Using Literature to Support Social Science Learning

Instructor: Emily Hamm

Emily has B.S. in elementary education and a M.S. in educational technology. She teaches full-time, works as an adjunct professor, and is a freelancer.

Why should literature be used in teaching social sciences? How can it impact learning? This lesson looks at how reading different types of text can serve various purposes in the learning process.

Why Include Literature in Social Science?

Literature is helpful across all content areas, but in the social sciences in particular. Incorporating children's and young adult's literature can engage students and actually increase student learning.

Various text types make learning more varied, and therefore, more interesting. Students receive more time with texts, increasing their achievement and ability to decode and take away meaning.

Additionally, students can recognize that reading serves different purposes that apply to all contexts in life; some is meant to inform, some to entertain, and some to persuade. Quality literature can trigger the desire to write their own reflections on the learning, note take-always, solve problems, create an opinion, and engage in the current topic.

Impact on Learning

Using literature in a social science setting authenticates the human experience. These are not just numbers on a page or facts from a text, but real people, places, events, and concepts. Students are able to make warm emotional connections to the cold, hard facts. This develops empathy, reason, and a fuller understanding of the topics at hand.

For example, if students read a line in a textbook that racism was a problem in the Jim Crow era, they might understand why racism in just a historical context. However, if they read a novel of a teen they can relate to struggling through life and growing up in the Jim Crow era, they're more likely to empathize with the people who actually had to live through that racism.

Additionally, literature gives students an avenue to express their thoughts and consider their actions in a non-personal way. They might question why the character in a book makes the decisions they do which, at its core, is really them asking what they themselves should do.

Literature gives students multiple perspectives on a time frame in history. A factual piece on The Revolutionary War provides dates, names, places, causes, and effects. Various pieces of literature though could provide insights on a vast array of racial, political, and social group's perspectives on the war.

Various literary points of view could include: a lawyer who signed the Declaration of Independence King George III, a southern slave girl, a British shipping merchant, a farm kid turned solider, and beyond to myriad possibilities. Imagine how each person's perspective could impact a student's understanding of both the facts and the emotions that go into such major historical events!

Types of Literature to Use

Literature used in the context of social science helps students to learn new information. As discussed, fictional accounts that take place in a historical time period can be useful to help the student retain information and appreciate the emotional impact of the time or event. For example, a classic like To Kill a Mockingbird can illustrate the effect of racism in court systems and communities.

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