Integrating Literacy Activities and Social Studies in the Primary Grades

Kathryn Button

David Welton

Early primary teachers are recognizing more and more that social studies materials can serve multiple purposes. In addition to the content that leads teachers to select them in the first place, social studies-related books-and informational books in particular-lend themselves to a second purpose: supporting the development of children's literacy skills. In this article, we describe how primary teachers (K-2) can use social studies materials in ways that may enhance children's literacy development.

Framework for Building Literacy
The key to using social studies-related books to enhance literacy lies in how teachers deal with them. For example, some teachers might choose Margaret Miller's Who Uses This? to emphasize the "tools of the trade" in various occupations (e.g., photographers use a camera, carpenters often use a hammer). These teachers' main focus would be on the book's content. Other teachers might approach Who Uses This? as a way to enhance students' literacy development without losing sight of the book's content-the relationships between trades and the tools used in them. We cite Who Uses This? as an example throughout this article. Other social studies-related books that could be used in a similar fashion are described in the selected bibliography that follows.
A useful model for developing social studies-oriented literacy lessons is based on the framework developed by the Early Literacy Learning Initiative at Ohio State University.1 This framework draws on the concept of emergent literacy, a term coined by Marie Clay and further explicated by others.2 An abridged version of this framework, which identifies potential activities that teachers might use, is shown in Figure 1.

Early literacy activities often begin with children listening to books that are read aloud, proceed through the conversion of spoken words to written form through interactive writing, and culminate in having children write independently. By no means should teachers try to squeeze all of these activities into a single lesson or, in some instances, into a single week. Neither should teachers think they have to follow the sequence slavishly. Based on their students' needs, teachers may sometimes repeat and build on a previous day's activities as illustrated in the following example.

Using the Literacy Framework
Paige Furgerson teaches kindergarten at Ramirez Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas. Fifteen of the eighteen students in her racially mixed class qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. For one segment of a unit on "Discovering Our World," Miss Furgerson employed Miller's Who Uses This? within her own framework for early literacy lessons shown in Figure 2.

Teaching a Lesson
The following excerpt illustrates the interaction between Miss Furgerson and her students as they add to their original list during the interactive writing portion of the activity on Day Three.

Miss Furgurson: Before we add more helpers and their tools to our list, let's read what we wrote yesterday. Brody, come up to the easel and read our list for us.

Brody picks up the pointer and points to the first word on the title of their list (Who). His classmates join him in reading the words as he points to them.

Brody (and classmates): Who uses this...tool,, hammer-worker.

Miss Furgerson: Who else helps us at school or in our community?

Rosa: A photographer.

Miss Furgerson: Remember when the photographer came and took our class picture? What tool did he use?

Quang: A camera.

Jacob: A k, I hear a k.

Keith: I hear an m.

Rosa: An r, an r. Just like in my name.

Miss Furgerson: You're right, Rosa. There is an r near the end of the word camera. But first, Jacob said that he heard a k. It does sound like there is a k at the beginning of camera but for this word we write a c. Jacob, where would you write the c?

Jacob points to a space on the left of the chart under the word vacuum. He then takes a marker from Miss Furgerson and writes a c.

Miss Furgerson: Let's all say the word again. What sound do we hear in the middle?

All: Camera.

Keith: m

Miss Furgerson: Jacob, Keith said he heard an m in the middle of camera. There is an m but before the m we need an a.

Jacob writes an a, then the m, and then an r.

Miss Furgerson: There is an r after the m, but first we need an e.

Miss Furgerson tears off a piece of white correction tape and places it over the misplaced r. Jacob then writes an e, then an m.

Miss Furgerson: At the end of the word there is an a.

Jacob writes the a, hands the marker back to Miss Furgerson, and picks up his pointer again.

All: Camera.

Sometimes, elements from the children's original list are cut up and incorporated into the wall scroll. At other times, the list itself will be displayed on the wall. Later, when the children are working in centers, pairs of students take turns "reading the classroom." Wearing a pair of eyeglasses (without lenses) and using pointers, the students read from wall-mounted materials to each other. This may include their Who Uses This? wall scroll, the rules they developed for taking care of the class gerbil, and various surveys they have taken-in other words, everything they have previously produced in their interactive writing activities.

Early primary teachers who are sensitive to the literacy development dimensions of social studies-related books recognize that such books can be used in ways that do more than simply convey information. In our example, the teacher used Miller's Who Uses This? to help students gain information about community helpers. In the process, students also learned important concepts about the printed word that will help them as they move toward literacy. By incorporating techniques reflected by the early literacy framework, teachers may be able to use social studies materials in new and more powerful ways.

1. K. Button, M. Johnson, and P. Ferguson, "Interactive Writing in a Primary Classroom, The Reading Teacher 49 (1996): 2-10; G. S. Pinnell and A. McCarrier, "Interactive Writing: A Transition Tool for Assisting Children in Learning to Read and Write," Getting Reading Right from the Start: Effective Early Literacy Interventions, edited by E. Hiebert and B. Taylor (Needham, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1994), 149-170.

2. M. M. Clay, "Emergent Reading Behavior," unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Auckland, New Zealand, 1966; D. S. Strickland and L. M. Morrow, Emerging Literacy: Young Children Learn to Read and Write (Newark, DE: International Reading Association, 1989; W. H. Teale and E. Sulzby, eds., Emergent Literacy: Writing and Reading (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1986).

Selected Bibliography
Social studies-related books that lend themselves to early literacy lessons include:
Fanelli, Sara. My Map Book. New York: Harper Collins, 1995. Written as if by a child, this delightful collection illustrates that it is possible to map almost any three-dimensional object, including the family pet, the neighborhood, and one's face.
Gibbons, Gail. How a House Is Built. New York: Holiday House, 1990. Describes various types of houses, the materials from which they are built, and the trades involved in constructing them.
Hartman, G. As the Crow Flies: A First Book of Maps. New York: Bradbury Press, 1991. A superbly illustrated collection of areas mapped simply from a bird's perspective.
McMillan, Bruce. Mouse Views: What the Class Pet Saw. New York: Holiday House, 1992. An intriguing photographic essay that follows a mouse who has escaped its cage on its journey through the school.
Miller, Margaret. Whose Hat? New York: Greenwillow, 1988. A photographic survey of hats associated with different trades and professions.
Miller, Margaret. Who Uses This? New York: Greenwillow, 1990. A photographic survey of tools used by various trades and professions, such as the barber's scissors and the doctor's stethoscope.
Morris, Ann. Bread, Bread, Bread. Photographs by Ken Heyman. New York: Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard, 1989. This photographic essay samples the divergent shapes, sizes, textures, and colors of bread eaten by people around the world.
Morris, Ann. Hats, Hats, Hats. Photographs by Ken Heyman. New York: Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard, 1989. A photographic look at hats from all over the world and the people who wear them.
Pillar, M. Pizza Man. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1990. This collection of black-and-white photographs traces the making of pizza, from flour to the finished product.

About the Authors
Kathryn Button is Assistant Professor and David Welton is Professor in the College of Education at Texas Tech University. Their research interests include early literacy issues and acquisition of social studies concepts.