Using Writing to Support K-12 Social Studies Instruction

Writing has become an integral part of the social studies curriculum. Students need to know that this activity strengthens their reading skills as well as helps them to embrace the content more fluidly. When writing about specific historical events, oftentimes students must research their topic to gain factual knowledge. This is an important aspect to documenting and understanding historical events accurately.

There are three main types of writing that students will be exposed to in their academic career: narrative, persuasive, and expository writing. Each one of these types can be extremely beneficial to any historical lesson you are teaching.

Narrative Writing

It is important to teach your students that they are a living part of and a witness to history. Any major event taking place in their lives can be documented in a narrative.

An easy way to help your students learn about narrative writing (telling a story) is to have them to use themselves. Creating their own timeline is a great example and way for them to tell a story. Have students start with their birth year and chronicle major events that have taken place over the span of their lives. This will be a research-based project that you can facilitate through helping them find events that have taken place annually if they are in elementary school or every few years if they are in middle school. Help your students chronicle and document major events to deepen their understanding of a narrative.

For example, some students in middle school, specifically eighth grade, may have been born between 2008 and 2009. A few major events to document include the election of Barack Obama, the first African American president, in 2008, and the births of Instagram and Snapchat, in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and the rise of modern social media. This project allows students to get creative with the events they choose and tell the narrative of their own lifetime.



Photo: iStock by Getty Images / andresr

Persuasive Writing

Persuasive writing, or argumentative writing, as it is sometimes termed, seeks to change people’s beliefs or behavior. Research is key here to support the students position.

For example, a unit on the causes of the American Revolution could persuade others to adopt the point of view that the war was bolstered by British loyalists and neutralists. Another positional topic could ask, “Should we manipulate the environment to suit our specific food and population needs?” Factual information and historical texts must be used to support the student’s position and ultimately persuade their audience to adopt their position.

Persuasive writing activities can easily be incorporated into the social studies curriculum. To help your students understand how historical settings contribute to making literary connections, have them to read an informational text that focuses on one of the following topics: racism, civil rights, inequality, or any other disparity facing our citizens today. Students then must state a claim about the theme of the text and defend their interpretations through evidence from the literary work.


use-writing-to-support-k-12-social-studies-curriculum-instructionPhoto: iStock by Getty Images / Maria Vonotna

Expository Writing

This type of writing serves to help readers better understand a procedure or process. Students use knowledge they have gained from prior experience (primary sources) and secondary sources. This type of writing focuses more on explaining, comparing and contrasting, defining, describing, and/or differentiating themes.

An example of a student writing topic includes an essay that compares and contrasts different types of government, communities, habitats, sources of renewable energy, world leaders, or religions. Another example of student writing in this area could possibly be a guide of how things work: checks and balances in government, the influence of gravity on the motion of celestial objects, or how evolution and religion impact cultural diffusion. The themes for expository writing prompts can be endless, which gives students ample opportunities to contextualize and explain social studies themes.

In each type of writing, educators must keep in mind the differing examples of leveled writing necessary for elementary and secondary students. The writing process is taught in stages and contingent upon the level of writing. Narrative, persuasive, and expository writing can be expounded or minimized for the appropriate grade level of writing your students are capable of completing. When adding writing to your assignments, modeling is imperative. Students must be clearly guided to make their thoughts cohesive and concise when developing constructive, centered writing. This is important to consider when utilizing a writing activity in your social studies classroom.


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Sheree Turner, Ph.D. is a Master Teacher Leader in an urban school district in Atlanta and a 27-year veteran educator specializing in English Language Arts (ELA) and Social Studies. Dr. Turner is also an adjunct professor with University of Phoenix in the School of Education graduate studies. She is certified in middle grades social studies, gifted-learner endorsed, and reading endorsed. Her area of interest is ensuring social studies does not become extinct in the 21st century classroom.