Literacy Strategies for Social Studies

Instructor: David Raudenbush
Students may find reading about social studies topics challenging. In this lesson, we will learn about literacy strategies designed to help students with comprehension and independent thinking. Take a quiz after the lesson to test your knowledge.

Heavy History

Try to remember one of your social studies textbooks. Chances are it was a dense book, ponderous in both physical weight and content. Even if you enjoy learning about history and world cultures, reading a textbook can be a chore.

However, reading is an essential skill in social studies. Just like historians, students must gather information from subject reading materials. Literacy strategies are tools students can use to better approach and comprehend social studies texts.

Students benefit from literacy strategies when learning about social studies.
Student Studying

The Textbook Challenge

Students may not be comfortable just sitting down and reading social studies textbooks without any preparation. Textbooks offer large amounts of information packed into short sections. This makes information retention difficult. Additionally, chances are that students won't have the necessary background knowledge to make complete sense of the material. A better strategy is needed to approach complex new topics in a dense format.

SQ3R (survey, question, read, recite and review) is a sequential literacy strategy for approaching textbook material in a way that builds comprehension. Students begin by surveying the required reading - examining titles, headings, subheadings, captions and any bold vocabulary words. The survey is an opportunity to build background knowledge about the subject. The second pre-reading step is to create a list of questions the students hope the text will answer. This creates purpose for reading; students begin reading while looking to answer their questions. Students are then able to extract important details from the information. After reading, the students recite what they have learned to help commit the important information to memory. Finally, they review the information for several days in a row to improve retention.

The SQ3R strategy is a helpful tool for students. It sets the stage for learning by introducing background knowledge, creates purpose for exploring the text by spurring curiosity and assists with long-term information retention.

Primary Source Documents

Thomas Payne's Common Sense is a primary source document. So is the United States' Declaration of Independence. Any factual writings that come from the time and place under study are primary sources.

Primary source documents don't usually come in a format that works with a strategy like SQ3R, so students might need to try a different strategy before they start reading. To begin with, they will need some background information and an idea of the context in which the document was written. They may need a preview lesson on the vocabulary as well. They may also need to see you, as their teacher, model how you read and think about the text.

They will probably need to read the documents several times before they fully understand it. The first time through, it could help just to mark confusing parts of the passage. After some whole class or small group discussion, students should read the document again, this time focusing on trying to understand the author's purpose or what he or she wanted to explain.

Primary sources can present challenges for students because they are often written in antiquated language. Have the students paraphrase lines from the original text. Putting the text into their own words will help them clarify meaning. Summarizing the main idea and the key details from the document will help them to remember what they read.

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