I’m a big believer in writing in all subjects. When kids formally record their ideas on paper, it helps new concepts stick. Being self contained gives me the freedom to integrate writing into everything! We write in science, math, and even social studies. My 5th graders study American history and learn about the causes leading up to the American Revolution. This makes for the perfect opinion essay prompt! Students discuss in groups which event most upset the colonists and why. We then share them in small groups or hold a class debate, depending on how much time we have.
Here’s the prompt, some sentence starters to support your ELL students, and a definition of ‘opinion essay.’
I never really liked history in school. All I really remember is my 7th grade teacher giving us a packet of worksheets to fill in as we read a chapter in the book or my high school US history teacher holding classes in the bleachers so that he could practice with his baseball team on the field during the spring season. I’m not kidding. We filled in our worksheets from the bleachers, chasing after them (reluctantly) from time to time when the wind blew them away! When I started teaching American history to my 5th graders, I wanted things to be different. I wanted learning history to be fun…and hopefully memorable.
The week before Christmas is when I whip out one of my favorite history lessons–World War I and the Christmas Truce.
DAY 1–CAUSES OF THE WAR
We spend the first day learning about the events leading up to the war. Of course there is the Archduke Ferdinand moment, but that was but one part. There is so much more! We discuss and act out the role of different countries as they seek to control lands in Africa (imperialism). Every country wants to be wealthier, right? Of course they do, and Africa had lots of natural resources! We share our thoughts about why countries become allies and enemies and discuss why countries want to compete with each other to have the best weapons and strongest armies (militarism). Then we discuss immigration and the different cultures that were coming to American soil during the early 20th century, each with their own beliefs and loyalties (nationalism), and how and why America decided to join the war. By the end of the lesson students have a conceptual understanding of what led to the war.
DAY 2–TRENCH WARFARE
After reviewing what led to the war, it is time to dig in deep and discuss trench warfare! We discuss the sacrifices the soldiers made and what life was like for them in the trenches. What new weapons made the war so deadly and the chances of survival for those that fought–would they get trench foot? Trench fever? Or killed or injured by the weapons of that time? What was medical care like? The YouTube video above does a great job of explaining trench warfare. Please preview to make sure it is appropriate for your students.
Click the book cover to go the Amazon.com listing.
DAY 3–“CHRISTMAS IN THE TRENCHES” BOOK
Time to hear from a soldier! I read the book “Christmas in the Trenches” by John McCutcheon. It’s a fabulous story! A grandfather tells about Christmas night during the war, when enemy soldiers put down their weapons and ventured into no-man’s land to celebrate together. The kids are always in awe at this idea. If you order this book from Amazon.com it comes with a CD that includes the song “Silent Night” in German. The kids LOVE it!
DAY 4–“BELLEAU WOOD” SONG/POEM BY GARTH BROOKS
This is where students really have to make connections and pull it all together. I give the kids a printed copy of the song “Belleau Wood” by Garth Brooks. NOTE–The word ‘hell’ is used towards the end. I edited this out, both in the paper copy I give students and the audio version I play. Know your audience. It is used very appropriately in my opinion, but I err on the side of caution with language in 5th grade. Back to the lesson…The song presents one soldier’s account of the Christmas truce. I always get chills when listening. I play the song once and they follow along. We stop and discuss the content of the song as it relates to WWI, then talk about the poetic elements–speaker, change in tone, word choice, etc.
I like to post words on a chart while we are learning new content. This helps students use the language during discussions and writing. A few of the really new or challenging terms can be taught before the lesson, which is especially helpful for ELL students. I have found that in the upper grades, content or unit specific word charts work better for me than a word wall. I leave them up all year, but when we move to a new unit in social studies, I place the new chart on top. Some kids still revisit the old charts when looking for a word.
I do give an integrated assessment over the whole thing–a few poetry questions on the song, a pencil and paper quiz and essay on the content, some activities with the new vocabulary and so on. Gotta get a few grades and check for mastery!
Critical Thinking–Discuss what might cause countries to be allies or enemies. Students can also work in groups to learn about the countries on either side, their flags, and the current relations they have with the United States.
PS–I’m working on a packet of resources to go with this lesson. It’s not quite finished. Hopefully over the Christmas break I can fit it into my busy napping schedule!
For more Teach History with Me posts, check out these posts on The Civil War and MLK and the Civil Rights Movement
Here’s a quick photo post about what has been happening in my classroom the last few weeks!
We read a book about the Lewis and Clark expedition then made a diagram to show Thomas Jefferson’s goals for the expedition. As a class, we did a shared writing exercise turning our diagram into a letter to TJ! As we read, we kept a record of the animals, plants, land, water, and Indian tribes we encountered. AND we drew pictures! I hope you like my bison and grizzly bear. Have I mentioned that I was not blessed with artistic talents??? Want you kids to LOVE learning about Lewis and Clark, click the picture for a rockin’ rap about Lewis and Clark.
Students researched different territories acquired by the US in the 19th century and presented their reports to the class while I recorded their findings. Fun! We learned about the Oregon Country, Mexican Cession, Gadsden Purchase, Florida Acquisition, Louisiana Purchase, Texas Annexation, and what the US was like in 1783.
Text structure/organization anchor chart to help students understand how authors communicate relationships between ideas.
I wrote about Fraction Boot Camp in another post. Click the picture if you want to learn more. As a class we set goals for common assessments and chart our progress. When we do really well we have a picnic lunch outside. I used smiley faces to cover up class averages. Great activity as you prepare for state testing (STAAR). It certainly helps with motivation!
Anchor chart showing incomplete and complete metamorphosis. Want to see our metamorphosis lab in action? Click this picture to read a post on our Insect Zoo!
We had a great time launching the interdependency lesson. Students brainstormed living and non-living things in a park environment and illustrated and wrote about how everything was connected, or interdependent on each other for survival. Once again, feel free to giggle at my artwork! I certainly do…but I have fun drawing!
I love teaching social studies, especially American history. I think it is important that children learn about America’s past and what makes this such an exceptional country! And learning history should be FUN! Around the middle of the year we begin studying the Constitution and US government. My kiddos usually get a pretty good grasp on the 3 branches, but the Bill of Rights can be a challenge to teach. Here’s some fun resources for making the Bill of Rights come alive for your students.
The Bill of Your Rights Rap on YouTube–A quick, summarized version of the first 10 amendments set to a catchy tune.
Bill of Rights Word Wall/Anchor Chart–I often make what I call focused word walls. I’ve never been able to get the alphabetical ones to work for me, plus with teaching all subjects I run out of room quickly. When I make word walls for science and social studies they are topic specific, so as we learned about the Bill of Rights we added our own definitions to the chart.
Our Bill of Rights word wall/anchor chart. Very helpful to understand the language of the Bill of Rights.
“We Shall Be Free” Song by Garth Brooks–I love Garth Brooks and there are a few of his songs that I use in history class. One of my favorites is “We Shall Be Free.” I usually use this as an integrated LA/SS lesson where students make connections between a printed copy of the actual Bill of Rights and the lyrics of the song. We listen to the song a few times and then kiddos work in small groups to make text to text connections to specific amendments. You can find the lyrics HERE and a printable copy of the Bill of Rights HERE.
Visit the iTunes store to download the song “We Shall Be Free” and use it to help teach your students about the Bill of Rights. Or, just look through your old CD collection like I did!
Bill of Rights For Kids Mini-Unit–Here’s a mini-unit I put together to help teach the Bill of Rights in kid-friendly language. It stars James Madison and includes guided notes and a test!
You can find this resource, The Bill of Rights for Kids, in my TPT store.