Breaking Down Standards to “Bite Sized Pieces”

by Julie Derden

 A little background…

In January 2016, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) adopted the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies prepared by the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) and integrated that framework into the Illinois Learning Standards. The rulemaking requires school districts to fully implement these K-12 standards for social science in the 2017-2018 school year. The Illinois Social Science Learning Standards introduction states, “[t]he vision supporting this design is to produce Illinois graduates who are civically engaged, socially responsible, culturally aware, and financially literate [emphasis theirs]” (Illinois State Board of Education, p. 2). Additionally, the document (click on the first bullet point for the entire K-12 standard document to download as a PDF) details that in Illinois, social science curriculum is determined locally and that these standards are broken into two broad categories as a framework for implementation: inquiry skills and disciplinary concepts.

Changes to curriculum and learning standards can be unsettling to both new and experienced educators for the obvious reasons: Will I have to create my own curriculum for my own grade? Will I receive some professional development to promote this shift? How will students be assessed on the new standards? These are all real concerns weighing on the minds of already very busy teachers. I can relate, albeit in a much different situation…

Last semester, I was contacted by a faculty member in history education to assist in developing a bibliography of children’s books tied to the new standards that could be used in a K-5 professional development session that she was facilitating with area teachers. The process through which I attacked this relatively daunting task made me think that both the process and the product might be of interest to early childhood educators, ECE pre-service teachers, and other readers of this blog. With that in mind, I shall attempt to walk you through my thought processes and searching of the library’s online catalog, and I will only focus on K-3 social science standards. Preschool (Age 3-KDG enrollment age) Early Learning and Development Standards (IELDS) can be found here.

Where to start?

In order to build a useful bibliography, I knew that I had to first understand the structure of the standards themselves from the document that had been provided to me. The Illinois Social Science Learning Standards are broken into K-12 Inquiry Skills (not addressed in this article) and K-5 Disciplinary Concepts (I’ll call them DISCIPLINES.) that include civics, economics and financial literacy, and geography. These broad disciplines are further delineated into disciplinary concepts that spread across the K-5 standards and align with a particular standard. Themes by grade level allow teachers to see the “big picture emphasis” for a specific grade level. This flow chart (see below) that I sketched out helped me better understand the structure of the document itself before I even attempted to think about or locate books that would complement an individual standard.


In addition to making my own flowchart, this piece within the standards document was helpful in terms of the coding convention that was used to format the document:


[Note: Only the first four on the list apply to Grades K-3.]

Formatting the document:

For the in-service training, I thought it would be helpful to have the structure of the Standards document replicated (sort of) in the handout/bibliography.


As I began working on the kindergarten standards, it became apparent to me that it would be helpful to indicate at the end of the citation whether the book was fiction (F) or non-fiction (NF) – later, I would add historical fiction (HF) to the list for other grades. Here’s how things started in my document, based on the original document:


Using Children’s Literature with the Illinois Social Science Learning Standards

(F) and (NF) at the end of the citation indicate Fiction and Non-fiction titles, respectively. Kindergarten Theme: My Social World

Civics Disciplinary Concept: Understand Political Systems, with an Emphasis on the United States

Civic and Political Institutions

SS.CV.1.K. Describe roles and responsibilities of people in authority.


Beginning the search

Hmmmmm. As I looked at the broad scope of each standard, I realized that I wouldn’t be searching the catalog “as usual” by title or author, or for that matter, even a subject or topic. Fortunately, Milner Library has a “faceted catalog,” allowing one to “filter” or narrow one’s searches. I knew I’d limit my search to children’s books in Milner Library’s Teaching Materials Center by following these directions:


Keyword searching in online catalogs has made searching much easier because the term or terms used will result in a “hit” for that word that appears anywhere in the catalog record. Because the topics were written for educators and not for children, I had to think “simply.”

I went back to the structure of the standard and drew on my own experience as a primary teacher when I looked at SS.CV.1.K. I realized that I needed to think about how I would explain roles and responsibilities of people in authority through the lens of a kindergartner’s social world.

Eureka! This standard is talking about community helpers! Firefighters, police officers, mail carriers, the principal, teachers and nurse at a school! Now I had the vocabulary to begin my search.


In the catalog search, I used school nurse as my search term on the Books & Media tab and then limited the Teaching Materials Center in the location after the initial results displayed. After getting the results for just children’s books (PK-12), I looked in the individual title record to determine whether that particular book was appropriate for kindergarten.


I could see from the More Details tab in the first title in my results that this book was 24 pages (a picture books is typically 32-pages) and would provide information about what the nurse does at a school. Clues from the catalog record allowed me to search and determine age-appropriate titles for many standards from the comfort of my office chair/computer screen. When I did go to pull the individual titles, I determined I was very successful on identifying age-appropriate books, with few exceptions (e.g., the book was too advanced in typography/layout/content for Kindergarten). Ultimately, you know your students best, and therefore can determine which books “fit” the learning outcomes for your students.

As I proceeded, there were some standards that I realized would be best implemented with local resources, as the state of Illinois is so diverse in its typography, commerce, and urban versus rural populations. Some standards were really tough, but once I thought about how to explain them to children in an age-appropriate way, it made searching the catalog much easier. One of the standards for kindergarten in the Economics discipline was a real mind-bender:


Economic Concepts

SS.EC.1.K. Explain choices are made because of scarcity (i.e., because we cannot have everything that we want).


This one was a challenge, but I entered the term(s) poverty AND easy (“Easy” is the TMC locater for picture books; this might vary from library to library) in the advanced search, limited to the Teaching Materials Center, and looked at the results. A great book titled Those Shoes lent itself perfectly to this standard for this grade level!



Finishing the bibliography…

After a lot of hard work and hard thinking, I was able to produce the beginning of a bibliography that includes a book for almost every social science standard. This is by no means an all-inclusive list nor one that is “bound” to a book for a specific grade for a specific standard (click this link to view the full bibliography: social-studies-standards-and-childrens-literature-derden). It is meant to serve as an example of how using children’s books on social science topics can enhance the unit or lesson and allow children to help drive the conversation and learning.

Ultimately, by thinking about our students FIRST, we can find stories and materials that can help children grasp the concepts set out in the standards, and we, as educators might learn a little something along the way, as well!


Boelts, M. (2007). Those shoes. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.

Garrett, W. (2015). What does the school nurse do? New York: PowerKids Press.

Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards [for Preschool to Kindergarten    enrollment age]. (September 2013). Retrieved from [html version]. [PDF version available from link in blog.]

Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). (Jan. 27, 2016). Illinois Social Science Learning Standards. Retrieved from

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). (n.d.) Retrieved from

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). (n.d.) Retrieved from

Julie Derden is a former elementary public school teacher who found her first real love teaching first graders to read. She currently serves as the Teaching Materials Librarian at Illinois State University’s Milner Library where she is responsible for maintaining a PK-12 materials collection for use by education faculty, preservice teacher candidates, and other students. Check out her full bio here.

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