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Young Learner

The goal of Social Studies and the Young Learner is to capture and enthuse elementary teachers across the country by providing relevant and useful information about the teaching of social studies to elementary students.The teaching techniques presented are designed to stimulate the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills vital to classroom success. SSYL is published quarterly: September/October; November/December; January/February; and March/April. Members who receive SSYL also get two issues of Social Education—the May/June issue (which includes the Notable Trade Books for Young People list) and the September issue.

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Empowering Young Learners with Civic Agency!

According to an NCSS Position Statement, powerful teaching and learning should build a child’s sense of “civic efficacy,” one of two major goals, along with “building social understanding.”1 While “efficacy” involves one’s belief in one’s capacity to change things for the better, a related term—“civic agency”—takes into account the entire socio-cultural scene that supports the possibilities of having a voice and that the voice matters. In and out of schools, a child who has civic agency knows that her negotiations within the public sphere can effect change. Civic agency entails youth taking a stance on issues that matter to them.

In this issue, you will learn about the inspiring practices occurring around the country that position and support children as civic agents. It’s worth noting that three of these articles arise from collaborations between a school and a teaching college or nonprofit organization, as described in various sidebars.

Why is it important to frame children as civic agents? Doing so steers us back to original purpose of the U.S. public school: to create participatory citizens engaged in democracy. The early years in school can serve as a springboard for an engaged civic life. As a former elementary school teacher who now partners with an elementary school in my work as a teacher-educator, I have seen how children can investigate social issues and assume civic agency. When an adult takes their concerns seriously, children often rise to the occasion.

The articles in this issue offer proof that children can be empathic, critical, and motivated citizens. Developing children’s sense of agency goes beyond fostering a “skill” by creating the conditions in which action is possible. As these educators show, children’s agency may start with a class conversation, a field trip to a grocery store, or a map of the school neighborhood—and then develop into academic investigations into history, conversations with adults in the community, and inquiries on why “audience” matters.

In her article “Children as Civic Agents during the Civil Rights Movement,” Kristy A. Brugar offers an historical look at children taking action on the front lines of the civil rights movement during the 1960s. She presents innovative ways to use quality children’s nonfiction in the elementary classroom.

In their article, “Action Civics in Fourth Grade: Tackling School- and Community-based Issues,” Peter Cipparone and Allison K. Cohen use ideas from an action civics program, Generation Citizen. His students map their community and identify decision makers. The class decides to tackle two issues, one in the school and one in the neighborhood.
In “Civics in the Grocery Store: A Field Trip of Awareness and Agency,” Erin Adams asks children to critically examine the role of grocery store from a variety of perspectives. Following her article, the activities in the Pullout, “Exploring the Grocery Store,” engage students in skills of interviewing and mapping to help them exercise their rights and responsibilities as consumers in a grocery store.

In “Who Can Fix This? The Concept of “Audience” and First Graders’ Civic Agency,” Katherina A. Payne examines the importance of framing children’s message to an audience. As children learn to solve problems that they have experienced, they also learn that the impact of their message depends on someone on the other end being motivated to listen.

In “I Am Engaged: Action Civics in the Classroom,” Brooke Blevins and Karon LeCompte describe “four phases” of implementing the Action Civics model that puts students at the heart of civic action. The authors provide examples of young people engaged in a cycle of identifying a problem that they care about, research, action, and reflection.

The article “Developing Civic Agents by Framing Curriculum with Children’s Concerns” by Whitney Douglas, Sara Fry, Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, and Angela Housley takes us into a fourth grade classroom where students learn that their own disagreements can be topics for reflection and study, as well as an inspiration for new student-created resources which other students might find useful.

These articles encourage us to consider:

How do you make space and time for students’ spontaneous (yet sometimes predictable) social concerns and shape them into civic inquiry?

How do you create experiences and structures that facilitate historical knowledge of civic engagement?

How do you foster the knowledge of empowered and informed participation pathways at the national, state, local, school, and classroom levels?

How can we position young students, who are often on the margins, in the center of civic action?

Have your students ever initiated civic change outside the walls of the school?

How do you, as a teacher, model responsible civic engagement?

I invite you to contribute your ideas to continue this conversation online at NCSS Connected, We look forward to YOUR voice and engagement!


1.NCSS, “A Vision of Powerful Teaching and Learning in the Social Studies: Building Social Understanding and Civic Efficacy.” An NCSS Position Statement (2008),

Stephanie C. Serriere, Guest Editor, Associate Professor of Education, Pennsylvania State University

An Invitation to Authors!

Call for Manuscripts for Social Studies and the Young Learner

If you are an enthusiastic elementary teacher or teacher educator with great ideas that you have implemented in the classroom, we invite you to share your work.

Below are descriptions of themes for some of the upcoming issues, but we also welcome pieces that do not fit these particular themes.

Issue: November/December 2015

Have You Hugged Your Mother (Earth) Today? Fifty years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, 45 years after the first Earth Day, and 100 years after the creation of our National Park Service, environmental issues remain compelling. How are you teaching students about the environment, the Great Outdoors, conservation, climate change, the consequences of severe weather, and preservation of the planet? We are seeking articles, lessons, activities, and book reviews that address teaching about these environmental issues that are more vital than ever.

Submission Deadline: August 15, 2015

Issue: January/February 2016

Including All Students in Powerful Social Studies We all know about the “back-benchers,” the students who, for whatever reason, are not fully engaged in the social studies classroom. But social studies may be the very subject that can open doors for all students to discover a feeling of success and competence. What instructional approaches, lessons, activities, or assessments have you developed that engage all students, including those who have disabilities or are learning English? What can we do to engage different types of learners in powerful social studies that is personally meaningful? Send submissions to the Guest Editor, Margit McGuire,

Submission Deadline: November 15, 2015

Issue: March/April 2016

For each issue, we would like to include a book review that may or may not be related to the theme. Have you recently read a piece of children’s literature or a book written for teachers that you would like to review? Have you implemented any of the NCSS Notable Books into your curriculum? Tell us about it!

Please contact the co-editors at if you have any questions or ideas you would like to share.

Andrea S. Libresco, Ed.D.
Graduate Director of Elementary Education
Department of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership
Hofstra University
(516) 463-6543

Jeannette Balantic
Social Studies Coordinator
Garden City School District
(516) 478-2850

Guidelines for Contributors to SSYL

The goal of Social Studies and the Young Learner is to a) capture and enthuse elementary teachers across the country; and b) provide relevant and useful information about the teaching of social studies to elementary students. The editor especially encourages submission of manuscripts authored by K-5 classroom teachers themselves, or co-authored by professors and classroom teachers.


E-mail your manuscript directly to the co-editors: Andrea S. Libresco, Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY), and Jeannette Balantic, Gardin City Public Schools (Garden City, NY), at Expect an acknowledgement of receipt within a week. Manuscripts submitted for a particular theme issue are due four months prior to publication. Final decisions are usually made within one year.


The first page should contain the title, word count, and contact information for all authors: name, title, position, complete mailing address, e-mail, phone, and fax. Identify the lead and/or corresponding author. The authors' names should appear only on this page for purposes of blind peer review.

Include a statement that the manuscript has not been submitted or published elsewhere.
The second page should begin with the title and start the main text. With regard to citation notes, follow The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993) as closely as possible (not APA style). See examples of notes in the journal.

Margins: 1 inch top and bottom and 1.25 inch sides

Font: 12-point, Times New Roman

Length: Double Space, 1000 - 3000 words

Images and Examples

Follow up your e-mailed submission by mailing photocopies of examples of student work and learning, if possible—writing, photos of projects, art, or other media. Submit tables, graphics, photos, etc. as separate files by e-mail, not embedded in the text. If the manuscript is accepted, we will request high-resolution image files or glossy prints. Please set your digital camera at high resolution. Authors must obtain parental permission allowing publication of photos of students, as well as permission for the reprint of copyrighted materials used in a lesson.

Peer Review

SSYL is peer reviewed. If a manuscript is considered for publication, the author must be willing to work with the editor on revisions. SSYL is published by the National Council for the Social Studies.


Authors of published manuscripts receive up to 50 complimentary copies of the journal in which the article appears, courtesy of NCSS. Authors are not paid for contributions.

Please feel free to contact the editor by e-mail if you have a question at any time.

SSYL co-editor Andrea S. Libresco, Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY) and SSYL co-editor Jeannette Balantic, Gardin City Public Schools (Garden City, NY), at

Tips for Authors

Who May Submit an Article?

Anybody may submit an article to Social Studies and the
Young Learner
. The editors especially look
for manuscripts co-authored by classroom teachers and professors, or authored
by K-5 classroom teachers alone.


What are Good Topics?

Articles in Social Studies and the Young Learner show how social
studies (history, geography, civics, economics, anthropology, etc.) is taught
in the pre-K-6 classroom. The lead article often provides background on the
theme for that issue. A children’s literature piece describes how to use
quality books in the classroom. A pullout usually includes a lesson with

See the “Invite” tab to see themes of upcoming issues of SSYL (but you may also write on a topic that does not fit a theme).


How Will My Paper Be Judged?

This checklist shows the features that editors and reviewers will be watching for. Read your own paper against this checklist.

  1. I have described the basic setting (grade level, time required to teach each activity, materials and resources needed)
  2. The social studies content is strong (students learn history, civics, geography, economics, or anthropology, etc.) See the themes I-X in
    Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
  3. I have included examples of classroom experience (what students said, how they responded, and pedagogical pitfalls that arose and how to avoid them)
  4. I have included examples of young students’ work (writing, art, quotes, photos of students in action)
  5. Other teachers could use these ideas and methods (Can this lesson or activity be applied to other classrooms, in other states, with a low budget, and with a reasonable commitment of time and
  6. There is a clear assessment of student learning. (How is student learning measured at end of the lesson? Are
    discussion questions or test questions included?)
  7. I have linked the subject matter in my paper to state and national content standards and to the required curriculum of my school for this grade level.
  8. I have avoided using the passive voice.

    Right: The teacher corrects and grades the papers. Wrong: Papers are corrected and graded by the teacher.
  9. I follow the the Chicago style handbook for notes, and do not use Endnote or Reference Manager programs.
  10. My notes follow this style-
    BOOKS: Alfie Kohn, What to Look For in a Classroom (San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, 1998), 45.
    ARTICLES: Bruce E. Larson, "The Makah: Exploring Public Issues During a Structured Classroom Discussion,"
    Social Studies and the Young Learner 10, no. 1 (September/October 1997): 10-13.
    WEBSITES: "Creating the United States," (Library of Congress),
  11. When citing online resources, I recommend specific, student-friendly websites, avoiding Wikipedia and Google.
  12. I kept my reading audience in mind. (Will classroom teachers, who are the primary audience of SSYL, eagerly read this from start to finish? Will they find it useful to their actual practice?)



Ask a colleague to read your paper and check it for grammar, organization, and writing style.

Who, When, and How?

Be sure to follow the basic advice found at the “Guide” tab to Social Studies and the Young
when you format text, type references, shoot photographs, write a cover letter,
and submit your manuscript.

Other Questions?

Feel free to contact the co-editors:

SSYL co-editor Andrea S. Libresco, Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY) and SSYL co-editor Jeannette Balantic, Gardin City Public Schools (Garden City, NY), at

The co-editors of SSYL are Andrea S. Libresco, Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY) and Jeannette Balantic, Garden City Public Schools (Garden City, NY). Contact them at


Janet Alleman, Michigan State University (MI)

Michelle Bauml, Texas Christian University (TX)

Elizabeth Bellows, Appalachian State University (NC)

Lisa Brown Buchanan, University of North Carolina, Wilmington (NC)

Mary Fortney, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis (IN)

Jesus Garcia, University of Nevada--Las Vegas (NV)

Eric Groce, Appalachian State University (NC)

Lynda A. Herrera, Marymount University (VA)

Elizabeth R. Hinde, Arizona State University (AZ)

Barbara Knighton, Winans Elementary School (MI)

Paul Nagel, Northwestern State University (LA)

Kim D. O'Neil, Liverpool Elementary School (NY)

Ellen Santora, University of Rochester (NY)

Christina Tschida, East Carolina University, Greenville (NC)

Cynthia Tyson, The Ohio State University (OH)

Patricia D. Watson, Educational Consultant (DC)

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