Teaching English Language Arts Skills in Social Studies

Graduation is a week away, and I am currently in the process of job-hunting.  I have applied to many humanities positions in nearby school districts.  The idea of simultaneously teaching both my content areas, English language arts and social studies, has always appealed to me a great deal.

During my student teaching I was able to teach ELA concepts in my seventh grade social studies classes.  This already happens organically because there is a lot of reading and writing in this content area.  I wanted their social studies class to connect directly with what the students were working on in their English classes.  My mentor teacher and I met with the head of the English department to talk about how we could build on what they were doing in their English classes.  This interdepartmental collaboration was really successful and a great experience.

One thing students are learning about is how to identify the author’s purpose.  They are being taught how to differentiate between persuade, inform, and entertain.  I was able to incorporate this concept into their social studies readings.  When I gave students primary source documents, I would ask them to read the text and determine the author’s purpose.  This gave students additional opportunities to practice this skill and to apply it in a new context.


Here is a CER poster that explains the method of writing.

The English department is also having students write CER responses.  CER stands for claim, evidence, and reasoning.  It is a format that students follow when writing about a text in English class.  I had students identify the author’s claim, evidence, and reasoning in various primary source documents.  I also gave students different historical perspectives on events, and asked them to come to their own conclusions and support their response.  For example, I had students read a series of primary and secondary sources on Captain John Smith and Pocahontas.  I asked students if they thought Pocahontas saved John Smith’s life or not.  They had to pick a side and then provide evidence from one of the sources along with reasoning in their own words.

In addition, there is a lot of vocabulary building in social studies.  The classroom has a word wall, and students are able to play an online game called Memrise that allows them to practice new vocabulary words of the unit.  I also have students take Cornell Notes in class which is something they also do in their English classes.  Finally, students annotate text and read with a purpose, both of which are skills they use in English class.

Cornell Notes.jpg

This is a picture of the Cornell Notes reference tool that is featured on the classroom wall.

Making an effort to have some alignment between English and social studies promotes deeper understanding and learning of both content areas.


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