How to Integrate Writing into Social Studies

by | Jul 10, 2018 | Social Studies, Writing | 0 comments

Please also make sure to check out the rest of the “Writing in Social Studies” series.

  1. How to Integrate Writing into Social Studies
  2. Formative vs Summative Writing
  3. How to Use Summative Writing
  4. How to Use Formative Writing

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Integrating ELA standards for writing across the curriculum has become a core expectation in U.S.  classrooms, especially in the social sciences. However, many teachers in core subject areas are not given clear direction as to how this is to be done, let alone how it is to be assessed.

This series of articles will discuss the planning process and provide guidance to social studies teachers (and teachers of other core subjects) on how to integrate ELA writing standards, as well as explain the purpose and grading guidelines of integrated writing assessments.

“If you don’t know what you want to do, it’s harder to do it.” – Malcolm Forbes

How to Integrate Writing in Social Studies

One of the biggest mistakes social science teachers make when integrating writing into their curriculum is that they feel the need to teach writing and assess the quality of the writing. That is not necessary. Depending upon the grade level of instruction, writing activities can be used as separate ELA and social science grades by a single teacher or shared as collaborative grade between the teachers of those subjects.

Teaching the writing process and standards is part of the language arts curriculum. Social studies teachers can hold students accountable for the ELA writing standards by using a grading rubric – without grading those standards as part of the curriculum assessment. Grading rubrics for developed units will be discussed later in this article.

Planning the Unit

In order to develop a social studies unit that incorporates writing, it is critical to know exactly what the students need to demonstrate in the writing to prove mastery of the social science standard being assessed.

Unit Goals & Targeted Standards

Teachers should first determine what result is required by the unit plan. What are students expected to learn and be able to do?

Unless you know exactly what it is the students are to master, the writing you assign will not meet the purpose of the unit. The objective must be presented to the students before beginning the unit and be placed somewhere it can be frequently referred to during class.

Essential Questions

Essential Questions are the key to determining writing themes and topics in the social sciences. They focus attention on the learning goals and objectives of the unit (or lesson). If your text resources do not provide EQs, you can create your own by determining what the primary learning focus of the material is.

Essential Questions tie all aspects of the unit together into a single (or set) line of inquiry. Some examples are:

  • What is required for the development of a civilization?
  • What is the purpose of government?
  • How did 1920s laissez-faire economics and Prohibition lead to the Great Depression?
  • How do the available public services define a community’s values?
  • What are the farthest-reaching impacts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

These Essential Questions will require students to look critically at the information and materials presented in order to determine answers that demonstrate their level of mastery of the standard or goal for the unit.

Individual lessons may also have Essential Questions to focus attention to specific themes or topics required by the curriculum. These questions need to be broad enough to incorporate the range of information and materials students will need to understand and utilize within each lesson.

Determining the Type of Writing

After teachers determine the unit theme, mastery goal(s), and standards to be taught, teachers should determine which type(s) of writing they will integrate into the unit. All writing activities should support the students’ mastery of the focus standards. Some questions teachers will need to answer as they plan the unit are:

  • What type of writing will best demonstrate the students’ mastery of the social studies standard being taught?
  • Is the standard applicable to informational or argumentative writing?
  • Will the students need to explain, defend, compare, analyze, or theorize in the writing?

Each style of writing has its own ELA objectives and requirements. The teacher should present these to students during the overview of the assignment, as well as a checklist of requirements students must meet before submitting their work for assessment. For example, depending upon the grade level, students may need to list or cite sources of information, including primary and secondary sources, in a bibliography or resources page.

Selecting the Unit Materials

Using credible sources is critical, especially in the social sciences. Making students read, research, and share information effectively is part of the writing process. Therefore, the unit plan should include several sources of information from a variety of media.

A few examples of possible sources that could be used are textbook passages, nonfiction and fiction articles, videos, primary sources, works of art, and news articles. Each resource should be taught effectively, including modeling how to identify and take notes on key information.

Each source should have a formative assessment accompanying it to make certain students understand them effectively. Formative assessments will be discussed in depth in future posts.

Instructional Activities

Integrating writing activities into a social studies unit is actually fairly easy. Writing can be as simple as summarizing the key points of a lesson to as complicated writing a higher-level essay.

Daily writing could include:

  • Summarizing a text or presentation.
  • Bulleted facts and data from the text or presentation.
  • Reflections on the text.
  • Reflections on peer discussion of the topic.

This writing is scored for completion, rather than graded for content and represents the collection of information students will need later for the writing assessment. (See the blog articles on Mastery Grading for more information.)

Scaffolding for this daily writing should include a mixture of:

  • Direct instruction.
  • Small group investigation and review.
  • Large group review.
  • Teacher-student feedback.

This is the part of the unit plan where content and vocabulary expectations are set that will be later applied in the summative writing piece. Students’ understanding and ability to reference source materials greatly affects their ability to express themselves effectively in written work.

Collaborating with Peers

Peer investigation/review/feedback is an invaluable part of the unit plan. Once students have been given the unit objectives and necessary direct instruction, collaborative work on source analysis and data identification should follow.

Collaborating with peers will help students identify different points-of-view, organize and prioritize data, and identify supporting details. Even though students may utilize the data and information in a variety of ways, peer discussion allows them to understand the different points of view of other students.

Summative Writing Assessment

Once all the source materials have been introduced, studied, and assessed for understanding, the unit plan should call for focused, direct teaching of the writing assessment. Students should know why they are writing and which style of writing they are expected to use in order to demonstrate mastery of the standard(s).

Depending upon the grade level, scaffolding for the writing assessment could include:

  • Modeling each stage (drafting, revising, editing).
  • Subdividing the writing sections (introduction, body, conclusion).
  • Incorporating writing teams for quality control (sequencing, spelling, grammar, content).

It is important for students to give and receive peer feedback on their writing before it is collected and assessed by the teacher.

Teachers may facilitate this stage of learning but should refrain as much as possible from “doing” the work for them. Peer review is a metacognitive process that allows for the sharing of writing ideas as well as the expanding of student vocabulary. Therefore, teachers should allow students to point out and discuss errors in grammar and mechanics or flaws in the writing development as much as possible.

If teachers frequently step in and “save” students by telling them how to do something, many students will simply sit back and wait to be given the answer.

Teachers should only grade the final draft. Each of the writing steps might receive a completion score, but the mastery assessment should be separate of the steps of the writing process.

Grade level expectations will determine what should accompany the writing piece (illustrations, oral presentation, graphs, charts, tables, multi-media presentations) or if it should be unaccompanied.


A Checklist for a Unit Plan Follows

  • Determine the unit theme/topic and mastery goal.
  • Establish the standard(s) being taught and assessed.
  • Introduce students to the theme and expected performance task at the beginning of the unit.
  • Determine the form of writing that will best demonstrate mastery achieved by the students.
  • Identify primary, secondary, and other sources that will be used to teach the theme/topic.
  • Determine the types of daily writing that will accompany the teaching of each source material.
  • Include direct teaching, small group collaboration, and student-teacher feedback.
  • Conduct formative assessment for each resource taught.
  • Determine how the writing piece will be taught and implemented.
  • Include direct teaching and peer collaboration and review as part of the writing process.
  • Conduct a summative unit test following the submission of the final drafts.


When planning a unit that integrates writing into the social sciences curriculum, teachers can hold students to writing standards without grading the actual writing standards as part of the unit grade. Teachers should use rubrics that establish expected proficiency levels for writing.

When determining which formative and summative writing styles should be included in a unit plan, it is important to develop Essential Questions. These questions should focus the expectations for student mastery within the overall unit. Effective Essential Questions will direct student inquiry and analysis of unit materials.

Teachers should include direct teaching, collaborative review, and both self- and formal assessment into the unit plan. Effective planning by the teacher will lead to smoother transitions throughout the unit and establish academic purpose for the students.

Please also make sure to check out the rest of the “Writing in Social Studies” series.

  1. How to Integrate Writing into Social Studies
  2. Formative vs Summative Writing
  3. How to Use Summative Writing
  4. How to Use Formative Writing

Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

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