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Social Studies Information and Units

Reading and Thinking Like Historians

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History Model Text Sets

Calling all teachers of reading! Yes, that means you! If you are a secondary teacher of any subject: we are all reading teachers now. According to the Common Core State Standards for ELA / Literacy in History, Science, and Technical Subjects, students are expected to do the following:

• read more than ever
• read more nonfiction (historical, scientific, technical, explanatory, and argumentative text)
• read more closely and thoughtfully
• read increasingly complex and challenging materials
• discuss what they read with peers
• write about their reading


With these demands, the Common Core places an emphasis on literacy instruction as a shared responsibility across the disciplines.

These materials aim to winnow down to what matters most: getting students engaged and passionate about what they are studying so that they can exceed what the standards ask them to do.

Content-Area Reading & Common Core State Standards

The Common Core State Standards for Reading place an emphasis on the outcomes of close reading (RH.6-8.1). Close reading is not the traditional “students read while teachers question and assess” model. Instead, it requires teachers to model meaningful thinking, giving instruction rather than just instructions. Eventually, we want to move students to reading closely as a habit of mind – something that good readers do to monitor comprehension of complex texts.


Close reading should draw students deeper into a text through multiple, purposeful encounters. Following the natural progression of the standards allows teachers to design text-dependent questions that move students from literal to structural to inferential understandings. And, of course, we ultimately want to make students better citizens as a result of their increased knowledge about the world around them. For example:


 • Literal: What does the text say?

• Structural: How did the text say what it needed to say? 

• Inferential: What does this really mean? How does it relate to other texts? 

• Critical Literacy: What does this make me want to do?


In our field, we want students to read like historians, noticing features and language intentionally used by the authors of historical texts. We want students to think thoroughly and methodically about the details within a text as well as across texts.


Reading Standards 1 and 10 serve as bookends for all the other standards; they are at play in all that we do. Reading Standards 2 through 9, on the other hand, serve as our instructional goals as they can all be achieved through closely reading complex texts and citing evidence to support interpretations and claims.


As we know, students will struggle with complex texts if they do not have sufficient background knowledge to support their comprehension. Rigor without relevance is simply hard, and we do not want to create higher hurdles for our students to jump. Instead, we want to make learning relevant by building background knowledge through reading and viewing opposed to lecture and note-taking alone. The use of text sets aid in the building of background knowledge, exposing students to content in a variety of text modes and genres. Additionally, essential questions help teachers create coherence within a unit while also making learning relevant for students. Such questions raise energy rather than drain students of energy by inviting them into a text for inquiry.


Ultimately, students should see the pay off for their reading work: their close reading work should lead to collaborative conversations, which will later fuel composition.


Content-Area Writing & Common Core State Standards


 As you begin to explore the Common Core State Standards for Writing, you will find that Standards 1 through 3 carry bulk of the weight in this strand. These standards define the writing types that college-and-career-ready students should be able to produce, requiring students to compose argumentative, informational, and narrative texts. Student writing should be in response to texts, including multimedia, and should call for students to cite evidence and write from sources. Not only does this keep students focused within the four corners of the text, but it also give students exposure to the language necessary for academic discussions and writings.


 Extending beyond formal compositions, the standards specifically call for routine writing (WHST.6-8.10), placing emphasis on writing daily as a tool for thinking. These everyday encounters with writing allow students to think about what they think: dumping ideas on a page, manipulating and moving them around, making connections, figuring out what is important, crossing some out, and highlighting others. Sometimes students need opportunities to write to prepare for discussions; other times, discussions give students the confidence they need to write. Routine writings can be as simple as asking students to capture thinking through entrance and exit tickets, reflections, stop and jots, or sketches and illustrations; you may also consider implementing the use of historian logs in which students compile notes from readings, mini-lectures, and discussions. Such learning logs give learners a place to do thinking and to save thinking for later use – and perhaps, for assessment by the teacher.


Research is often a challenging task for students, mainly because their experience has been limited or the thinking demands have not been explicitly taught or modeled to them. Showing students how to gather ideas along the way through a variety of resources and strategies allows them to organize information in such a way that it can collectively can be organized and incorporated into final presentations of ideas (e.g., brochure, newspaper article, blog post, presentation, debate). Giving students ample opportunity to summarize, take notes, and reflect on texts and topics through writing helps them to truly retain information while avoiding plagiarism.


Let’s reiterate a key point: Although it is not stated for teachers in the standards, modeling is one of the most essential teaching strategies we can use in the classroom. Often we assign writing tasks for students without sufficient clarification and find that their writing does not meet our expectations. If we model expectations before they begin their own writing, students will have a better understanding of their writing goals, and they will become more fluent writers and effective communicators. Modeling should be a continual process in the classroom throughout the school year in order to ensure that effective written communication becomes ingrained rather than a sporadic assessment tool.


Collaborative Conversations & Common Core State Standards


 Often times, the terms speaking and listening bring to mind images of students presenting from a podium or listening intently to a lecture. When it comes to the Common Core State Standards for speaking and listening, however, there is a vast world outside of oral presentations and teacher-led lectures. Presented here are some ways to break the misconceptions about just what it means for a student to actively and effectively be a consumer as well a critic of information presented in the classroom.


Speaking in the classroom not only includes students having conversations with the teacher in response to texts, but also expressing their ideas about texts and topics with classmates. The Common Core State Standards embrace student-student collaboration through diverse groupings. Such groupings may involve partners, small groups, as well as whole class conversations. The standards also state that students should “assist in the formation and productive functioning of both formal and informal self-directed work groups” (2010).

With this being said, it is evident that students not only need to read and write at a level of independence, but students also need to effectively be leaders of their learning through collaborative conversations. These conversations should happen frequently as a way of processing thinking. (Did you know that it is recommended that students Turn and Talk a minimum of 8 times per hour?) Additionally, such conversations require explicit teacher modeling throughout the course of the year. You may wish to provide students with response frames to foster academic language (e.g., Right here on page 15, it says that…). Additionally, teachers will need to model social strategies for effective communication (e.g., making eye contact, sharing the air, taking notes, etc.).




Many teachers dread holding debates in their classrooms; however, debates can be an effective, engaging means of allowing students to express learning through argumentation (a major shift in the writing standards). This important part of the speaking and listening standards does not have to be something that causes fear in students and dread in teachers. Debate requires students to effectively communicate critical thinking while being active listeners.


A wonderful model for text-centered debate can be found in this video link presented by the Teachers College at Columbia University: This video is of an elementary classroom responding to literature, but the structure can easily be adapted to older students responding to complex, nonfiction texts.



 While these strands have been discussed separately, we hope that you recognize the integrated nature of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Ultimately, students’ reading work leads them to deep discussions that fuel them as writers. These text sets and strategies are to be used as a model to launch additional units of study in your subject area. Use your professional judgment to determine additional resources necessary, practices for differentiation, and assignments for grading. We hope these units will serve as a catalyst for collaborative planning and professional learning communities (PLCs) centered around literacy-rich instruction that makes learning not only rigorous, but also relevant, to our students.


 For more information and password, please email Shannon Eldridge at



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