Integrating Social Studies Content with Writing Objectives

Last week I wrote about a timeline art project we create while previewing our Social Studies text.  Today I'm going to explain how I integrate content area objectives in social studies with ELA objectives.
Our Social Studies content area objective is understanding the concept of Natural Resources, as well as learning examples of natural resources from each of the 5 regions of the United States.  To build understanding, we create a concept web together.  

Social Studies Content Concept Web

To create a concept web, I give a definition at the top.  Then I give a couple examples, and take student examples.  Next I talk about "non-examples" in order to correct misconceptions.  For example, at the start of the year I focus on foods as examples.  Lasagna would be an important non-example to cover, because although it's a food, it does not come directly from nature.  Another non-example might be grass, because although it comes from nature, we don't eat it and it's not otherwise useful to us.

Social Studies Content Concept WebAt this point we are ready to research Natural Resources in our first region (I start with the Northeast, because that's where we live).  This is where our ELA objective comes in.  

 I tell students that we have already skimmed the text through the "lens" of finding dates, but this time we will read the same text, all the while looking for foods.  Students list the foods in their notebooks.  I pair students up to read together by splitting the class into 2 (confidential) lists, one of the best readers, and one of the weakest.  If I have a class of 20 students, I'll have the ten best readers read with the ten weakest readers.  Number 1 reads with number 11.  Number 2 reads with number 12, and so on.  As students read, I circulate to help them process what they are reading.  For example, in our text, there is a sentence that reads, "Coffee was imported from overseas."  Guess how many students write "coffee?"  If you guessed "about half," you've done this before.  I explain a bit about context within the paragraph to make decisions about what to record. 
Social Studies Content Two Column Notes
To build excitement about checking our work, we play a "beat the teacher" game.  Using my test to guide my choices, I pick out the most important natural resources I want students to have on their lists.  Let's say there are apples, trees, corn, maple syrup and cranberries.  Instead of telling them those are the ones to study, I draw 5 tick marks on the board.  Every student stands, and one at a time they read out one natural resource they found.  If it's one of my 5, I erase a tick mark and add it to the list.  If it's not one of my 5 but still correct, I still add it to the chart so they can see what has been guessed already.  The object of the game is to have all 5 tick marks erased before they run out of "contestants."  I love it because not only does it reinforce my Social Studies content, but as far as competition goes, there's not much pressure, and since it's me against them, I can model being a good sport whether I win or lose.

Next we talk about organizing our list by type.  I refer back to a lesson earlier in the year on sorting animals by type to start.  (Clicking the link will bring you to the earlier post).  This helps them before applying the strategy to our Social Studies content.  As students offer categories, I demonstrate how to turn their list of examples two column notes.  Modeling this process now helps with planning a response to reading later in the year as we tackle practice standardized tests.  

Social Studies Content Map

Social Studies Content Two Column NotesThen I introduce the concept of products on another Social Studies content map.  Students reread the text with the lens of finding products, as well as using what they know about the natural resources to list their own products.  For example, since we are starting with a familiar region (and they learn a lot about apples in the younger grades) they know apples make apple pie, apple juice, and apple sauce.  They create their own two column notes with the required natural resources I identified in our game.  

At the same time, there is some "backwards design" going on with the list.  Students don't usually write "whale" as a natural resource when the first read the text, but at the end, they usually notice that there are many products that come from whales.  The whaling industry was important to our community once, so we add this to the chart.  

Learning to record our Social Studies content research using these charts is an important start to organizing ideas before writing an informational text.  They draw from the natural resource side for main ideas, and the products side for details to write a paragraph.  As we learn more concepts in social studies, these paragraphs become 5 paragraph essays.  Later in the year, we compare and contrast two regions to synthesize ideas.  Of course there are times in writer's workshop when I let them choose a topic to write about, but by starting out with a common set of knowledge in social studies, all students can learn the process of creating informational texts.

I have these concept maps for Natural Resources, Products, Landmarks, Landforms, and Recreation available in my Northeast Region Unit

Taking notes is such an important skill, and of course, it's not the only way 4th graders learn new content.  Hands on projects that make real world connections are another powerful way to get kids interested in social studies content.  In my next post on the empty box project I explain how I use FREE realia to make the regions relevant for my fourth graders! 
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And the Winner Is...

Yesterday I posted about my $10 gift card giveaway to Teachers Pay Teachers.  My husband made fun of me when I went to get a bowl and started writing out names, so I went on for a random number generator.  I assigned each person a number in the order of his/her comment post.

And the winner is Brain Ninjas!  Congratulations!  Watch your Email for your prize by 9pm tonight.  For everyone else, thank you for participating; enjoy some freebies!

1.  Tissue box hygiene reminders.  I use these in my classroom as a not so subtle reminder to keep it clean!  Just rubber-band them to your tissue box.  It's a better place for a reminder than the sink, where they are already washing their hands.  Keep those flu germs at bay!

2.  Holiday Aid for Low Income Students   This is a great seasonal activity for upper elementary students.  It's designed to help target assistance for your lower income students if you have funds from the PTO to provide them with a little something for the holiday.  Whether your PTO will help you or you and your colleagues chip in, this page will help you get started.

3. Mentor Sentences for Complete Sentences.   Mentor sentences require students to analyze quality, model writing, then explain what makes it so.  It's a great alternative to exposing students to models of incorrect writing.  

4.  Kinesthetic Map Activity.  It's not every day you let your fourth graders crawl around on the floor to learn, but I think you'll like this one as much as they do.  This is a fun whole group activity that gets kids practicing where the continents are in relation to each other, as well as which, countries are on which continent. 

5.  Using one half as a benchmark coloring page.  This coloring page reveals a "mystery picture" as kids determine if each fraction is greater to, less than, or equal to one half.  The writing component allows you to differentiate as well as gives students practice justifying their answer. 

Or, if you're looking for bargains for the Teachers Pay Teachers sale, check out these products: Remember to enter promo code CYBER2016 at checkout for 28% off the regular prices, November 28 and 29 only.  Here are a few items from my own store that are in high demand and have kept my own students engaged in their learning each year during the second trimester:

1.  This Long Division Games Bundle provides students with the repeated practice they need to internalize the long division process.  By turning this practice into games and hands on activities, the kids actually enjoy honing their long division skills!

2.  Like the division bundle, this Equivalent Fractions Activities 3 in One Bundle is hands on, and helps students enjoy their math block. 
  If you're looking for a more complete fractions unit, I am launching my finished FRACTIONS UNIT on Monday, just in time for the sale.  This product has been months in the making, and I wanted my readers to have the opportunity to get the maximum savings on it.  Check out my most recent product and save 28%!  If you really want to plan ahead, Poetry Month is traditionally in April.  This is the time to save big on a complete poetry unit for fourth grade.  It has everything you need for high stakes test prep.  This Fourth Grade PoetryMini Unit helps students meet the standards while also providing opportunities for creativity and appreciation for a variety of poetic forms.  And finally, if you're looking for my best deal, you can save 28% on my largest bundle, my 5 U.S. Regions Unit Plans Bundle.  Normally priced $25, it will cost just $18.75 for two days only! 

So start filling your wishlist, and come back Monday and Tuesday to save a bundle on some fun, engaging resources for your class. Again, remember to enter promo code CYBER2016 at checkout for 28% off.  Happy shopping!

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Just a Straightforward Giveaway

Let me get right to the point.  I have a $10 online gift code for Teachers Pay Teachers to give away, and I want to make it easy for you!

I don't usually do giveaways because I don't really like entering them.  I know there's a small chance of winning.  And I don't like "loops" where I have to "hop" from place to place to be eligible.  My time is valuable, and if you've read this far, you're a teacher, so your time is valuable too.

So here's the deal!  In the comments section, tell me something you would like to get from Teachers Pay Teachers.  And I don't mean you need to put a specific title or link, just whatever you'll need in the weeks or months ahead.  Like "water cycle board game" or "Northeast Region Unit."    

Only comments made here on this post on this blog will count.  I will pick a winner the old fashioned way: pulling a number out of a bowl.  One entry per person, please. 

Also, I need a way to contact you if you win.  You can leave your Email address in your comment, or check back here at Shut The Door and Teach on Sunday night and I'll post the winner's name so you can contact me then, if you prefer.   

This contest will end at 4:00 pm Sunday (at the earliest) and I'll announce the winner by 7:00 pm EST Sunday night.  That way you can use your $10 during the Teachers Pay Teachers Cyber Sale on November 28 and 29.  Even if you don't win, you can save up to 28% with promo code CYBER2016. 

So do tell!  What would you type into the search bar over on Teachers Pay Teachers if you win? 
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Giant Social Studies Timeline Project

When I prepare my 5 U.S. Regions units, I start the year prepared for our giant social studies timeline project have index cards hanging above the windows with every decade starting as far back as I have the space for.  It gets the kids wondering from the beginning, "Why are those numbers hanging?"

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.

Researching for 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. 

Giant Social Studies Timeline ProjectGrowing 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 head over to my next blog post on how these units integrate note taking skills with social studies content.

Or get see how it all comes together here in my Regions Unit Bundle. Click to preview it in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!
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Your Social Studies Professional Development (Regions of the U.S. Edition)

Why do I love teaching the subjects I liked the least as a student?  Maybe because I'm trying to save my students from feeling the boredom I felt.  Now that I'm teaching, social studies one of my favorites! 

Since our district doesn't provide much social studies professional development, I just don't feel the same pressure teaching it as I feel with Math, Reading, Writing, and now even Science.  In Massachusetts in fourth grade, there is no standardized Social Studies test.  No Common Core Social Studies Standards.  And our text books are over 30 years old, so the attitude in my district is "Just do the best you can."  So although I have content to cover, I pretty much have creative freedom when it comes to how I teach it!

Why isn't Social Studies Professional Development a priority?

The downside to there being so much accountability in other subjects is that there has been very little social studies professional development.  It's nice to have the pressure off, but it got me wondering, "Besides those of us in my district, how many other teachers are troubled by this deficit?  How many other teachers are on their own to find creative new ways to teach Social Studies?"  So that's why I decided to start a mini series of blog posts on how I teach Social Studies, and more specifically, the U. S. regions.  Here are some of the topics I'll be exploring in greater detail:

Your Social Studies Professional Development

Social Studies Professional Development ideas: Anchor Charts1.      Although there are different ways to split up the U.S., we teach 5 regions (Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West).      Cover the concepts of Natural Resources, Products, Landforms, Landmarks, historic roots, and forms of recreation for each region.  As the year goes on we introduce related concepts such as bodies of water, economy, climate, conservation (here is a sneak peak of how I cover these concepts my Southeast Region unit).

3.      Integrate research with content information.  Since we have such a short school day, we are always encouraged to have use an ELA standard and content area standard in the development of our units.

Social Studies Professional Development idea:  Integrate the arts4.      Integrate the arts.  Visual art and performance art make learning fun and help information stick with the kids!

5.      Use games to review information.  I love to use Memory/Concentration games for students to match states with continents.  

6.      Make real world connections between information researched and what students have observed in your region with projects. 
Am I right?  Have you received social studies professional development in any of these topics other than #3?  If you teach the regions, what are your favorite and least favorite topics? 

Need more Social Studies professional development? 

Click any of the links above to explore these topics in greater detail.  Or save time and check out the preview on my U.S. regions bundle.  It includes fun, hands on activities for all 5 regions. 
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