I was a history major at the University of Illinois. I say this to let you know that when I was hired to teach 7th grade I was less than enthused to teach a block of language arts each day. I was so passionate about teaching world geography yet, I often felt as if I was going through the motions during my 82 minutes of LA each day. Part of that struggle came as I was tasked to teach reading. I have always been a reader yet, I read the news, kept up with my favorite teams via my sports websites and blogs, and read novels geared towards adults. I never read middle grade or young adult novels for fun and thought of them as too kiddish. Needless to say my conversations with students about what they were reading were stilted and challenging to say the least. This all changed when my librarian Bonita Slovinski ( @sloreader ) recommended to me The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I was blown away and wanted more. I finished it in a couple days and stopped on the way home from school to buy the sequel Catching Fire. At this point the final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay hadn’t been released yet. I went to Bonita asking, “Please tell me there are more books like this!” She quickly gave me a fresh stack of MG & YA dystopias. I was hooked. After I felt as if I read all the dystopias I started exploring other MG & YA novels. This transformed my teaching in my LA classroom. I was so excited to talk books with my students. I was also excited to bring my renewed love of reading into my geography classes as well!
The following are ways that I have used stories, picture books and novels in my social studies class.
Every year we tackle the HST reading and writing standards. I begin the year by utilizing the story of The Three Little Pigs. I have students act this story out. After we finish I explain we are going to put the wolf on trial for attempted murder. The students need to find text evidence in the story to convict the wolf. When the wolf goes on trial the students need to present this text evidence and explain how it prooves his guilt. This is an easy and fun way to introduce this concept in order to build upon these skills with primary sources later on in the unit. In addition, we connect back to this story when we read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieska later on to introduce point of view. After reading Scieska’s retelling in which the wolf was framed, I then have students examine different textbook accounts of the historical events included in our course.
Other ways I’ve brought my reading life into the classroom are that I have used excerpts of audio books to intro topics. I used the segment of Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, just after the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, to illustrate the horrors of the atom bomb. All of our 7th grade students read The Hunger Games. I’ve had students compare life in North Korea to life in Panem in The Hunger Games. When we cover World War 1 I have utilized the poem, “In Flander’s Field” by John McCrae and images from the graphic novel Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood. During our unit on the Middle East, I have students read profiles from Deborah Ellis’s book Three Wishes. I then pair students that read profiles of Palestinian children with students that read profiles of Israeli children. They have to introduce their person, and key aspects of that child’s life to their classmate.
Picture books are fantastic and easy to integrate into your social studies classroom. When I use picture books I have students gather around me at the front of the class. They sit there just as they probably did during kindergarten. I call this story time with Mr. Casey. Students often get excited when they see story time on our agenda for the day. Some of the picture books I use are Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss to tackle World War 2. The Butter Battle Book also by Dr. Seuss is used to explain the arms race during the Cold War. The Terrible Things by Eve Bunting is utilized to introduce the Rwandan genocide. I read the picture book We Are All Born Free to intro of The Declaration of Human Rights. I also make use of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss to intro deforestation. Two other picture books I’ve read to my students are The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by Bryan Mealer and William Kamkwamba for our unit that covers Sub Saharan Africa and 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy on the anniversary of 9-11.
I share my reading life with my students. I post on my door to my classroom what I’ve read. In addition I book talk books that connect to topics we have covered in class frequently. If a book has a book trailer, and most do, I will include that in my book talk. There are several great lists of books that have social studies connections. The Texas Council for the Social Studies ( @TxSocialStudies ) had this great post and list of books that could be used in a social studies classroom. The list includes suggestions from social studies teachers such as Chris Hitchcock ( @CHitch94 ), Valerie Furnas ( @MsFurnas ) Erika Lowery (@ErikaLowery ) Bettie Gaylor Saccardo, Dr. Scott Petri ( @ ) Bill Chapman ( @classroomtools ) and Tina Melcher ( @ ). Dr. Scott Petri also compiled this list of titles for teaching World History Through Literature. Tim Smyth ( @historycomics ) is an amazing follow on Twitter for ideas on how to include comics and graphic novels into your instruction. He has incredible lists that cover most social studies topics at this site. His blog has great ideas on how to incorporate comic books and graphic novels into your class. The last list of titles I’ll share was created by Jeff Kohls ( @jeffskohls ) after a Tuesday night #worldgeochat. Check out that list here.
There are still things I want to try with building in literature to my social studies class. I would love to do a cross curricular unit with our language arts teachers. I want to do a novel read aloud that ties to a unit of study. I also want to try Skyping in authors of books that connect to our topics. My fellow #worldgeochat moderator Jen Garner (@jmgarner2003 ) wrote a great post about author Skypes here.
How do you incorporate stories and literature into your social studies class? What titles do you use? Please add them to our list here.