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The Importance of Generalizations in Social Studies

April 25, 2010

Shiveley & Misco (2009) suggest that generalizations are a logical step in teaching kids to think critically about what they know and transferring that knowledge to a variety of topics within the social studies. After understanding the relationship between “fact” and “concept” students will be capable of producing high-quality generalizations that eliminate isolation of ideas and stimulate crossover and relevance to the social studies curriculum.

Research Summary

The authors suggest that a critical component to understanding the need for generalizations is the ability to discern between fact and concept.

Fact: a specific and often isolated piece of information that is believed to be true and which can be confirmed by empirical evidence

Concept: an idea used to organize a class of objects or experiences, typically one or two words, which may be concrete (dog, chair) or abstract (love, justice).

Generalizations: a statement of a relationship between two or more concepts. It is believed to be true and applies to similar situations regardless of time, space, and culture. This statement may be used as a tool for prediction and is often framed as an if/then statement.

It is imperative to understand that the authors utilize generalizations in their article such that they are not bounded in the past or restricted to a particular place and time. Nomothetic generalizations have “predictive explanatory power” and have some sense of “universal validity” thus making them useful for student experimenting and hypothesizing to increase engagement within the course.

The authors also offer guidelines that any statement that includes a reference to a specific time (“during the 1800s”), place (“in the American West”), or culture (“Native Americans often…”) should not be accepted as a generalization so as not to confuse the learner and maintain uniformity.

The value of utilizing nomothetic generalizations in class is that it allows the learner to make bold statements and test them out in a wide variety of contexts. Math and science classes adopt generalizations as second nature and show the strengths and importance of allowing students to transfer their knowledge and findings to situations inside the classroom as well as outside of the classroom thus leaving a lasting impact on the learner and relevance to the social studies curriculum.

Classroom Implications

The researchers specifically discuss the lack of generalizations in social studies classrooms to be a result of standardized testing and the increased burden of standards. In addition, they acknowledge the disconnect between students and the social studies curriculum as many perceive the discipline to be “dull, irrelevant, and boring.” To this, they make one, telling statement:

Not only does a focus on generalizations have the promise to enhance vibrancy of classes and student interest, but it also has the potential to raise test scores through enhanced understandings of the content and improve the development of citizenship skills and dispositions.


Shiveley, J.M., & Micso, T. (2009) Reclaiming generalizations in social studies education. Social Studies Research & Practice, 4 (2), 73-78. Retrieved 26 April 2010 from

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 2, 2016 4:28 am


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