In choosing which region to start teaching, I start with my students' most familiar region, and that's the Northeast. I know they are coming to me having studied bits of its history, including regional Native American tribes and Pilgrims. As a warm up to get them interested in history, I start with a comic I drew of colonial American life. Because fourth graders love coloring too, it's a great hook before delving into our social studies timeline project.
Next, since research is new to students, we move on to take a "book walk." We preview the text by skimming and scanning for dates. To easily manage this activity, split up the reading in advance. For example, I have students in groups of 4, so I need 4 dates per group. As you can see in the photo, if a page has 3 dates, write the page number 3 times. If it has none, omit it. Pages 226 and 227 were so full of dates, students couldn't miss them, so they needed no further supports.
I use the task of selecting sentences as a way to practice teamwork. Depending on the students, there may be disagreements or tantrums about who gets to write "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." It's the perfect opportunity to rehearse our strategies for working in groups. We can vote, use rock paper scissors, draw straws, make a deal (I pick this time, you pick next time), go by birthdays so the youngest chooses this time, and so on. If the group can't decide fairly, I intervene, and make a note about students who are still learning to work cooperatively as evidence for progress reports.
Once students have their sentence with a date, they copy and draw a picture. As the year goes on, students learn to paraphrase for clarity. For example, the sentence, "It happened in 1620." may be the sentence straight out of the book, but it fails to capture the main idea. We go back and reread the paragraph to see how we can summarize what the event was, as well as include the year.
Students trace the text and drawings with a fine tipped Sharpie, because I want them visible on our social studies timeline project from some distance.
Growing our Social Studies Timeline Project
These are later hung on the giant social studies timeline project that hangs along one entire wall of our classroom. We start with blue for the Northeast, then when we begin the Southeast we have a green border, yellow for the Midwest, orange for the Southwest and Red for the West. As we near the end of the year, we look for patterns. What decades have more color? Following the yellow, we notice when westward expansion was at its peak. By focusing on the blue, we also notice that most of our earliest recorded history was in the Northeast region.
I love this project because it's a relaxing routine for the start of each unit, but the result is a visual tool we can refer back to again and again throughout the year. We further analyze history towards the end of each chapter, once we become more familiar with the region, but that's a post for another day. You can also see how it all comes together here in my Northeast Region Unit. How do you use timelines in your classroom?
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