The Common Core State Standards are here. According to the Common Core website, there are only five states that have not yet adopted the new standards. Given the diversity in state educational systems, it is a surprising outcome. Even five years ago, it seemed unthinkable that a single document would be able to unify many of the educational practices in the United States.

So, what exactly, makes the Common Core standards so compelling?

Well, the English Language Arts standards are organized around a series of “shifts” in thinking about pedagogy that attempt to increase the complexity of student understanding.

Consider the following ideas:

Shift 1: Balancing Informational Text and Literature
Shift 2: Building Knowledge in the Disciplines
Shift 3: Staircase of Complexity
Shift 4: Text Based Answers
Shift 5: Writing from Sources
Shift 6: Academic Vocabulary

These shifts have direct implications for the social studies classroom. The increased focus on both informational text and close reading provides social studies teachers with unique opportunities to support student learning. Try these five strategies in your classroom today to infuse the essence of the Common Core standards.

Strategy 1: Include Primary Sources in Your Instruction—Often
David Coleman, one of the authors of the Common Core Standards, noted that “a student’s ability to comprehend a primary source” is usually indicative of his or her overall reading achievement. So, include primary sources into your instruction whenever possible. Check out Docs Teach(, an interactive website from the National Archives, for lesson plans and classroom tools that utilize primary sources in unique ways.

Strategy 2: Spend Time Helping Students Grapple with Text
Another tenet behind the English Language Arts standards is the idea that students need multiple opportunities to struggle with text. Instead of giving students the purpose and audience in advance, ask them a framing question and let them make meaning of the text themselves. (Certainly guide them along the way to ensure that they do not develop lasting misconceptions!) Architects of the Common Core standards recognize that this process will take time and “slow down” the pace of a history class. John B. King Jr., the New York Commissioner of Education, acknowledged this shift, stating, “We need to make sure our assessments appropriately respond to this increased need for time and close study.” A practical strategy to implement this process is to chunk your texts. Give students smaller “bites” of information and ensure that they have adequate time to analyze them. For more information about slowing down instruction, check out this 20 minute demonstration:

Strategy 3: Make Themes and “Big Ideas” Transparent
Bringing information and background knowledge to a text is critical. Daniel Willingham’s viral YouTube Video entitled “Teaching Content is Teaching Reading” ( reminds us that students who are familiar with the topic, event, or story are much more able to comprehend the text. Therefore, when you teach social studies content, help students to see themes and “big ideas” between events and units that you teach. For example, help students see connections between the loyalties at play in the American Revolution and the Civil War. How did loyalty affect choices and behavior in both situations? Emphasizing themes will encourage students to transfer their learning well beyond your classroom.

Strategy 4: Use “Quick Writes” As Meaning Making Activities
The Common Core standards also highlight writing about informational texts. Give students many different opportunities to respond in writing. To keep things interesting and interactive, vary the format. Use post-it notes, online message boards, or blogs to heighten student engagement as they make meaning of the content that you share with them.

Strategy 5: Require Text-based Answers in Your Assessments
Give students opportunities to argue their beliefs around complex texts in your assessments. Further, give students the text from which to work. Provide them with opportunities to showcase this process, not memorization. As David Coleman points out in reference to the Common Core standards, another

Shift in literacy is a shift towards focusing on questions that require you to pay attention to the text itself. I call them text-dependent questions. Now, this may seem quite obvious to you, but let me tell you the results of an informal study we did of instruction in Vermont and Texas. Now, we were looking for two of the most similar states possible, which is why we chose those two. And what we found was is a remarkable similarity between those two very different places and it was that 80% of the questions kids were asked when they are reading are answerable without direct reference to the text itself. Think about it, right? You’re reading a text and you talk about the background of the text, or what it reminds you of, or what you think about it, or what you criticize or perhaps how you feel or react to it, or all sorts of surrounding issues—kids are genius at this—because anything to avoid confronting the difficult words before them is money. So what’s happened in reading instruction, despite our intentions, is an enormous amount of time is spent with questions that hover around text but don’t require the close consideration of it.

One thing you can do is to give students a paragraph or two. Then have them use the text to argue their beliefs by referring to factual information from the historical period of discussion. Perhaps you give students one or two paragraphs from the Gettysburg Address. Then you ask them to either agree or disagree with Lincoln’s tactics: Did Lincoln’s words help to end the war? Why or why not?

See? Integrating the Common Core State Standards is easy and fun! Slow down the pace of your classroom and explore your content. It will make your students better historians, better readers, and better thinkers!


Engage NY:

Common Core Website:

David Coleman’s Discussion:

Docs Teach:

Kristen Swanson, Ed.D., began her career as a third grade teacher and has worked in a variety of urban, suburban and rural settings.  Kristen is a published author with a variety of advanced degrees,  including a doctoral degree in online learning design.  Kristen is an adjunct professor at DeSales University, on the board of the Edcamp Foundation and a passionate learner.

Additional Resources
Want to learn more about getting your classroom Common Core ready? Download our free whitepaper, Broad Knowledge Drives Literacy.

3 Responses to “Five Strategies to Infuse Common Core State Standards with Social Studies Instruction”
  1. Ron says:

    This is great advice.

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