Elementary classes have a lot of curricula competing for airtime. Reading, math, writing, and many other vital and worthy topics fill the day. During a packed day, how can social studies inquiry fit into the schedule? Moreover, students get worn down and weighed down with everything they are expected to learn from the disciplines. Sometimes kids tell us that lunch is their favorite time of the day, understandable for sure, but what if we could make learning more tasty?  Inquiry has the right recipe to help elementary teachers blend content and focus more holistically on multiple disciplines. 

Perhaps, we need to reframe elementary social studies inquiry. Rather than thinking about it as adding another thing to an elementary teacher’s plate, perhaps we could view social studies inquiry as a part of teaching literacy and writing. Inquiry can share the responsibility for teaching literacy in the classroom.

 At its heart, the C3 Framework is interdisciplinary.

“Reflecting the shared responsibility for literacy learning put forward by the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects (NGA and CCSSO, 2010a), the C3 Framework fully incorporates and extends the expectations from the grades K–5 English Language Arts standards and the grades 6–12 standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.”

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework, 2013

The acts of evaluating sources and communicating conclusions provide opportunities for students to utilize literacy skills like close reading, summarizing, questioning, and annotating while students also engage in disciplinary literacy skills like corroboration, contextualization, and interpretation (Wineburg, 2011). This literacy work can be done through students completing formative tasks using primary sources.

But, what does this look like in an inquiry? Let’s look at a third-grade children’s rights inquiry which asks, Do people around the world care about children’s rights?

First, you will notice that the sources vary in type and modality as they include charts, pictures, text, and infographics. This diversity allows the opportunity for teachers to emphasize multi-dimensional literacy aligned with multiple disciplines. Let’s take a look at a source for Supporting Question 1…


For a third grade classroom, there are many ways this book can be used to promote literacy skills. Teachers can engage in anticipatory activities by having students journal what they think the book will be about based on the title. What does the author mean by right? What rights do you think the book will talk about? Why do you think the author wrote the book?

Additionally, teachers may have students read independently, in groups, or guided by the teacher depending on the student’s literacy level. As students read, teachers may encourage them to generate questions in response to the book. Students may ask, “Why would the book say that a kid has a right ‘to be warm but not too hot’?” or “What would I add to this list?” Questioning a text is a reading comprehension activity that transcends social studies and this particular inquiry. 

Not only does the C3 Framework and the Inquiry Design Model promote traditional literacy skills in reading, we are also able to teach other disciplinary forms of literacy as we examine sources! In this inquiry, teachers may emphasize data analysis  skills found in science curriculum when analyzing data in the UNICEF table on Child Labor as well as math skills when breaking down and making meaning of the percentages found in the table. Sources provide content and opportunities for skills practice beyond even literacy and social studies!

Elementary teachers shoulder a massive responsibility in that they are not just teaching their students but they are also preparing them for  the rest of their academic careers. In using inquiry, elementary teachers are not just adding something else to their plates; it’s more like they are spicing up their teaching, making the learning experience not only more filling but more tasty 🙂