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Teaching Social Studies with Picture Books

January 21, 2020 1 Comment

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!

How Do Picture Books Support Learning in Social Studies?

Using interactive read-alouds during social studies is a great way to integrate literacy in the content areas. They help you:

  • spark students’ interest in a new lesson or unit
  • provide background knowledge
  • pre-teach vocabulary words
  • provide visuals of the content you’re teaching
  • identify gaps or misconceptions students have
  • support reading skills

Plus, they’re such a good break from textbooks and PowerPoints!

Literary nonfiction picture books are awesome for engaging students because the information is presented through storytelling. Read more about teaching literary nonfiction here.

Anchor Chart Ideas

I like to pair my picture book read-alouds with an anchor chart. This is really helpful to have to refer back to as you teach the content. 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
  • perspectives/points of view

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:

social studies picture books help teach difficult concepts

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

biography picture books are great to read aloud when studying famous people

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

picture books are great to teach hard concepts like documents

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

use picture books in social studies to teach perspectives

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson: segregation, discrimination, civil rights (plus kindness and respect)

literary nonfiction picture books are excellent for social studies lessons

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

picture books are great for older kids, too

Encounter by Jane Yolen: colonization, Columbus, native peoples

there are many diverse picture books you can include

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!

1 Comment

  • Thara October 17, 2023 at 5:59 pm


    This is my first ever time here. I teach civil studies, literature and history to all grades in order to have something fun to do full time. My aim to help children to fully understand the importance of school lessons etc. And it works. Good luck.

    From the outset in their first lesson we have a chat about the difference between human nature and rights. I think it is good that pupils understand what makes a good person and the difference between evil and good. They are told about the importance of good citizens and neighbours as well. I feel that is important too. Flip charts are handy for teaching literature to little pupils in first grade.

    Personality comes into a lot of the lessons each term too. In terms of teaching history I use old news reports and documentaries. My sixth grade class recently went on a day trip to a museum so they can see history. They loved it. We had lunch there and did a group tour. History is being made all the time. Seriously.

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