May 9, 2012

Writing in the Content Areas: Social Studies (oh, and vote for me!)

You want to know what one of my absolute favorite things is?  When you are teaching a lesson and the students get SO excited about the topic/concept/whatever that it evolves into something much bigger than you'd planned.  Our pacing/plans are so regimented in my building that I have very little flexibility to change things up in response to students' interests and questions, but I managed to do a little of that in social studies last month.  Let me tell you, it was SO WORTH IT.

Let me back up...awhile back we were reading about the first colonial settlements in our social studies text (Roanoke, Jamestown, and Plymouth), and my kiddos were absolutely FASCINATED by Roanoke and the mysterious disappearance of the early settlers.  To tell you the truth, I was pretty fascinated along with them and was quick to indulge when the kiddos begged to hear more about the settlement.  Since no one is breathing down my neck about pacing and scope/sequence of my social studies instruction, I figured if the kids were at least showing a PULSE about a topic, why not stretch it out and explore it a little deeper?  (Who can resist when kiddos get excited about learning...)

On our second day, I introduced the words "speculations" and "evidence" to the kids.  We talked about how there is SOME evidence from Roanoke, and many speculations, but not even historians know for sure what happened to the settlers.  (This seriously baffled them.  At first they seemed to think I was hiding the truth from them.  They thought it was pretty cool that they were thinking of answers to a question that even historians hadn't solved!)  We watched a short United Streaming video clip, then I read aloud this awesome book:
While I was reading and during the video clip, students took notes in a T-Chart in their learning logs.  The left column was to record evidence we know for sure, and the right their own speculations. After reading and taking notes (with plenty of discussion throughout!), students got into groups and shared their Roanoke theories, adding to their T-Charts.  We then came back together as a full class and created a class anchor chart with our evidence and theories.  I told the kiddos that their theories could be as realistic or bizarre as they wanted, but they all had to be based on SOME evidence.  Needless to say, some of my 5th graders got REALLY creative...
Then comes my favorite part.  Each kiddo chose a theory that they liked best and wrote a story to explain it.  A few chose to explain in an expository format, but several wrote completely awesome journal entries from the points of view of Roanoke settlers.
They turned out fabulously!  Some theories were completely crazy, including bands of pirates and underground settlements, others went so far as to explain how the carving of the word "CROATOAN" was really an anagram for the settlers' TRUE location...all in all, super creative and amazing.  And even though the stories were fictional, all of the students included true facts about Roanoke, so it was a great learning opportunity.  I absolutely loved this assignment and would have dragged out Roanoke even more if I could have, but eventually I figured that I should probably try to squeeze in other important history topics before the end of the know, like slavery or the American Revolution or something like that... :)  But what can I say, kids' getting excited about learning is like crack for this teacher.  LOVE IT!

Are you able to connect your content areas to literacy?  With our structured literacy series, it's tough, but every now and them I try to bridge social studies and writing workshop.  Sometimes it works better than others though!! :)

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Oh, and I just found out my blog was nominated for a Fascination Award!  Stop by and vote for me by clicking on the emblem on the side of my blog!  I'll be your best friend... ;)


  1. You can't vote until May 14. Please remind me then.

  2. This is an absolutely fabulous impromptu class interest session! I am so impressed! It is SO exciting when the kids are isn't it!? I try very hard to connect our leveled readers I have for guided reading to our social studies content. For example, we are currently studying the Revolutionary War so I used a story from our text book on the Boston Tea Party (out of order)and a leveled reader on Paul Revere's Ride during guided reading to integrate the two. We have quite a bit of freedom in reading so I integrate a LOT.


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