science curriculum, social studies curriculum, and ELA interdisciplinary connections

How to Create Integrated Science and Social Studies Curriculum

By Christianna Berg, Teacher Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School

Science and social studies have been swept to the side in the yearly race for AYP, especially in elementary school curriculum. This means that students are often underprepared for science and social studies curriculum and courses in Middle and High school. Rather than cut time for these subjects, schools could use social studies and science curriculum as a means of supporting English language arts.

Using the available materials our school provides, as well as external materials I purchased on my own, I developed a curriculum to help align my science and social studies content to the skills and concepts being covered in the language arts class. The idea was to create a smooth transition throughout the students’ day in which the concepts they were learning had a more unified feeling, rather than the traditional silos. Having separate teachers for different content areas can often result in a lack of transfer of skills and knowledge.

Integrated Curriculum Map

I went through the English Language Arts materials (Wonders Program) and designed my units in a way that could blend their topics and pacing. For example, Unit 1 Week 1 in 5th grade Wonders is Getting Things We Need. The essential question for that week is, “How do people get the things that they need?” I designed my first social studies unit to be about the early people of Pennsylvania and how they got what they needed to survive.

My main resources for social studies were the Pennsylvania Studies text and a few books from the My World series. My main resource for science is the Interactive Science text. I have used this science program in 7th, 11th-12th, and 9th grade in the past. Students respond well to the interactive notebook format.

ELA interdisciplinary connections

Unit Schedule

Journals (Daily)

Each day begins with a journal entry. The journal entry helps to promote writing as well as gain access to prior knowledge or review of content. Students write what they believe the answer is to the journal question at the beginning of every class. I remind students that I am not checking if it is right, I am checking what they think. The questions are often worded as an opinion question to avoid too much anxiety. At the end of each class, students write a rating for how they felt in class that day.

ELA interdisciplinary connections
ELA interdisciplinary connections
Current Events (Day 1)

On the first day of each cycle, the students will read a news article that relates to the content of that cycle. It helps keep students aware of what is happening currently and how that applies to what they are learning. When covering the unit on Ecosystems, the current event article would be on the current issues we are seeing with bee populations. A great resource for this is Newsela, which provides multiple reading levels for the articles as well!

ELA interdisciplinary connections
New Content (Days 1-4)

For the first few days of each cycle, students will get direct instruction and small group practice on the new content. This part of the cycle is heavy on text annotation, note taking, reading, and writing comprehension questions. Each day, students learn 2-3 new vocabulary words that are integral to the lesson. This is also when students would be conducting experiments and watching short videos on content.

ELA interdisciplinary connections
ELA interdisciplinary connections
CAFE (Days 5-7)

This is where students are able to break out of the traditional mold seen in their classes, particularly with classes like social studies. I used the idea mapped out in The Daily CAFE, which is a Language Arts design for student engagement, but applied it to science and social studies. I really like the way students are able to make choices about their learning, and I have watched this implemented in Elementary classrooms with students on various levels.

ELA interdisciplinary connections

In my version of the CAFE, students only do CAFE after having learned something about the topic in the new content days at the beginning of the cycle. During CAFE, students get a Menu that lists out the tasks they need to complete. The menu goes through new vocabulary, new people, reading practice, comprehension practice, skill practice, and word problem practice.

ELA interdisciplinary connections
ELA interdisciplinary connections
ELA interdisciplinary connections

Students also have the opportunity to read a nonfiction text with the topic of their choice for each CAFE. I have a large selection of leveled reader books sorted by content that students can choose from. The students then write a short review of the book they read.

ELA interdisciplinary connections
Summative Assessment

The students have a Summative assessment for each unit, which falls during the CAFE days as well. Students will answer the essential question for the unit in an essay format using a modified version of the Step Up to Writing format. The essay includes 2 pieces of text evidence to support their response to the question. Students write their essays during CAFE, giving a flexible schedule to their assessment. Since the students are given very little science and social studies instruction during their years in K-3, they often feel stressed and unprepared when they reach those classes in middle school. The fear of failure and the unknown can easily break a student’s confidence in science and social studies classes. This low-pressure writing assignment helps avoid the anxiety students can develop for science and social studies tests.

ELA interdisciplinary connections
ELA interdisciplinary connections
ELA interdisciplinary connections

Questions for Consideration

  • What challenges would you expect to see with implementing this curriculum?
  • What modifications would you think were needed once the school year began?
  • What curriculum have you used in your classroom in the past?
  • Who made the decisions about your curriculum?
  • How could you use this curriculum format for your classroom?
  • What ideas do you have for future implementation of a curriculum like this?

I have seen a positive response with this method so far. However, I had to make some adjustments as I got to know my students.

  • Varied reading levels for new content and CAFE days (K-6th reading level)
  • Menu shortened: 4-5 “Must Do” and 3-4 “Pick Two” items
  • Added 8th day to the cycle for starting the essay, before starting CAFE
ELA interdisciplinary connections

So far, the students have expressed enjoying CAFE choices, as well as being able to annotate on their new content articles and texts. I coupled the freedom of CAFE with flexible seating, giving students a truly nuanced experience.

The ELA teacher has expressed that the students are coming to her class prepared with background knowledge needed to better comprehend the stories they are reading. Many of the students have shown growth in reading levels (using the IRLA system) and have shown improvement and confidence in their writing.

ELA interdisciplinary connections
ELA interdisciplinary connections
ELA interdisciplinary connections

For more ideas on mapping science curriculum and social studies curriculum, check out our Where to Start Mapping series here

Christianna graduated from West Chester University in 2009 a semester early, earning a Bachelors in Elementary Education (K-6) and a Minor in Studio Art. After, she spent time as a substitute taught in Reading, Exeter, Muhlenberg, Downingtown, Oxford, and Avon Grove for 3 years. She added on 7-9 certifications in Math and Science. Christianna has also worked as a 7th Grade Life Science and Writing for 2 years and as a Chemistry, Biology, Health, Geometry, and Physical Science teacher at an alternative school for 16-23 yr old students for 2 years in Philadelphia. She recently graduated from University of the Arts in 2017 with a 4.0, earning a Masters in Educational Program Design. She spent time as  a 9th Grade Environmental Science for 1 year in Philadelphia, and is currently a 5th Grade Science and Social Studies.

ELA interdisciplinary connections

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