Building Literacy in Social Studies

One of the issues I kept coming back to during my student teaching was the place of social studies in standardized testing.  Obviously social studies is one of the core four subject areas, but holds the odd distinction of not being specifically assessed on standardized tests.  I had many a conversation about how we can be held accountable as social studies teachers and how we can work to improve student achievement on standardized testing, even though we are not tested specifically.

The most evident areas for social studies to work on student achievement is in reading and literacy.  I’m fairly certain I’m not breaking any new ground with that idea there.  But my question was always how can I work on those areas with my students.  Consequently, I had students do a lot of writing and worked with them to hone their writing skills.  Then I got to thinking about some of the activities in English and literacy classes and one that stuck out in my mind was a book report.

During my time as a student, I never once did a book report that was not for my “English” class.  So my thought is why not have some form of a book report for students that is social studies related.  There are studies that claim non-fiction reading is better for the development of a reader, and most of social studies is non-fiction.  My thought was to have students read the newspaper weekly and have them read an article from a news publication and do a report on the article.  This would not only allow them to work on reading and writing skills, but would give them access to current events outside of the classroom.  Students could even read some sort of historical book throughout the course of a semester or quarter as a side project to their social studies class.  Either way, the point is to get them reading more non-fiction and building literacy skills outside of their “English” classes.

This is not a groundbreaking idea by any means, but it was the first one that came to mind for building literacy skills in a social studies classroom.  So my question is, what are some other activity ideas for building literacy specifically in a social studies classroom?

About Pat

Pat Riley is student teaching at Amundsen High School in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood for the fall of 2010. He will be teaching Contemporary American History, starting just before the Civil War, as he works towards his Type 9 certificate with an endorsement in History and hopefully Business. Previously, he worked in public relations and business development for a law firm in Chicago, but decided his passion was education. Prior to working in public relations and business development, Mr. Riley received a B.S. in Kinesiology with a focus in Sports Marketing from Indiana University. Follow his blog at Musings on Apples and Education.
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