Incorporate Narrative Expository Text in Social Studies

By Shawna Martino
Faculty, Grand Canyon University

Students working in class

Difficulties Reading Traditional Text

Having difficulty getting students to read about history, especially upper elementary and secondary students? They say textbooks are boring and confusing. For the most part, they are correct. As educators we know that expository text is more difficult to read and comprehend due to text structure, vocabulary development needed and the brain processes required.

Students complain that the material is not applicable to them or their time. Traditional textbooks are criticized for the lack of content that can stimulate inquiry and debate for students. However, just imagine the impact if we have generations of students rejecting the content of social studies because instructional materials are too problematic and incomprehensible.

Changing Students’ Views

There is an alternative type of text for social studies called Narrative Expository text or hybrid text. It is text that combines characteristics of narrative and expository writing by having a linear storyline infused with related information and facts. Consider the types of books you might find in this hybrid genre: biographies, short stories and graphic novels, just to name a few. This hybrid text has many advantages. Narrative text increases exposure to and development of vocabulary, allows for better overall comprehension and builds processing skills to aid students interpreting information.

Since history is fundamentally narrative in structure, it is a more natural way for the brain to learn. Students readily understand it and make connections to themselves and the world around them. By making these types of connections and understanding expository facts in a new way, student’s brains are freed up to think critically about the learning. Real life connections make learning meaningful, which is advantageous for storing information long term. Hybrid text creates authentic meaning and elicits critical thinking, every teacher’s goal.

Narrative Expository a New Idea

Narrative expository is a newer idea in social studies curriculum. Some textbooks have incorporated small vignettes, but primarily the teacher provides the alternative reading. For example, educators who teach the Holocaust primarily choose chronological narrative expository due to the ease of comprehension for students while studying a difficult topic.

When teaching American history, one could use the narrative expository text “Courage Has No Color” about the first black paratrooper unit in World War II while engaging students in critical evaluation of the material through literature circles. Another example of this is high school students who read “Killing JFK” and analyzed its significance through Socratic seminars in class. Often students express how learning history from their text does not make sense, but when they read narrative expository, they see history through the eyes of those who lived it, thereby creating a clearer understanding of people and events.

Incorporate Hybrid Genre in the Classroom

Some suggestions for incorporation of hybrid text include:

  • Readers/writers workshop (upper elementary/middle school)
  • Read aloud (upper elementary/middle school)
  • Closed reading (all levels)
  • Literature circles (upper elementary/middle/high school)
  • Socratic seminars (upper elementary/middle/high school)
  • Cross curricular projects with other educators, particularly language arts/social studies (all ages)
  • The next time you want a new way to engage your secondary students in some authentic and meaningful social studies learning, consider the use of a narrative expository text.

Dr. Shawna Martino is a recent graduate of Grand Canyon University, with a degree in Organizational Leadership K-12. Additionally she holds a Bachelors in History from Gonzaga University and a Masters in Teaching Gifted and Talented from Whitworth University. Dr Martino has been an educator for 27 years with experience in grades K -8 and in the college classroom as adjunct faculty and full time online faculty at GCU. She loves working at the collegiate level, helping to prepare the next generation of educators. Originally from Spokane, Washington where she was born and raised, Dr Martino has lived in Phoenix with her family for 16 years; she is a wife, mother and grandmother.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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