articles, opinions, and research about teaching and learning

Social studies: The world we make

When we study society, we are studying ourselves as a group, the institutions, laws, and social mechanisms, we've created, and the decisions, actions, and events that we've experienced.

This means that the raw materials of social studies are all around us because we all live in society.

You can think of social studies as covering three interconnected areas:

    - the community

    - social institutions

    - history

Studying the community: ask learners to draw pictures, learn songs and dances, make maps, conduct interviews, and measure weather events such as rain, temperature, humidity, and pressure.

For younger children, ask them to talk about and draw their families, their neighbours and neighbourhoods, and houses in your village or town.

Using interviews, learners can collect stories of the life of the community in the past and compare them with their understanding of life in the present. How was it different to be a child ten years ago, or twenty, or thirty?

Studying social institutions, guide learners in focusing on practical examples of leadership in the community and decision-making in the larger government. You may want to make use of newspaper and magazine articles as discussion materials, or point to concrete civic accomplishments (such as the introduction of electricity or solar-powered lighting to the school, or the community creation of a dam).

If you ask learners to study government, help them create wall-charts mapping the various governmental bodies.

Studying history, invite learners to make timelines, dramatise key events, participate in debates, and build models (of pyramids, temples, castles and forts). And be sure to focus on how events came about and why they took place in the way that they did.

Social studies at the centre of learning

Social studies can incorporate building skills, values, attitudes, and knowledge in the other core disciplines.

When learners write stories, reports, scripts, or other materials based on social studies, they are building their language and communication skills. You could, for example, ask fifth graders to write travel brochures for your community, describing nature spots, the foods that are eaten, the climate, and other features.

When learners make charts and graphs, calculate rates of change, compute distances, or tally the results of polls or class elections, they are using mathematics skills in social studies.

When they investigate the forces that create geographic features, or when they address health and life-style issues in detail, learners are building scientific skills and understanding.

Journal activity: A web of learning

Outline the ways that your social studies curriculum can connect to other subjects.

Along the left side of a page of your journal, list the topics that you teach in social studies. Along the right side of the page, list other subjects­such as mathematics, language, science, art, and music.

Consider the topics one at a time. Does the topic involve numbers, such as population figures, or weather information? If so, draw a line across the page to "mathematics." Does the topic involve listening to a story, or reading the words of a historical document? If so, draw a line across the page to "language."

Does the class sing a song about a historical figure? Or about a river or mountain in your country? If so, draw a line across from the topic to "music."

When you have considered each topic in your social studies curriculum, review the web of connections between social studies and other subjects and activities in your classroom.

Which connections seem particularly strong or interesting to you?

Can you imagine ways of strengthening the connections that you've drawn? Can you imagine ways of creating new connections?

Teacher Talking Explore Ideas · Discuss Issues · Take Action
Last revised April, 1999
Copyright © UNICEF