Teaching social studies to English language learners (ELLs) can be challenging. Social studies involves a lot of content-specific vocabulary, cultural references, and complex concepts.
These may be unfamiliar to ELLs.
However, with the right teaching strategies, you can make social studies engaging and accessible for ELLs.
So, let’s dive right in. Here are five unique strategies for teaching social studies to English language learners.
1. Incorporate ELLs’ Cultural Backgrounds
ELLs come from diverse cultural backgrounds. Incorporating their cultures into your lessons can help them connect to the content. You can use literature, music, art, and other cultural resources to engage your ELLs.
when you talk about the Civil Rights Movement, include Latino civil rights activists.
Or, when teaching about ancient civilizations, focus on topics relevant to your students’ heritage.
For example, I taught in Antioch, TN, for a year, and the school had a large Egyptian population. I incorporated current issues in Egypt into my Nile River Civilization lesson. And whenever I could throughout the year.
This makes the material more relatable for them and validates their cultural identities.
2. Use Simple Language
Social studies can contain complex vocabulary and concepts. But simple language can help ELLs understand the content.
You can use concrete examples and explanations to clarify difficult concepts. For example, instead of “Constitutional monarchy,” explain that the Queen of England has limited power because of the Constitution.
Here’s another example:
Original Question: Why is it important that people have ongoing conversations about what is private and what the government can and can’t do with its citizens?
Simplified Question: Why must people keep talking about what is private and if the government can take away privacy?
3. Use Realia
Realia refers to using real-life objects or artifacts to teach social studies concepts. This strategy can be especially effective for ELLs struggling with abstract concepts.
when teaching about ancient civilizations, display artifacts such as pottery, jewelry, or tools. Have students examine them and discuss their significance.
This would allow students to engage with the content hands-on while building their vocabulary and speaking skills.
Although it’s important to use realia, be sure to differentiate between realia and specimens.
Grab my 5 Foolproof Strategies to Support ELs in Your Social Studies Classes lesson bundle. It’s chock full of some of the strategies discussed in this post.
4. Provide Opportunities for Role-Play
This would allow students to engage with the content hands-on while building their vocabulary & speaking skills.
Role-playing is a fun and effective way to teach social studies to English language learners. It allows students to act out historical events and concepts engaging and meaningfully.
when teaching about the different branches of government, you could have students role-play. Such as the President, Speaker of the House, or Supreme Court Justice. This helps them learn about the content. It also provides opportunities for language practice.
5. Incorporate Music
Music can be a powerful tool for teaching social studies concepts to ELLs. Songs can help students remember key information while providing language practice opportunities.
when teaching about the Civil Rights Movement, you could play the song “Mississippi Goddamn” by Nina Simone. Then have students listen to the lyrics and discuss their meaning.
This would allow students to engage with the content while building their listening & speaking skills.
Here are a few more of my favorite songs to use in class:
- What’s Going On? by Marvin Gay – Vietnam War
- Southern Man by Neil Young – Civil Rights
- You Don’t Own Me by Leslie Gore – Women’s Rights
- Fast Car by Tracy Chapman – Sociology
- Rhythm Nation by Janet Jackson – U.S. History – post-Civil Rights race relations
So there you have it. Five strategies for teaching social studies to English language learners. Remember, teaching English language learners is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Teaching social studies to English language learners may seem challenging at first, but with the right strategies and mindset, it can be a gratifying experience. Getting to know your students and their individual needs & interests is important to create a supportive and engaging learning environment.
Did you enjoy this post? Check out my post, 17 Innovative Ways to Teach Social Studies in Multicultural & Multilingual Classrooms for more ideas!
Don’t forget to Grab my 5 Foolproof Strategies to Support ELs in Your Social Studies Classes lesson bundle. It’s chock full of some of the strategies discussed in this post.
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