curriculum (Goudvis & Buhrow, 2011).
On a typical day in Matthew’s class,
everyone is reading, viewing, and
thinking about the current history
topic—in this case, westward expansion
in the United States. To carve out
room for history in a crowded day,
Matthew has combined the time allocated for social studies and literacy.
The classroom is awash with nonfiction articles, historical fiction picture
books, maps, diaries, trade books,
letters, photographs, and artifacts.
Matthew, Anne, and the students have
gathered these multiple-genre sources
from libraries and websites. They have
heeded Allington and Johnston’s (2002)
findings that classrooms linked to high
achievement use a variety of materials
and resources, not one basal reader or
textbook. There’s not a worksheet or
end-of-chapter question in sight as the
kids read, write, draw, view, question,
debate, discuss, and investigate.
Teachers can’t just
implore students to ask
or draw reasonable
inferences; we have
to show them how.
But teachers can’t just implore stu-
dents to ask thoughtful questions
or draw reasonable inferences; we
have to show them how. Matthew
and Anne model for students how to
merge thinking with new information
by annotating their thoughts in the
margins or on sticky notes. They peel
back the layers of their own thinking—
demonstrating how a person reasons
through a text to summarize what’s
important or to keep a lingering
question in mind. As students use their
growing repertoire of strategies in their
own reading, there is plenty of time to
talk about their new learning in pairs or
small groups. The whole class gathers to
engage in wide-ranging, and sometimes
Four Generative Practices
In our work helping teachers revamp
social studies instruction, we emphasize
four practices that foster deep reading
and learning about history. Each focuses
on comprehension strategies as tools for
learning. These practices can be adapted
to use with many different topics and
1. Interact with multiple texts
to build knowledge.
Building students’ knowledge store
is essential if they are to deepen their
understanding of ideas surrounding
FIGURE 1. Using Thinking Strategies to Learn About History
Students use this strategy in history when they. . .
• Learn new information by annotating texts and leaving tracks that show their
Activate background knowledge.
• Connect the new to the known; use background knowledge to inform reading.
Ask and answer questions to
• Acquire information.
• Research and investigate.
• Interpret and analyze information and ideas.
• Explore essential questions.
Draw inferences and conclusions.
• Infer ideas, themes, and issues on the basis of text evidence.
• Analyze and interpret different perspectives and points of view.
• Sort and sift important information from interesting but unimportant details.
• Evaluate the information and ideas in a text to determine what’s important to
Summarize and synthesize.
• Analyze, compare, and contrast information across different sources to build
content knowledge and understanding.