Making History Come Alive

 

I'm teaming up with an elite group of teacher-bloggers for sharing great ideas.
I’m teaming up with an elite group of teacher-bloggers for sharing great ideas.

How Do I Make Social Studies Come Alive?

Be still my heart…this is one of my favorite topics. I feel fortunate to teach a combined social studies/language arts class, and I firmly believe that it’s the social studies component that makes my language arts come alive.  I am lucky that the sixth grade social studies curriculum is naturally interesting–it makes my job easy.  I get to teach about the the earliest humans and ancient civilizations (yes, I wrote “get” because I LOVE it!)

Here are some of my favorite ways to make social studies come alive:

We love archaeology!
We love archaeology!
  1. I create simulations whenever possible.

This can range from a more complex simulation like a game that takes four weeks to complete, with a bulletin board gameboard, tokens, fate cards, and a winner, to simply hiding zip-lock baggies of food around the classroom, having groups draw a token (either hunter-gatherer or farmer), and setting the hunter-gatherers off to search while the farmers are given a surplus of food to eat while they do their homework. Kids love it, and it’s so easy!!

  1. I create Pinterest boards for each civilization we study.

I use something on my boards each week. Often, we’ll do a tour of a museum or historical site. For our study of the early humans, we go on a virtual tour of the Natural History Museum to look at the replicas of the different hominids. When we study Egypt, we go on a virtual tour of the Giza Plateau from the top of the Great Pyramid, and then we get to tour inside! When we study ancient Greece, we do a Google Earth tour of the Greek mainland and isles to see the dry, rocky geography, which profoundly impacted the ancient Greeks. As teachers we are fortunate to have access to online sources, of which there are many. I use some of my summer vacation updating my Pinterest boards and video links so I know things work during the school year.

  1. I try to create intrigue before we read the textbook by coming up with as many hands-on activities as possible.

For our study of Egypt, I have cinder blocks, dowels, and wedges of wood I store in my cabinets year after year. When it comes time to think about how the pyramids were built, I pull out the blocks, dowels, wedges and some string. Their goal is to figure out how to lift and move the block across the classroom using the dowels, wedges, and string. I don’t tell them how to do it, but I do tell them that they are to imagine the blocks weigh a minimum of 5000 pounds, so they can’t just lift them…they must use brainpower. Once they are successful, I leave them to consider how to get one block on top of another. This motivates the kids to want to read the chapter on The Age of Pyramids. If you create intrigue, kids will want to read more on the subject.  And, it’s also the perfect time to use the test simulation product I created since one of the topics is the building of the Great Pyramid.

Using interesting topics for test simulation is one way to keep kids engaged.
Using interesting topics for test simulation is one way to keep kids engaged.

 We also mummify Cornish game hens to simulate the mummification process. We watch a video from National Geographic (found on YouTube) where an Egyptologist mummifies a human cadaver the ancient Egyptian way.  They never forget this!!  Here’s a link to my product detailing the steps to making a mummy.

Making a mummy is a favorite activity!
Making a mummy is a favorite activity!

It’s called How to Make a Mummy.

We love archaeology!
We love archaeology!

In our study of archaeology, I create artifact dig tubs (using plastic tubs for storage) filled with dirt from bags of donated soil or my backyard. I save bones, beads, shells, and have acquired a large selection of spear points, obsidian shards, pottery, and even plastic (to simulate contamination). They are so excited to dig, measure, document, and make conclusions about the people who lived in the area the tub simulates. Before we dig, we watch videos of archaeological digs. We also learn about the dark side of archaeology-grave desecration, robbing, taking remains for entertainment, etc.

When we study the governments of the ancient Greek city-states, I have students act out the type of government, what the ruler or rulers may have done to make people happy, and how those in charge may have lost power. This is directly from the text, so when we sit to read students already have background information to help retain the concepts. I also try to do Readers’ Theater as much as possible.

4.  I interweave debates and argument or compare/contrast writing with our social studies.

Egyptian Pharaohs:  Great Leaders or Oppressors?
Egyptian Pharaohs: Great Leaders or Oppressors?

This makes the essay writing so much more interesting, the research is easier, and everyone in the class has something to offer. Debates are an easy way to get the entire class involved. Students can either be judges, proponents, or opponents of an issue. Debate seems like a natural progression in social studies. I’m running one this week on whether the ancient pharaohs of Egypt were oppressors or great leaders. They’ll be using information from the reading to make a claim and then support it. From there, we’ll be writing an argumentative essay on the same topic.

  1. I often break up the class into groups based on our area of study.

This ties in with the idea of simulations, but it doesn’t have to get that complex. For Greece, they’re in city-states. For Egypt and Rome, they may be in social classes, for the Neolithic period, they may be farmers or hunter-gatherers. From there, ideas naturally occur to simulate. They may earn points for homework, have fates they draw that will add to or take points away. I even hold a Greek Olympics, where all the sixth grade classes are working together as city-states to compete in eight events (some academic, some cooperative, some athletic).

Research Project for Ancient Egypt
Research Project for Ancient Egypt
  1. My last tip today is one that’s easy to do no matter the topic of study.

I write a list of vocabulary words on the board. I pick some of the more obscure words in the chapter from the text we’re about to read. From there, I have students select two words with which they are least familiar to include in two silly sentences. Students get to share their best sentence and I write them up on a sheet of large paper, which stays up in class for the entire unit. I don’t tell them whether they’re right or wrong, but I do ham it up as much as possible when I write their sentence. I’ll grimace, or I’ll say, “Yuck, that makes my stomach turn!” Kids can’t wait to get into the chapter to see what the word really means. When we do come upon the words in the context of reading, we stop to peek back at the silly sentences. This is such a simple yet powerful technique to pique student interest in reading.

I’ll be doing more in depth blog posts on this topic, as it is an area of passion. Stay tuned for more ideas on making history come alive!

Thanks for stopping by!

Marcy

Thank you for the clipart:

Klaire Pearson, Teacher’s Clipart , Scrappin’ Doodles

Thanks to Klaire Pearson for the mummy clipart.
Thanks to Klaire Pearson for the mummy clipart.

 

 

Thank you to Teacher's Clipart for the archaeologist
Thank you to Teacher’s Clipart for the archaeologist

 

Thanks Scrappin' Doodles for the pyramid and pharaoh.
Thanks Scrappin’ Doodles for the pyramid and pharaoh.
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Keep it Fun and Lively After Testing

This week, I’m teaming up with a group of fabulous bloggers!

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Fun With Figurative Language Task Cards!

It’s getting on in the year.  I begin testing this week (first time on the computer), so I’m a bit nervous.   Having taught for more than 20 years, I know how draining testing can be on both students and teachers.  In planning for class after our testing time, I know I have to keep it lively and interesting.  For this reason, I love using task cards.  I like to use a seasonal theme.  Below, you see my Spring Figurative Language Task Cards.

Spring Figurative Language Task Cards
Spring Figurative Language Task Cards

And here are my Summer Figurative Language Task Cards:

Summer Figurative Language Task Cards
Summer Figurative Language Task Cards

My favorite way to implement task cards in my classroom is to tape them up around the classroom.  I have kids pair up, grab clipboards or a book, get their pencils, and go to it.  Generally, it takes between 20 and 30 minutes for partners to complete all of the 28-task cards. Some of my favorite cards deal with figurative language.  Since it’s towards the end of the year, my students have already been exposed to the different types of figurative language.  Below, you see a page of four cards from my Spring Figurative Language Task Card set.  All the examples of figurative language deal with spring.  This set includes a sort card mini-unit to use to remind students of the difference between figurative and literal language.

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Spring Figurative Language Task Cards

My Summer Figurative Language Task Cards feature 28-figurative language cards focused on summer.

Summer Figurative Language Task Cards
Summer Figurative Language Task Cards

Not all students will remember each type of figurative language, but they will certainly know the names.  Task cards work well because the choice of answers is limited, so chances of success are higher.  Additionally, students have the option of taking their Figurative Language Terminology page around with them, so they can check the definitions.

Figurative Language Terminology
Figurative Language Terminology

For your convenience, each set of cards includes an interactive assessment page.

An Interactive Assessment Page is found in each task card unit.
An Interactive Assessment Page is found in each task card unit.

Kids are out of their seats, focused on a task that’s not frustrating, and working together! After testing, this is exactly what we need! I might follow up the activity by showing a few clips of figurative language videos easily found online.  So, if you’re looking for fun, directed activities, task cards are the answer!

It's a Teacher Thing
It’s a Teacher Thing

Literature Circles: Yes, You Can!

I’m linking up with some fabulous bloggers-an ELITE group-to share information!

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LITERATURE CIRCLES?  YES, YOU CAN!

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Why should you use Literature Circles in your classroom? Here’s the best answer I have after more than 10 years of incorporating Literature Circles into my classroom:  Students interact with text on a deeper level and in a more meaningful way.  This depth of thinking and discussion just doesn’t’ happen with independent reading. Even teacher-directed reading leaves something to be desired–the experience.  I make Literature Circles an event.  I want students to feel like they are doing something special.  I serve tea, treats, and I teach etiquette. (Yes, etiquette!)  And kids really rise to the occasion because it’s unique.  I let them know that discussion in a more formal setting is something they will encounter quite a bit in their lives.  Learning how to share observations and opinions is an essential human skill.  Being able to agree, disagree, clarify, and add to a discussion are all part of growing up.  This is what we do in Literature Circles.

I’m beginning Literature Circles this week.  I have my student packet ready.  It’s something I’ve developed over years of trial and error in running Literature Circles.  I’m thrilled with the final product.  I have everything I need in one place:  student packet with jobs, goal sheets, response pages, lessons on how to participate in a book club session, novels that are tried and true, final activity options, grading rubrics, and even the page breakdown for each novel title.

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I have my novels selected and on the counter.

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I even have several adults at the ready to help run student meetings.  This upcoming session, I have two retired principals, our librarian, several parents, and a grandparent.  I know from past experience that the more adults can participate in the Literature Circle setting, the more students step up to the occasion.

BUT I WANT MY STUDENTS TO HAVE A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE, So…

I need to organize snacks, but that’s a simple email home for small munchies to help make our Literature Circles special.  Some of my favorite treats include small cookies, goldfish crackers, crackers and cheese, and my new favorites are those cute, little desserts from Costco.  A parent donated them.  I was skeptical, but they turned out to be perfect!  They are unusual (mini-eclairs, mini-Napoleons, truffles, etc.), and they are small and easy to freeze.  One box worked for two different meeting dates!   Biscotti are also great!

I’ve even discovered the easiest way to organize tea for the meeting.  Prior to the meeting date, I have three teas selected for serving (I keep a cabinet filled with tea donations).  Some student favorites include Apple-Cinnamon, Blueberry, Peppermint, Very Berry, and Sleepytime.  I don’t know about you, but many of my students have never sat down with a cup of tea and a small treat.  It’s always amazes me how something so simple can really add to the experience.

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Here’s how I reduce my stress before Literature Circles begin:

First, I have a thick, paper hot cup for each student.  I write their name and novel title on it.  Since I have two different classes throughout the day, I use a different color pen for each class.  Next, I select the teas to be served. I tell students the drink choices, and they write their name, tea selection, and novel title on a small piece of paper.  I collect the papers the day before our meeting.  The morning of the meeting, I have three big thermoses filled with hot water. (I have my little electric kettle going early).  Depending on the number of orders a tea gets, I put the 4-6 teabags into the thermoses.  Water is always an option.  Sometimes I’ll have juice, but I prefer tea, as it seems more relaxing and (dare I say) civil!!

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As student arrive, or as adult helpers arrive, I have them sort the cups by drink type and then fill them ¾ full (SPILL Avoidance!).  The cups are sorted by novel title, so distribution is easy.

I also reuse the cups. As groups are finishing up their meetings, I collect the cups, rinse them out, and turn them upside down on a paper towel to dry.  Then they are placed out of the way until the next meeting. It’s a great lesson for the kids on how easy it is to reuse items that are kept in good condition.  (Before our first meeting, I let students know that we don’t destroy our plates or cups.)  I do the same with the treat plate.  I use the sturdy paper plates, so I only use one per group for all four meetings.  On each plate I write the title of the novel and the number of members in the group.  This makes it easy to know how much of something I put on each plate. If we have a particularly messy snack, I’ll put a paper towel on the plate.  Each student gets a napkin (if needed) and is encouraged to use proper etiquette for Literature Circles.

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So, these are a few of my IMPORTANT pointers on creating a Literature Circle experience and making it a success–for the students and for YOU!

Interested in reading more posts on this subject from the Caring is Sharing Blogging Cooperative?  Click the links below.

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It's a Teacher Thing
It’s a Teacher Thing