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Social Studies and the 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 in this peer-reviewed journal 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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Teaching with Primary Sources

Scott Waring

Throughout the inquiry arc of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework,1 the authors present ways in which educators can prepare youth for study and work, as well as for becoming knowledgeable, thinking, and active citizens within our democratic republic. While the need to utilize primary sources in this endeavor is evident throughout the social studies standards,2 the inquiry arc’s Dimension 3: “Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence” specifically focuses on ways in which teachers can provide the skills students need to analyze information and come to conclusions during authentic and engaging inquiry opportunities, as well as on gathering and evaluating sources, developing claims, and using evidence to support those claims.

Many social studies educators argue that primary sources are at the heart of what we do in social studies and can be utilized in amazing ways, especially in the pre-K-6 classroom. Within this issue, educators document, in a variety of ways, how they are using primary sources to engage young learners in authentic and meaningful ways to convey social studies content and bolster skills needed for college, career, and civic life.

“Hoovervilles, Jalopies, and Riding the Rails: Investigating the Great Depression Through Primary Sources” by Heidi J. Torres introduces readers to a third grade unit in which primary sources allowed students to construct an understanding of the era and find ways to represent what they learned through the construction of a visual project.

“Junior Detectives: Teaching with Primary Sources as a Bridge to Disciplinary Literacy” by David Hicks, Aaron Johnson, Melissa Lisanti, Stephanie van Hover, Kelly McPherson, and Sharon Zukerwar presents a set of interconnected, inquiry-based activities from a fifth grade social studies curriculum, “My Place in Time and Space.” The ideas presented are designed to shape students’ disciplinary literacy skills through inquiry approaches that employ primary sources.

Junior Detective Worksheets by those same authors provide the center Pullout for this issue.

“Teaching Young Children with Personal Histories and Primary Sources” by Kelly Perry demonstrates how educators in the pre-K classroom can utilize bookmaking to teach a multitude of concepts related to literacy and social studies. Specifically, she shows ways to make connections to the past, as well as how to create documents that illustrate children’s own personal histories, while increasing historical thinking, ideas of citizenship, and connections to real world events.

“Where Does It Say We Didn’t Have the Right to Vote?” Fifth Graders use Primary Sources in an Inquiry Lesson” by Rebecca Craps and Emma S. Thacker invites readers to experience an approach to teaching about the American Civil War and civil rights in a fifth grade classroom. The students described in this article learn about various content and skills while focusing on questions that help students think about the concept of participating in a democracy on a broader scale.

“‘What Makes You Think That?’ Kindergarten Students Analyze Primary Sources from the Library of Congress” by Anne Savage and Stephen Wesson spotlights methods for teaching with primary sources in kindergarten. The authors describe a collaborative project between the Library of Congress and Peabody Elementary School that was aimed at building young learners’ capacity to utilize sources to create and strengthen social studies skills and understanding of content.

“Which Woman Should Appear on U.S. Currency? Using Primary Sources to Explore Important Historical Figures” by Meghan McGlinn Manfra and Elizabeth E. Saylor explores a real question with historical implications: They present a way in which teachers can scaffold learning so that students can construct evidence-based arguments about who should appear on the bill.

When deciding upon a theme for my inaugural issue as editor, I already knew that social studies educators have a multitude of amazing ways in which they engage students in authentic inquiry-based learning activities that incorporate the use of primary sources. As I had hoped, many educators answered the call for manuscripts, wanting to share their innovative and interesting ideas. Unfortunately, space does not allow for all to be included. The articles selected by editors and peer reviewers for this issue represent just a fraction of the authentic and engaging approaches being conducted with preK-6 students to teach with primary sources. I hope this issue of SSYL will encourage you to keep on teaching with primary sources!


1. NCSS, The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History (Silver Spring, MD: NCSS, 2013).

2. NCSS, National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: A Framework for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (Silver Spring, MD: NCSS, 2010).

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. Here are upcoming themes. We also welcome pieces that do not fit these particular themes, as well as reviews of children’s literature and books for teachers.

World History and Geography for Young Learners

In our interdependent world, there are numerous ties between the local and the global, and between the present and the past. Questions and contradictions that affect us have often affected others in different times and places. Manuscripts may focus on geography and world history; on cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic diversity; or on global issues (e.g., hunger, poverty, environmental challenges) and the utilization of GIS, Skype, and other emerging technologies.

Submission Deadline: June 15, 2016
Issue: November/December 2016

Cultivating Civic Life through Studying Current Events

How do we help elementary students explore current events (local, national, and global) in ways that support their civic development? How can we present multiple perspectives in ways that make sense to young learners? What methods can we employ to instill interest, hopefulness, and civic agency? In this issue we ask authors to share ideas for connecting civic life in and out of the classroom through the study of current events. Articles should be no more than 3,000 words.

Submissions Deadline: July 15, 2016 Please send your manuscript to Guest Editors Kathryn Obenchain and Julie Pennington at for this issue only. Issue: January/February 2017

Agency and Empowerment with Younger Learners

Young children often willingly and enthusiastically discuss and act upon issues of fairness and unfairness. How can social studies educators help young learners see themselves as agents in greater capacities? This issue examines and presents ways in which children have been agents in various locations throughout the world and at different points in time. What strategies and approaches have you used to empower your younger learners and facilitate their capacity to become agents?

Submissions Deadline: November 15, 2016
Issue: March/April 2017

Please contact the editor at if you have any questions or ideas you would like to share. Please send manuscripts by email.

Scott Waring, Editor
Social Studies and the Young Learner
Professor and Program Coordinator
Social Science Education
University of Central Florida


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 Editor (listed below). 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 Editor Scott Waring (University of Central Florida), at

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 handouts.

See the call for manuscripts 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 materials?)
  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 Learner when you format text, type references, shoot photographs, write a cover letter, and submit your manuscript.

Other Questions?

Please feel free to contact Editor Scott Waring (University of Central Florida), at

The Editor of SSYL is Scott Waring (University of Central Florida). Contact him at

Editorial Board

​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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