A new study from the Fordham Institute finds that schools get a bigger bang for their buck when it comes to reading instruction in the elementary grades by increasing Social Studies instructional time rather than increasing time in the Language Arts.

At least, that’s the conclusion it pushes.

It also points out that the key element is the background knowledge that students gain in social studies classes (see the above text box) and, of course, nonfiction texts could also be used in Language Arts instruction if teachers and schools made the choice to do so.

You can read Social Studies Instruction and Reading Comprehension – it’s not behind a paywall.

It finds particular benefits for English Language Learners.

At our school, we’re trying an experiment this year. Instead of two periods of English for our Newcomers, I’m teaching one period of English and another period of U.S. History. We’re trying this for the same reason this study cites – enhancing background knowledge by using history text as the context.

I like the ELL History textbook I use for Intermediates, and made a number of modifications over the summer.

Could I have added a bunch of nonfiction text to a second period English class? Of course. However, with a ready made text that’s already relatively accessible, along with a ton of activities I’ve already done with Intermediates that could used by Newcomers with just a little more scaffolding, it was easier for me to do it this way.

Which, I assume, is also the primary benefit of just adding more ready-to-use Social Studies instructional resources instead of having to invent your own nonfiction English curriculum, if you don’t already have one.

Ed Week published an article on the study, and I thought this was interesting:

The researchers said in the paper that they were at a loss to explain why additional time spent on science instruction showed no effect similar to the one for social studies. They theorized that the field’s vocabulary could be so specific to its discipline that it might not affect reading comprehension more broadly.

I’m adding this post to The Best Resources For Learning About The Importance Of Prior Knowledge (& How To Activate It).


Slightly higher reading scores when students delve into social studies, study finds is from The Hechinger Report.