Literacy and Social Studies: Interactive Read Alouds

One of the biggest goals in elementary classrooms is to teach students to read. Encompassed in this one goal are so many important skills (phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, phonics, decoding, vocabulary, background knowledge, language acquisition, comprehension skills) that each take time to teach. It is easy to feel like there is not enough time in the school day to accomplish all these goals and get to teaching other subjects. Oh yeah! -math, science, and social studies need to be taught too!

The Fordham Institute recently conducted a study on social studies instruction in elementary classrooms and had some surprising findings about the intersection between reading and social studies: “Increased instructional time in social studies—but not in ELA—is associated with improved reading ability.”

This study is consistent with the Science of Reading that has renewed interest in our schools. Content knowledge (building background knowledge and vocabulary) is one of the most important parts of building comprehension. Language comprehension-one of the large parts of Scarborough’s Reading Rope-builds skilled readers.

Have no fear, this writer has an easy way to incorporate this best practice knowledge without adding one more thing to your already full school day: Interactive Read Alouds. Interactive Read Alouds have so many benefits for readers of all ages. They build community, background knowledge, vocabulary, and comprehension skills all in one 20-minute lesson. Consider using engaging picture books to connect these reading skills with your social studies content. By getting creative with your reading block, you can successfully integrate social studies standards and ELA standards. The cherry on top? Research shows that this is the best way to improve your students’ reading ability!

Check out these trade books that meet your Social Studies & ELA content standards to use during your read aloud time:


S.S Standard: 3. Heritage is reflected through diverse cultures and is shown through the arts, customs, traditions, family celebrations and language.

The book cover for Our World of Dumplings, featuring children in a brick building. Each child is leaning on their windowsill in the building, waving to one another.     A book cover for Lunch Around the World. An image of the globe is in the center of the cover. with four other circles around it, each with a photo of children around the word. The background of the cover is bright orange.    The cover for the book We All Celebrate features a red background with a line of people from all over the world, wearing different clothes and dress.

Grade 1:

S.S. Standard: 3. The ways basic human needs are met have changed over time.

The cover of the book "Transportation." A yellow school bus and blue sedan car are on a road passing one another. The background shows a sign with the author's name, Gail Gibbons, and a sign that says "How people get around."    Book cover for "At the Same Moment Around the World." A child appears to walk around a snow-covered world.     The book cover of Then and Now, featuring a young boy walking along the sidewalk in front of a yellow house and brick building with a basketball hoop.    The book cover of Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More," with a green mountainous background and block-shaped buildings in the foreground.

Grade 2:

S.S. Standard: 3. Biographies can show how peoples’ actions have shaped the world in which we live.

Counting on Katherine book cover. A young black woman in a red sweater and orange plaid skirt stands in front of a big moon.    A red thesaurus is open with many objects like a skull, globe, feather and more spilling out from behind it.    A caricature of Jane Goodall is set against a bright green background.    A drawing of Albert Einstein walking across a tan background with a white light in the upper left corner.

Grade 3:

S.S. Standard: 7. Systems of transportation and communication move people, products, and ideas from place to place.

The book cover for Locomotive by Brian Floca. A train appears to be bearing down on the viewer from the flat prairie.     Library on Wheels children's book cover. A black and white photo shows five children stand or sit in front of a car filled with shelves of books.     Book cover of Then and Now, with a bright blue background. A woman pushes a stroller with two children running alongside her as another woman feed birds nearby.

Grade 4:

S.S. Standard: 7. Following the War of 1812, Ohio continued to play a key role in national conflicts including the anti-slavery movement and the Underground Railroad.

Book cover of Before She Was Harriet. An illustrated image of a young Harriet Tubman from a side profile with the moon behind her.    Book cover for History Smashers: The Underground Railroad. The background shows a cabin with a quilt hanging in the front window and a white woman waving a lantern. In the foreground to the left stands a young black man and an adult black woman looking skeptically at the scene. On the right is a black man pointing over his shoulder towards the white woman saying "There's a lot more to this story."    Book cover of The Price of Freedom, showing five men standing against a blue backdrop.     Freedom Over Me book cover. A circle of illustrations of 11 enslaved people surrounds the title. The background is a drawing of a house and wall.

Grade 5:

S.S. Standard: European exploration and colonization during the 1400s-1600s had lasting effects which can be used to understand the Western Hemisphere today.

The book cover of Christopher Columbus and the Age of Exploration for Kids, with an image of Christopher Columbus and a ship in front a page of his diaries.    The book cover for Lives of the Explorers. Several explorers throughout history sit atop the globe.


If you are interested in learning more about how the Science of Reading intersects with social studies instruction, sign up for our Professional Development training on the topic! Email us at [email protected].



Adam Tyner and Sarah Kabourek. Social Studies Instruction and Reading Comprehension: Evidence from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Washington D.C.: Thomas B. Fordham Institute (September 2020).


“Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 2015-2023.” TeachingBooks. Accessed December 12, 2023.


Okello, Dr. Betsy. “The Power of Read Alouds // How to Perform an Effective Interactive Read Aloud.” The Power of Read Alouds // How to Perform an Effective Interactive Read Aloud | Institute for Educational Initiatives, January 28, 2021.


Blog image citation:

Penn, Kimberly. Shirley Windless sits in front of her morning kindergarten class, Martin Luther King, Jr. School, approximately 1983-1984. Photograph. Toledo, 1983. Toledo Lucas County Public Library Digital Collections.



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