literature and history in a way that will engage your learners' critical-thinking skills.
Additional Ideas for Connecting Social Studies with Reading
- Use primary sources such as historical documents as literature.
- Explore historical fiction with a genre study.
- Read non-fiction texts such as timelines, charts, and photographs.
- Analyze the validity of secondary sources such as biographies.
More Lesson Resources:
Were Rivets to Blame for the Sinking of the Titanic?
Pupils read a passage and analyze possible causes for the sinking of the Titanic. This full lesson plan includes vocabulary words, fill-in-the-blank sentence frames, and additional interesting facts. It is suitable for second through fourth graders.
Here is a mini-unit guide for helping learners work through the book Rosa Parks (Hampton Brown). Included in this eight-page packet, is a journal log, guiding questions about race and the civil rights movement, as well as a group planning guide.
Stamp Quilts Inspired by Faith Ringgold
This is a wonderful art lesson integrating the personal narrative of Faith Ringgold in the book TarBeach with social studies concepts and literature. It can easily be modified for any age and ability and readily connects reading, writing, literature, and visual arts.