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Practical Ways to Better Teach Social Studies in Elementary

Practical Ways to Better Teach Social Studies in Elementary

Carving out time for social studies in the elementary classroom can seem daunting. With all of the standards, continual testing, and more that is placed on teachers, making designated space for social studies (especially if it isn’t a subject tested on the state exam) can be difficult to prioritize.

Teaching Social Studies with Confidence

I hear from teachers quite often that one of the reasons they tend to shy away from teaching social studies is a lack of knowledge in the content. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy. I think it's important to remember that teachers are generalists. This means that learning on the job is part of the job. Attending social studies workshops and professional development can be really helpful. The first place I would start is your state Council for the Social Studies. You can find more information on the NCSS website. This is a great place to get connected with teachers from your state and access social studies resources aligned with your state standards.

Avoid "Carving out Time" for Social Studies

I believe that a change in mindset must occur in order for social studies to be better embraced in the classroom. We don’t “carve out time” for math each day, or “fit in” reading "if there's time." Because of lengthy time mandates, these subjects take priority. But that doesn't mean that we should just "fit in" social studies when we can. The problem is that when we have the mindset of just “fitting in” time for subjects, then it doesn’t become a priority. Our students deserve a high-quality social studies education.

Cut Back on ELA to See Reading Gains

A new research study from the Fordham B. Institute found that teachers need to cut back on ELA and spend more time on social studies in order to see significant reading gains. It seems counterintuitive, but this long-range study is quite fascinating. You can read more about cutting back on ELA to make reading gains on this blog post.

Advocate for Social Studies Materials

Talk to your principal about using discretionary funds for social studies materials. I found myself in a situation with no curriculum. I worked with teachers that interpreted this to mean that they didn't need to teach the subject. However, the state still has standards that every grade level needs to cover.

Print a copy of your state social studies standards and ask your principal how they anticipate you should provide your students with a high-quality social studies education with the few materials or outdated textbook provided.

Put the Outdated Textbook on the Shelf

I recently stepped into a classroom where fourth-graders were using a textbook that was 16 years old. I know for a fact that in this same period of time the school has updated its math and literacy materials several times over. So, here's my suggestion. Start using primary sources with your students. I have several helpful posts with links to various reputable websites and ways that you can have your students analyze historical photos with ease. Check them out below.


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