Instructional Practices

What is the C3 Framework for Social Studies?

4 Min Read
WF1692531 Shaped 2023 Blog Post C3 Framework for Social Studies Hero

Imagine you are teaching a geography lesson and your students learn about a place where their favorite musician was born. For example, if they love Beyoncé, will they be more interested to learn about the history and customs of the people from Texas?

When students connect with a social studies lesson on a personal level they are more likely to retain the information. It could also help them to apply their knowledge to daily life. The C3 Framework is designed to make work in social studies more meaningful and connected to daily life.

What Is the C3 Framework?

According to the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS), the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards is in place to help states progress their social studies standards. The NCSS, in collaboration with other organizations, put guidelines in place to help teachers and administrators who are looking to strengthen their programs.

The Framework helps students to gain knowledge and apply it so they can prepare for college, career, and civic life. Social studies can serve as a lens that will show students where different ideas and questions intersect. According to the NCSS, “it intentionally envisions social studies instruction as an inquiry arc of interlocking and mutually reinforcing elements that speak to the intersection of ideas and learners.” The C3 Framework provides a fun and impactful structure to social studies lessons that supports inquiry-based learning.

The C3 Framework is designed to make work in social studies more meaningful and connected to daily life.

According to the NCSS C3 Framework, social studies should:

  • Prepare the nation’s young people for college, careers, and civic life
  • Place emphasis on inquiry
  • Involve interdisciplinary applications
  • Highlight social studies' deep and enduring understandings, concepts, and skills from the disciplines
  • Prepare students for democratic decision making

Social studies is a rich and varied subject that has students engaging with a wide range of skills. The NCSS breaks the subject into four “dimensions” that cover developing questions, applying knowledge, evaluating sources, and taking action. The table below shows this process of developing critical thinking skills and application. It also helps students to become active participants in civic life.

C3 Framework Organization

Dimension 1: Developing Questions and Planning InquiriesDimension 2: Applying Disciplinary Tools and ConceptsDimension 3: Evaluating Sources and Using EvidenceDimension 4: Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action
  • Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries
  • Civics
  • Gathering and Evaluating Sources
  • Communicating and Critiquing Conclusions
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • Developing Claims and Using Evidence
  • Taking Informed Action
  • History

Activities That Support the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards

Below are some practical activities to engage your classroom using the C3 Framework. Get your students involved in thoughtful, impactful studies that will help their decision making as they learn and grow.

Activity 1: Teach Fact vs. Opinion (Grades 6 and up)

Read our article on teaching fact vs. opinion and try one of the many activities we share. Some examples include analyzing news stories vs. editorials and practicing persuasive writing. This is a great topic to address all three Cs: college, careers, and civic life.

Chart Credit: Esther Wojcicki

Activity 2: Compare and Contrast with a Venn diagram (Grades 9–12)

Use a Venn diagram, a tool that helps showcase the similarities and differences between two topics, to analyze questions in social studies. For example, try our Mayan Pyramids vs. Egyptian Pyramids Lesson Plan with your high schoolers to compare these two man-made wonders.

Activity 3: Learn about Native American Communities (Grades 6 and up)

Help students to locate indigenous land nearby and find out which tribal nation originated where they live. Connect them to their history of tribal nations by keeping it relevant and local. They can use this Native Land Map as a starting point. Have students answer the question: Who are your tribal neighbors today?

Before getting started, read through our blog celebrating Native American Heritage Month to find activities and lesson plans to help make these connections.

If you are looking to enhance your social studies program, the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework may help you to structure changes that will make your curriculum more challenging and practical.


Immerse students in history with an inquiry-based social studies program for Grades 6–12.

Download our FREE annual calendar of activities!

Related Reading

WF1932000 hero

Mary Dean

Shaped Contributor

Activities to prevent math summer slide hero

Richard Blankman

Shaped Executive Editor

Summer learning activities for elementary and middle school students

Brenda Iasevoli
Shaped Executive Editor