Skip to content

Social Studies and Reading Enthusiasts, Unite!

Did you know that we’re spending a whole lot less time on social studies – around 44% less – and we’ve especially cut back at the elementary grades?

And did you know that it’s holding back our reading outcomes? (Really.)

The Council of Chief State School Officers just published a great resource that connects these dots (download it here):



If you want to understand why this is adversely impacting our reading outcomes, I got you! Check out Essential Research No One Knows: Knowledge Matters to Reading Comprehension. It has the research, links for professional learning, and even (my favorite) talk of solutions.



That blog also explains culprit in this issue: we’re taking away time from social studies and giving it to reading instruction. Except… the diminished time on social studies topics hurts reading instruction. (If you’re confused, I promise to explain it over here.)

My Takeaway

Civics, social studies, and reading enthusiasts should unite!

They should invite science evangelists to the party, ’cause it’s the same story for science.

Since the quest for reading outcomes has produced this issue, let’s see if the research on background knowledge and reading comprehension can produce a better-informed quest for reading outcomes... and bring back knowledge-building subjects in K–5.

The Elegant Solution Where Everyone Wins

My favorite solution to get social studies and science topics into jam-packed school schedules is ELA curriculum that was built with this goal in mind. Sue Pimentel put it best:

“Given that time is a scarce commodity in most schools, the takeaway for school leaders is to incorporate rich content, organized around conceptually-related topics, into the reading curriculum so that students learn new information about the world while they develop as readers.”

Exemplars help, so here’s one: the EL Education K–5 Language Arts curriculum builds units around text sets on social studies and science topics:

EL Education K-5 Module Topics

I expect to write more about some other knowledge-building curricula in the months to come. In the meantime, you can read about these curricula in classrooms via the Knowledge Matters school tour.


Published inK–12 EducationLiteracyScienceSocial Studies

One Comment

  1. brucewilliamsmith brucewilliamsmith

    The mistake here is to treat reading as a subject, rather than a cross-curricular skill; and the consequence, in the EL curriculum summarized above, is to have social studies and science units squeeze literary enjoyment out of the English curriculum, with the result being that secondary school pupils are entering with weaker literary reading skills since the Common Core came into effect than they did in the past, even if their writing has improved (these are the most recent results I’ve been discovering in the pupils I’ve been testing), and even if their scores on state tests privileging non-fiction have been improving.

Leave a Reply