Social studies instruction helps students become informed, empowered citizens, and, yet, test scores for social studies topics such as U.S. history and civics continue to decline. In fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reported in 2010 that only 1 in 4 fourth-graders in the United States received a proficient score in the areas of U.S history and civics¹. Social studies is still seen as a lower priority compared to other academic subjects. As a result, social studies tends to not receive as much instructional time, continuing to exacerbate academic results. If you are looking to interrupt this trend in your classroom, school, or district, here’s a bit of information that can help.
Understanding the World: Exploring Why Social Studies Matters
Social studies is defined as “the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence,” according to the National Council for the Social Studies². As students engage with social studies-focused instruction, resources, and texts, they will learn about civics, U.S. history, geography, law, philosophy, political science, and more.
The purpose of social studies is to equip students with the knowledge and ability to make decisions that serve the highest public good in the diverse society we live in. This includes knowledge of intellectual processes, our government, and the inclusion of other students from different ethnic, religious, and other backgrounds. Upon achieving proficiency in social studies, students will be able to address inquiries about these ten themes for the composition of social studies programs:
- Time, continuity, and change
- People, places, and environments
- Individual development and identity
- Individuals, groups, and institutions
- Power, authority, and governance
- Production, distribution, and consumption
- Science, technology, and society
- Global connections
- Civic ideas and practices
Cultivating Critical Thinkers Through Social Studies Education
Outside of preparing students to become knowledgeable, productive members of society, social studies instruction has the power to strengthen reading comprehension and critical thinking skills, according to the ACT Research Institute³. Though the goal of foundational literacy instruction includes reading comprehension, this skill heavily depends on the vocabulary and content area knowledge that one possesses, which improves with exposure to new texts about various topics. Exposing students to social studies texts allows them to:
- Encounter unfamiliar vocabulary words that can be understood by using context clues, prefixes or suffixes, or a dictionary
- Summarize the text to include main points or arguments
- Scan the text for evidence to support their answer to a question or their perception of the purpose of the text
Integrating social studies with literacy instruction helps students find and utilize strategies to uncover deeper meanings of texts in the future, regardless of the subject matter or level of complexity. This skill can make an immeasurable contribution to reading proficiency, comprehension, and critical thinking.
The Impact of Social Studies on Historical Literacy
Though foundational literacy proficiency is a huge goal for K-5 students, historical literacy is also increasingly important. Defined as the “ongoing practice of digging into history from multiple perspectives,” historical literacy involves the understanding of the lives, goals, and concerns of those that came before us in an effort to analyze modern-day perspectives. Social studies instruction promotes historical literacy by:
- Providing multiple narratives on the social construction of history
- Addressing universal themes found in history such as competition over resources
- Developing historical empathy by understanding the actions taken in the past
- Empowering students to see subtle differences that humans have displayed over the course of history
- Encouraging students to question historical information and take a stand on their beliefs
- Fostering imagination and curiosity to investigate the challenges of being a human in context
Strengthening historical literacy helps students take a more investigative approach to reading and provides background knowledge to help them better understand the texts they read.
Skills From Social Studies and Equipping Future Leaders
A part of a well-rounded social studies curriculum, civic education equips students with everything they need to become informed and engaged citizens. Students who are proficient in civic education tend to engage in future behaviors such as voting, discussing policy issues at home, volunteering, and contributing to community issues. This helps to create the foundation for future leaders.
Social Studies Beyond the Classroom and Why It Is Important
Though making time for social studies instruction can be difficult, it doesn’t have to be. Integrating social studies instruction with literacy instruction has the power to save time, improve social studies scores, and:
- Improve vocabulary
- Create cross-curricular connections
- Strengthen reading comprehension
- Increase content area knowledge
Mapping out your social studies curriculum can be overwhelming, but with Learning A-Z, it’s easy. Offering nearly a thousand social studies texts, more than 15 social studies text collections that cover everything from the U.S. government to geography and travel, and hundreds of resources specifically for English language learners, our affordable PreK-6 social studies curriculum has everything you need to boost literacy and social studies knowledge in your classroom. See why our social studies curriculum and literacy resources can’t be beat.
Integrate Social Studies With Literacy Instruction
Learn more about the social studies resources available with Learning A-Z.Learn More
- Diliberti, Melissa Kay, et al. Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, 2022, pp. 1–45, The Missing Infrastructure for Elementary (K-5) Social Studies Instruction. Accessed 1 Sept. 2023.
- “National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: Introduction.” National Council for the Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies, www.socialstudies.org/standards/national-curriculum-standards-social-studies-introduction. Accessed 1 Sept. 2023.
- “National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: Chapter 2--The Themes of Social Studies.” National Council for the Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies, www.socialstudies.org/national-curriculum-standards-social-studies-chapter-2-themes-social-studies#2. Accessed 1 Sept. 2023.
- Dougherty, PhD, Chris, and Raeal Moore, PhD. “Educators’ Beliefs About Teaching Science and Social Studies in K-3.” ACT Research Institute, Nov. 2019, pp. 1–16.