Concepts and Themes for Social Studies

Concepts and themes serve as content organizers for the vast amounts of information people encounter every day. Concepts represent mental images, constructs, or word pictures that help people to arrange and classify fragmented and isolated facts and information.

A concept is

  • usually abstract, as opposed to concrete .
  • a product of the analysis and synthesis of facts and experiences rather than a definition to be learned.
  • constantly subject to change and expansion of meaning and delineation of detail, as different experiences provide settings and different relationships in new contexts.

Students construct concepts and themes as they interact with their environments. This process of concept formation is ongoing, stimulated by active, meaningful involvement, and developmental in nature. To demonstrate the developmental nature of concept learning, the concepts and themes of the K-12 social studies program are listed on each page of the scope and sequence.

The key concepts of the K-12 social studies program are:


Belief Systems
means an established orderly way that groups or individuals look at religious faith or philosophical tenets.
involves the basic alterations in things, events, and ideas.
is a clash of ideas, interests, or wills that result from incompatible opposing forces.
means the right or power to select from a range of alternatives.
means the patterns of human behavior that includes ideas, beliefs, values, artifacts, and, ways of making a living which any society transmits to succeeding generations to meet its fundamental needs.
means understanding and respecting others and oneself including similarities and differences in language, gender, socioeconomic class, religion, and other human characteristics and traits.
means the ability to understand others through being able to identify in one's self responses similar to the experiences, behaviors, and responses of others.
means awareness of one's own values, attitudes, and capabilities as an individual and as a member of different groups.
means reliance upon others in mutually beneficial interactions and exchanges.
means the domination by one country of the political and/ or economic life of another country or region.
Movement of People and Goods
refers to the constant exchange of people, ideas, products, technologies, and institutions from one region or civilization to another that has existed throughout history.
means the feeling of pride in and devotion to one's country or the desire of a people to control their own government, free from foreign interference or rule.
means movement of people from rural to urban areas.

The six essential elements of geography:*

The World in Spatial Terms-
Geography studies the relationships between people, places, and environments by mapping information about them into a spatial context.
Places and Regions-
The identities and lives of individuals and peoples are rooted in particular places and in those human constructs called regions.
Physical Systems-
Physical processes shape Earth's surface and interact with plant and animal life to create, sustain, and modify ecosystems.
Human Systems-
People are central to geography in that human activities help shape Earth's surface, human settlements and structures are part of Earth's surface, and humans compete for control of Earth's surface.
Environment and Society-
The physical environment is modified by human activities, largely as a consequence of the ways in which human societies value and use Earth's natural resources, and human activities are also influenced by Earth's physical features and processes.
The Uses of Geography-
Knowledge of geography enables people to develop an understanding G of the relationships between people, places, and environments over time-that is, of Earth as it was, is, and might be.
(*Taken from: Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994, pp. 34-35. Permission applied for.)
means the surroundings, including natural elements and elements created by humans.


Needs and Wants
refer to those goods and services that are essential such as food, clothing, and shelter (needs), and those good and services that people would like to have to improve the quality of their lives, (i.e., wants-education, security, health care, entertainment).
Economic Systems
include traditional, command, market, and mixed systems. Each must answer the three basic economic questions: What goods and services shall be produced and in what quantities? How shall these goods and services be produced? For whom . shall goods and services be produced?
Factors of Production
are human, natural, and capital resources which when combined become various goods and services (e.g., How land, labor, and capital inputs are used to pro- duce food.).
means the conflict between unlimited needs and wants and limited natural and human resources.
Science and technology
means the tools and methods used by people to get what they need and want.

Civics, Citizenship, and Government

means the fair, equal, proportional, or appropriate treatment rendered to individuals in interpersonal, societal, or government interactions.
means a geographic/political organization uniting people by a common government.
means membership in a community (neighborhood, school, region, state, nation, world) with its accompanying rights, responsibilities, and dispositions.
Political Systems
such as monarchies, dictatorships, and democracies address certain basic questions of government such as: What should a government have the power to do? What should a government not have the power to do? A political system also provides for ways that parts of that system interrelate and combine to perform specific functions of government.
refers to the ability of people to compel or influence the actions of others. "Legitimate power is called authority."
means the 'formal institutions and processes of a politically organized society with authority to make, enforce, and interpret laws and other binding rules about matters of common interest and concern. Government also refers to the group of people, acting in formal political institutions at national, state, and local levels, who exercise decision making power or enforce laws and regulations. " (Taken from: Civics Framework for the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress, NAEP Civics Consensus Project, The National Assessment Governing Board, United States Department of Education, p. 19).
Decision Making
means the processes used to "monitor and influence public and civic life by working with others, clearly articulating ideals and interests, building coalitions, seeking consensus, negotiating compromise, and managing conflict. " (Taken from: Civics Framework, p. 18).
Civic Values
refer to those important principles that serve as the foundation for our democratic form of government. These values include justice, honesty, self-discipline, due process, equality, majority rule with respect for minority rights, and respect for self, others, and property.
Human Rights
are those basic political, economic, and social rights that all human beings are entitled to, such as the right to life, liberty, and the security of person, and a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family. Human rights are inalienable and expressed by various United Nations Documents including the United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[Taken from Social Studies Resource Guide with Core Curriculum. New York State Education Department]