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The Integration of Social Studies and Language Arts is Long Overdue

Copyright © Adam Waxler

In order for students to truly become readers who “read for understanding”, teaching reading must not be the sole responsibility of the language arts department.  Teaching reading must be incorporated into every subject area.  This is true whether you teach elementary, middle, or even high school.  In fact, the days of teaching language arts as a separate subject area need to come to an end.

Social studies can and should be integrated with language arts.  As a social studies teacher I teach everything that is required by the New York State Social Studies Standards.  However, as a social studies teacher, I also teach everything that is required by the New York State Language Arts Standards.  In my social studies class my students write formal essays, creative stories, poetry, songs, and dialogues.  My student’s present skits that apply public speaking skills, and they read primary sources, secondary sources, historical fiction, and historical non-fiction.  One would be hard pressed to find anything that a language arts teacher does in their class that I do not do in my social studies class.  The only difference is that I teach those skills around the historical content we are studying.  It is easy and fun to incorporate the language arts skills into the social studies curriculum.

What I don’t have, and desperately need, is more time.  The answer, however, is simple: integrate the social studies and language arts curriculums.  By totally integrating social studies and language arts, all the required language arts skills will be taught and social studies teachers will have all the time they need.  More importantly, though, student’s comprehension will increase.  Life is not departmentalized; we do not learn things in a vacuum.  Departmentalizing our content areas is in direct conflict with how people learn.

The same holds true at the elementary level.  Personally, I have seen a scary shift within our own school.  Due to low ELA scores, the focus at the elementary level over the past year or so has been on increasing reading and writing time.  This would be great except for the fact that it is coming at the expense of the social studies and science curriculums.  I have actually heard parents complain that their 4th grade child is barely learning social studies or science at all.  This goes beyond irresponsible to flat out stupid.

I understand that we need to increase reading and writing time for students, but in no way does that mean we must sacrifice entire subject areas (can’t they see the pendulum swinging).  Instead, we must integrate reading and writing with social studies and even science.  This would solve both problems.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that anyone will notice until there is a drop in social studies and science test scores.  What’s worse, when that does happen (and it will) the powers that be will probably do away with reading and writing and replace it with an increase in social studies and science.

Look out! Here comes the pendulum again.

Adam Waxler is a middle school social studies teacher, teacher mentor, and the author of eTeach: A Teacher Resource for Learning the Strategies of Master Teachers. Adam is also the editor and publisher of The Teaching Teacher’s Newsletter. For more information about his ebook or to sign up for your free monthly newsletter log onto: