Social Studies


The primary goal of Social Studies education is to give students the knowledge, skills, and competencies to be active, informed citizens who are able to think critically, understand and explain the perspectives of others, make judgments, and communicate ideas effectively.

Through their study of historical events, students will gain an understanding of the people, places, issues, and events that have shaped the world they live in. By studying some of the many different cultures and ways of life that exist and have existed throughout the world, students will develop both a deeper understanding of the differences between peoples and an appreciation of the aspects of human experience shared across time and space.

Social Studies provides students with an understanding of their place in the world and the connections between the human and natural environment. The increasing cultural and economic interconnections between societies and the growing awareness of the importance of environmental sustainability make geographic understandings a crucial part of informed citizenship.

Social Studies also develops knowledge and understandings of the economy, the interdependence of economies, and how economic decisions can have consequences at individual, local, national, and international levels.

The Social Studies curriculum also provides opportunities for students to learn about Canadian society, our democratic institutions, and the rights and responsibilities of Canadian citizens.
It explores how students can have an impact on the decisions made in their society and advocate for causes important to them. Students will also understand the importance of being open to new ideas and civil to those with whom they disagree in creating a healthy and vibrant democracy.

The renewed Social Studies curriculum

Reduction in required content

The learning standards in the curriculum are less detailed and prescriptive than past curricula and allow teachers and students to go in directions of particular interest or local relevance. The goal of this more open curriculum is to allow teachers to spend more time delving deeper into fewer key topics and focus less on simply rushing through a long list of factual details in an attempt to cover all of the required topics.

Greater emphasis on key disciplinary thinking skills

The reduction in the number of content learning standards places greater emphasis on acquiring and developing key disciplinary thinking skills. These skills are built around six major historical and geographical thinking concepts: significance, evidence, continuity and change, cause and consequence, perspective, and ethical judgment. The focus on disciplinary thinking means that students will be involved in developing their own understanding of important concepts, rather than simply receiving that knowledge from textbooks, the teacher, or other authoritative sources.

First Peoples perspectives

In order to build greater understanding of First Peoples history and culture, the study of these important topics and perspectives is embedded throughout all grades. The Curricular Competencies also ensure that students consider topics from multiple perspectives and are constantly able to question the justification and evidence for interpretations of events and issues.

Focus on inquiry

Throughout the Social Studies curriculum, students examine big, open-ended questions so they can make informed decisions. Making an informed decision about an issue requires an understanding of the key historical, geographical, political, economic, and societal factors involved, and how these different factors relate to and interact with each other. Students build these deeper understandings through investigations into interesting, open-ended questions, debating and discussing historical and contemporary issues, and developing and supporting their own hypotheses, solutions, and conclusions.

Curriculum design

As in all other learning areas, the Social Studies curriculum is based on a Know-Do-Understand model. There are four key features of the curriculum structure: Big Ideas, Curricular Competencies, Content, and Elaborations. More details about this model can be found on the curriculum website at

Big Ideas

Big Ideas represent the “understanding” component of the curriculum model, the deep understandings that students develop as a result of their learning. The Big Ideas are understood through activities that examine Content topics through the use of key disciplinary skills found in the Curricular Competencies.

Collectively, the Big Ideas progress in sophistication and degree of connection to the lives of students throughout the curriculum. The examples below illustrate how the Big Ideas advance in depth as students progress through the curriculum.






Big Ideas

Our communities are diverse and made of individuals who have a lot in common.

People from diverse cultures and societies share some common experiences and aspects of life.

Economic self-interest can be a significant cause of conflict among peoples and governments.

Disparities in power alter the balance of relationships between individuals and between societies.

Curricular Competencies

These action-based statements represent the “do” section of the curriculum model and identify what students will do to demonstrate their learning. The Curricular Competencies have been written to promote as much flexibility and creativity as possible to enable students to explore and find multiple ways to demonstrate their learning.

The Curricular Competencies have been linked with the Core Competencies — Communication, Thinking, and Personal and Social Awareness. Identified and developed through provincial consultation, the Core Competencies represent a collection of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional skills that contribute to lifelong learning and help develop habits of mind such as:

  • persisting in tasks and goals
  • taking responsible risks
  • thinking interdependently in groups and teams
  • creating, imagining, and innovating new ways to accomplish tasks
  • applying past knowledge and experiences to new situations
  • managing impulses and emotions
  • striving for accuracy and setting high standards

(Adapted from Mindful by Design, by Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, 2009)


Content represents the “know” part of the curriculum model, and includes concepts or topics that identify what students will learn about at each grade level. In addition to being rich in information, the Content learning standards act as a supporting structure to assist students in their efforts to demonstrate the Curricular Competencies and to help lead students to the Big Ideas.


Throughout the Social Studies K–9 curriculum, most of the Content and Curricular Competencies have Elaborations that take the form of key skills, key questions, and sample topics. Elaborations provide additional information and support for both teachers and students and can serve as potential places to begin teaching and learning. The Elaborations can be found by mousing over highlighted word(s).

Establishing a positive classroom climate

Teachers are responsible for establishing and promoting a classroom climate in which students feel comfortable learning about and discussing Social Studies topics. The following guidelines may help educators establish and promote a positive classroom climate:

•    Allow students sufficient time and opportunities to become comfortable with each other before engaging in group discussion. It is important that the classroom climate encourage students to relate to one another in positive, respectful, and supportive ways. Be prepared to facilitate any potentially controversial discussions.

•    Establish clear ground rules for class discussions that demonstrate respect for privacy, diversity, and the expression of differing viewpoints.

•    Activities and discussion related to some of the topics in Social Studies may evoke an emotional response from individual students. Inform an administrator or counsellor when any concern arises, and ensure that students know where to go for help and support.

Inclusion, equity, and accessibility for all learners

British Columbia’s schools include young people of varied backgrounds, interests, and abilities. The Kindergarten to Grade 12 school system is committed to meeting the needs of all students. When selecting specific topics, activities, and resources to support the implementation of Social Studies, teachers are encouraged to ensure that these choices support inclusion, equity, and accessibility for all students. In particular, teachers should ensure that classroom instruction, assessment, and resources reflect sensitivity to diversity and incorporate positive role portrayals, relevant issues, and themes such as inclusion, respect, and acceptance.

Working with First Peoples communities

The Ministry of Education is dedicated to ensuring that the cultures and contributions of First Peoples in BC are reflected in all provincial curricula. To address these topics in the classroom in a way that is accurate and that respectfully reflects First Peoples Principles of teaching and learning, teachers are strongly encouraged to seek the advice and support of local First Peoples communities. As First Peoples communities are diverse in terms of language, culture, and available resources, each community will have its own unique protocol for gaining support for integration of local knowledge and expertise.

To begin discussion of possible instructional and assessment activities, teachers should first contact First Peoples education co-ordinators, teachers, support workers, and counsellors in their district who will be able to facilitate the identification of local resources and contacts such as Elders, chiefs, tribal or band councils, First Peoples cultural centres, friendship centres, and Métis or Inuit organizations.