5 Ways Social Studies Teachers Can Support Reading Comprehension in the Classroom

Jared Kaltwasser
Oct 16 · 3 min read
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Photo by Santi Vedrí on Unsplash

I always planned to be a Social Studies teacher, even when I was a journalist by profession. Then, in my second year as a middle-school teacher, I was given the opportunity to add English Language Arts to my course-load.

It’s been a great addition to my career. I love writing, and so I love helping students develop their voices and learn to be better writers. However, being an ELA and Social Studies teacher has also re-shaped the way I think of Social Studies. My goal as a Social Studies teacher is to empower students with the tools they need to be engaged citizens. Teaching ELA has helped me to realize just how important reading comprehension, media literacy, and communication skills are to the task of being an engaged citizen.

The more I teach ELA and Social Studies side by side, the more I think of Social Studies as a sort of non-fiction version of ELA. In Social Studies, we read to learn about our world and we write to demonstrate our knowledge; it’s just that we’re primarily using non-fiction texts to do so.

I recently spent some time thinking through some of the easy ways Social Studies teachers can support ELA learning in their classrooms. Here are a few simple ideas:

  • Teach learners how to deal with unfamiliar words by using context clues, the dictionary, or prefixes and suffixes.
  • Encourage learners to regularly circle, highlight, or underline unknown words. Have them demonstrate that they learned the definitions of the words in order to ensure they understand the sentences in which the terms appear.
  • Tailor vocabulary quizzes and assessments to terms that learners have identified as difficult.
  • Teach learners to preview texts by noting the title and any subheads, reading the introductory paragraph, scanning any pull-quotes or vocabulary terms, and looking at any images or graphics. Help learners get in the habit of thinking through what type of text they will be reading and predicting what it is likely to teach them before they actually start reading.
  • Many learners have a “skip and skim” approach to texts. When given a text, they immediately skip to the questions at the end of the document, and then skim the text to find keywords they think will help them answer the questions. When learners do this, they often fail to grasp the overall purpose or meaning of the text.
  • One way to combat this is to ask learners to identify the thesis or topic sentence for the entire text, or for particular paragraphs. When learners can successfully accomplish this, you can have confidence they understood what they read.
  • Another way to ensure learners actually digest what they read is to ask them to summarize the facts, main point, or argument in a specific text. This will give them practice discerning the main ideas of texts, and it will help you to notice if they are missing the point.
  • When asking comprehension or critical thinking questions about a text, ask learners to specifically cite evidence from the text that supports their answer. Have them cite the evidence by paragraph number, circling the evidence, or quoting it. This can help learners get in the habit of engaging the text deeply. It also gives them practice backing up their assertions in meaningful ways.

There are many more ways to integrate ELA into Social Studies, but these are easy starting points. Have other ideas? Share them in the comments below!

Curious Teaching

Reflections on learning, teaching, and learning to be a better teacher.

Jared Kaltwasser

Written by

Writer and Journalist | jaredkalt@gmail.com

Curious Teaching

Curious Teaching is a blog by Jared Kaltwasser, a longtime journalist who in 2016 traded in his notebook for a gradebook and became a teacher (and a blogger). He currently teaches middle school Social Studies and ELA at the Best School in the State and the Nation.

Jared Kaltwasser

Written by

Writer and Journalist | jaredkalt@gmail.com

Curious Teaching

Curious Teaching is a blog by Jared Kaltwasser, a longtime journalist who in 2016 traded in his notebook for a gradebook and became a teacher (and a blogger). He currently teaches middle school Social Studies and ELA at the Best School in the State and the Nation.

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