Reading in Social Studies Mary Barrett


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Reading in Social Studies

Mary Barrett

Mayo High School

1420 SE 11th Avenue

Rochester, MN 55904

Reading of History

Dick Pearl

MRA Highlights, 2003

A Perspective

It is estimated that anywhere from 85 to 95 percent of the content addressed in social studies emerges from the textbook. As a curriculum area driven by content coverage unlike any other, social studies teachers face a particular challenge in helping students access and make sense of content.
Guiding students is the opposite of simply assigning a passage and telling students to read it and be ready to discuss it. Guidance means providing activities before, during, and after students read a passage in order to help them understand and retain what they encounter. (Moore 1989)
This attention to the process of reading history does not have to detract from the teaching of content. When the teacher is able to integrate reading and subject matter learning in a seamless fashion, using language and literacy to scaffold students’ learning, it just results in good teaching. (Farstrup, 2002)

Essential Skills

National Council for the Social Studies

(1989, 1994)

Acquiring Information:

* reading skills

* study skills

* reference and information search skills

* technical skills unique to electronic devices
Organizing and Using Information:
* thinking skills

1. classify information

2. interpret information

3. analyze information

4. summarize information

5. synthesize information

6. evaluate information

* decision-making

  • metacognition

Resources for the Reading of History
Bullock, Terry L. and Hesse, Karl D. (1981). Reading in the Social Studies Classroom. Washington, D.C: NEA

Doty, Jane K., Cameron, Gregory N., and Barton, Mary L. (2003). Teaching Reading in Social Studies. Aurora. CO: ASCD

Farstrup, Alan E. and Samuels, S. Jay. (2002). What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction, Ch. 9. Newark: IRA

Lunstrum, John P. and Taylor, Bob L. (1988). Teaching Reading in the Social Studies. Newark: IRA

Moore, David W., Readance, John E., and Rickelman, Robert J. (1989). Prereading Activities for Content Reading and Learning. Newark: IRA
Avery, Patricia G. and Graves, Michael F. (1997). Scaffolding Students’ Reading of History. The Social Studies, 88, 134-138.

Beck, I., and McKeown, M. (1991). Social Studies Texts are Hard to Understand: Mediating Some of the Difficulties. Language Arts, 68, 482-490.

Hennings, Dorothy S. (1993). On Knowing and Reading History. Journal of Reading, 36, 362-370.

Hynd, Cynthia R. (1999). Teaching Students to Think Critically Using Multiple Texts in History. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 42, 428-436.

Stetson, E.G. and Williams, R.P. (1992). Learning From Social Studies Textbooks: Why Some Students Succeed and Others Fail. Journal of Reading, 36, 22-29.
Literacy and Learning: Reading in the Content Areas

Making Sense in Social Studies
Reading in the Content Areas: Secondary
Social Science Education Consortium

Three Interactive Elements of Reading:

The Lesson

Research Suggests a New Format

Discussion to see if students learned main concepts, what they “should have” learned

Independent reading




Pre-reading Activities:

Activate Prior Knowledge

Make Predictions

Learn Key Vocabulary

Set Purpose for Reading

Ask Questions



silent reading


to clarify,




Traditional Format New Format

Strategies Used by Proficient Readers

  • Making connections between prior knowledge and the text

Readers pay more attention when they relate to the text. Readers naturally bring their prior knowledge and experience to reading, but they comprehend better when they think about the connections they make between the text, their lives, and the larger world.

  • Asking Questions

Questioning is the strategy that keeps readers engaged. When readers ask questions, they clarify understanding and forge ahead to make meaning. Asking questions is at the heart of thoughtful reading.

  • Visualizing

Active readers create visual images in their minds based on the words they read in text. The pictures they create enhance understanding.

  • Drawing inferences

Inferring is at the intersection of taking what is known, garnering clues from the text, and thinking ahead to make a judgment, discern a theme, or speculate about what is to come.

  • Determining important ideas

Thoughtful readers grasp essential ideas and important information when reading. Readers must differentiate between less important ideas and key ideas that are central to the meaning of text.

  • Synthesizing information

Synthesizing involves combining new information with existing knowledge to form an original idea or interpretation. Reviewing, sorting and sifting important information can lead to new insights that change the way readers think.

  • Repairing understanding

If confusion disrupts meaning, readers need to stop and clarify their understanding. Readers may use a variety of strategies to "fix up" comprehension when meaning goes awry.
Reading Strategies in Social Studies

When should you incorporate reading strategies into your lesson plans? The single most powerful time to embed reading strategies is before students ever start to read the selection you are going to assign. Below you’ll see the base of a pyramid that represents before-reading strategies. Each category lists the strategies contained in this workshop packet.

Before Reading Strategies

Teach Vocabulary

    • Vocab Scroll

    • Vocab Frame

    • Semantic Feature Analysis

    • Word Jar

    • List-Group-Label

Ask Questions

  • SQ3R

  • QAR

  • Question Types

Access Prior Knowledge

  • KWL

  • Anticipation Guide

  • Tea Party

  • Probable Passage

Set Purpose

  • What level of understanding do the students need?

  • What will the students be doing with the information?

Determine Rate

  • Purpose

  • Level of Difficulty

  • Familiarity with Text


  1. Aids comprehension

  2. Sets a target level of comprehension

  3. Suggests how to reach the target or destination

DO NOT simply tell students to “read chapter 3 for tomorrow.” Why not? Imagine someone telling you to come to their house for dinner, but not telling you where they live or giving you directions to their home. Not giving students a purpose for reading is similar: if students don’t know why they are reading or what they need to do with the information, they will not comprehend well.

FORMAT: Read in order to (level of understanding) so that you can (task to complete after reading).

  1. Read in order to understand the cause and effect chain link events leading up to Lexington and Concord.

  1. Read in order to compare and contrast the British/Colonial tactics with the French/Indian tactics during the French and Indian War.

  1. Read in order to explain the main steps in the process of photosynthesis.

  1. Read so that you can debate the problem posed in this article and the author’s solution.

  1. Read to prepare for seminar discussion on the roles of women during the Revolutionary Era.

Note that the single underline refers to Bloom’s Taxonomy for level of understanding. The double underlining generally tells you what to have students do while or after they read (complete a C/C or C/E graphic organizer, for example).

Jan Vortmann Smith – Mayo High School – April 1998; Revised Mary Barrett May 2004

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Highest Level of Comprehension


Evaluation questions ask that

judgments be made from information
Signal words: assess, rate, justify,

evaluate, judge, decide, criticize,

defend, argue, support


Synthesis questions combine information in a new way. Students often use concepts learned to originate new products.

Signal words: create, design, revise, hypothesize, arrange, assemble, compose, construct, formulate


Analysis questions ask for information to be broken down into parts. Students may discover unique characteristics of something by analyzing it.

Signal words: categorize, sort, classify, arrange, compare, distinguish


Application questions ask that the information be used in some manner. Students must relate or apply what has been learned to new situations.

Signal words: generalize, infer, apply, predict, use, show


Comprehension questions determine how well information has been understood. Students translate and interpret information heard or read. Responses are usually in a student’s own words.

Signal words: define in your own words, explain, tell, paraphrase, summarize, identify, illustrate, discuss


Knowledge questions ask for facts about what has been heard or read. Information is recalled in the approximate manner/form it was heard.

Signal words: who, what, when, where, why, how, list, locate, choose, name, repeat, state, describe

Lowest Level of Comprehension

Reading Rates

Find the statement that describes your purpose for reading. Then look at the speed you should use to read most efficiently. Reading rate generally depends on your purpose, the difficulty of the text, and how familiar you are with the information in the text.


for Pleasure


to Study

Words Per Minute

% of Comprehension Desired

Slow Reading/ Study Rate

Savor books, plays, poetry, essays, etc.

  • Learn new content.

  • Understand difficult material.

100 – 200



  • RAPT Notes

  • HUG

  • G.O./Map

Normal Reading

Read to remember material

Understand material of average difficulty

200 - 350


70 – 80%

Fast Reading/ Skimming

Refresh your memory of material you have read before

Review material.

Read about a topic you are quite familiar with.

400 - 600


50 % (1st Read)
50 - 80% (Review)


Choose a book or article to read.
Locate a specific paragraph you've read before.

Preview a text

Find specific information in an index, glossary, table, etc.



10 – 30%

KWL Strategy

Access prior knowledge by filling out the following chart with your students before they begin reading.

Know (I’m sure…)

Know (I think ...)

Want to Know (I wonder …)


What do you already know about this topic?

What do you want to learn about this topic?

What have you learned about this topic?

Anticipation Guide

An anticipation guide is a strategy that can be used before, while, and after students read. While it is most successful used with controversial or open-ended subjects, an anticipation guide can be used with textbooks. Skilled readers tend to consciously anticipate what the text is about before they begin reading. Dependent readers simply begin. They skip titles and background information; they rarely look through the text before they read a section. An anticipation guide is a series of generalizations that ask students to agree or disagree with a statement before they read a selection.

An excellent example would be to use an anticipation guide before students begin a reading or discussion about evolution.
Anticipation guides should focus on or include

  1. big ideas/ themes,

  2. generalizations about issues,

  3. items that will facilitate discussion rather than focusing on “finding” answers,

  4. a Likert scale that forces students to mark Agree or Disagree as there are not right and wrong answers, and

  5. items that help students explore beliefs about the statements as a way of accessing prior knowledge and then measuring whether their positions have changed based on their reading

Here is an example for the articles on Genghis Khan that follow:


Read each of the statements below. Put agree in the Before Reading blank if you agree with the statement and could not support it; put disagree in the Before Reading blank if you disagree with the statement and would not support it. After you finish reading the selection, revisit the statements. See if you have changed your mind on any of the statements.

Before Reading

Genghis Khan

After Reading

The barbarian hordes were disorganized and primitive.

Genghis Khan’s military techniques were outdated, and he won by sheer force of numbers.

Some of the Mongol war techniques are still in use today.

The Mongol army had state of the art technology for its period.

The Mongols assimilated the cultures they overran.

The Mongols were not more bloodthirsty than the people they conquered, only more efficient.

In his innovation and flexibility, Khan was very like successful modern corporations.

Barbarian is synonymous with bloodthirsty.

Genghis Khan: Brilliant executive
Isaac Cheifetz

January 17, 2005 FORUM0117

Nearly 800 years after his death, Genghis Khan is widely considered the greatest conqueror in history. Between 1206 and 1258 A.D., Khan and his immediate descendants conquered nearly all of Asia and much of central Europe. Only the death of Genghis Khan's son, Ogadai, in 1241 kept the Mongolian "hordes" from devastating the rest of Europe.

The Mongols are a fascinating organizational case study. How did nomadic tribes from a desert at the top of the world create the largest empire in history? The societies they conquered, including China and several major Muslim empires, were far larger and seemingly more sophisticated than the Mongols.

What were the management secrets of Genghis Khan?
Leadership: Mongol officers were chosen based on merit, rather than class, in contrast to most armies of the Middle Ages. Even Genghis Khan's successor was voted on by his three sons; the two oldest avoided civil war by selecting their baby brother, Ogadai, whom they served loyally.
The Mongols' egalitarian management and succession style, and openness to new tools and ideas, led to long-term stability for their empire, which lasted for hundreds of years. In most areas of Asia, they were never conquered but were gradually assimilated into the local populations.
Lean organization: The Mongol "horde" was anything but disorganized. Here is a description on the Mongols in action, taken from author Cecelia Holland's book "What If - The Death that Saved Europe - The Mongols Turn Back 1242":
"The Mongol army looked strikingly like a modern army, set down in a medieval world... [a Mongol general] coordinated the movements of tens of thousands of men, across mountain ranges and in unknown territory, as precisely as movements on a chessboard. In battle, through a signaling system of colored banners, he could advance thousands of men at a time, send them back, turn them, and direct their charges -- and when he gave orders, his men did instantly what they were told."
The Mongols' structure, then, had many of the attributes 21st-century companies strive for: disciplined and efficient yet flexible; accurate communicating of decision in real time; and efficient use of resources in a variety of innovative ways.

Lean technology: The transportation and weapons of the Mongols also fostered flexibility and responsiveness to changing circumstances. Consider this description from Erik Hildinger's June 1997 article in Military History magazine titled "Mongol Invasion of Europe":

"The Mongol bow was a recurved composite bow, a lamination of wood, horn and sinew that could cast an arrow more than 300 yards. The Mongols shot their arrows with great accuracy while riding at a fast pace and could even shoot accurately backward at a pursuer. ... The Mongol rode a pony that was considerably smaller than the war charger of the Western armies. The Asiatic animal, however, had superb endurance and survived by grazing in the wild. Each Mongol soldier had two, three or even four ponies so that he could spell them on a march and save them from exhaustion.
"That practice allowed Mongol armies to travel 50 or even 60 miles in a day, several times the distance that a Western army of the period could travel."
Technology transfer: The Mongols did not have a written language, and they had little specialized technology, aside from the composite bow. But they were not intimidated or fearful of societies that had these things -- on the contrary, they valued them, and would quickly assimilate the expertise -- and experts -- of the societies they conquered, particularly China. The "Not-Invented-Here" syndrome was not a concern for the Mongols.
Aggressive process as strategic weapon: The combination of organizational self-discipline, flexibility and aggressiveness allowed the Mongols to defeat larger armies of that era that were rigidly organized, and whose discipline was superficial.
The Mongols cultivated these efficient, collaborative qualities in their horsemen from an early age by their traditional hunt on the Mongolian steppe, where they would encircle large numbers of animals and gradually herd them together for butchering, rather than chasing them down individually.

Like the pillaging Vikings of several centuries earlier, Genghis Khan is clearly not a moral role model. He deliberately and brutally devastated most everyone in his path. He was more interested in acquiring trading routes and technology than subjects, and his hordes routinely killed the entire populations of cities that resisted them.

Interestingly, historians suggest that the Mongols were not necessarily more bloodthirsty than the societies they conquered, only more ruthlessly efficient.
They did treat loyal subjects fairly and, as nature-worshipping animists, did not oppress people or societies for ideological motives -- in an era where religious wars and massacres were the norm.
But there are striking parallels between the management secrets of Genghis Khan and some of the most successful modern corporations.
Microsoft, Wal-Mart and Dell, for example, all dominate their industries through organization self-discipline, flexibility and aggressiveness.
Like the Mongols, they are criticized as ruthless and lacking innovation. In truth, all three companies are brilliant organization innovators.
Additionally, General Electric's use of Six Sigma process improvement as an aggressive weapon for change has much in common with the Mongols highly organized, flexible and ruthless organization.
Genghis Khan can be thought of as the first "lean" executive, brilliantly organized and able to use his resources to optimize efficiency and flexibility. He had many of the attributes of a modern executive and aggressively intertwined people, process, and technology, in both strategy and execution. 903; 12.0
The Commerce Chain
Isaac Cheifetz is a Minneapolis-based executive recruiter who helps companies hire technology-savvy senior executives. His Commerce Chain column focuses on best practices, leadership and trends in business technology. He can be reached at

This article appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on January 17, 2005, on page D8.

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