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

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Our conversation with you about “Social Studies at the (Common) Core”…


Anyone familiar with the “pedagogical shifts”1 required by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts and Literacy—1) Balancing Informational and Literary Text, 2) Building Knowledge in the Disciplines, 3) Staircase of Complexity, 4) Text-Based Answers, 5) Writing From Sources, 6) Academic Vocabulary—knows that these standards are compatible with social studies instruction.

Yet many of us have felt that the CCSS goal of “college and career readiness” has been a deficient one. A little over a year ago, our colleague Alan Singer wrote a piece on his Huffington Post blog, “What’s Missing from Common Core is Education for Democracy,” arguing that “Democracy requires that Americans see themselves as citizens, not just consumers or employees. Common Core, by ignoring the fundamental values that make democracy possible, does education and the United States a tremendous disservice.”2

Thankfully, NCSS was already at work to remedy what was lacking in the CCSS. The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards,3 published in November 2013, added to the curriculum the most critical “C” in a democracy: Citizenship. The C3 Framework underscores the goal of nurturing “knowledgeable, thinking, and active citizens,” indicating that “our democratic republic will not sustain unless students are aware of their changing cultural and physical environments; know the past; read, write, and think deeply; and act in ways that promote the common good.” Thus, the framework asserts, “now more than ever, students need the intellectual power to recognize societal problems; ask good questions and develop robust investigations into them; consider possible solutions and consequences; separate evidence-based claims from parochial opinions; and communicate and act upon what they learn.”4

The team of authors who developed the C3 Framework did not seek to supplant the CCSS; rather, they created a document that connects effectively with it: “The C3 Framework emphasizes and elaborates on those skills in the Common Core Standards that explicitly connect to inquiry, and recognizes the shared responsibility social studies plays in honing key literacy skills.”5 Indeed, the Anchor Standards of reading, writing, speaking and listening are both supported and extended by the C3 Framework’s four dimensions:

Dimensions of the C3 Framework’s Inquiry Arc

1. Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries

2. Applying Disciplinary Concepts and Tools6

3. Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence; and

4. Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action.

The authors in this issue of SSYL present lessons that align with both the CCSS and the C3 Framework. Inquiry is at the “core” of their curriculum and instruction.

In their article “Writing a School Constitution: Representative Democracy in Action,” Lorraine S. McGarry and Donnan M. Stoicovy detail a yearlong project during which students wrote a code of rights and responsibilities, which included the authentic experiences of electing representatives and holding a constitutional convention.

“Our North Carolina Digital Stories: Weaving Common Core Standards into a Fourth Grade History Project,” is a piece that walks us through the process that students experienced as they researched and created historically-focused, multimodal digital stories. The article is by Nancy Luke, Russell Binkley, Naomi Marotta, and Melissa Pirkl.

Elizabeth Brown and Linda Silvestri’s article, “Grassroots Activists and the Three Branches of Government: Key Players in the Civil Rights Movement,” recounts fourth grade students’ discovery of the powerful effect that activists had on moving each branch of government toward ending racial segregation. Judges, executive officials, and legislators were finally compelled to action, responding to various forms of protest and persuasion in towns and cities across the nation.

The Pullout by the same authors, “How Did Grassroots Activists and the Three Branches of Government End Segregation?” provides handouts that teachers can use or adapt to their own grade level and student population.

Margaret Smith Crocco and Michael P. Marino’s article, “Investigating a Neighborhood: An Activity Using the C3 Framework,” shares activities that give students opportunities to interrogate maps, photos, texts, and paintings as they investigate of a slice of the neighborhood of Greenwich Village, then and now. Teachers can also create similar lessons about their own communities using images that are increasingly available online and in local museums and historical societies.

“Teaching about Valley Forge: Using Standards for Action and Achievement” by Jeffrey G. Maxim and George W. Maxim highlights the importance for fifth graders of creating stories and communicating content as they learn about the American Revolutionary War.

In “Exploring Human Capital with Primary Children: What We Learn in School Does Matter,” Bonnie T. Meszaros and Mary C. Suiter provide young students with strategies, linked to the C3 Framework’s four dimensions, for learning about the value of improving their human capital.

How do the Common Core and the C3 Framework inform and guide YOUR curriculum and instruction? More specifically,

• How are you incorporating the four dimensions of the Inquiry Arc of the C3 Framework?7

• How are you helping students develop capacities for each dimension?

• To what extent do you feel that your social studies curriculum provides students with the kind of “first-hand experiences” about which Lucy Sprague Mitchell wrote 80 years ago, wherein students interact with the data before them?8

• How important are maps, photographs, newspapers, and other documents to your curriculum and instruction?

• How important is a “wonderwall” (or a similar construct) to stimulate thinking about compelling social studies questions?9

• How important is triangulation in strengthening the accuracy of students’ research?10

• What strategies for examining primary sources do you find work best with your students? How does your work with primary sources vary, based on grade level?

And, regarding some of the specific strategies in the articles:

• To what extent does your teaching of the Constitution include real life examples and opportunities for application?

• When you explore the civil rights movement with your students, to what extent do you focus on participants both in the government and those working with grassroots organizations?

• Have you and your students ever participated in the creation and ratification of a school-wide or classroom Constitution?

• To what extent have you been able to make school elections and student governance a meaningful experience?

• What aspects of inquiry do you employ when you and your students explore their neighborhoods?

• What materials do your students use to analyze and assess changes in their neighborhoods?

• What successes have you had with students creating digital stories to explicate historical topics?

• What strategies do you use to engage students in understanding and application of economic concepts?

We look forward to the thoughtful conversation around C3 Framework online at NCSS Connections. Please join us!

—Andrea and Jeannette


1. “Pedagogical Shifts Demanded by the Common Core State Standards: Shifts in ELA/Literacy,” (, no date),

2. “New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy.” (, January 10, 2011),

4. NCSS, Social Studies for the Next Generation: Purposes, Practices, and Implications of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards (Bulletin 113, Silver Spring, MD: NCSS, 2013).

* Free PDF of the C3 Framework at

* Buy the paperback book (with introductory essays) at

5. C3 Framework, 5–6.

6. The following are examples of Dimension 2 of the C3 Framework in each of the disciplines: D2.Civ.11.3-5. Compare procedures for making decisions in a variety of settings, including classroom, school, government, and/or society (34). D2.Eco.2.K-2. Identify the benefits and costs of making various personal decisions (36). D2.Geo.2.3-5. Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions and their environmental characteristics (41). D2.His.3.K-2. Generate questions about individuals and groups who have shaped a significant historical change (46).

7. C3 Framework, 21.

8. Lucy Sprague Mitchell, “Social Studies and Geography,” Progressive Education 11 (1934): 97-105.

9. Read about “wonderwalls” at

10. Triangulation is a method of cross-checking data from multiple sources to search for regularities in the research data. See T. O’Donoghue and K. Punch, Qualitative Educational Research in Action: Doing and Reflecting (New York: Routledge, 2003), 78.


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.

What’s Your Best Lesson?
We have all taught lessons revolving around social studies content and concepts in which our students were firing on all cylinders.  What was that lesson?  What materials and activities sparked high levels of interest and critical thinking from your students?  What made the lesson so successful?  We are seeking articles that detail the instructional approaches, activities, and assessments of your thoughtful and engaging social studies lesson.
Submission Deadline: August 15, 2014
Issue: January/February, 2015

Children as Civic Agents
How do we, as teachers, get kids to develop the habits of mind and skills to be thoughtful, participating citizens? Share your activities and lessons that nurture children to become civic agents, rather than passive recipients of adult direction. Include examples of student writing, art, and action. The idea of civic agency can be seen in the ways that young people, past and present, take action and make positive change in their local (classroom, school, community) or global spheres. We are seeking articles, lessons, and reviews of books (especially nonfiction) that detail how you and your students engage in civic action. Send submissions to Stephanie Serriere, guest editor, at
Submission Deadline: November 15, 2014
Issue: March/April 2015

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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