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Teaching Social Studies with Picture Books

January 21, 2020 No Comments

If your social studies units have been dragging lately, I have just the tip for you! Try reading aloud picture books during your history lessons! I love using picture books to introduce content in social studies in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade! The text and illustrations grab students’ attention and help them to visualize history.

How Do Picture Books Support Learning in Social Studies?

Using interactive read-alouds during a social studies lesson or unit is a great way to integrate literacy in the content areas. Picture books can help provide background knowledge for students that may have some gaps. They can also help you pre-teach important vocabulary words students will see in the upcoming lessons. In addition, they can springboard to class discussions in which you can identify any misconceptions students are bringing to a new lesson or unit.

Picture books are great for your auditory and visual learners, and the illustrations can help all students retain new learning! Displaying color photos of the real people, places, or objects seen in the book can also help students can make connections to the content you’re teaching.

Literary nonfiction picture books make the dry facts more memorable because the information is presented through storytelling. This genre also provides background information and context to help students understand why certain choices were made in history. Read more about teaching literary nonfiction here!

I also love that you can double-dip into language arts by incorporating reading skills and strategies in your history lessons. Plus, you can weave in higher level thinking skills for social studies, like:

  • recognizing change over time
  • identifying cause and effect relationships
  • sequencing events
  • recognizing different perspectives and points of view
  • drawing conclusions and making inferences
  • identifying costs and benefits of various decisions

Also, I like to pair my picture book read-alouds with an anchor chart. This is really helpful to have to refer back to during the lesson or unit. Some examples are:

  • KWL
  • somebody-wanted-but-so or somebody-wanted-but-so-then
  • cause and effect
  • key people, places, or vocabulary
  • fact vs. fiction
  • compare and contrast
I love using picture books to teach social studies to upper elementary students!

History Topics That Picture Books Can Support

Where can you incorporate picture books in your social studies lessons? Everywhere!

  • geography
  • historical events and time periods
  • contributions of important individuals
  • culture
  • community life, roles, occupations
  • economics
  • government
  • immigration
  • farming
  • transportation
  • local/state history
  • current events

Recommended Picture Books for American History

There are tons of great picture books you can use to introduce American history to your upper elementary students. Here are just a few of my favorites:

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton: change over time, past vs. present, industrialization, rural vs. urban areas

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome: Harriet Tubman’s life and contributions, Civil War, abolition

We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States by David Catrow: formation of the United States, laws, rights, government

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson: segregation, discrimination

George vs. George: The American Revolution as Seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer: causes of the American Revolution, George Washington

Encounter by Jane Yolen: colonization, Columbus, native peoples

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi: immigration, cultural diversity, customs

What social studies picture books do you love to use with upper elementary students? Feel free to let me know in the comments!

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