1. PEOPLE & BELIEFS
What groups of people are involved? What do they believe? What do they want?
Social Studies is all about people. Whether you’re studying current cultures, the history of a place, or the organization of a government, it’s all about people. To understand the situation or event, you have to understand the people involved. Help students learn to identify groups of people in terms of their shared beliefs and goals.
This isn’t about grouping people by race or gender or country. For example, Susan B. Anthony doesn’t represent all women or the beliefs of all women at that time in history. She doesn’t represent all white people, all white women, or all people living in America. Instead, we want kids to recognize Anthony as a civil rights activist. She was part of a group that believed in equal rights for all. She was also a suffragist. She was part of a group that believed women should have the right vote.
When studying any individual or group, keep coming back to those key questions. What do they believe? What do they value? What do they want?
How do these individuals or groups go about getting what they want? What worked or didn’t work, and why?
It doesn’t matter if a student knows the date of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death or that Cesar Chavez was born in Arizona. We want kids to think about the beliefs of these men and the choices made as they worked toward their goals. Both men spent their lives fighting for the rights of others and both men chose to preach and practice nonviolent methods of protest. Why did they make these decisions? What were the alternatives? Did they reach their goals? What was the outcome?
When teaching elementary Social Studies, we often focus on our present community. Instead of just mapping your community or putting events on a timeline, focus on choices. Why did people choose to move here? How have we chosen to use and/or care for our resources? What tough decisions does our community face?
3. LESSONS LEARNED
What can be learned from the choices of individuals or groups?
A big part of Social Studies is helping students to recognize their part in society. How will they contribute? How will they move things forward? What role will they play in the community, the government, and even the world? During any Social Studies lesson, be sure to ask your students to think about what can be learned and used in the future.
One of my favorite people to study with kids is Jonas Salk, the doctor who created the first polio vaccine. Partly because of my connection with the disease (my mother had polio as a child and was bound to crutches and then a motorized scooter for her entire life) and partly because I find his choices to be fascinating. After learning that Salk created this “thing” that everyone wanted and then simply gave it away for free, I like to ask the kids, “Why?” Why would a person choose to give something away for free rather than charge lots of money and become rich? What can be learned from the choices of Dr. Salk?
What does it remind you of? What does it mean to you?
Especially when studying figures and groups from the past, kids may have a hard time relating. We have to make time for kids to connect their learning to their own lives, just like when we teach kids to “make connections” while reading.
For example, when studying civil rights activists, I ask kids, “What does this remind you of from your own life?” I’ve had students share personal stories about unfairness and injustice in their own lives (often related to older siblings!) and this connection provides a great jumping off point for deeper discussions.
Ask, “How is this event similar to (another event studied)?” “Does this individual remind you of any others that we’ve studied?” Help kids connect to their previous learning.
And allways bring the lesson back to the student. If you’re studying “heroes,” then be sure to ask, “In what way can you be hero?” If you’re studying “communities,” then be sure to ask, “How can you help improve your community?”
An easy way to help kids connect is by using picture books that highlight the event or people you are studying. My post on Communities has some amazing books for Social Studies read-alouds!
I love to show the following quote from Dr. Salk and ask students to reflect on his meaning.
“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.” -Jonas Salk
Then I ask, “What could you do to make the world a better place? What is your big dream and how could you make it into a reality?”
If you’re looking for Social Studies Units, I have a few in my TPT Store:
I’d love to hear your thoughts! What other questions are important to ask during Social Studies?