Writing in Social Studies By: Sara Svajgl How Does Writing in Social Studies Enhance Learning?
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By: Sara Svajgl
Writing requires knowledge and thought from the student and while they are engulfed in writing they do not only express knowledge, but they also discover knowledge. When students write they develop the ability to make well-informed decisions, they tend to act responsibly, and writing enhances critical thinking. When students write it shifts the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student. When students have the ability to write they feel a sense of achievement. When a writing assignment is designed correctly the students are not only required to gain knowledge, but they must determine what knowledge to retain, which to discard, and how to present it. Writing can tend to lead to more questions and to the discovery of connections between people, events, and ideas. Lessons that require writing can contribute greatly to the success of the student.
One of the most talked about issues in writing today are whether to focus on the finished product or to emphasize the process of writing. In the Social Studies content area many teachers focus on the process of writing and they tend to get great results. When applying the writing process it does not ignore the final written product because it still determines the students achievement. Although when using the process of writing approach, especially in Social Studies it indicates the awareness of the linkage between writing, thinking, and learning. The use of writing as a way of learning is based on research dating back to the 1970s. That examined the common steps of successful writers. They are broken down into five steps. These steps are: the prewriting stage which is the brainstorming step, next is the drafting or actual writing stage and here is where the student begins to write knowing that this is a tentative copy. The third step is the revising stage and this is where the student makes changes in both the content and the structure. The fourth step the editing stage and in this stage the student will review the document in light of the decisions made during the prewriting stage. The last and final step is the publishing or presentation stage in this stage the student will present a final copy.
Studies show that there was not a big difference between the essays written by students where the teacher focused more on the final product and those who focused more on the writing process. However, the study did find that students who used the process of writing elements are more likely to be better writers. Students are more likely to acquire higher order thinking skills when using the writing process. However, the tangible goal of student writing in Social Studies is to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of history.
Most experts believe that any child whose reading level is two or more grade levels below grade placement should be classified as disabled. Students who are reading below their grade level are overwhelmed with long reading assignments, definitions, questions, and research reports often required in the social studies class. Special instruction through resource programs frequently centers around basic skills, so that poor readers are additionally handicapped by lack of exposure to the academic, study, and library skills necessary to survive in the classroom.
Some of these students may have difficulty following directions because of their short attention span and vocabulary deficits. The teacher should be clear when giving directions. Writing in Social Studies is characterized by main idea, fact versus opinion, and variations in reading rate. This style of writing can become a problem for disabled readers, who need instruction to develop these skills. Sequence of events and cause and effect are often visible in a social studies materials as in charts or timelines. The teacher should make an effort to draw attention to and explain the information in the graphs. The distinguishing of fact from opinion is a critical reading skill, one that is closely related to social studies. Although a higher form of comprehension, the separation of fact from opinion can be taught to even a poor reader, though the use of direct instruction. Some reading problems occur when learners bring insufficient background knowledge to the reading. The richer the background brought to the reading by readers, the better their ability to integrate new information from the printed page with the information acquired through prior experiences. Students who lack adequate background in content and language, like disabled readers, do not comprehend as well as other readers.
Instruction in study skills can boost the poor reader’s achievement and increase self-esteem. The teacher can introduce an assignment by reading the title and then asking the students to hypothesize what it may be about. Students can look at the material and record any difficult words and find their meanings. Also since visual note taking uses both the left and right side of the brain, the chances for recall are greater, and students feel a sense of accomplishment that merely reading a section does not provide. Remember that when teaching all students have a different learning style and there are many ways to teach the same content. If the main teaching strategy used is the text book then the disabled reader will suffer. Use a variety of methods to teach the same material. You can use taped records of written material, interviews, class discussions, and organization of information in charts or graphs.
To incorporate writing into a lesson so students would develop a higher-level of thinking skills, Bloom’s Taxonomy is a great way to instill higher-level thinking skills. Students must first recall information, then comprehend, restate, or summarize, next they will apply facts, rules, and principles, then they are to analyze their information, next the students will use synthesis which is to take the combination of ideas to form a new whole idea, and finally students will evaluate their information. A goal of is to increase thinking. If students are given the chance and the background to think on higher-levels they will succeed and benefit greatly. A teacher in South Dakota performed a nine week lesson of writing for her social studies class. Instead of test, the students were given a writing assignment. At the beginning she had mixed feelings from her students, some liked the idea and others did not. When the nine weeks ended most of the students realized that the writing skills they learned would be useful to them in the future. More importantly, students felt they had actually learned something in this nine week time period. One concern the teacher had with this program was the evaluation part. She has the students help with revision, but she graded very leniently because she did not want to discourage the students. Social Studies teachers need to incorporate writing into their lesson because it does help the students comprehend and learn.
Many social studies teachers are reluctant to incorporate writing assignments into their curriculums. A report prepared by the College Board of New York stated “Although literature, language, and composition may be the special province of English, competence in writing for example pertains to all academic disciplines. Thus, skill in writing should be developed in other subjects as well as English.” The skill of writing in all disciplines does not only fall onto the English teacher. Teachers in math, science, social studies, etc. must also help teach the art of thinking critically through writing. To assist students with using higher-level thinking skills the teacher can use Bloom’s Taxonomy technique with their students. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy is an excellent way for students to see the connections between writing and thinking. Some social studies teachers may be concerned on how to integrate writing into their curriculum. The educator must incorporate writing into their classroom with creativity, or it will become a nightmare. Planning an effective good writing task is challenging, but well worth the time.
Teachers of the social studies content that tie writing into their program of instruction promote learning because writing develops higher-order thinking and promotes better understanding of the content. Professor Herbert Applebee of Stanford University conducted a research on writing in the classroom. He found his research was consistent with the notion that writing activities contribute to the development of higher-order thinking and lead to a better understanding. Social Studies educators have produced a number of experimentally based literature justifying and applying writing as an instructional tool in teaching social studies. This theory gives at least three important benefits for students. The first benefit is that writing stimulates higher-order thinking as students gather evaluate, select or discard, organize, relate facts, concepts, and generalization in the fact of composing. The second benefit is that of the manipulation of data comes a realization of new relationships, new insight and new knowledge. Finally, the third benefit is students must grapple with the effects of point of view, both the writers, and the readers. By doing this they come to better appreciate the role of the perspective in creating and interpreting. “By using writing to help students learn the content and thinking skills necessary for the reasoning and learning tasks required in social studies.” –Henry Giroux
Writing in the social studies area is very similar to other types of expository writing. However, there are some ways in which this type of writing differs form essays for other subjects. The biggest difference is that, in social studies, you must support your statements with specific information taken from charts, graphs, photos, text, maps, etc. that provide or support a thesis or research question. In addition to writing book reports, book reviews, persuasive essays, and research papers, there are two specific types of essays in social studies and they are: Thematic Essays and Document Based Questions. It is vital to keep in mind that writing in the social studies content is viewed in light of teaching expository writing in general.
To incorporate writing into the Social Studies curriculum you can add fun and rewarding learning activities into your lesson. Some examples are a Tribal Fact Book, designing a War Propaganda, creating a Bill of Rights for a make believe country, interviewing and researching a Famous Historical Person. These are just a few examples you could try to bring some fun writing assignments into your classroom.
To begin this activity you will need to break your students into groups. In these groups they will pick a Native American tribe and they will together research information on the tribe for their fact book.
The teacher will discuss with the class facts and information on Native American tribes. The students will then be divided into their groups and together they will choose a Native American tribe to research. At this time the teacher will show examples of fact books to give the students an idea on what is expected of them. The class will be given one class session for research in the library and the teacher will assist the students on where to find their information and encourage several sources. The role of the teacher is to assist the students in the creation of their fact books.
Students will be graded on:
3. Use of Resources
4. Historical Facts
5. Use of Pictures and Drawings
6. Following Directions
To start this activity the teacher will begin by introducing the students to propaganda posters used in past. After there is a clear understanding of a propaganda poster students will design their own propaganda poster.
Students will work individually on this project. The teacher will point out to the students the issues that were faced during war time to help students with ideas for their poster. The teacher will assist the students in the creation of their propaganda posters. When the class has completed the posters they will present them to the class.
Students will be graded on:
To begin this activity the teacher will explain and teach the students the Bill of Rights of the United States of America. Students will need to understand the history and make up of the Bill of Rights to begin this activity. Students will design and write a Bill of Rights for a make believe country in groups. This activity is to help students realize the problems that were faced by our Founding Fathers. Also this activity is to see what rights the students feel are important.
Students will be divided into groups. The teacher will inform the groups that they are a new country and they must create a Bill of Rights for that beginning country. The students are given thirty minutes to create a new country, the Bill of Rights, and a flag. When time is up they will present to the class their creations and tape their final project to the wall. The teacher will assist the students in the creation of their countries and their Bill of Rights.
Students will be graded on:
To begin this activity students will be put into groups. They will pick an important person from the past and they will have one week to put together a script of life of this person. This activity is to help students learn about important people of history. This gives students a new way to learn and it is a fun activity.
The students are put into groups and are given one week to organize and present the life of a historical famous person. The students will work together and decide what famous person they will research. Once they have decided the teacher will approve the selection and the group will begin to research and write a script that person’s life. The students will be given one day in the library for research and will be encouraged to use several sources. When they have completed the assignment they will turn in a script and act out for the class on the life of the historical famous person. The teacher will approve the topic of research and assist the students in the creation of their script on the historical famous person.
Students will be graded on:
ERIC. (1987). “Improving Writing Skills through Social Studies. ERIC Digests No. 40.”
This site was created by the Educational Resources Information Center. This site discusses recent research on the linkage between writing and learning, successful approaches to teaching writing, and suggestions for including and effective writing component in the social studies curriculum.
ERIC. (1990). “Social Studies and the Disabled Reader.”
This site was created by the Educational Resources Information Center. This site discusses who the disabled reader is, what the special needs of the disabled reader are, and what strategies are used to teach social studies to disabled readers.
Griffin, K. (1997). “Writing in the Social Studies Classroom.”
This site is a personal web page emphasizing writing in the social studies classroom. It lists many ideas on topics related to social studies. With each idea there was a description about the assignment and feedback from the students. This is a useful site and the teacher described in detail how to conduct the classroom.
Anderson, R. (2002). “Writing in Social Studies: It is our Business.”
This is a personal web page dedicated to writing in social studies. It addresses the importance of writing in social studies classrooms and provides suggestions for writing activities in social studies. It also contains links to other sites containing information and rubric about critical thinking strategies such as Bloom’s Taxonomy. I found this site to be very useful and valid.
Maryland State Department of Education. (1988). “What Have We Learned About Good Instruction.”
This site was created by the Maryland State Department of Education. It discusses the benefits of writing across the content areas, especially social studies. This site also discusses the research done that shows the benefits to writing in the content areas and also how writing stimulates critical thinking skills.
City School District of Albany, New York. (2002). “Teacher Notes: Writing in Social Studies.”
This site was created by the city school district of Albany, New York. It discusses the similar types of expository writing. I found this site to be very informative and useful for a social studies teacher.
EdScope, L.L.C. (1996). “Tribal Fact Book.”
This site was very useful in finding new and fun ways to improve students writing skills through social studies. This lesson plan explained in detail how to conduct this lesson to a social studies classroom.
OFCN Academy Curricular Exchange. (2000). “Creating A Bill of Rights.”
This lesson is very educational and rewarding. It explains in detail what is expected of the students, the materials needed, and how to conduct the class. In my opinion this is a very good activity to incorporate writing into a social studies classroom.
CanTeach. (1996). “Creating War Propaganda.”
This lesson is very creative and educational. With this assignment students can have fun while having writing incorporated into a lesson. This site gives you what is expected from the students, materials needed, and how to conduct the class. This lesson will be fun and rewarding.
TeachersNet. (1997). “#269 Famous Historical People.”
This lesson, in my opinion is very fun and effective. The lesson is explained very well on how to conduct the class in this activity.