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.

Going Beyond Memorization

What is the relationship of concepts to facts?

In order to do this question justice, I must first provide definitions of concepts and facts.  A fact is a piece of information that is objectively true, such as 2×2= 4.  In contrast, “a concept is an abstract idea generalized from particular instances or evidence, so involves an inductive process of thought” (Scheuerman, R).

Bloom Rose.png

Figure 1

Through our own educational experiences, we are aware that there are many things we learned simply through memorization.  This included multiplication tables, the state capitals, and the Periodic Table of Elements.  Knowing and understanding facts, sometimes through rote memorization, is an essential component of learning.  According to Bruner, “instructional results are limited when students merely study the formal outcomes or products of subject matter”.  Remembering specific bits of information or facts is necessary, but limiting if that is all the student has acquired.  When it comes to memorized facts, “the child will use it in a single situation and possibly not even effectively then” (Bruner).

That being said, we need to go beyond this and build upon it.  Simply knowing the facts is not adequate.  If students cannot build connections between old and new learning, they will not be able to effectively transfer knowledge.  Students must develop the skills needed to come up with abstract, complex, deep, higher-level thinking.  They also need to be cognizant of how to apply information to new situations, and use prior learning to form explanations and predictions.  This type of learning and thinking is involved in Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Intellectual Processes.  In figure 1, you can see an image that represents his categories which are evaluation, synthesis, analysis, application, comprehension and knowledge.  Students need an understanding of facts and concepts to be successful learners.  If educators can facilitate conceptual learning, a student’s education will be more meaningful.  Going beyond memorization is of great importance, especially when cultivating the next generation of critical thinkers.

Bloom Taxonomy pyramid

Figure 2



If you look at figure 2, you’ll see that memory is at the bottom of the pyramid.  This does not mean it is insignificant, but rather the foundation of growth and development.  We ultimately want our students to be creative independent thinkers.


“Blooms rose” by K. Aainsqatsi – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blooms_rose.svg#/media/File:Blooms_rose.svg

Bruner, J. S. (1996). Some Elements of Discovery. Learning By Discovery: A Critical Appraisal.

Center for Teaching. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2016, from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/

EDTC 6431: ISTE Standard 1 Reflection

My question was; how can technology be used by students to facilitate critical thinking, creative thinking and complex problem solving?

The fact that we are living in the digital age necessitates utilizing technology in the classroom.  Technology has greatly changed the way people communicate and  learn. Teachers must also become skilled at evaluating various educational technologies.  One way students can use technology creatively is through digital storytelling.  Digital storytelling is great because it can be modified and scaffolded to all different ages and abilities.  Digital stories are a great way to engage students and to help them learn on a deeper level.  Additionally, in the process of digital storytelling students will be using writing and presentation skills.  Another effective way of engaging students using technology is through video games.   Many students enjoy video games and using them in the classroom in the right way can be a very effective way to increase their learning.  One classroom I read about used the popular video game Minecraft. The students worked together and researched topics including architecture, physics, and model building.  All the students in the class had improved attendance, confidence, engagement and participation.  Another valuable tool in video games is alternate reality gaming.  In an article I found, students worked in teams on simulated real-world problems.  This project required that participants to think critically and creatively about complex problems, come up with strategies to address those problems, consider real-world problems (such as poverty and universal education), communicate effectively with group members, and work as part of a collaborative team.  Simulations are a very valuable tool to help students gain a more in-depth understanding and to have a more involved experience with the course material/topic.  The use of technology in the classroom, such as digital storytelling and video games can be a way for students to creatively express themselves, feel empowered, and learn information in a way that is more meaningful to them.


Tromba, P. (2013). Build engagement and knowledge one block at a time with Minecraft. Learning Leading with Technology, June/July, 20–23.

Dondlinger, M., & McLeod, J. (2015). Solving Real World Problems With Alternate Reality Gaming: Student Experiences in the Global Village Playground Capstone Course Design. The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 9(2), 24-24. Retrieved July 5, 2015, from http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/ijpbl/vol9/iss2/3/

Link to Coggle

ISTE Standard 1 Mind Map Danielle Petrovich