Social Studies and the Young Learner

Current Issue

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 “Your Best Lessons”…

The contributors to this issue on Best Lessons go beyond what is required to make social studies enjoyable. These educators’ commitment to big ideas that can be applied in real life—to social understanding and civic efficacy—trumps the “fun and festivals” approach to social studies. Their commitment to interesting and challenging activities is an antidote to test-prep hysteria. Our authors share lessons that exemplify what NCSS calls, “powerful and purposeful elementary social studies,” whereby “teaching and learning in the elementary classroom [is] meaningful, integrative, value-based, challenging, and active.1 And the classroom teachers detailed in these pages reflect their commitment to plan such lessons not because the activities are mandated, but because they are essential to the development of a democratic society.

From the lessons gathered here, we can distill the qualities of effective elementary social studies. These teachers provide opportunities for students to: interrogate sources from a variety of perspectives; practice empathy as it applies to historical and present-day people and situations; engage in thoughtful discourse about issues that matter; and read with an eye to connecting information and characters with larger societal and historical issues. Students are challenged to see themselves as active citizens, with information to analyze, impart, and use as a basis for action. Indeed, almost all of the contributors employed a powerful piece of fiction or non-fiction literature in the service of their social studies goals.

In “What is a Peacemaker? How Do They Solve Problems?” Janie D. Hubbard presents activities in which students research and discover commonalities among activists for peace. The students explore notable peacemakers’ thoughts, visions, words, feelings, actions, and challenges.

In “Beyond Pen Pals: Shared Readings, Internet Tools, and Classrooms Overseas,” Marna K. Winter and Joan Barnatt describe the rich cultural conversations, sparked by shared texts and supported by technology, that American elementary students had with children from a classroom in another country. Following that article, a “Culture Pack” Pullout by Verity Norman, Joan Barnatt, and Marna K. Winter presents instructions on how to conduct an artifact exchange with students and teachers on the other side of the globe so that both groups might have more accurate representations of each other’s cultures.

Daniela Wiener’s “Creating a ‘Wax Museum’ about Our City” chronicles her second grade English Language Learners’ active project in which students theorize as to why people in their Brooklyn community lived (and continue to live) the way they do. To do so, students “became the people whom they studied” from different time periods in New York City’s rich history.

In “Teaching about Angel Island through Historical Empathy and Poetry,” Noreen Naseem Rodríguez details a lesson in which third and fourth graders focused on the movement of Chinese to America and learned about the complexity of detainee experiences at the immigration station at Angel Island. An examination of historical evidence, such as poetry by some people who passed through or were detained at Angel Island, provided inspiration for students to write their own poetry about immigrant experiences.

“The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Utilizing Primary Sources and Identifying Multiple Perspectives,” by Deborah L. Morowski, Theresa M. McCormick, and Megan Speaker takes a new look at this important event in the civil rights movement, as fifth graders in rural Alabama examine the positions on the boycott held by a variety of stakeholders among the citizens of Montgomery.
Leah A. Libresco’s review of a 2014 NCSS Notable Book, If…A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David J. Smith, spotlights the importance of getting a better handle on numbers for informed decision-making, a crucial skill of good citizenship

Which begs the question…What are the characteristics of your best social studies lessons?

  • To what extent are they built around primary source analysis?

  • To what extent are they built around literature?

  • To what extent are they built around the NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Books?

  • How interdisciplinary are your most effective social studies lessons?

  • When planning elementary social studies lessons, do you prefer to take a new look at a familiar topic or, like some of our contributors to this issue, explore a lesser-known topic?

  • In what ways do you challenge students to make informed decisions in your lessons?

  • How much does the goal of civic engagement drive your lesson planning?

  • How much responsibility for their own learning do you give to your students?

  • What kinds of choices do you give students for presenting their work to others?

  • How do you know that your social studies lessons have been effective? In other words, what are students able to DO after they have had the classroom experience?

We look forward to the thoughtful conversation about your best lessons at NCSS Connections. Please join us!

–Andrea and Jeannette

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


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.

People at Work From children selling lemonade to transportation workers on the night shift to local musicians to child caregivers to farmers to the proprietors of the neighborhood store, our local, national, and global societies are supported by the labor of their people. We are seeking articles, lessons, activities, and book reviews that illustrate how you help students explore different jobs and the people who work at them, relations between employers and employees, the effects of industrialization and technology on work and workers, the wages people earn and resulting standards of living, as well as the impact of people’s work on their lives and on society.
Submission Deadline: March 15, 2015
Issue: September/October 2015

This is What Democracy Looks Like! How do you help students (primary and upper elementary) understand aspects of government and democracy; government’s roles in people’s lives; individuals and groups that pressure governments to live up to their ideals? We are seeking articles, lessons, activities, and book reviews that reveal how you and your students grapple with government, democracy, and movements for greater democracy in America and around the world.
Submission Deadline: June 15, 2015
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 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

Conference Sessions

Conference Archives provide handouts and other materials given out at recent sessions on "best practices in the elementary grades" at NCSS Annual Conferences. (For journal back issues, click the Publications Archive link at

2010 NCSS Annual Conference Best Practices

How Elementary Teachers Teach for Transformative Citizenship [Powerpoint, pptx]
Sherry L. Field, University of Texas at Austin, Antonio J. Castro, University of Missouri-Columbia

CHILDREN AS ADVOCATES AROUND THE WORLD: Service Learning with “Third Culture Kids” [Powerpoint, pptx]
Janie Hubbard

Living in the Global Village: Strategies for Teaching Mental Flexibility [Powerpoint, pptx]
Dr. Carol McNulty, Dr. MaryAnn Davies, Ms. Mary Maddoux, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Structuring the Curriculum Around Big Ideas [Powerpoint, pptx]
Janet Alleman, Barbara Knighton, and Jere Brophy

We Are The Future: We Are Agents of Change! [Powerpoint, pptx]
Jill Stepanian, Shady Brook Elementary
Tracy Rock, UNC Charlotte

2009 NCSS Annual Conference Best Practices

Count Me IN! Census and Economic Sustainability
Linda Bennett, University of Missouri

Classroom Practices and Applications
Paul Nagel, Northwestern State University

It's about Us: 2010 Census in Schools [powerpoint]
Patricia Dillon Watson, Census in Schools, U.S. Census Bureau

Federal Resources for the Classroom [powerpoint]
Mary C. Suiter, Ph.D.
St. Louis Federal Reserve

2008 NCSS Annual Conference Best Practices

Welcome to the Digital Classroom [URL]
Linda Bennett, Barbara Jamison & Michelle Nebel

Google Earth: A Virtual Globe for Elementary Geography [pdf]
Google Earth [powerpoint]
Judy Gritt and Gus La Fontaine

PBS Presentation [powerpoint]
Marnie Lewis

2007 NCSS Annual Conference Best Practices in Elementary Geography

The World in Spatial Terms: Mapmaking and Map Reading
Gale Ekiss & Judy Philips

Using “The Great Mail Race” to Learn About Communities (PowerPoint)
Shelli Jukel, Jill Strong, & Janna Hannon

Developmentally Appropriate Geography (PowerPoint)
Kay Gandy

Le Vieux Carre: A Marketplace Approach to the Standards (PowerPoint)
Craig Howat

A is for Aerial Maps and Art (PowerPoint)
Larry Littrell & Reese H. Todd

2006 NCSS Annual Conference Best Practices in Elementary Social Studies

Best Practice in Elementary Social Studies from the SSYL Editorial Board
(PowerPoint includes Groce & Knighton’s presentations)

Authenticating Historical Fiction: Rationale & Process—Eric Groce

Supporting Struggling Learners in Social Studies—Barb Knighton
Mrs. Knighton’s Classroom Goals (Word Document)
Community Building (Word Document)
Co-Constructing (Word Document)
Traditional Social Studies Programs—Expanding Communities Sequence (Word Document)

Project Hometown—Ginger Smit
Project Hometown (PowerPoint)
Project Hometown Flyer (PDF)

What Makes an Effective S.S. Program Tick?—Kimberly Pearre (PowerPoint)

Editorial Board

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)

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)

Tim Keiper, Western Washington University (WA)

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)

Alan Singer, Hofstra University (NY)

Cynthia Tyson, The Ohio State University (OH)

Patricia D. Watson, Educational Consultant (DC)

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