University of Texas at Austin
Barbara C. Cruz
University of South Florida
The growing cultural and linguistic diversity of our classrooms is an
undeniable demographic imperative that prompts the recasting of
teaching and learning in the years to come. For English language and
immigrant learners in the social studies, perhaps the greatest challenge
is the dominance of text, new vocabulary (both conceptual and
abstract), and assumptions of prior knowledge. But having English
language learners (ELLs) in the social studies classroom is also an
opportunity to introduce ‘other’ --- and sometimes more sophisticated
--- notions of citizenship into the teaching of the social studies.
Social studies teachers and teacher educators can with ease develop
sheltered and inclusive approaches that provide greater access to
content knowledge for second language learners. Simultaneously, social
studies teachers and teacher educators can also with ease
reconceptualize citizenship—embracing the idea that “in a democratic and
multicultural society, students need to understand multiple
perspectives that derive from different cultural vantage points” (NCSS,
2001). This two-prong approach will serve to secure the academic success
of second language learners and ensure a participatory citizenry that
is conscious of the dynamics of a pluralist nation state.
The instructional and linguistic challenges posed by the social
studies have been well documented (e.g., Haynes, 2005; Short, 1994).
Fortunately, several existing models (e.g. Cognitive Academic Language
Learning Approach (CALLA) (Chamot & O’Malley, 1994) and approaches
(e.g., Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) (Echevarria,
Vogt, & Short, 2000), as well as the work of social studies scholars
(e.g., Cruz & Thornton, 2008; Salinas, Franquiz, & Reidel,
2008; Szpara & Ahmad, 2007) demonstrate how acquisition of academic
language can be readily addressed by social studies teachers through the
existing instructional approaches that typify good teaching in the
field. Prevocabulary and vocabulary activities, visual representations
of information (e.g. maps, photographs, and photos), graphic organizers,
and realia (e.g. globes, artifacts) are essential to the teaching of
the social studies and indispensable in helping English language
learners make way through the cognitive load emblematic of the social
studies. Teachers cognizant of the importance of these approaches make
use of ELLs’ existing linguistic resources while simultaneously adding
to their repertoire of metacogntive strategies.
A critical note regarding instruction is the need to facilitate
English language learners’ reading, listening, writing, and oral
language development. The listing of common strategies serves not only
to convey large amounts of social studies knowledge, but also
importantly develops those skills necessary for participation in the
social studies classroom. A reading assignment, for example, comes only
after a vocabulary activity or check for prior knowledge. Or photos of
the United Farm Workers Movement, or other acts of civic participation,
would preface listening to a speech by Dolores Huerta (which would be
enhanced by providing a printed transcript of the speech to ELLs to
lessen linguistic load). An emphasis on teaching and learning the social
studies through reading, listening, writing, and speaking signals a
differentiation in instruction that requires a more scaffolded approach
Significant to this discussion is our second point --- the way in
which the social studies in particular is impacted by growing diversity
and the prior knowledge and experiences of English language learners.
Young immigrant students represent the far-reaching impact of
globalization and a unique opportunity to strengthen our understanding
of democracy. Having experienced citizenry in other forms or having
parents whose cultural and participatory knowledge differs from our own,
immigrant students’ compelling, if not contrasting, perspectives can
add depth and sophistication to class discussions in geography, history,
economics, and citizenship. . Suddenly, our classrooms are transformed
from monolithic renditions of what it means to be “American’ to what it
means to be an American in a transnational world. The end result, as
Parker (2003) explains, is not a loss of our identity but, rather, a
richness that has always characterized our ongoing journey towards
Ultimately, the social studies mirrors the democratic values that are
prominent in our society. Instructional strategies for English language
learners are not only portals by which we can help diverse students
access the social studies, but they are also opportunities for teachers
and students to access and engage in multiple renditions of citizenship
and consequently add to our own history as a democratic nation.
Chamot, A. U. and O’Malley, J. M. 1994. The CALLA handbook:
Implementing the cognitive academic language learning approach. New
York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.
Cruz, B.C. and Thornton, S.J. (2008). Teaching social studies to English language learners. New York: Routledge.
J., Vogt, M. E., and Short, D. J. 2000. Making content comprehensible
for English language learners. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Haynes, J. (2005). Challenges for ELLs in content area learning. Everything ESL.net, retrieved May 20, 2009 from http://www.everythingesl.net/inservices/challenges_ells_content_area_l_65322.php.
Council for the Social Studies. (2001). Expectations of excellence:
Curriculum standards for social studies. Silver Spring, MD: NCSS.
Parker, W. C., (2003). Teaching democracy: Unity and diversity in public life. New York: Teachers College Press.
C., Franquiz, M., and Reidel, M. (2008). Geography approaches for
second language learners: Highlighting content and practice. The Social
Studies, 99(2), 71-76.
Short, D.J. (1994). The challenge of social studies for limited English proficient students. Social Education, 58(1), 36-38.
M. Y. and Ahmad, I., (2007). Supporting English-language learners in
social studies class. The Social Studies, 98(5), 189-195.
Cinthia Salinas is an Associate Professor in Curriculum and
Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin. She does research on
teaching and learning the social studies in late arrival immigrants,
Latina/os, and bilingual/ESL contexts.
Bárbara C. Cruz is Professor of Social Science Education at the
University of South Florida. Her research and teaching interests
include multicultural and global perspectives in education, social
studies in teacher education, and Latina/o issues in education.