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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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Our conversation with you about “Have you hugged your Mother (Earth) today?”

One of us who edits this journal is old enough to remember the first Earth Day in 1970. I (Andrea) was in fifth grade and our science teacher, Mrs. Traitler, organized us into groups to create puppet shows about the environment to perform for the first grade classes. The plot of my group’s show involved trying to get others to help us clean up a park; puppet-sized protest signs were involved, as was a song with the refrain, “Hey, Hey, we’re the cleanies…” (yes, it echoed the theme song of The Monkees).

As we approach the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, cleaning up the park or the school playground as our sole environmental activity in school feels both quaint and insufficient. With 40 percent of Americans skeptical regarding the role of human activity in global warming1 (scientific consensus2 notwithstanding), raising awareness about the issue (as our puppet show sought to do) feels more important than ever. It feels particularly appropriate to do so at the upper elementary level, before political views harden and become the lens through which we view data. A recent Gallup poll indicates that most Democrats (79 percent) accept the prevailing scientific view that pollution is the cause of global warming, while many Republicans (41 percent) believe that the warming is part of a natural climatic cycle, and not driven by human activty.

Thus, any study of the environment must place the quest for reliable knowledge at its core, including the fact that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are mainly the result of human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position, which can be accessed at NASA’s website.3

The emphasis on the quest for reliable knowledge is consonant with the Next Generation Science Standards, whereby elementary students “obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment” (5-ESS3-1).4 Only when students have done their due diligence, interrogating the research on environmental issues, should they feel ready to take action. The evaluation of sources is a key element of the Inquiry Arc found in the College, Career, and Civic Live (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, as are the communication of conclusions and the taking of informed action.5

(It is worth noting that a few of the iconic visuals and beloved texts of the environmental movement sprang from less-than-reliable sources. In the early 1970s television spot, the Native American, with a tear rolling slowly down his check as he viewed the litter on his land, was actually a second-generation Italian-American. And the moving speech, supposedly delivered by Chief Seattle, on the need for careful stewardship of the land, turned out to be penned by a screenwriter in 1971.)6

The authors in this issue spotlight leaders in environmental activism and describe activities that go beyond picking up litter. In these classrooms, ecological education is alive and well, as teachers trust students to help steer the curriculum, allocating time for students to research, analyze, write, and act on this existential issue of our time.

“Creating a Solar-Powered Classroom with Fourth Graders” by Scott Morrison and Aaron Sebens chronicles a project in which students researched their own electrical consumption, ways to conserve energy, and alternative forms of producing electricity. They launched a project to generate all of the electricity they needed for lights and classroom devices from solar panels, and they raised the funds to do it!

Ryan E. Hughes and Sarah L. Thomson’s article “The First Earth Day 1970: Examining Documents to Teach about Civic Engagement” outlines a civics and history lesson designed for fifth graders. Students use primary sources to explore how students responded to the mounting environmental problems that faced our country in the 1960s.

In “The Power of Access to Clean Water . . . and the Power of Information,” Lisa Diaz Nash, Andrea S. Libresco, and Jeannette Balantic share examples and background about the topic, inviting students to consider why clean water is so important and how access to clean water can change people’s lives. Handouts for the activities they suggest constitute the Pullout that follows.

“The Climate is A-Changin’: Teaching Civic Competence for a Sustainable Climate” by Carolyn A. Harris, Pushker Kharecha, Pam Goble, and Ryan Goble invites students to interpret climate change data and role-play other children who are experiencing the local effects of change—and who have some ideas for mitigating these effects. Students can then use this information to discuss ways we can respond as consumers and as citizens to this global problem.

In “Science, Media, and Civic Literacy: Rachel Carson’s Legacy for the Citizen Activist,” Margaret Smith Crocco, Jay M. Shuttleworth, and Thomas Chandler profile the author of Silent Spring, a scientist and gentle subversive who had a profound impact on environmental issues through her speaking, writing, and organizing. Carson’s example can be a powerful model of the importance of media literacy and critical inquiry.

“Celebrating the National Parks Service’s Centennial: 100 Years of Environmental Education” by Nancy P. Gallavan and Jeff L. Whittingham outlines a research project that helps students develop an appreciation for the diversity of our national parks and fosters a commitment to protecting these treasured places. The culminating activity, to create a Public Service Announcement, is aligned with the C3 Framework goal to have students take informed action.

In “How Do We Shape Our Environment? An Inquiry from the New York State Social Studies Toolkit,” S. G. Grant, Kathy Swan, and John Lee invite readers of SSYL to check out a free, second grade inquiry unit on geography, humans, and the environment. Developed by the lead authors of the C3 Framework and nearly 60 New York State teachers, the online NYS Toolkit features an ambitious approach to constructing social studies inquiries for elementary school classrooms.

Which begs the question… In what ways do you work with your students to investigate, raise awareness about, and take action on the environment?

  • What kinds of environmental projects have most resonated with your students? At what grade levels? How much time have you been able to devote to them? Are these projects ongoing?
  • Many of the manuscripts we received for this issue were for intermediate grades. How do you teach about preservation of the environment in the primary grades?
  • To what extent have you connected with the community on any environmental projects?
  • How much importance do you attach to anniversaries that mark the protection of the environment (e.g., The year 2016 marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day and establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency; the 55th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring; the 100th anniversary establishment of the National Park Service)? To what extent do you plan lessons around those anniversaries?
  • To what extent do any of your lessons on the environment connect with Common Core literacy standards? Next Generation Science Standards? Grade-level goals listed in the C3 Framework?
  • To what extent do you focus on media literacy as an aspect of being a citizen equipped to understand and act on scientific issues?
  • To what extent do you see a unit on the environment as an opportunity to explore civic actions of the past (and present) that led (or might lead) to societal change? To what extent do such units allow students see their own civic capabilities and agency and to flex their “citizen muscles?”
  • To what extent do you teach about the environment as an issue with global implications?
  • We look forward to a thoughtful conversation online about your conceptions of what environmental education looks like in an elementary classroom at NCSS Connected. As the White House tweeted about Aaron Sebens’ students and their solar-powered classroom, “If these 4th graders can do something about climate change, there’s no reason why we all can’t.”
    —Andrea & Jeannette

    1. Lydia Saad, “A Steady 57% in U.S. Blame Humans for Global Warming,” Gallup, Inc., March 18, 2014,
    2. Naomi Oreskes, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Essays on Science and Society: Beyond The Ivory Tower, Science 306 (5702) December 3, 2004, 1686,
    3. “Scientific Consensus: Earth’s climate is warming,” NASA Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet,
    4. “5-ESS3 Earth and Human Activity,” Next Generation Science Standards,
    5. NCSS, 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), 19.
    6. “Iron Eyes Cody,”,; “Chief Seattle,”,
    “Please see our farewell to readers
    on the inside back cover!”
    —Andrea & Jeannette

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. 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.

Teaching with Primary Sources
Description: 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 special issue, authors document, in a variety of ways, how social studies educators 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. Dimension 3 of the C3 Framework, 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.

Submissions: This issue is now closed.
Issue: September/October 2016

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.

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

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 handouts.

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 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?
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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