It’s time to plan that first social studies unit. Some of us have the lesson plan pretty much handed to us by the state or district, and told not to veer off of it. Others are given standards as guidelines, but are left to our own creativity and students’ needs to determine how we will teach them. Some of us fall in between. If you are in the first group, you’re probably not looking for new ideas, but if you are in the later groups—this blog’s for you.
On this post I am going to share ideas that are specifically geared to teaching early U.S. History in the Middle Grades, although the strategies will work for other subjects and grade levels. Future posts will discuss planning for U.S. History starting with Reconstruction, World Studies, and Elementary Social Studies.
Some states start with Pre-Columbian Native American cultures; others begin with the Age of Exploration. Many states (and AP) aren’t giving a lot of time for either anymore and give more emphasis to the Colonial Period. If you have a week or so to spend on the Pre-Columbian Era, here are some ideas. If you start with the Age of Exploration, or combine the two eras, watch for my next post.
I found that the most logical way to teach about Native American cultures is to divide students into groups each assigned to research a culture region. This also provides an opportunity for your students to practice your cooperative learning procedure early in the year. Provide groups with a list of topics to research, such as: geography, food, shelter, government, beliefs. Let groups appoint a member to research each topic. If time is short you may opt to have students read a portion of their text or other article in lieu of more detailed research. There are many options for sharing the information with the rest of the class. I think the least effective and most boring way is to have them read it to the entire class. Following are some of my favorite alternatives.
Jigsaw or Tribal Council:
After students have researched their assigned topic, have them share the information with the other members of the group in a Tribal Council. Each group member should fill in a chart or other graphic for notes. To make sure their chart is accurate, each member should compare with the rest of the group. If you wish, you could then hold Inter-tribal Council meetings where groups are rearranged so that there is a representative of each culture region in each new group. These members can then share all of the information from their group’s chart with the new group, who will fill in the information on a new chart for each region.
Learning Center Carousel:
This activity can be done with the Tribal Council portion of the above activity, or without it. After students have collected their information, they will design a project board (3-ply standing poster-like used in science projects) display. Make sure they use headings to make it easy to follow. I also ask my students to include a variety of visuals such as pictures, maps, graphic organizers. Provide clear guidelines of your expectations and a grading rubric.
After completing their display, groups should write 10 questions that can be answered by their display. Make sure they also provide a separate answer sheet.
When all displays are complete, number them and display them around the room. Place the questions next to them (numbered to match the display). Have each group move to the display to the right of theirs. Give them a limited amount of time to examine the display and work together to answer the questions. Use a signal to move groups clockwise to the next display, where they will answer the questions about a different region. Continue until they are back to their own display. You may allow them to answer their own question, especially if they have not previously shared their topics within their group (as in the Tribal Council).
I like to make the carousel activity a contest to see which group gets the most correct answers. The prize can be bonus points on their project. I have them exchange their papers with another group to check as we go over the answers as a class. This also provides an opportunity for a debriefing discussion in which you can emphasize the “big questions” of history such as: How does geography impact culture, and How do different groups govern themselves…
Shadow Box or Model: Younger students might like to make a shadow box, or model village to represent the cultural group they researched. Ask them to create the environment in which they lived. Have them add their homes, maybe some animals they hunted, or crops they grew if they were farmers, and other things to represent their culture. They can display these along with a report if you wish, or they can show and tell. You will want to follow with a discussion of how the groups were different and why, emphasizing the interaction of environment and culture. You might also have them compare the lives of Native-Americans a long time ago with today, or their own lives, to exemplify the concept of change over time.
Foldable: Another option for younger students is to make a foldable to illustrate the various groups. A tab style book works nicely. Have the student label each tab with a different Native American area and draw their house or type of environment on the cover. When the tab is lifted they can have a picture showing them hunting, gathering or farming, or another aspect of their culture. Or they could each make a more detailed foldable showing more aspects of one culture. Then they can be put into groups with students who were assigned the other cultures. They can show and tell their group members about the culture they studied.
Before starting class each day, I had my students do a warm-up activity related to the topic to exercise their HOTS (higher order thinking skills). These were usually an analysis of a primary source, map, graph, chart, etc. In a unit where group work is the primary mode of information input, it is especially important to add activities that foster discussions of other relevant topics. Your textbook or internet sources are good places to start. Look for something that spurs your students to learn concepts that may not be included in their cooperative learning activity.
To teach about migration, I use the Bering Strait map. Most textbooks have one, or there are many on the internet. The one below comes from the free flipbook of Adventure Tales of America. It tells the history of the U.S. in cartoons. It’s a great resource!
Go to my website to see the images
Ask questions from lower to higher levels of Blooms like the following:
Here’s another one that you can use to introduce the cultural regions