Thursday, September 6, 2012

Literacy In the Secondary Social Studies Classroom: This Is Going to Be a Long Post

Blog posts are supposed to be pithy.

But the more I think about the ways I can and should integrate literacy into my secondary Social Studies classroom, the more overwhelming it becomes. I believe it is fundamentally imperative that we help students better understand the world in which they live. One way to do that is through Social Studies. I must make it interesting, relevant, and fun. Literacy is a vital portion of this equation. Students must be able to read texts, comprehend what they are reading, and apply it to the real world. Students must be able to take knowledge and communicate what they have learned to others in a concise and meaningful way, either in written or verbal form. Students need to learn how to research effectively; meaning they need to understand how to identify reliable sources, and how to verify facts. They need to understand the value of primary sources. And in no other way does Social Studies incorporate more into other common core teaching areas than in literacy learning. These skills are useful in every facet of life.
So how do I do it; and how do I know if students are grasping the content? Here is a list of strategies and tools that I believe work well for me and my students in learning literacy. I wouldn't necessarily use each one in every unit, but at least two or three in each unit, for sure: journal writing, maps, graphic organizers, current events presentations, class web site, web-based research projects. If you have time, you can view these two videos on YouTube, which although they focus on younger students, I like the general strategies of each teacher. The first video focuses on an overall strategy of research and presentations, and the other focuses nicely on using maps. There are just a couple of examples: There are numerous videos and other resources on the Web that discuss the integration of literacy teaching into the curriculum.

I really like to use journals throughout the year. I have only done this by having students use their notebooks; I would like to try it online, such as a blog like this one. (But there's nothing wrong with writing in a notebook either.) I like it because it helps me introduce a topic, get a sense of what the students prior knowledge is, what interests them or what they would like to learn. When the unit is finished, I can look back and see the progress that was made. I love graphic exercises, either organizers to help with reading and planning projects; or maps to help with geographic placement, politics, industry or resources.

Although many students can be scared or nervous, I usually plan for a series of short current events oral presentations. Students need to become comfortable with speaking to their peers about subjects that interest them. It also reinforces mutual respect and listening skills. I know some do not like to stand up in front of the class. I might allow them to sit and give their presentation, then I might require them to stand at their desk. Eventually all should come to the front of the class to speak. This instills confidence and self-worth.

I also like to plan for a project near the end of the unit that tries to encompass everything learned in the unit to that point. Tests are a fact of life; and I want my students to do well. But I find the students can show how much they've learned by completing some kind of project, hopefully using modern technology. This helps them see a payoff for their work; and gives me an evaluation tool. I have used digital posters like Glogster, or presentation tools such as Sliderocket or Animoto.

I am also very fond of Webquests. Here is a quest I made for another class on Christopher Columbus. It is very detailed and would take a long time to read, but it offers the students some individual tasks and collaborative tasks. The standards are included in the quest, as well as evaluation tools. Students will receive a grade from me, but also can grade themselves. I'm not saying my quest was great or anything, but the tool itself, created with Zunal, is awesome. You can also look at other educators' Webquests, get great ideas and even ask them for the right to use their quests in your class.

I don't want to carry on too long. Hopefully I've answered the requirements of the assignment. Like I said, I consider literacy in Social Studies to be among the most important things I can teach. I see technology as offering more exciting and fun ways to do this. 


  1. I feel like this needs an "Amen!". I totally agree that literacy encompasses all that we do in every subject. Just like in math, there are different symbols and vocabulary that students need to connect with in social studies that gives more depth to literacy... on top of all the "good" stuff like note taking, organizers, research and presentations.

  2. I agree with everything that you have posted through the eye of a teacher. However, I think back on that time as a student and cringe a little at the thought of he writing and graphic organizers. I'm a very hands on and visual person and I learned best when my teachers gave the option on projects. I do like that you have many ideas and you mix them and do not use every project in every unit!

  3. I have seen teachers (I'm only familiar with elementary level classrooms, but your insights are obviously valuable to any grade level) use podcasts as a way for students to almost 'verbally journal' their thoughts on the books they were reading, but your suggestion about using a blog in the classroom would be a very meaningful tie-in to literacy enhancement in Social Studies. My district uses Moodle which would allow students to create posts of their own which could serve the same function (no it't not truly a blog of their own, but it would work about the same way)

  4. Rob-
    Your post really helped me see Social Studies though the eyes of a secondary teacher. And what I kept thinking about is how important it is to teach students of this age to to critically think about current events and evaluate all information they come across. To be able to identify truth, bias, facts, etc in current events is another way to be literate in the 21st century.