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Guest Post: Social Studies & The Common Core (With Downloadable Lessons)

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Last last year, I published a two-part series at my Education Week Teacher column with answers to this question: What do the Common Core Standards look like in Social Studies classrooms?

Teachers Tara Dale and Mandi White contributed a response to the question that was too late to include in that series, but they agreed to let me publish it here.

You can contact them at:

Mandi White:  mandiwhite at kyrene dot org
Tara Dale:  tara.dale at gilbertschools dot net

Prior to the implementation of Common Core Standards, the emphasis of social studies classes on our campus was memorization of facts and dates.  As teachers embrace the new Standards, we’ve witnessed three specific changes in social studies classrooms.  First, teachers’ expectations of students has increased.  Prior to Common Core, you would hear teachers make comments such as, “our students can’t perform at that level” or “my students aren’t capable of that higher level thinking.”  Those beliefs have been squashed in many classrooms!  The expectations we have of our 7th graders has risen and it has been much fun watching the students rise to the occasion.

The second change was to create new goals for social studies classes.  We have a lot to cover, which often becomes very overwhelming and oftentimes causes us to get off target.  Therefore, we had to narrow our work by following these five goals:

1. Students will learn all required social studies standards as outlined by the state of Arizona and the Kyrene Elementary School District.

2. We will begin to close the achievement gap by:
a. increasing reading fluency,
b. increasing reading comprehension, and
c. focusing on tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary.

3. Students will practice Common Core ELA Standards by:
a. reading complex text,
b. reading informational text, and
c. citing their text in their answers.

4. All students will have opportunities to practice higher level thinking skills such as analyzing, inferring, predicting, creating and evaluating.

5. All students will be tested for their understanding of how historical people and events affect American life today, specifically that of a middle school student in Phoenix, Arizona.

Finally, the last change on our campus has been how we plan.  It has been customary to plan in department silos.  Language arts teachers planned together, social studies teachers planned together, and science teachers planned together.  But now we are planning across departments because every teacher is requiring students to provide text evidence.  We want our students to receive the same message about the importance and procedure for using text so we plan as one large team, which better supports our shared students.  In return, the language arts teachers shared with us and the science teachers their resources so that we can use them in our classes with students.  It is very powerful that our students are receiving the same Common Core message in their language arts class but also their social studies and science classes.

We’ve provided two examples of downloadable social studies lessons requiring students to read complex text, provide text evidence, and use higher level thinking skills.  Social studies class is now much more than memorizing dates and people; it’s about understanding why people made decisions and how those decisions affect us today.

1.       Was the American Civil War Avoidable?  Students research the three main causes of the American Civil War and formulate another option besides war.   Using text evidence, they create an alternate solution to the nation’s problems.

2.       A Syrian Immigration Story.  Students read an article from Newsela outlining the details of what it is like to be a Syrian immigrant in the US.  Then they answer text dependent questions.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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