School Improvement in Maryland

Grades 4-5

The attached is a vocabulary list of content-specific words appropriate for Grades 4-5 social studies instruction and assessment. Teachers are encouraged to use the correct terminology when presenting concepts and to reinforce this vocabulary whenever appropriate during instructional and assessment activities.

Teacher suggestions to help students retain content specific vocabulary include:

  • model the use of the terminology in meaningful context as often as possible
  • encourage student use of vocabulary by
    • praising students who use content vocabulary when giving responses
    • challenging students to find appropriate uses of content vocabulary in oral and written composition
  • recycle previously used words to keep them in the students' memory bank
  • post content vocabulary words with a diagram to denote meaning on a bulletin board or wall so students will have a ready reference for words they might need to read and comprehend.


  • Colony - an area of land controlled by another, usually distant, country.
  • Economic characteristics - traits that are used to describe the way people use their resources to meet their wants.
  • Ethnic group - a group of people who share a language and similar customs.
  • Migration - the movement of people from one country or region to another with the intent of staying at that place for a long period of time.
  • Native societies - the first peoples living in a particular region, for example the Eskimos and the Indians were the first to inhabit North America.
  • Political characteristics - looking at the way people form government policy, choose to govern themselves and work within the political arena to get and hold office.
  • Settlement - a place where people make a permanent new home.
  • Settler - a person who makes a permanent home in a new place. Settlers from many countries built homes in the English colonies.
  • Social characteristics - traits that are used to describe how people live together in a society, including their traditions, housing, diet, religion, language, education, and the development of their art and music.
  • Society - a group of people bound together by the same culture or way of life.


  • Adapt - to change in order to fit new environmental conditions.
  • Bodies of water - all the different sizes and shapes of water naturally found on the Earth's surface. Oceans, seas, bays, lakes, rivers, and ponds are examples of bodies of water.
  • Communication - ways people send and receive messages thereby linking people and places.
  • Environment - the geographic characteristics that surround and affect the way people live.
  • Environment concerns/issues - interests people have about the care of the natural environment.
  • Geographic characteristics - traits that distinguish one place from another. These are divided into two groups. Physical characteristics describe the natural environment of the place. They include physical features (natural landforms and bodies of water), weather and climate, soil, vegetation, and animal life. Human characteristics describe the people of the place past or present, their human-made features (buildings, etc), languages, religions, economic activities, and political systems.
  • Human-made features - changes people have made to the land. These changes include buildings, bridges, tunnels, railroad tracks, dams, monuments, piers, farm fields.
  • Landforms - the different shapes of Earth's surface. Mountains, hills, plateaus, plains, valleys, peninsulas, and islands are examples of landforms.
  • Map - a graphic model of the earth or a part of the earth that is drawn on a flat surface.
  • Map elements - the parts of a map that make it usable.
    • author - the person or company that made the map.
    • border - the frame around the map.
    • cardinal directions - north, south, east, and west.
    • compass rose - the small drawing that uses one or more arrows to show cardinal and/or intermediate directions on a map or globe.
    • coordinate - the point on a map or globe where a line of latitude and longitude cross.
    • date - the year in which the map was made.
    • grid system - the pattern of lines that help locate places on a map or globe; for example, latitude and longitude.
    • intermediate directions - directions between the cardinal directions: northeast, southeast, southwest, northwest
    • latitude/longitude - imaginary lines on a map or globe that measure distance north and south of the Equator and distance east and west of the prime meridian.
    • legend/key - explains the meaning of the symbols on the map
    • scale - the measurement on a map or globe that shows the distance between places.
    • symbols - the pictures, shapes, or colors on a map that stand for objects, places, or people.
    • title - a heading that identifies the subject of a map.
  • Migrate/migration/immigration - to move from one country or region to another with the intent of staying at that place for a long period of time.
  • Modify - to change to meet the wants of people.
  • Natural environment - the physical setting of a place including the land, air, water, plants, and animals.
  • Physical features - landforms and bodies of water formed by nature.
  • Population growth - the increase in the number of people living in a place due to migration, immigration and/or births.
  • Region - an area that has one or more geographic characteristics in common, such as the Middle Colonies or the Piedmont Plateau.
  • Relative distance - the approximate distance of a place in relationship to other places (i.e. near and far)
  • Settlement - the arrangement of places where people live, including rural and urban centers.
  • Technology - skills, methods, tools, machines and other things used to perform activities. Technology changes over time and affects the way we live, work, and play.
  • Transportation - ways goods and people move from place to place thereby linking communities.


  • Capital resources - Goods made by people and used to produce other goods and services. Examples include tools, roads, bridges, factories, machinery, glue, lumber, chalk, rope, textbooks, and workbooks.
  • Consume - Use goods and services to satisfy economic wants.
  • Consumers - People who buy and use goods and services to satisfy economic wants.
  • Demand - The amount of a resource or product buyers are willing and able to buy at different possible prices.
  • Economic decision - A choice to produce or consume a good or a service. Because we cannot have everything we want, we have to decide what we will choose and what we will give up.
  • Economic growth - Producing more goods and services at the present time than were produced in the past.
  • Economic wants - Goods and services people would like to have. Examples include food, clothing, a place to live, a bicycle, a toy, a trip to an amusement park, and a birthday party.
  • Economy - The way a society organizes to produce, distribute and consume goods and services.
  • Goods - Things that people make or grow that satisfy economic wants. Examples include a house, a car, a toy, and an apple.
  • Human resources - People (workers) doing physical or mental work to produce goods or services. Examples include teachers, cooks, bus drivers, and carpenters.
  • Interdependence - Depending on one another for resources, goods, and services. When people and businesses specialize, they become interdependent. Example: Within a community, a grocer depends on a doctor for medical care and a doctor depends on a grocer for food. Geographers look at how transportation and communication link people and places.
  • Limited resources - Not having enough resources to produce all the goods and services that people want.
  • Money - Something that is used to buy and sell resources, goods, and services. Money is not a capital resource because it is not used to produce goods and services.
  • Natural resources - Gifts of nature that can be used to produce goods and services. Examples include trees, sunshine, soil, water, plants, animals, oil, coal, and metals.
  • Opportunity cost - The next best (second-best) choice that is given up when a decision (choice) is made. Example: Pedro is buying lunch in the cafeteria. The choices are pizza, tacos, or a hot dog. Pedro likes all three choices, but he can only have one. He chooses pizza. His opportunity cost is his next best (second-best) choice, which is tacos. Example: Farmer Jones can choose to plant the field with corn, plant the field with soybeans, raise cattle, or raise sheep. She chooses to raise sheep. Her opportunity cost is her next best (second-best) choice, which is raising cattle.
  • Price - The value of a resource, good or service stated in money terms.
  • Producers - People who combine natural, human and capital resources to make goods and/or services.
  • Product - A good or service made with resources.
  • Production - The process of combining natural, human and capital resources to make a product, either a good or a service.
  • Public goods and services - Goods and services provided by the government and paid for with taxes. Examples include roads, bridges, libraries, schools, policy, fire fighters and government.
  • Resources - Things that can be used to produce a good or a service.
  • Services - Actions (jobs) that people do for each other. A service is something that you cannot touch or hold. A service is consumed at the instant it is produced. Some services, such as firefighter, mayor, police officer, and teacher are provided by the government. Other services, such as plumber, dentist, and hair cutter are provided by businesses.
  • Specialized work - A job or a part of a job. Examples include reading teacher, farmer, brick layer, police officer, taxi driver, and worker on an assembly line.
  • Supply - The amount of a resource or product sellers are willing and able to sell at various possible prices.
  • Taxes - Money paid to the government so it can provide some goods and services.
  • Technology - Skills, methods, tools, machines and other things used to perform activities. Technology changes over time and affects the way we live, work, and play. Geographers look at how the use of technology modifies the natural environment. Examples include using technology to clear the land; dam a river; to construct canals, bridges, roads and railroads; and to build communities. Economists look at how the use of technology changes production and consumption. Examples include computers, televisions, telephones, boats, airplanes, bridges, dams, roads, tractors, axes, shovels, assembly lines and methods of farming.
  • Trade - The exchange of resources, goods, and services through barter or the use of money.

Political Systems

  • Authority - the right to use power to control the behaviors of others.
  • Branches of government - legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government.
    • Legislative - the branch of government that makes the laws.
    • Executive - the branch of government that enforces the laws made by the legislative branch.
    • Judicial - the branch of government that interprets the laws and settles disputes.
  • Citizen - a person who is a member of a town, city, state, or country.
  • Civic participation - engaging in activities that contribute to the well-being of a community, i.e. obeying rules and laws, voting, getting a good education.
  • Community improvement - working to make the community better.
  • Compromise - a way to settle conflict by all sides agreeing to give up part of what they want.
  • Conflict - a disagreement among people or organizations.
  • Democracy - a form of government in which power is held by the people. The people exercise their power either directly or through elected representatives.
  • Government - a group of people who work together to bring order to a community, state, or nation. The main jobs of a government are to make and enforce laws.
  • Justice - the act of being fair and honest Landmark - 1) a familiar object at a place that people easily know as a part of that community; 2) an important object that reminds people of an important event or person. Independence Hall is a landmark in Philadelphia.
  • Maintain order - to keep the community clean, safe, and organized for the good of all citizens.
  • Participate - to take part in an activity.
  • Participation - taking part in or sharing in the activities of a group or organization.
  • Patriotism - great loyalty to one's country.
  • Petition - a formal written request for something made to a person in authority.
  • Political process - the system of citizens electing representatives or leaders to make decisions for people. The political process can also refer to steps of forming policy or making, enforcing, and interpreting laws.
  • Political system - a set of democratic principles and ideas that citizens follow.
  • Principles - the democratic ideas and values in American government including privacy, authority, power, justice/fairness, responsibility, patriotism, tolerance, and respect for the rights of others.
  • Privacy - the state of being alone or not being interfered with.
  • Respect - to be thoughtful of and caring of another person.
  • Rights and responsibilities - Rights are freedoms granted to American citizens that allow them to make their own choices. For example, American have the right to an education, to express ideas, and to vote for leaders. Responsibilities are duties that citizens have.
  • Rule - something you must or must not do.
  • Rule of Law - the belief that every citizen must follow the laws. Even the President must follow the laws of the country.
  • Social institution - a group or organization with a special purpose in a society or culture. Examples are family, local government, school, or a club.
  • Symbol - a drawing or object that stands for something else. The Statue of Liberty symbolizes equality and justice. The Bald Eagle symbolizes freedom and independence.
  • Tolerance - being willing to let others have their own beliefs and ways of behaving, even though it may be different from your own belief.

Peoples of the Nation and World

  • Adapt - to change in order to fit new environmental conditions.
  • Community - all the people who live in a particular area; a group of people who have similar qualities or interests.
  • Conflict - a fight or strong disagreement.
  • Cooperate/cooperation - to work together to get something done.
  • Cultural characteristics - typical traits of a society, including customs, clothing, religion, arts, language, education, government, and family.
  • Culture - the language, traditions, beliefs, clothing, and activities of a group of people.
  • Custom - something that has been done for a long time and is widely accepted .
  • Diversity - variety.
  • Environment - the geographic characteristics that surround and affect the way people live.
  • Interaction - the act of doing something with others or having influence with others.
  • Interdependence/interdependent - the act of needing each other for help or support.
  • Migrate/migration/immigration - to move from one country or region to another with the intent of staying at that place for a long period of time.
  • Modify - to change the surrounding environment to meet the needs of people.
  • Tradition - a custom or belief that is handed down from generation to generation.