The Importance of Writing in the History-Social Science Class

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.” Benjamin Franklin.

Both California’s Common Core State Standards (CCCSS) and the History/Social Science (HSS) Framework and Standards recommend writing as an essential tool for teaching the discipline of history/ social science because writing develops analytic and critical thinking skills.  History classes should include both informal and formal writing.

 Informal Writing

A history class should practice  informal writing “routinely over extended time frames for a range of tasks, purposes and audiences (CCCSS Range of Writing 10, Grade 3)”.

  • Students must learn how to take notes.  They should always record their source of information whether from a lecture, an online source, book, or article.
  • A double-sided journal works well for this activity.  On one side of the paper the students record important facts from reading the text or primary source materials, lectures, student reports, and videos.  On the other side they record their own thinking, beliefs, questions, and ideas to analyze as they learn.
  • learning logs
  • outlines
  • doodles
  • lists,
  • graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams and concept maps.
  • Digital notes:  Evernote is a free online product that allows students to record and insert pictures into their notes.

After they take notes, they should analyze their notes to decide the main idea, the author’s or speaker’s opinions or point of view, and find the credibility of the information source.  Informal writing is most effective when it is shared with one or two peers.  Typically these written works are not edited by the students or teacher for errors, but they may be expanded and modified after being shared with a classmate.  Writing informally to learn is one of the first steps students use when preparing to write a formal history/ social science essay.

 Formal Writing

Formal writing in history/social science answers a question and includes:  arguments, informational texts and narration of historical events in both short and sustained research projects.  All three of these writing types consist of answering question and presenting facts and examples to persuade a reader to accept the student’s interpretation of history.  The teacher’s responsibility is to begin a writing project with a question prompt about a significant issue within a larger historical context that will stimulate student thinking.

Writing programs differ only slightly in describing five steps in writing a formal historical essay from pre-writing to a published document.  The steps are:  pre-writing, draft, revising, editing, and publishing.  Students do best when teachers clearly communicate what they expect by showing examples of similar papers at each stage of the process about other topics in which students have written successfully to a prompt.  It is also helpful to demonstrate to students what is not successful, but teachers must always end by showing the successful model.

  • Pre-writing
    • Students must understand and analyze the prompt, place it in the proper context, and develop a thesis statement in which they state their opinion about the topic.
    • Students need to know the purpose and audience for which and to whom they are writing,
    •  Pre-writing also includes collecting and sorting information.  Students may need direct instruction on how to use the Internet to research, how to tell secondary from primary resources and understand why both are important.  In addition to gathering information, students will discard unimportant details, and keep only those that support the claim they make in their thesis statements.
    • Finally in the pre-writing stage students need experience with academic vocabulary.  Teachers need to be clear in their instructions as to which words students are required to use in their final product.
  • Draft
    • Starting with a hook like a quotation or interesting fact students will turn their outlines or graphic organizers into an essay with an introduction, body and conclusion.  The thesis, stated somewhere in the introductory paragraph, controls the argument and answers the historical question in one sentence.  It states the author’s opinion authoritatively using the verbs “to have” or “to be” rather than using specific opinion words.  The thesis statement should be followed by persuasive words such as “This is historically important because…” or “This shows that…”
    • Each paragraph also has a main idea, general and specific details, and a transition or conclusion.
    • In the body of the essay, students should start with the weakest argument (Scarcella, 2003; Schleppegrell, 2004.).  Students should aim to include 3-4 factual details to prove each argument or concept.
    • Rather than offering a simple summary, the formal historical essay concludes by restating the thesis and applying the analysis to a broader context to show its significance in history.
  • Revising
    • Word sorting activities, using word banks or thesauruses they make edits to revise and improve their reports.
    • They read each other’s work and “question the author” to make sure that the message they have is clear.
    • They allow time to distance themselves from their work so they can be objective as they make deep cuts and edits to their original draft.
  • Editing
    • Proofreading and editing still needs to take place to perfect the product.  They need to check for punctuation, complete sentences, capitals, grammar.
    • Finally they should include text features such as: font sizes, bold and italicized print, charts, maps and pictures.
  • Publishing
    • Finally the works is ready to be published.  This may be in the form of a paper, book, brochure, or a digital production such as a blog or photo story.  There are many other forms of publications each with their own requirements.

Writing about history is often controversial, and cannot be understood unless writers imagine themselves in a different period of history, in a different place and culture.  They must garner facts and evidence to take up a new identity and make sense of the events of history.  Tom Clancy states, “The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.”  Often history doesn’t make sense, and student historians have the opportunity to investigate and produce their slant on what really happened in history”.  Writing helps students learn from and make sense of history, and develops their critical and analytic thinking.  Write on, historians.



Academic Vocabulary is one of the six major shifts in language arts standards as states are moving to implement the Common Core Standards.  Teaching academic vocabulary is going to be ubiquitous.  Every content area teacher ia already responsible for teaching vocabulary.  All content teachers teach the vocabulary that is unique to their content.  Where, but in a history class, would you learn the word Senate?  The shift in academic vocabulary instruction due to the implementation of the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts is that all content area teachers will  become responsible for teaching Tier 2 words, words that are ubiquitous across all content areas.


The word ubiquitous is ubiquitous.  While  this is an accurate and true statement it is the perfect example of why having students use vocabulary or spelling words in a sentence is not an effective learning strategy.  However, the question is whether or not the word ubiquitous rises to the level of being classified as academic vocabulary that should be taught by direct instruction by content area teachers.  I would argue that it does not.

Granted when you meet a person and he or she uses the word ubiquitous in general conversation, your first impression is that the person is well-educated.  I know that because it happened to me.  I remember exactly where I was when I when I first heard the word ubiquitous.  My husband and I were eating lunch at Hometown Emporium in Exeter, California, when a friend approached him and said, “My friend, you are ubiquitous.”  I was impressed with this friend, and we spent the next five minutes discussing his choice vocabulary word – and that was my introduction both to the word and the friend.


Only Tier 2 words are targeted for direct instruction by all content area teachers.  Is ubiquitous merely a showy, ostentatious Tier 3 word, or is it truly an academic necessity Tier 2 word? Based on the work of Isabel Beck, who categorizes academic words as Tier 1,2 or 3 level, I would classify ubiquitous as a Tier 3 word.  It is not a common or Tier 1 word like pencil or high use word like the.  It does not have different meanings in different content areas like Tier 2 words:  table, key, or expression.


To give you an example of a ubiquitous Tier 2 word, let’s put the word table on the table.  To do that I’ll create a table to demonstrate how it is used in different content areas.


Even though Common Core standards are only adopted nation-wide for language arts and mathematics, language arts standards are particularly ubiquitous.  To make a point, I would argue that Common Core standards in English Language Arts are even MORE CORE, more ubiquitous, if you were,  than in mathematics because students have to read, write, speak, and listen even to master the core mathematics standards.

Common Core standards are ubiquitous in the United States.  Again, I would argue that the major shift of teaching academic vocabulary may be the most ubiquitous of the six major shifts in language arts standards.  Words are important.  They represent the expression of all we think and do.  Words are ubiquitous.

University Park Inn & Suites

Lodging, like rental housing, in university towns are in much demand during part of the year.  Sometimes you can be picky and sometimes you just can’t.  Our travel was paid for out of a federal grant, so we get good rates for nice hotels, but that doesn’t mean that we necessarily choose the locations that are the most expensive hotel in town.

This is one of those that I would consider to be somewhere in the middle.  You are not going to walk in and be blown away by the elegance, but on the other hand, it is an inviting and  pleasant place to spend a week  learning with friends.

Several amenities make this a comfortable place.  The most obvious is the even bigger sign for the restaurant, Caffé Italia.  The food was great, reasonable, and twins, Karen and Christy, took care of us the whole time.

It literally was just a step away.

Another major advantage was the nice setting outdoors.  The pool was clean and inviting, though most of us never actually got into the pool.

The evenings were the perfect temperature, let me clarify, about 80 degrees.  Bugs were scarce, and there was always an assortment of food and beverages.  Ok in all fairness, snacks and drinks were not included in the price of the hotel even though a help-yourself breakfast was included.

During the day, when we were all leaving or gone to class, the pool area was pretty subdued.  Again in all fairness, I was gone in the afternoon when the pool area might be the most popular.

As you walked the perimeter of the pool, the grounds were quite inviting.

If you faced the back of the complex and looked right, there was a conference room which we never used.  We had all our informal meetings around the pool, and our formal meetings were at U.C. Davis, which was a 15 minute walk from the Inn.

Just beyond the conference area was the back gate, and across the street from that was an entrance to the bike path, which I will write about at another time.  In Davis the University Bike Path is quite a famous feature, and is well used.

The rooms were spacious and comfortable.  A couple of women said the bed was too hard.  The bed felt comfortable to me.   I had a nice suite, but the weather was too nice to invite people to stay inside.

What was nice about the bedroom was that you could open the door and have a breeze go all the way through the room.  It added a lot of light as well.  The rooms were pretty dark.  the refrigerator was not packed with expensive cheeses and other items for purchase.  Several people brought home leftover dinner or breakfast so that was handy.

I spent most of my room time in the office area, and much of that with the door open as long as it was light outside.  You know, blogging and such, but I didn’t want to miss any parties.

The bathroom was adequate, not fancy.  It was nice that it had a bathtub, and the sink was outside of the bathroom itself, so more than one person could stay there and be comfortable.

All in all I would recommend this site.  There is one thing about Davis that you can’t escape no matter how much you pay for a room, and that is the train.  the whistles blow late at night and early in the morning, so if you like trains, you are in the right town.  If not, well…

The Ubiquitous Abizia

ABIZIA JULIBRISSIN are beautiful, but DON’T plant these trees in your back yard unless you have at least an acre!  We tried it once in a little PUD that had a back yard about 75 X 25 square feet.  Trust me on this one!

These beastly beauties try to bamboozle you into buying them  by disguising their true identity with other aliases. Sneaky nurseries may label them as acacias, or mimosas, and sometimes they go by an alternative spelling  of albizia to throw you off.  So go into the nursery ready with this information.  Don’t be fooled by their delicate flowers and ferny-locust like leaves.  When those dainty dazzlers get tired of shimmering in the sun, they drop.

While the little fuzzies are ubiquitous, they do disintegrate and decompose over time.  That works great in bark, not bad in grass, ok in your rock driveway, not so great on your patio.  So they are not the real problem unless you are a neat freak

The real issue is this little green innocuous looking mini-abizia.  Don’t be fooled by its youthful innocence.

They are easy to dislodge at this point, but dislodge you must!

You might even consider employing a beast of burden to help you carry them out of the area.  Mama Kitty is a willing transporter.  If you don’t do this, you could end up with an abizia forest.

Mini-abizias are little chameleons.  There are three self-seeding pink cosmos.  Take a wild guess about how many camouflaged abizia seedlings are nestled  around these frothy flowers.

Count them – there are 57 wanna-be abizia trees in this pile of thwarted mimosas.  So you might think, “Big deal,”  They can’t all grow, and it takes years for a tree to become big enough to be a problem.”  THINK AGAIN.

The fruitless mulberry tree is probably at least 40 years old.  The abizia on the right is about nine yeas old.  That was our original abizia tree.

This tree is a combination of two seedlings that sprouted probably 200 feet away from our original tree five years ago.   They’re in a good place, and the car doesn’t mind a little littering.  So they got to stay.  My husband even put a little stake to hold them up and remind me that I wasn’t to dislodge them.

This angle gives you another perspective on the size of this kindergarten-aged tree.

These spell-binding pretties are two or three baby abizias wrapping their trunks around each other begging us not to uproot them.  They are mere pre-schoolers – about three summers old.  Think witches’ spell, and save yourself before it’s too late!

The culprits are these seed pods.  They break open, and poof they are in the neighbor’s yard.  So if you don’t want your neighbors to think you are making shady deals, DON’T plant abizias close to the property line.

Inspiring Blog Award

Thank you so much Seasonsgirl for nominating me for the Inspiring Blog Award.    I didn’t know there were so many awards out there, nor did I ever expect being nominated for one.  I am so honored that this blogging experiment of mine could be considered inspiring – funny in places, maybe, informative – hopefully, a great connecting experience for me – definitely.  So thank you from the bottom of my inspired heart.

You can see from the pictures below why Seasonsgirl was nominated.  She writes recipes, and many people besides me love to eat, and some of them even like to cook.  But her website is more than that.  She takes beautiful pictures at home and when she travels.

One of the things I love about blogging is that it takes me places I’ve never been before, and might never ever in a million years get to see.  Unlike Einstein, I am not naturally curious, but I love people.  So when I like someone and they are doing something or seeing something, my interest antennae pop out, and say LISTEN, LISTEN, LOOK MARSHA LEE here is something that you might like.

I had no idea what OPSAIL was so I had to look it up.  And I didn’t know where in the world Half Moone was so I googled that as well.  I hyperlinked them so if you are like me, you can check them out, too.  Thanks Seasonsgirl and blogging friends for inspiring me and expanding my world.

The rules  for receiving the Inspiring Blog Award are as follows:

1.  Thank the person who nominated you -(see above)

2.  Share 7 things about yourself.

3.  Nominate 15 other bloggers that you admire or inspire you

4.  Go leave a comment and let the people know you have nominated them.

My Seven things…

  1. I love people.
  2. I love to be alone from time to time, but not for too long.
  3. I love to travel.
  4. I love not to travel, and stay home.
  5. I love to be creative, though I’m more enthusiastic than creative.
  6. I love to get organized, though nothing stays that way for very long!
  7. I love to admire.

The nominations for the Inspiring Blog Award…

As a new blogger, I realize that accepting a nomination for an award takes a lot of time because you have to evaluate a website and not just slip in and out of it.  For this Inspiring Blog Award you must differentiate between interesting, beautiful and inspiring.  To inspire means to stimulate or excite your spirit.  What inspires our spirits?  I am inspired or excited when someone’s blog makes me want to go out and do what they are doing – and I assume that it will be something positive.  If you inspire me to go out and wreck my car, then I’m not sure you should get an award.  I also think that you have to be somewhat humble, or at least seem to be on the outside.  My late husband was a minister, so  I know how some of the best-intentioned folks  in the world (me, for example) ruin their inspirational opportunities by their pride in doing good or giving advice to the less inspired.  So I have to give this some thought and research.   Like my friend Seasonsgirl, I tend to go back to the same people who I have mentioned before, but I am going to stretch myself to reach out to some new sites even though that takes a little more time.

  1.  This is a new site to me.  She instructs people about editing her photos, and she responded to me when I asked a question.  Thanks Leanne.
  2.  Smiles A Lot just plain makes me laugh.  Is laughing inspirational?  I don’t know, but it makes you feel good.
  3.  I like Bucket List Lesley’s site because she helps people accomplish what they would like to do in life.  That reminds me of Extreme Makeover Home Edition.  I bet her Bucket people are just blown away!  She also comes back often and visits and comments on my site.  That inspires me to write some more, and to make comments so that other people feel good about what they are doing.
  4.  Preetam Nath is only 18, yet he truly inspires me not just because he posts beautiful photographs, but that he posts other people’s work.  In addition, he reaches out to others.  He has written to me, invited me to Google+ and admired my photographs.  Thanks so much Preetam.  I hope you continue to inspire others for many years.
  5.  Lago comes to see my site from time to time, and I his.  He has a great sense of humor, and is obsessed with many ordinary things.  That inspires me to stop and enjoy the popcorn along the way that calls my name whenever I go to a movie, but I’m not obsessed????
  6.  I like the looks of this site, but there’s more to this site than looks.  Brian and Shannon are living, not only their dreams, but mine.  They have some thoughtful things to say, and some beautiful photography.
  7. This person has some beautiful pictures, and is graphic designer.  The website looks professional, and inspires me to keep pushing on.
  8.  Eva, a writer/photographer, has a great sense of humor, sees the beauty in family and simple things.  She’s the kind of person you would want as a friend.
  9. This is a new site to me, and the pictures of Canada are amazingly gorgeous, and at times very funny.   Even more so, Patrick Latter tells his experiences with a sense of humor.  You will enjoy this site.
  10. Amy Turner Taylor continues to inspire and impress me with her wonderful sense of color.  She has a great eye.  She doesn’t let her website get old and dull.  I may get inspired to change my cover photo, however, I might lose my double meaning blog title.  Decisions – the bane of inspiration.
  11. This site has some interesting stories from music to electric cars.  I am not a car person, but my husband is, and his son is a motorcycle man.  Between the two I have  learned to enjoy the beauty of a car, and appreciate some of its qualities other than getting you somewhere.  NYparrot has some amazing cars, and I am inspired to own one of them one day in the distant future.
  12.  This is another new site to me,  Jilanne Hoffman writes to writers.  Since I want to be a writer when I grow up, I am interested to see what she has to say that might inspire me.  The day I had the most viewers was the day I sat around wondering what in the world to write, and wrote about THAT.  She wrote me back on that day.
  13. This Vermont photographer has some photos of glistening beauty.  There is one photo, a young deer with sun shining through its ears, that is more adorable than Bambi.  I think I’m inspired to visit Vermont and see some of these beautiful animals.
  14. The photographs on this site are amazing.  I’m really inspired by the beautiful color of her background with her amazing azaleas at the top.  Nothing matches the title better than hers.  The azaleas are nothing less than amazing, but the rest of the photos are great too.  Clouds are spectacular, buildings with reflections cause me to pause to show on my own photographic compositions.
  15. Cristian still intrigues and inspires me.  One of these days I am inspired to self-publish a book or two now that I have read his tips about how to do it.