Ask any teacher in any discipline at any grade level and they will tell you that literacy is one of their biggest concerns and challenges. What they mean by “literacy” can vary considerably, but generally we can take it to mean successful interpretation of the signs, symbols, and meanings someone else is trying to communicate. Literacy is often used to describe deciphering texts. In a child’s early years, basic phonics is the most common form of literacy, and as students get older, literacy comes to mean understanding the written word in all its variations.
According to recent surveys, at least 55% of classroom teachers have one or more English Language Learners (ELLs) in their classroom. ELLs arrive in our classrooms with varying levels of the four domains of English (listening, reading, writing, and speaking) for conversational and academic purposes. As a social studies teacher, how can you help an ELL student make sense of the advanced vocabulary and sentence structures that come along with academic instruction? One proven strategy is to build or activate background knowledge BEFORE starting the unit.
Internet ads, YouTube videos, social media posts, blogs, emails, and TV infomercials feature questionable and downright dangerous health advice, treatments, and cures. These quacks didn’t just appear in the modern era of broadcast and electronic media. Quacks have been around for centuries, successfully adapting their misleading message to the newest form of media – from word of mouth, to print, to broadcast, to electronic formats.
Teachers should offer a wide variety of literacy support in their social studies curricula, otherwise students can fall behind.
Vocabulary instruction in social studies is important because it builds background knowledge that is essential when students are assigned to read complex non-fiction texts. When students have a strong vocabulary, it makes them better readers.
There can be no doubt that the level of teaching and learning in your classroom would vastly improve if every single student possessed a high literacy level and a consistent reading habit, both at home and school. However, many do not, and perhaps you’ve wondered why. In a search for some answers, I would like to pose a few sensitive questions.
My last post was about quality novels to teach in the American history classroom. I would like to follow it up with some books teachers can include in their geography and civics class. In Alabama, we devote a semester each to geography and civics during the seventh grade. Often, it can seem that there is not enough time to fit in everything that we need to cover during that time frame. However, the following books are short enough to read in these classes, but “pack a punch” of information.
When I implement a novel study in social studies, there are a few activities that really work for me in terms of aiding student comprehension. I'll go into what these strategies are, how to use them, and how they help. But first, a note about reading aloud.
When I first started teaching history, it was difficult for me to incorporate reading passages in a productive and interesting way. I remember looking at a section in my textbook and thinking “how can I keep my students on task when I can barely concentrate on this stuff?”
Students not doing the reading assigned for homework seems to be an eternal challenge for every teacher. Failure to do the reading stunts classroom discussions, prevents students from learning and understanding the material to an adequate depth, and does nothing to help students build literacy skills.