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An inquirED Blog

Un-level That Text! Integrating Literacy and Elementary Social Studies


Social Studies and Literacy

We often advise participants on webinars who are trying to carve out time for elementary social studies to look at their long ELA blocks as possible sources of extra instructional minutes.

After all, social studies and literacy instruction can’t really be separated: social studies requires the examination of complex texts as sources of evidence. If we want students to seek answers to complex questions, conduct sustained investigations, and construct conclusions based on facts and evidence, then they’ll need to develop their literacy skills so they can wrestle with complex texts.

We were joined on our webinar today by Jillian Corr, Senior Learning Experience Designer at inquirED, to dig into strategies to help students when they encounter complex texts in social studies.

To Level or Not To Level

Text Leveling refers to the practice of increasing the readability of texts by quantitative or qualitative means. Quantitative leveling is done via computers that analyze and adjust texts based on statistical measurements, including sentence length, number of syllables per word, and other objective metrics. Qualitative leveling is done by humans - and takes into consideration the structure and purpose of the text, the use of language conventions, clarity, cognitive demands, etc.

I asked Jillian how the Learning Experience Team at inquirED uses leveled texts. “It’s an important tool,” she shared, “but it’s just one tool - the goal in social studies is to for students to interact with complex texts.“ She shared the excerpted text below to illustrate how leveling for readability can sometimes have negative effects on social studies content.

The example above comes from a popular online resource. On the left, the text is leveled for fourth graders - and on the right for second graders. The difference is stark. “Yes, the text on the left is more readable,” Jillian reflected, “but what has been lost?” Our webinar participants responded: real history, facts, multiple perspectives, depth, meaning. The list went on.

It’s not that Jillian is suggesting that we just present second graders with the complex text and wish them luck. Instead, she recommended that we think about how we can use “levers” to scaffold the text – and play “the long game” when it comes to reading comprehension during an inquiry.

Levers & The Long Game

Jillian suggested that we should take reader and task variables into consideration when students are interacting with complex texts. These variables include student background knowledge, the cognitive load of the task, student motivation, lived experience, and more. Adjusting these “levers” can help students as they interact with a complex test (for example, simplifying a task to lower the cognitive load, or building background knowledge through interaction with varied sources).

She also suggested that we need to shift our thinking about comprehension. “We need to think of comprehension as a long game,” she said, “and make fluency and comprehension the end goal, not the starting point.” During the webinar, we explored a curriculum example to illustrate how inquirED’s Learning Experience Team designs lessons that connect to each other across the long game of an inquiry, preparing students to encounter complex texts, supporting them as they process, and helping them to reflect on their learning. Make sure to check out the webinar for all the details!


  • Jillian brought along a great resource to help teachers as they facilitate student interaction with a complex text. The “Reading Complex Texts” Guide is a hub for multiple resources

View the webinar below.


About inquirED

inquirED has moved beyond the textbook, offering a customizable, digital curriculum that supports teachers in shifting to student-centered instruction. inquirED delivers year-long, student-centered curriculum and assessment with engaging content and activities for students and embedded professional learning for teachers. Inquiry Journeys is inquirED’s core elementary social studies curriculum. Inquiry Journeys is a comprehensive inquiry-based curriculum with embedded PD that helps teachers shift their practice to a more inquiry-based approach. Learn More.


Panelist Bio

Jillian Corr

Senior Learning Experience Designer, inquirED

Jillian has worked in education for over 25 years. She’s served as a curriculum director, instructional coach, and classroom teacher in international baccalaureate, bilingual, special education and early childhood classrooms. In addition, Jillian has managed and consulted on curriculum development initiatives for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and She has a BA in American Studies and Spanish Literature and an MS in Elementary Education. Jillian joined the inquirED team in 2019.


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