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.

NCSS Members

The current and back issues of Social Studies and the Young Learner are available online to NCSS members.

Not a Member?

Join NCSS       Purchase an electronic issue or article

Our Conversation with You about “Tackling Challenging Topics”

We were apprehensive when we posted the Call for Submissions for this issue, as we did not know if elementary teachers felt that they could allot the time away from their literacy- and math-heavy schedules to plan for thoughtful discussions on challenging topics. Teachers who choose to focus on challenging topics are adhering to the NCSS argument for civic learning, whereby:

Schools should incorporate discussion of current local, national, and international issues and events into the classroom, particularly those that young people view as important to their lives. Engaging students in civil dialogue about controversial issues provides opportunities to foster character and civic virtue—important civic dispositions that are the habits of the heart and mind conducive to the healthy functioning of the democratic system. Examples include civility, open-mindedness, compromise, and toleration of diversity, all of which are prerequisites of a civic life in which the American people can work out the meanings of their democratic principles and values.1

Students who engage in such discussion should be “informed and thoughtful.” As a result,

They have a grasp and an appreciation of history and the fundamental processes of American democracy, an understanding and awareness of public and community issues, an ability to obtain information when needed, a capacity to think critically, and a willingness to enter into dialogue with others about different points of view and to understand diverse perspectives. They are tolerant of ambiguity and resist simplistic answers to complex questions.

These discussions take time. Time to investigate different perspectives on an issue. Time to establish a civil atmosphere, wherein varied, informed positions are welcomed. Time to evaluate the sources that are used to form opinions on an issue. And time to explore and analyze the ramifications of different opinions.

Happily, we received many articles from primary and intermediate teachers who are, indeed, making time to delve into complex issues such as gender, race, class, identity, immigration, and slavery with their students, and they are doing so from multiple perspectives. These teachers are intentionally planning with social studies content that can be difficult or controversial and, as they do so, are providing effective strategies to promote students’ higher-level thinking on these topics. It turns out that, for many of the teachers in this issue, children’s literature is the way to enter these discussions. Rosebud Elijah’s review of Alan Say’s 2014 NCSS Notable Book, “Discovering and Constructing Our Identities: Reading The Favorite Daughter,” spotlights the difficult issues of identity in the book and for students in our classrooms. Peter Cipparone’s piece, “Reading Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: An Allegory of Immigration Sparks Rich Discussions,” recounts how a fable about immigration activated fourth graders’ empathy and upper level thinking about vital issues surrounding the topic immigration today and in the past. In “Visiting Each Other’s Homes: Four and Five Year Olds Begin Important Conversations,” Sarah Leibowits, Mary Trowbridge, and Lois Gelernt detail a project in which four and five-year-olds take trips to their classmates’ homes and report on the commonalities and differences of their experiences. These visits form a foundation in which children learn to examine and challenge the complexities of issues regarding class and race, gender, family construct, privilege, and unequal access. The Pullout, —Trip Sheets for Research: Recording My Visit to a Different Home,” by the same authors, provides handouts that could be used by young “researchers” as they make observations in a home that is different from their own. “‘Don’t Be Uneasy, My Children’: Finding Strength in Stories of the Enslaved” by Lisa Gilbert provides students and teachers with the perspectives of enslaved individuals and family members, which bring out the complexity of the issue of slavery and resistance to it. In “Discussing Gender Roles and Equality by Reading Max, the Stubborn Little Wolf,” Gilberto P. Lara and Maria G. Leija describe the rich conversations (sparked by picture books) that elementary teachers facilitated on gender roles and freedom of choice in work and play. In “Who Does the Housework? Gender Roles and Consciousness-Raising with Piggybook,” Cathy Lembo used Piggybook, a funny, feminist picture book to give her students an opportunity to analyze issues related to gender equity in the book and, ultimately, in the performance of chores in their own homes. Kathleen Thompson and Hilary Mac Austin’s “Historical Thinking: Examining a Photo of Newsboys in Summer, 1908” lays out seven strategies for examining primary source evidence that aid students in a variety of grade levels. The authors find that the practice of inquiry strategies leads to more discussions of class, race, and gender, and a more complex grasp of geography and history. Which begs the question: How do YOU tackle challenging topics in your elementary classroom?

  • To what extent do you use literature as a vehicle for activating students’ empathy about challenging issues?

  • To what extent do you connect current issues to historical themes?

  • How do you address issues of identity in your classroom?

  • Do you use class meetings as a place to discuss challenging issues?

  • To what extent are your challenging discussions interdisciplinary ones?

  • How do you provide students with a variety of perspectives to emphasize the complex nature of many issues, past and present?

  • How are you able to balance the personal and the societal aspects of issues within class discussions?

  • To what extent are you able to foster informed discussion, rather than “I win/you lose” debates?

  • Do your assignments involve family members in the discussion?

  • At what age should students engage in activities and discussions that address challenging issues? And which kinds of issues at which ages?

  • How do you respond when students make statements that are rooted in stereotypes?

We look forward to the thoughtful conversation around all of these challenging topics at NCSS Connections. Please join us!

—Andrea and Jeannette

1. Both quotes are from “Revitalizing Civic Learning in Our Schools: A Position Statement of National Council for the Social Studies” (2013),


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)

Stay Connected with NCSS:   Follow NCSSNetwork on Twitter FaceBook.png rss_0.gif