Social Studies is one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated subjects for many teachers, which is unfortunate because social studies is a goldmine for ELAR, LOTE, math, science, and fine arts integration. There are so many things that can be taught and expanded upon with information in social studies.
Integrating subjects is an excellent way to create and participate in larger projects that more accurately depict real-life scenarios (after all, subjects aren’t separated and compartmentalized in reality). Whether you teach a self-contained early elementary class, a departmentalized middle school class, or a specialized high school class, integration can offer a refreshing change to every stage of teaching, from planning to assessment.
While departmentalized projects require some extra communication and coordination among participating departments or individual teachers, students benefit when they are to consult experts (that’s you, teachers) on every subject throughout a realistic project.
You don’t have to do anything so large and elaborate, though. Integrating subjects can be done simply and on a smaller scale. The benefit remains, as students who aren’t particularly gifted in one subject area may find it incredibly helpful to connect to a subject that is more along their lines of expertise (or enjoyment, at least).
Another reason teachers may need to integrate now more than ever is because of the great teacher shortage we’re facing. Many teachers are doing “double duty”. If you’re a secondary teacher and you’re having to teach multiple subjects, using a base topic to plan multiple classes can cut your planning time down significantly if done well.
In case you aren’t familiar with the many things covered in social studies, here are some of the areas we’re thinking about in relation to other subjects:
- cultural studies
- political science
- critical thinking skills
ELAR or LOTE
Language learning and social studies probably complement each other best. Researching and writing about historical and current influential figures, using timelines to learn more about historic events, and reading books from a given time period are just a few ways we’ve been integrating the two subjects for years now.
Early childhood educators are especially gifted with this - they have a picture book for every event, holiday, and important person anyone has ever heard of, and they use them liberally. Because early childhood and elementary teachers often teach all subjects to their students, integration of subjects is more of a survival skill than an option since there is so little time and so much content.
Teachers with older students can do Reader’s Workshop with several choices of articles, books, or short stories discussing particular current events, historical events, or people. Grammar and style can be reviewed by looking at historic and ancient documents with a critical and comparative eye.
Style, audience, point of view, and code-switching topics can also be covered easily with documents or literature written in a specific time period.
Integrating what students are learning across the curriculum helps them connect to all subjects and give them the opportunity to explore the information in each area more deeply.
Social studies is an excellent subject to combine with other languages, as well. Cultures, nationalities, foods, clothing, and political systems throughout the world can be studied to help students understand more about languages they’re learning.
Current and historical events are a great resource for building real-world math experiences that aren’t centered around imaginary people. There is an infinite number of ways to include social studies in math.
Wouldn’t it be fascinating to translate the measurement of the sphinx to a smaller scale in your classroom? Or what about figuring the average number of attendees for the season’s home games at your students’ favorite football team’s stadium?
Your students could use a budget to plan the civil war for one side or the other, pay taxes as lords and ladies, or run an imaginary nonprofit for clean water (or better yet, raise money for a real nonprofit, budgeting for expenses and planning for fundraising events).
Have them help with the prom planning or investigate how much the city budgets for the care of fire stations and fire trucks.
Explore careers and have students budget for a year of realistic living expenses.
Plan a community garden, estimating the land area needed, seeds that can be sown, and how much soil would be required. Estimate time for planting, caring for, and harvesting a crop. Have them plan how many people they could feed and recipes they could cook with their harvest.
The geography and mapping skills involved with social studies also works very well with mathematical learning.
Science can also benefit from integration with social studies. Because math and science are so close and compatible, many of the same topics can be covered from a scientific standpoint. In early grades, studying the biographies of scientists, exploring the different jobs one can have in scientific fields, and using scientific exploration to talk about resources needed and used in natural disasters are all good ways to integrate the two.
Some things studied in science are naturally mutual subjects, like geography which can be integrated or paired with studies on rocks, soil, and water.
The science regarding the international space station and the research done there can be enhanced by understanding the political and cultural environments of participating countries and vice versa.
Studying how citizens around the world are affected by climate change and environmental issues are excellent areas for integration.
Anything historical can be studied with a scientific eye - how diseases have been discovered, spread, controlled and cured; the history of and chemical compounds of fireworks made for various celebrations worldwide; how the world, national, state, and local economies affect the study of wildlife - the list continues endlessly.
Art enhances and builds upon any subject, but social studies benefits from the pairing specifically because people and events of the past can be so vague without a visual representation. Using art to demonstrate comprehension of the lessons taught in social studies can be powerful for students creating or viewing the art.
Art shows us who we have been, and it creates a narrative for who we are now. Art and politics have been long acquaintances, and art brings us the cultures from around the globe and places them in our presence. Art can also enhance the understanding of individuals and their rights, express what citizenship in a particular country means, and help students see similarities that exist between themselves and others.
Art is always an excellent conduit for gaining understanding in any subject, but it is especially beneficial when paired with social studies.
Like art, music brings history, cultures, and the world to meet us. There are few things that cannot be enhanced by music. Music of particular people in geographical locals give a feel for who those people are, what resources they have for instrument-making, and how they feel about their lives.
Music tells us what is important to ourselves and others. It can express the need and suffering found, or the joy and strength of a culture or nation.
Music carries the seeds of religions, languages, and social beliefs and values to every corner of the globe.
So much is communicated through music. Students can dance through history with their classmates, sing songs that children have been singing for hundreds of years, and explore countries through music. Music crosses borders and geographical miles. It’s perfect for exploring social studies.
Finally, social studies skills lend themselves very well to the newest subject to the education field. Many states, districts, and schools are now required to explicitly teach social-emotional skills.
Social Studies is a great place to expand upon those skills, and many of the things covered in social studies can support social-emotional learning.
The first place to stop is always biographical information on historical figures. The successes and failures of leaders and others from the past (and present - why limit the learning?) are excellent resources for the leaders of the future.
In addition, studying world cultures, religions, beliefs, and customs can help students build their own coping and self-management skills. There are so many ideas that can help students highlight their own beliefs and strengths. Applying one’s own cultural beliefs and customs can be enhanced by being aware of how others weave faith and culture into their own lives.
Social studies also helps students discover their own places in society. Thinking of oneself as a vital member of a community, as an active citizen, and as a contributing member of humanity, on the whole, is the perfect way to frame the skills students need both inside and outside the classroom.
We always want to provide a way to attach new learning to the real world outside the classroom. In the past, there were few connections to the world of social studies. History, far away geographic locations, and understanding the world far from the classroom door was a challenge.
Bringing the world and the future “into the room” by building on the past and incorporating the lessons humans have already learned is more meaningful in the context of social-emotional learning.
Social studies is a great addition to every aspect of education. Now, more than ever, we have the opportunity to make social studies more accessible for our students by pairing it with other subjects. Increasing the kind of information being explored increases the chance for students to see themselves in the content and connect to what they’re learning.