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The principle of coherence (NZC, p. 9) states that:

'The curriculum offers all students a broad education that makes links within and across learning areas, provides for coherent transitions, and opens up pathways to further learning'.

Connections between subjects | Learning pathways

Connections between subjects

Students should be given opportunities to develop connections across subjects, supporting the skills necessary for lifelong learning.

For teachers of senior social studies this means making connections to the other subjects students are studying. This occurs throughout the cyclic process of teaching as inquiry.

Ask the students what other subjects they are studying and their aspirations so you can make links related to contexts, concepts, key competencies, values, and strategies to learn.

Work with colleagues to help students examine the ways in which social studies offers useful learning in geography, history, and economics and vice versa.

Consider the natural links between senior social studies and other subjects and how these links can be used in ways that advantage student understanding.

Examples of connections through contexts and subjects

Level 6

  • Waitangi investigations of land claims:
    • Why was the tribunal set up?
    • Who promoted the idea that redress was needed?
    • This could be linked to history when studying the dismantling of the Parihaka settlement or the Springboks tour. What were the causes and what were the consequences?
  • National treasure:
    • Why are there competing pressures for access and guardianship of resources like the foreshore and seabed, or mineral extraction in national parks?
    • This could be linked to geography when studying a geographic issue.
  • The Stolen generation:
    • Australian Aborigines working to gain social justice for children taken from their families by state or federal agencies.
    • This could be liked to history when studying the campaign for Aboriginal land rights. What are the issues and how are they significant to New Zealanders?

Connections through concepts

Each of the social sciences has concepts (big ideas) that connect all learning. These can be approached in different ways and revisited in different contexts.

Concepts identified to be important to senior social studies are:

  • society
  • culture
  • change
  • perspectives
  • rights
  • values
  • social justice.

Check the teaching and learning guides for history, geography, economics, and legal studies for their concepts and look for ways that these concepts could be developed in a senior social studies context.

When developing understanding of different concepts, use the ideas in Approaches to Building Conceptual Understandings in the Social Sciences ( PDF 5.7MB).

Connecting social sciences through key competencies and values

Possible context - Aboriginal land rights

  • Connections - senior social studies, legal studies, and history
  • Concepts - perspective (history, senior social studies), justice (legal studies)
  • Key competency - thinking - interpreting resources. Managing symbols, language and text can be developed as each involves students in communicating their understandings.
  • Values - understanding of values can be developed and modelled as students:
    • express their own values
    • explore, with empathy, the values of others
    • critically analyse values and actions based on them
    • discuss disagreements that arise from difference in values and negotiate solutions
    • make ethical decisions and act on them.

When considering the key competencies, think what would this look like in senior social studies, history, geography, economics, and other subjects.


The social sciences emphasise the interpretation of resources for independent understanding with the ability to ask who, what, why, when, and how. Another is the use of thinking tools that the school may use in various programmes, for example, Costa’s Habits of mind, Thinkers keys, De Bono’s 8 hats, or the solo taxonomy.

Common instructional language in the classroom such as success criteria, formative and summative assessment, helps create and strengthen the student’s learning experience.

Using language, symbols and texts

The senior social sciences share the demand for an informative style of writing that asks the student to write clearly, and present logical presentation of ideas aided by supporting evidence. For example, the use of newspaper articles has different features to reference books and this can be used in all social sciences.

Using digital media allows students to access information and to communicate in a variety of formats and to different audiences.

Managing self

In the social sciences, teachers might move from scaffolding research with their students towards minimal help from the teacher. They might use student goal setting and strategies to maximise strengths and minimise weaknesses.

Relating to others

A connection between subjects lies within the scaffolding of practice to build knowledge of relationship skills. This works well when students use inquiry learning on authentic tasks that relate to their own lives. For example, the synergies between geography and social studies include the methodology of inquiry and using authentic tasks in an investigation of an environmental issue where a range of values and perspectives requires explanation. To do this effectively, students have to recognise different points of view and be aware of how their actions might affect others.

Learning pathways

Students need to understand how their learning in senior social studies can connect to their lives outside school. When they do, it is a powerful tool to motivate, engage, and enhance the relevance of their learning.

Learning pathways from years 11-13

A goal of senior social studies is to encourage students to understand how they can connect to, and build on, other learning areas and life outside and beyond school. When they do achieve this goal it is a powerful tool to motivate, engage, and enhance the relevance of their learning.

At school

Senior social studies can be taken for a single year (dependant on school policies). The ‘human’ nature of the subject means every student comes to the subject with learning capital gained through living in families, interacting with peers, and operating in larger society.

Many of the senior social studies concepts have been explored in junior social studies programmes. Students learn through the development and examination of current issues and of social actions how they can influence their own and others' futures.

Senior social studies provides evidence towards the literacy standards required for NCEA course completion. Read about the NCEA Literacy and Numeracy requirements.

Support for tertiary education

Social studies contributes towards a student’s pathway into many courses of higher education. The social inquiry approach to teaching and learning (with emphasis on student directed learning) prepares students to take individual responsibility for, and manage, their learning.

At school the significant research investigations at NCEA levels 1, 2 and 3 build the skills, knowledge, and understanding to prepare students for tertiary education’s highest goal: the creation of new knowledge and the understanding that comes from it.

Learning for life

What is special about senior social studies?

The focus is on people and how they live their lives, on their relationships with other people and the institutions created to order their communities. This understanding of human behaviour is a powerful tool for students to apply in negotiating their future pathways in their social, educational, economic and other worlds.

A significant part of the learning in senior social studies is developing the key competencies which are critical to sustained learning and effective participation in society.

Aligned to the key competencies are the career management competencies outlined in Career Education and Guidance in New Zealand Schools, MOE 2009.

These are:

  • develop self–awareness
  • build and maintain a positive self-concept
  • interact positively and effectively with others
  • change and grow throughout life
  • explore opportunities
  • participate in lifelong learning to support life and work goals
  • locate information and use it effectively
  • understand the relationship between work, society and the economy
  • deciding and acting
  • make life-and career-enhancing decisions
  • make and review learning career plans
  • act appropriately to manage their own careers.

(Career Education and Guidance in New Zealand Schools, MOE 2009)

Last updated June 11, 2024