Teaching Daily Social Studies to Improve Reading in The Elementary Grades


Time is at a premium in the elementary classroom. The realities of state mandates have created a need to be creative when it comes to teaching subjects like Social Studies and Science. Current research and best practice shows the importance of specifice Social Studies instruction. With increased background knowledge, reading comprehension and vocabulary skills grow, more than with an increase in time just on Literacy. As educators face more challenges in meeting state proficiency, one step is to include daily instruction in Social Studies.

Daily elementary schedules are packed with specials and recesses, lunch and birthday parties, and of course Math, Literacy, and time for interventions. The average elementary student’s school day is non-stop motion from one experience to the next. The school day for the average teacher is ‘too much to do’ and ‘not enough time’ to get it all done. To make this all work, sacrifices must be made. ( A perfect lesson in scarcity ) Unfortunately, Social Studies instruction is often the first casualty to be sacrificed. Since there is very little reporting on social studies standards, many districts choose to minimize or even cut Social Studies out of the schedule. This is just the reality for elementary schools. 

Researchers at the Fordham Institute conducted a longitudinal study that followed the kindergarten class of 2010-11(ECLS-K: 2011) through their fifth grade year. Thousands of students were looked at to see if there was a correlation to their progress and the time spent on different subjects. The analysis of data revealed some key findings. Among them:

  • Elementary school students in the United States spend much more time on ELA than any other subject.
  • Increased instructional time on Social Studies – but not in ELA – is associated with improved reading ability.
  • The students who benefit the most from additional Social Studies time are girls and those from lower-income and/or non-English speaking homes. 

Current research supports specific Social Studies instruction in the elementary classroom. The National Council for the Social Studies issued their position statement in 2017 detailing the benefits of a powerful and purposeful elementary social studies curriculum. The Council of Chief State School Officers recommends 45 minutes of daily instruction in Social Studies. This may not always be possible during an elementary day, but, if we want to move students forward, teaching Social Studies in the elementary grades is key.

For More Information Contact: Keith Halverson, Central Rivers AEA Social Studies Consultant/Active Learning Strategies