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Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Module 5 - Social studies and subject area literacy

What are the goals for this module?

  • To illustrate how you can use subject area literacy teaching and learning activities in social studies.
  • To help you develop your learning inquiry by identifying opportunities to observe and analyse what is happening in your classroom.

There are 7 parts:

Part A: Integrating subject area literacy activities into a social studies unit

The literacy demands of a social studies unit

This unit is called Short, Sharp Research: Women’s Rights in New Zealand History.  Short, Sharp Research (PDF 191KB)

To successfully complete this unit, students need to:

  • conduct research – locate, gather, and make inferences using information from a timeline
  • develop ideas and understandings through writing
  • write a research report.

Part B: Learning about text types

Why would you focus on learning about text types?

Reading and writing different  text types (for example, explanations, instructions, arguments, narratives) is important for learning in social sciences learning across all year levels.

In this unit, students are asked to read an explanatory text (archived material from the  Ministry for Women | Minitatanga mō ngā Wāhine)

What teaching is needed?

Introduce the timeline by pointing out how it is different from other texts used in social studies. For example, students may not need to read the entire timeline as they would read a set of instructions or an Internet article.

Ask questions that will help students identify and respond to different text types. For example:

  • What type of text is this?
  • What can you see that tells you that?
  • How is it structured?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the purpose of this text?
  • How should you go about reading it?

Students will need to think about how the timeline will help them to complete the tasks outlined in the Short, Sharp Research Student Instructions.  Short, Sharp Research - Student Instructions (PDF 103KB)

What are you looking for?

Look for students who are able to articulate their understanding of text types, features, and purposes. Notice when they read particular text types for a specific task.

Next steps

Continue to introduce and discuss a range of new text types, for example, news articles, web pages, essays.

Part C: Learning to preview (read) text feature information

Why would you choose to focus on learning to preview text feature information?

Using text features (for example, headings, illustrations) to provide information about the content will help students to:

  • build knowledge of the topic
  • locate the information they need give them confidence to start reading. (This is especially important if you have  profile 1 students in your class.)

What teaching is needed?

Model how to preview information from text features. Use these questions and answers to guide your teaching:

Q: If you read all the information in the text features, what do you already know about the topic?

A: I know that the timeline shows the order of important events for women and women who played important roles from the 1800s until the present time. It focuses on acts of parliament that impacted on women’s rights to equality in education, employment, and health. From 1980, it appears that women have had more representation in politics. The timeline also shows the events of significance for Māori.

Q: Why has the author used these text features?

A: The timeline allows the reader to see where events are concentrated, how one precedes and follows another so that consequences and causes can be inferred. Relationships between events can be identified and themes can be explored, for example, “firsts” or “education”.

Q: Which text features tell you the most important ideas?

A: The points on the line show important information. They are supported by information in the captions and pictures. Red type highlights the event, personalities, and other important information.

What are you looking for?

Look for previews that include all the important information from the text features. Students should begin by writing these so you can see they are making sense of the information by combining and linking ideas. When they have more experience, students will begin to preview in their head as preparation for reading new texts.

Next steps

Use previews to analyse text features in a range of social studies texts.

Part D: Working out, learning, and using social studies vocabulary

Why would you choose to focus on working out, learning, and using social studies vocabulary?

Social studies teachers use a wide range of texts that are not always written with students in mind as the audience.

These texts often contain vocabulary and language that they may not understand. However, it is often possible for them to work out the meanings using vocabulary problem solving clues.

What teaching is needed?

Identify and use social studies vocabulary

Introduce important social studies vocabulary and language, and provide opportunities for students to use it in their reading and writing.

Effective Literacy Strategies in Years 9 to 13  Effective Literacy Strategies in Years 9 to 13 pages 44-45 (PDF 130KB) describes strategies that can help students recall and use new vocabulary.

Clues for problem solving

Teach the clues for problem solving and provide opportunities for practice. Provide instructions (verbal and written) that contain different types of clues. For example, from the timeline of the history of women in New Zealand:

Using the sentence definition (appositives). “The Constitution Act gave the vote to men who individually owned land, which excluded women and most Māori.”

  • What do you know about the meaning of the Constitution Act?
  • How did you work out that it was an act that concerned land ownership and benefited Pākehā men?
  • Are there other words or phrases that you can work out in the same way?

Using context and morphemic clues. “Thirteen Māori women were signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi.”

  • Can you use other information in the text to help you work out the meaning? For example, the text states that some Pākehā men did not allow Māori women to sign. What does that suggest?
  • What about the photo and caption? What are the people in the photo doing?
  • Do you recognise any part of the word? Sign – what does that mean?
  • Does this help you to work out the meaning of signatories?

Specific use of morphemic clues “… legally enforceable awards and agreements …”

  • Are there any words or parts of words in this unfamiliar word that could help you work out what it might mean (force, able, en)?
  • What does force mean?
  • What does able mean?
  • What does en mean on the start of a word, for example, enable, encourage?
  • Does this help you to work out the meaning of enforceable?

What are you looking for?

Look for fewer requests from students to explain word meanings as students become more familiar with the vocabulary used in social studies. Notice an increased use of these words in quickwrites and other writing tasks.

Next steps

Continue to ask students “How did you work that out?”.

Part E: Making connections in texts

Why would you choose to focus on making connections in texts?

In social studies, students are often asked to make inferences. This involves identifying and reading a range of texts and making a conclusion based on the summary of the evidence.

Sometimes the inference is inconclusive, leaving the student uncertain of what they can claim based on the reading. This is speculation and should be investigated further or described using phrases such as “it appears” or “it seems likely”.

At other times, students need to link pieces of text information to their prior knowledge. Knowing to check any prior knowledge for accuracy is an important aspect of learning to make inferences.

Recognising the limitations of evidence is an important aspect of learning to infer in the humanities and social sciences.

What teaching is needed?

Ask students questions that require different responses, for example:

  • Questions that can be answered by locating information from the text, for example, when or why something occurred. The answers are explicitly stated.
  • Questions that require students to use and check their prior knowledge for accuracy.
  • Questions that prompt inference require students to locate more than one piece of relevant information, combine these pieces, and think about what these mean. You may need to introduce this strategy by modelling the questions and answers. For example:

Q: What do you notice about women’s employment around 1900?

A: Teaching and nursing seemed to be more common jobs for women at that time rather than being lawyers or doctors.

Q: What evidence did you use to make that inference?”

A: In 1901, the New Zealand Women Teachers' Association was formed, and the Nurses’ Registration Act provided training for nurses that same year. 1896 was the year the first woman graduated as a doctor, and 1897 was the year of the first woman law graduate.

Q: How did you make that inference?

A: I found pieces of related evidence about employment for women from around 1900, I looked at how they could be combined and what I could reasonably claim from that evidence. There were some things that showed that a lot of women must be involved. But the fact that only the first women graduated in law and medicine in the mid-1890s suggests that not many women would have been in those professions.

What are you looking for?

Look for students increasingly using evidence from text in their answers and gathering information through inference. Notice whether students recognise that they need to check their prior knowledge.

Next steps

Continue to introduce new text types.

Part F: Quickwrites

Why would you choose to focus on quickwrites?

Quickwriting is a form of note making that helps students to remember what they know and understand.

Quickwrites support students to:

  • focus on their social studies learning
  • decide on their research topic
  • think about and learn new information
  • learn and use the specific vocabulary and language of social studies
  • think about and develop ideas before taking part in group discussion.

Quickwrites can also provide ongoing information about students’ use of social studies vocabulary and language, and their ability to make inferences from a range of information sources.

What teaching is needed?

Give students a short amount of time to write their reactions, feelings, and ideas in response to prompts. These can be specific or generic, for example:

  • What was the most interesting thing you read in the History of women in New Zealand timeline?
  • Is there anything else you would like to investigate related to this timeline? Why?
  • Choose two events or personalities on this timeline and explain how you think they are linked to each other.

Quickwrites can be more open-ended. You might ask students to write about something they have just learned in class and how this has helped their learning, or a social studies concept that they find challenging.

What are you looking for

Module 2 Part 3 will help you see how you can use the quickwrites as effective “of the moment” evidence of learning. (The New Zealand Curriculum, page 39).

Next steps

Continue to use quickwrites. Ask students to design the prompts and highlight the social studies vocabulary they have used.

Part G: Writing a research report

Why would you choose to focus on writing a report?

A report is one of the outcomes for the unit. See the Short, Sharp Research Student Instructions.  Short, Sharp Research - Student Instructions (PDF 103KB)

Reports are often used in social studies to describe and classify information. Reports have a logical sequence of facts that are stated without any personal involvement from the writer.

What teaching is needed?

There are notes for teaching students to write research reports included in the unit, Short, Sharp Research: Women’s Rights in New Zealand History.  Short, Sharp Research (PDF 191KB)

English Online also includes information about report writing. However, it is important to be flexible about the features in a text form as authentic text forms are often mixed.

What are you looking for?

Look at the structure of the report:

  • Is it organised logically?
  • Do the paragraphs address one main idea?
  • Are there transitions to guide the reader through?

Next steps

Build on this formal writing instruction in other social studies units. Ask students to revisit any feedback when they are setting writing goals in social studies.

Published on: 09 May 2016