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About the Social Studies Cluster Group, Grades 3-5

Updated on December 31, 2016
Diane Lockridge profile image

Lockridge holds an EdS in Curriculum and Instruction, an MS in Elementary Education, and a BA in History. She also homeschools her children.

What makes the third through fifth grade students so different?
What makes the third through fifth grade students so different? | Source

What makes 3rd through 5th Social Science grade students unique?

We all know that upper elementary students are different in their learning preferences and learning content different than their younger counterparts, but just how different are they?

The third through fifth grade cluster group is unique in the fact that it contains subject matter, which is both basic and more in-depth for the content. For example, third graders often just memorized social science facts, whereas the fifth grade student — at the height of the cluster grade — learns to synthesize information and draw conclusion about historical, geographical and political events and ideas. These differences represent not only differences in teaching material, but differences in presenting review material as well.

Not surprisingly, the cluster group also presents similarities in content to other grade levels as well, however the depth of the material is much more shallow. For example, the A Beka Book curriculum teaches students about the world wars in fourth, seventh, tenth and eleventh graders. As one would expect, fourth grade students learn mostly that the world wars occurred, whereas the highschoolers gain a better understanding of the ramifications and specifics of why the wars occurred.The nuaince being that fourth grade students does not have the comprehension level or the basic understanding to realize the significance of the World Wars.

As teachers work together to create a scope and sequence— or a plan for the year's curriculum— they should not only consider their grade level, but also use the grades before and after to help determine what information to teach and how it should be taught. Since effective teaching moves from the known to the unknown, teachers will not consider requiring students to master a subject until they have introduced and developed skills in a certain area.

While this writer suggests that the teachers teaching the grade should have the most influence on standards, teachers should work together to create a roadmap to success. Collaborating with experts in each field — such as social science, math, science or language experts — allows teachers to better understand the flow of material and relate it to other subjects. For example, in social sciences, particularly in the older grades, students engage in a lot of writing assignments. Students who learn how to properly organize a paper will do better not only in language, but they will succeed more in social science too.

Most importantly, teachers should gear material that is both appropriate for the grade level (not to difficult, and not too simple) while considering the learning preferences of the student body. Consider for example that science classes tend to me more hands-on with projects than english classes. Matching the content to the course is critical.

What should upper elementary students study?

While reviewing social studies standards for grades grades 3, 4, and 5, this writer was struck by the differences and amount of details given to the national standards as compared to the Georgia state standards. For example, the state of Georgia focused primarily on map and globe skills for grades three through five, but did not mention history standards or bring in the concepts of community helpers, as did the national standards and the scope and sequence of a Christian curriculum did. Due to the depth of the history intended learning outcomes (ILO), as suggested by the national standards, this writer wonders if the state focuses more on geography and globe skills to leave the history concepts to more of a separate subject matter. The concept of social science itself melds well with other subjects, and allows for ideas to be integrated with other topics easily, so this sentiment seems reasonable to this writer.

While this writer recognizes that third graders are less capable of understanding more complicated historical concepts, this writer was equally as surprised to see the detailed list of ILOs in the national standards. It seemed that not only were fifth grade students learning an overview of world history, but also that they were learning detailed concepts. Perhaps the difficulty in determining the exact level of standards was because national standards were listed for groups of grades, such as Kindergarten through four and five through eight. Since discerning what the fifth grade students were to comprehend and was more difficult due to the grouping, this writer looked to the other standards — such as the A Beka Book Scope and Sequence — for clarifications and suggestions. For this reason, this writer suggests that standards be set by the grade level instead of the grouping; such a change would allow teachers and schools to better respond and implement standards.


A Beka Book. (2011). Scope & sequence: Nursery through grade twelve. Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book.

Center for Civic Education website.

Council for Economic Education. (2010). Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics.

Georgia Department of Education. (2011). Overview of Social Studies Standards. Retrieved on November 8 from

National Center for History in the Schools. Overview of the Eight Standards.

National Geographic Xpeditions. (2008). Lesson Plans: 3-5.


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