Teaching K-5 students today means that your time is limited, especially when working with students to build foundational skills. It has become increasingly difficult to adequately cover all subjects while also enabling students to master the skills essential to development. Luckily, teachers have the ability to save time, create cross-curricular connections, and advance development in numerous academic areas by integrating multiple subjects into a single teaching block. A perfect example of this synergy lies in the ability to pair social studies instruction with other subjects such as math, science, art, and literacy.
Using Social Studies Instruction to Improve Literacy
Pairing social studies instruction with literacy instruction has been found to pay dividends for students. In fact, according to a federal Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, “social studies is the only subject with a clear, positive, and statistically significant effect on reading improvement.”
According to this study, students who received an additional 30 minutes of social studies instruction each day from grades 1-5 outperformed students with less social studies instructional time on a reading assessment, even after controlling multiple factors such as kindergarten reading ability and other student, school, and teacher-related factors.
Based on this data, it may be beneficial to consider pairing social studies instruction with literacy instruction. Here are a few ideas for activities you can use to increase time spent on social studies instruction while promoting literacy development and cross-curricular connections without taking up more time in your day:
- Select a book about a social studies-related topic: Selecting a book about a social studies topic such as those available in Raz-Plus can help you begin to create a foundation of understanding about historical events, cultural celebrations, and more. As your students read books, you can invite them to engage in activities to strengthen reading comprehension such as asking comprehension questions or doing read aloud activities.
- Discuss the historical significance of certain days: Select days that are historically significant and discuss the meaning of that day or provide reading material that students can read and ask them to articulate what they feel it means upon completion of reading. This will ensure understanding and equip your students with investigative skills that allow them to approach new texts related to other important historical events in the future.
- Create a “Good Citizen” poster: Allow students to articulate what they’ve learned about civics and history by notating what they feel a good citizen should do from helping others to listing how to show respect and care to others in the community. In doing so, students will also be able to refine their reading and writing skills.
- Create a travel brochure: Help students demonstrate what they’ve learned about a particular state or region by tasking them with creating a brochure for the location of their choice. This will allow them to tap into their literacy skills while solidifying the geographical knowledge they have acquired during instruction.
Combining Social Studies With Math
You may be thinking “How on earth does math and social studies pair together in the classroom?” Great question. If you take a look at the standards set by The National Council for the Social Studies, they use words such as “analyze,” “predict,” and “interpret,” which are also commonly used words for math assignments, resources, and assessments. It is this commonality that eases the perceived difficulty of integrating social studies with math instruction.
For example, if a teacher is currently focused on teaching their students about the Civil War, they can then relate the math scenarios they present and the quizzes they administer to that event. Here are a few examples of questions that could be asked to reinforce this connection while advancing learning in both subjects:
- If X states have decided to secede from the union and there were X that originally belonged to the union, how many states were left in the union?
- If soldiers travel to purchase medical supplies for battle with $X in their pockets and they have $X remaining after their purchase, how much did the medical supplies cost?
- Take a look at the map that has been provided. If soldiers started at point A and were trying to get to point B, how many miles would they have had to travel to get there? (provide a map with a scale to display distance)
Asking questions such as these allows students to tap into their knowledge of historical events while utilizing the power of math to solve the task at hand, creating cross-curricular connections and reinforcing learned skills.
The Interaction Between Science and Social Studies
Science and social studies can be taught hand-in-hand pretty seamlessly. In fact, it can be as easy as asking students to read about historical events and complete tasks that relate to the science behind them such as:
- Identifying native plants or insects to an associated region and the characteristics of that species
- Explaining why certain events were possible based on the science behind the tools that were used
- Answering close reading questions about why a certain scenario couldn’t be possible based on what students have learned about life science, earth science, or physical science
Nurturing a Deeper Understanding of History With Art
Art is a mechanism by which students are able to solidify their understanding of concepts and events, and has been proven to amplify academic efforts. According to a 2020 meta-analysis conducted by the National Association of State Boards of Education, “an average child could expect to gain 4 percentile points in relevant outcomes as a result of participating in arts intervention”. To capitalize on these potential learning gains, it would be ideal to begin to integrate the arts with subjects such as social studies. Here are a few activities you can implement in your classroom:
- Reader’s Theater: Reader’s Theater is an activity offered by Raz-Plus that allows students to develop a deeper understanding of texts pertaining to subjects such as social studies by allowing them to act out scripts while promoting collaboration, active listening, familiarity with new literary genres and concepts, and reinforcing comprehension skills. Often performed without props or costumes, Reader's Theater makes it easy for teachers to implement strategies to cover topics that pertain to civics, government, geography, and other social studies-related topics.
- Written art: Teachers can task their students with writing a poem after reading an assigned social studies text to demonstrate the meaning of the new vocabulary and concepts they have learned. Outside of ensuring comprehension, this type of activity also helps students refine literacy skills they may be currently working on.
- Paint a picture: Painting is a wonderful form of self-expression, but it can also be used to display a student’s understanding of a concept or sentiment toward something they’ve learned. This specific method makes students feel more like they are having fun, allowing them to feel more comfortable exploring new topics and more familiar with the social studies concept you have tasked them with painting.
Social Studies in Cross-Curricular Context
Integrating multiple subjects with one another has the power to propel learning in each discipline forward, and social studies falls right in line with this concept. Though making time for social studies instruction with all other essential subjects considered can be challenging, there are tools that can help. If you are interested in engaging in Reader’s Theater activities, close reading activities, and easing the hassle of integrating literacy, science, or arts instruction with social studies, Reading A-Z and Raz-Plus can help.
Enhance Comprehension and Save Time
Tackle multiple subjects by integrating social studies into your lessons with a free trial of Raz-Plus or Reading A-Z today.
- “National Standards for the Preparation of Social Studies Teachers.” National Council for the Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies, www.socialstudies.org/standards/national-standards-preparation-social-studies-teachers. Accessed 26 Oct. 2023.
- Burstein, Joyce H., and Greg Knotts. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 2010, pp. 20–23.
- Wan, Yinmei, et al. “The Role of Arts Integration and Education in Improving Student Outcomes.” The State Education Standard, Jan. 2020, pp. 1–6.