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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 “This is what Democracy Looks Like!”

If you have attended a protest rally in the last ten years, you have undoubtedly heard this call and response: “Tell me what democracy looks like.” “THIS is what democracy looks like!”

We have always liked the assumption in that chant that democracy can be seen. It can be seen in protesters on the street; in voting booths; in letters to the editor; in citizen-created flyers; in a free press; in official documents, from the Magna Carta to the Bill of Rights to the Nineteenth Amendment to the Voting Rights Act; and in deliberative meetings in classrooms, schools, towns, state legislatures, federal branches of government, and international bodies.

It is worth noting that the College, Career, and Civic Live (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards offers a structure by which to explore what democracy looks like, with its emphasis on developing questions, evaluating sources, and using evidence toward the end of communicating conclusions and taking informed action. As that guiding document notes, “active and responsible citizens identify and analyze public problems; deliberate with other people about how to define and address issues; take constructive, collaborative action; reflect on their actions; create and sustain groups; and influence institutions both large and small.”1

The authors in this issue describe classrooms where democracy is alive and well—where teachers trust students to help steer the curriculum and where they allocate time for students to research, deliberate, analyze, write, and act on complex social issues.

In “Cultivating Curiosity and Active Citizenship: Teaching Voting and the History of Voting Rights,” Rebecca Valbuena describes how her fifth graders’ study of the history of voting rights informed their creation of pamphlets to spur voter turnout in their community.

In “Deliberation and Democracy: How History Simulations Equip Students for Civic Participation,” Lorraine S. McGarry and Donnan M. Stoicovy describe their use of deliberative forums with their fifth graders as a structure for teaching historical decision points and considering difficult current social problems.

“‘I Don’t Buy It’: Critical Media Literacy in the Fifth Grade” by Alice Miriam Sullivan explains how she scaffolded students’ learning regarding the analysis of political advertisements, thereby enhancing their ability to be informed, engaged citizens in an election year and beyond. The classroom handouts for these activities constitute the PULLOUT for this issue.

In “Activist Education: Nurturing Students to Work for Social Change,” fifth grade teachers, Lauren Brown, Arielle Notterman, Allison Ontell, Elena Rappaport, and Jennifer Sherwood detail their study of historical and current social action movements that culminated in students creating their own plans for social change on a variety of issues.

Roi Kawai’s “Civic Zines: Writing, Discussing, and Doing Citizenship” recounts a project in which fifth graders researched and wrote homemade magazines centered on current events topics of great interest to them, ultimately leading to informed civic action.

“Classroom Archaeology: Letting Students Dig Up the Curriculum” by Miriam Sicherman chronicles a serendipitous discovery of a dusty artifact by a student in a fourth grade classroom closet. That beginning event was allowed to grow into an open-ended project in which the entire class became involved, giving new meaning to the concept of a democratic classroom.

Which begs the question… What does democracy look like in your classroom and with respect to your curriculum?

  • To what extent would you describe your classroom as democratic? In what respects?
  • To what extent have you had success with using deliberative forums in your classroom?
  • What kinds of social action projects have most resonated with your students? At what grade levels?
  • To what extent do you think your students connect their own social action projects with past and/or recent movements for social justice?
  • To what extent do any of your lessons on democracy connect with Common Core literacy standards?
  • To what extent do you focus on media literacy as an aspect of being a citizen in a democracy?
  • How much importance do you attach to anniversaries that mark the expansion of democracy (e.g., 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act; 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest; 95th anniversary of the women’s suffrage 19th Amendment; 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery; 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta)? To what extent do you plan lessons around those anniversaries?
  • Many of the manuscripts we received were for intermediate grades. How do you teach about democracy in the primary grades?

We look forward to the thoughtful conversation about your conceptions of what democracy looks like in an elementary classroom and curriculum at NCSS Connections. Please join us! —Andrea and Jeannette


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), 19. Visit

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.

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

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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