Best Practices 3 Ways to Use CommonLit in Social Studies Classrooms

Students discuss CommonLit lesson around table.

Check out these strategies for effectively using CommonLit in social studies classrooms!

Literacy is an essential component of social studies classes, but it can be really hard to find relevant, high-quality texts to use with students. At CommonLit, we aim to ensure that all teachers can access a wide range of engaging and authentic texts. From our high-quality primary sources, news articles, and informational texts, the content available to social studies teachers on CommonLit is sure to engage students.

In this blog post, I will highlight three easy ways social studies teachers can use CommonLit in their classrooms.

Strategy 1: Debate Day

CommonLit has over 2,000 texts that are perfect for conducting a Debate Day in my classroom. I can quickly search the CommonLit lesson library for themes, topics, and events that are related to my class and access a wide selection of relevant texts. For example, let’s say that I want to explore lawmakers and legislation with my Civics class.

The CommonLit library, filtered for 9th grade and the theme "Justice, Freedom, and Equality."
CommonLit has many great social studies texts for Debate Days!

First, I filter the CommonLit library for 9th grade texts. I notice that there are still over 275 texts for me to choose from, so I narrow my search even further by also filtering by CommonLit’s “Justice, Freedom, and Equality” theme, which seems to fit the focus of this debate. Next, I scan through these results looking for a text that will be engaging to my students. I notice a text called “Electric Scooters On Collision Course With Pedestrians And Lawmakers.” After reading it over, I see that the text lends itself perfectly to a debate.

As my students read this text, they’ll form opinions on the use of electric scooters. As a final activity, students will participate in a class-wide debate or discussion on whether they think scooters should be banned.

Strategy 2: On this day…

Another strategy that teachers can use in their classrooms is “On this day…”, where students are transported back in time to the date/time period of a major historical event. Over 50% of the texts in CommonLit’s library are informational. We offer articles from The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic.

To find relevant texts, I filter the CommonLit library by the “News” or “Primary Source Document” genre. If I’m currently working on the 9/11 attack with my students, I can use the “U.S. Attacked; Hijacked Jets Destroy Twin Towers And Hit Pentagon In Day Of Terror,” or if we’re studying the Boston Tea Party, we can use “A Participant’s First-Hand Account Of The Boston Tea Party.

The CommonLit library, filtered by genre for "Primary Source Documents."
CommonLit has many primary source documents and news resources!

Each lesson in the CommonLit library has resources that can help me make this lesson come alive with my students. The “Related Media” tab has many multimedia resources that can help boost engagement. I can also use the Discussion Questions to engage my students in a class conversation about the event we’ve analyzed.

Strategy 3: Research Project

I can use the resources available on CommonLit to craft a research unit about the Civil War, World War II, or any major historical event. CommonLit has created dozens of easy-to-use text sets that are related to topics, events, and historical eras.

Suppose my students are researching the question, “Why was the Civil War inevitable? Why did both sides opt for war?” To support my students, I can help identify texts that they can use in their research. To start my search, I can filter the CommonLit library by “Text Set” to access the 30 (and growing!) texts related to the American Civil War.

A CommonLit text set about the Civil War.
Text sets make it easy to find great social studies resources!

Within this text set, I find primary documents and speeches from the Civil War, in addition to texts about the surrounding events and actors. As I scan through these texts, I’ll want to make sure that I select a text that is on an appropriate grade level for my students and is aligned to our research question. “The Missouri Compromise,” “Bloody Kansas,” and “The Election of 1860” seem to be a great fit for students who are working on that research question!

Next Steps

Browse the CommonLit library to find more great texts and check out our text sets to find easy-to-use readings that you can incorporate into your classroom!

If you’re interested in learning all about CommonLit’s free digital literacy program, join one of our upcoming webinars!

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