Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to introduce the new social studies curriculum standards (National Council for the Social Studies 1994) to a curriculum committee with which I am working. It should not surprise anyone to learn that when I introduced the standards, I received what could best be described as "blank stares" from the teachers sitting around the table. Many of these teachers asked, "How do you teach all that you are required to teach and, on top of that, deal with these new standards?" Although the committee agreed to use the social studies standards as a focus for our further discussions, I realized that the concerns expressed around our small table reflected the concerns and attitudes of many teaching professionals at the elementary level.
So Many Subjects, So Little Time
Time is an issue for every educator. With the push toward excellence in mathematics and science, we all too often fail to provide our students with the necessary experiences and skills to function in a democratic society. Because of very real time constraints, social studies is at times given short shrift. In particular, we fail to capitalize on a learning opportunity for young children, ages six to nine, who are beginning to form concepts and generalizations about the way the world works (National Commission on Social Studies in the Schools 1989). We should dedicate large segments of instructional time in the primary grades to teaching key social studies concepts, laying the foundation for civic competence, which is essential for the functioning of a democratic society.
To develop civic competence, students need to appreciate the values on which this country was founded, acquire and apply information about the world in order to make decisions, and gain the skills necessary to take action as citizens (NCSS 1994). Practicing citizenship requires students to have a sense of duty to themselves and others. Because such responsibilities impel children to become active citizens, these responsibilities must be considered foundational understandings that need to be developed early. Although young children are studying about the heady responsibilities of citizenship, they are also learning basic competencies in literacy and mathematics. It is no wonder my enthusiasm for the standards was met with stares from my colleagues on the curriculum committee. Where can a teacher find the time in a school day to teach so much important content?
Integrating the Curriculum
The answer to the dilemma of finding time to adequately address all the elementary curriculum areas seems to be a theme-based, integrated curriculum. Such a curriculum provides a series of structured, multidisciplinary, and multidimensional learning experiences that are responsive to the needs of students and more realistically represent the world in which they live. Children's literature is a perfect conduit through which learning can occur in such an interdisciplinary context (Fredericks, Meinbach, and Rothlein 1993).
Integrating the curriculum happened to be one of the first suggestions made by teachers on the social studies curriculum committee with whom I work, because members already engage in this instructional approach. In addition, although the social studies standards initially received a lukewarm reception, committee members soon realized that they should take the developers of the standards at their word. The document really is a practical, theme-based guide for developing K-12 social studies programs that emphasize and encourage educators to adopt integrative teaching approaches (NCSS 1994).
As the standards' developers and my committee colleagues agree, children's literature is a natural means for exploring social studies issues in an integrated context (NCSS 1994). Many trade books tell stories that children find meaningful and engage their imaginations. Some districts, in fact, have abandoned basal readers at the primary level, substituting children's trade books to provide instructional focus. If teachers adopt a theme-based curriculum with literature as the foundation for each unit (as the social studies standards suggest), the issue of time management does not seem such a daunting task.
Instructional Strategies and Sample Activities
What follows are three lessons in which children's books are used to teach social studies concepts and skills related to civic competence. For each teaching strategy, I have indicated which of the ten themes that structure the social studies standards will receive particular emphasis. Additionally, the core skills (as presented in the standards document) that each lesson promotes are identified by number:
1.Acquiring information and manipulating data
2.Developing and presenting policies, arguments, and stories
3.Constructing new knowledge
4.Participating in groups
Although I have constructed each lesson for a particular grade level, these teaching ideas can be modified and used appropriately at other developmental levels as well. Unfortunately, the scope of this article limits discussion of the process of developing an integrated instructional unit, the organizational context in which these sample lessons would naturally be placed. In presenting these lessons, I have assumed that the instructional content of any thematic unit and the lessons within it should integrate multiple curriculum areas. Additionally, all sample lessons reflect a literature-based approach to social studies teaching. They present ways in which selected works of children's literature might be used to promote civic competence in an integrated manner. Many of these recommended trade books have been identified as "Notable Children's Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies." The year in which each selection was named a "Notable Trade Book" is indicated in the lesson plans that follow.
Lesson 1: Personal Responsibility
Grade Levels: Pre K-Kindergarten
Children's Literature: The Day of Ahmed's Secret (Heide 1990, reviewed 1991).
Standards Themes: 1470
Accessing Prior Knowledge
This lesson involves The Day of Ahmed's Secret (Heide 1990), a story about a young boy who delivers fuel in Cairo, Egypt, and looks forward to surprising his family with the news that he can write his name. Before reading the book aloud, the teacher shares that when she was the student's age, she helped her mother set the table-that was her responsibility. She then asks the students if any of them have jobs or chores that they are responsible for at home. As the students respond, the teacher organizes their ideas in a web on the board. She asks three or four children to talk about why they do their jobs [probable response: "to help out family"]. She repeats the process by asking students what responsibilities they have in school. Two webs representing two different settings are now on the board. Promotes Core Skill One.
Prereading Activity: Setting the Purpose
The teacher then shows the book to the students and reads the title to them. She thumbs through the illustrations, and she asks students to predict (using the title and pictures) what they think the story might be. She lists their responses so that they can refer to them after sharing the story. Promotes Core Skill One.
Reading the Story
The teacher reads the story aloud, pausing frequently to check for understanding and to confirm students' predictions about the story. She also underscores the idea of responsibility by referring to the examples of people taking responsibility that permeate the book. After reading the book, the teacher reviews the sequence of the story, asking for volunteers to indicate what events came first, second, third, and so on. As the students order events, the teacher will post sentence strips that summarize these events in the appropriate sequence on the board. After the sequence of events has been illustrated, the class can choral read the simple sequence statements. Promotes
Core Skill One.
The teacher then leads a discussion on the subject of responsibility, asking students to define the term (using the prereading activity and the review of events to provide terminology and ideas). The class then lists the different responsibilities and responsible parties in the book, and responds to the following questions: What would happen if someone did not act in a responsible way? and What might happen to the responsible person and other people? Promotes Core Skills Two and Three.
At this point, the teacher initiates a discussion of different class responsibilities that students can assume and develops procedures with the students for assigning those responsibilities. As a closing activity, children can create a class book with pictures and captions depicting how young citizens can take on responsibility. Promotes Core Skills One through Four.
Additional Related Literature
Here are a number of "Notable" children's books with accompanying activities that teachers can use to extend treatment of responsibility beyond the lesson generated from Ahmed's Secret.
1.Family Farm (Locker 1988, reviewed in 1989) depicts the many responsibilities involved for an entire family running and maintaining a family farm. After the book has been shared, children can do the following:
a.Identify the responsibilities that each individual had on the farm. Promotes Core Skill One.
b.Write a class letter to the family in the story that explores the responsibilities each family member had. Promotes Core Skill Two.
c.In small groups, decide what other crops can be grown on the family farm and what each family member's responsibility would be in growing them. Report back to the class or construct a poster illustrating what the group has decided. Promotes Core Skills Three and Four.
2.Eskimo Boy: Life in an Inupiaq Eskimo Village (Kendall 1992, reviewed in 1993) and Arctic Hunter (Hoyt-Goldsmith 1992, reviewed in 1993) provide different examples of the life of two Inupiaq Eskimo boys and their responsibilities both in traditional and modern life. With an understanding of the story, students can do the following:
a.Compare the responsibilities of Norman (Eskimo Boy) and Reggie (Arctic Hunter), using a Venn Diagram. Promotes Core Skill One.
b.Compare Norman's responsibilities for basic needs to those of class members using a graphic organizer. Promotes Core Skills Two and Three.
c.In small groups, generate questions that could be asked of Norman and Reggie regarding the nature of their responsibilities. Then, groups exchange questions and answer them. Promotes
Core Skill Four.
Lesson 2: A Citizen's Responsibility
to the Community
Grade Levels: One and Two
Children's Literature: Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express (Wetterer 1990, reviewed in 1991).
Standards Themes: 13450
Accessing Prior Knowledge
Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express is the true story of a young woman who saves the lives of hundreds of train passengers at the risk of her own life. Before a read-aloud session, pair students and have them share a time in which they helped someone. Make sure that students answer the following questions in their descriptions:
1.Whom did you help?
2.How did you help them?
3.Where did the event take place?
4.When did the event take place?
5.How did the person whom you helped feel afterward?
Each student will report the event described by his/her partner in a whole-class sharing session. Promotes Core Skill Four.
Prereading Activity: Setting the Purpose
The teacher introduces the story and tells the students that Kate helps someone in the story just as they have helped people. The teacher reads the author's note aloud. He points out Ireland on the world map or globe (Kate was born in Ireland) and then locates Moingona, Iowa (Kate's family settled in Moingona when they moved to the United States). He then engages students in a discussion about whether they have ever moved, asking them to compare how Kate felt with how they felt when they moved. The teacher finishes reading the author's note, and asks students what responsibilities they have around the house. He lists them on the board, then focuses students' attention on Kate's responsibilities and how she had helped others. Promotes Core Skill One.
Reading the Story
The teacher reads the story to the students, pausing periodically to focus on four key events: Kate going out into the storm to move the farm animals to safety, Kate helping when the train falls into the river, Kate going to Moingona station to warn railroad personnel that the bridge was out, and Kate leading the rescue party to the bridge. After the story has been shared, the teacher asks students how they would feel if they were in Kate's situation, and guides them to realize that Kate met her responsibility to her community (her "duty" as she refers to it). Promotes Core Skill Three.
Have students list people or organizations in their community that might require help (e.g., local homeless shelters, food and clothing banks, elder hostels, animal shelters). In small groups, students can research how they can help an organization of their choice and develop an action plan to present to the class. After each group presents, the class votes on which organization they will support (this selection does not preclude helping other groups at a later time). Help students find the human and material resources to implement the class action plan. Promotes Core Skills One through Four.
Additional Related Literature
Here are a number of "Notable" children's books with accompanying activities that teachers can use to extend treatment of community responsibility beyond the lesson generated from Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express.
1.Teammates (Goldenbock 1990, reviewed in 1991). After hearing this story of how one of Jackie Robinson's teammates, Pee Wee Reese, stands up for Robinson's right to play baseball, children can do the following:
a.Define the term racism, providing examples from the story that illustrate the term. Promotes Core Skill One.
b.Develop a written description of how students would have felt being Jackie Robinson or Pee Wee Reese. Would they have taken the same action? Promotes Core Skills Two and Three.
c.In small groups, list ways in which Robinson and Reese took responsibility to fight racism in their community. Promotes Core Skill Four.
2.Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (Hopkinson 1993, reviewed in 1994). Sweet Clara designs a quilt that contains a map showing the route to freedom. To examine how Sweet Clara assumes community responsibility, students can do the following:
a.Describe the actions that Clara takes to act responsibly toward members of her community. Promotes Core Skill Two.
b.In small groups, children brainstorm other ways people could have helped slaves escape to freedom. Promotes Core Skills Three and Four.
Lesson 3: Responsibility for the Environment
Grade Levels: Three and Four
Children's Literature: Just a Dream (Van Allsburg 1990, reviewed in 1991).
Standards Themes: 123480
Activating Prior Knowledge
Before having students read Just a Dream, the teacher asks the students to quickly write what they know about environmental problems. They should include any work they have done to help the environment. After writing, volunteers can share their responses with the class. Promotes Core Skills One and Two.
Prereading and Reading Activities: Setting the Purpose and Sharing the Story
Students should read Just a Dream in pairs. Before they begin, students will examine the pictures and title to get a sense of what the story will be about and record their predictions. As students finish the story, they should discuss what they learned with their partners and consider how humans have affected the environment from the events in Walter's dream. Have students summarize the story's message and propose what they could do to help the environment. List their responses on the board or overhead. Promotes Core Skills Three and Four.
In small groups, students will identify different areas of the school, evaluate which area most needs attention, and design a project that will help clean it. Going Green: A Kid's Handbook to Saving the Planet (Elkington, Hailes, Hill, and Makower 1990, reviewed in 1991) would be a useful resource, because it describes social action projects involving the environment that students can do in their own homes, schools, and local communities. Each group will be responsible for implementing its plan and presenting progress reports to the class. Promotes Core Skills One through Four.
Additional Related Literature
Here are a number of "Notable" children's books with accompanying activities that teachers can use to extend treatment of environmental responsibility:
1.Come Back, Salmon: How a Group of Dedicated Kids Adopted Pigeon Creek and Brought It Back to Life (Cone 1992, reviewed in 1993). Elementary school students help save a creek, restock it with salmon, and wait to see if the salmon will return to the creek to spawn. After reading the book, students can do the following:
a.Write and ask for a progress report on Pigeon Creek. Promotes Core Skills One and Two.
b.Research other similar renovation projects and present findings to the class. Promotes Core Skill Three.
2.The Old Ladies Who Liked Cats (Greene 1991, reviewed in 1992). This ecological folktale demonstrates the importance of taking action to solve problems. This book introduces activities in which students can do the following:
a.List the causes of the ecological imbalances described in the story, emphasizing their interconnectedness. Promotes Core Skill One.
b.Research a true story of ecological balance and restoration (such as Come Back, Salmon), then write a fictional retelling of the true story (modeled after The Old Ladies Who Liked Cats). Promotes Core Skills Two and Three.
This article argues three important instructional points:
1.The necessity to instruct students in civic competence
2.The use of the social studies curriculum standards (NCSS 1994) to help teachers help students become citizens
3.The need to integrate, with special focus on using trade books to provide more realistic opportunities for children to acquire citizenship learning.
These sample lessons suggested ways that children's literature can be used to introduce and help students acquire social studies skills and knowledge. The literature-based strategies suggested in this article are by no means the final word. The joy of using children's literature stems from the versatility of quality books-one book can be used in multiple ways, and multiple titles can reinforce a key idea. Only the imagination and creativity of the teacher limit the possibilities for social studies teaching and learning.
Bibliography of Selected Children's Books
Cone, M. Come Back, Salmon: How a Group of Dedicated Kids Adopted Pigeon Creek and Brought It Back to Life. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1992.Elkington, J., J. Hailes, D. Hill, and J. Makower. Going Green: A Kid's Handbook to Saving the Planet. New York: Puffin, 1990.Goldenbock, P. Teammates. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990.Greene, C. The Old Ladies Who Liked Cats. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.Heide, F. P. The Day of Ahmed's Secret. New York: Lothrop, 1990.Hopkinson, D. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. New York: Knopf, 1993.Hoyt-Goldsmith, D. Arctic Hunter. New York: Holiday House, 1992.Kendall, R. Eskimo Boy: Life in an Inupiaq Eskimo Village. New York: Scholastic, 1992.Locker, T. Family Farm. New York: Dial, 1988.Van Allsburg, C. Just a Dream. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.Wetterer, M. Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express. Minneapolis: First Avenue Editions, 1990.ReferencesFredericks, A., A. M. Meinbach, and L. Rothlein. Thematic Units: An Integrated Approach to Teaching Science and Social Studies. New York: Harper Collins, 1993.National Commission on Social Studies in the Schools. Charting a Course: Social Studies for the 21st Century. Washington D.C.: National Council for the Social Studies, 1989.National Council for the Social Studies. Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. Washington, D.C.: National Council for the Social Studies, 1994.
Sandy Jean Hicks is an Assistant Professor of Elementary Education at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston.