Hand students the knowledge to become self sustaining citizens - How and why to teach farm topics in the classroom
Instead of teaching full time this year, I chose to stay at home and support my Grandmother, who recently moved in with us. I also run a farm called Our Desert Homestead. However, as always I couldn't stay away from teaching. So I recently started teaching Farm Classes on the homestead and it's so much fun! I feel like the teacher from Sid the Science Kid. We take time to learn how to be scientists and we get hands on with our topics.
I know that this type of teaching isn't an option for everyone, but I thought I would write a post today about how and why to include farm topics into the classroom.
Why include farm topics into the classroom?
First, I am sure many of you are saying farm topics have nothing to do with my curriculum, so why would I teach them? Well, actually farm topics relate to many different science standards, including animal and plant adaptations and natural resources. However, even if these topics don't relate to your curriculum, knowing where our food comes from is vitally important to raising conscious consumers and good citizens. Part of the rise of factory farming is because we have become so removed from our food source that we don't know, or care, how those animals or plants were raised. Getting students to understand a sustainable lifestyle can help them in ways that learning the chemical properties of argon never can.
Additionally, just like art or music hook in certain students, working with plants and animals speaks to some students. I have seen struggling students come alive when planting seeds or petting a goat. When we can spark a love of learning in children, we should always try to do so.
What are farm topics?
Okay, okay, you're saying. I can see the importance of teaching farm topics, but I'm not a farmer. What topics would even be included? Here are a few of the topics I have on my year long plan:
- The Incredible, Edible Egg
- Feathers and Fur - Animal Coverings on the Farm
- What do Farm Animals Eat? And How?
- Turning Food Waste into Food Treasure - the Basics of Composting
- Planting and Growing Vegetables
- Milking a Goat
- Building and Growing in Greenhouses
- Cooking from the Garden
- Preserving Food through Canning and Dehydrating
- What is a Weed? The Plants We Choose to Hate
- Collecting & Using Rainwater
- Do Plants Grow in the Winter?
- The History of Harvest Festivals
As you can see, these topics cover science and social studies topics that we already have in our curriculum. We're just taking a focused approach in order to include the farm.
How do I include farm topics in the classroom?
I know what you're thinking, it's easy for me to include farm topics, I have all of the farm animals! How would you go about covering these topics without a weekly field trip to the farm? Here are a few suggestions:
- Reach out to a local farmer. Support their farm by buying eggs for an egg unit or seeds for a planting unit. Tell them what you're doing and I'm sure they'll support you and your class.
- Reach out to your parent and teacher community. Raising backyard chickens is a huge trend. You may have a "farmer" right at your building who could let you borrow eggs, chicks, vegetables, etc. Or they might be willing to send you videos of their animals.
- Grow plants in your classroom - really grow them, not just start seeds and send them home. Herbs, tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, lettuce, and other plants grow well in pots. Look up container vegetable gardening. If you can grow plants on a patio, you can grow them in your classroom. And the kids can be responsible for watering and caring for the plants.
- Incubate eggs in your classroom. Many farmers will be happy to give you fertilized eggs to incubate in your classroom. As chicks hatch, they can be raised in a brooder for 6 - 8 weeks and then sent back to the farmer to live out their life on the farm.
- Cook with your kids. Cooking covers so many standards! Have students help prepare food with farm fresh ingredients. Let them crack open that green egg and see that it's not green inside. Let them tear apart fresh spinach. Even your pickiest eaters will be willing to try.
- Dehydrate food! You don't even need a dehydrator, simply lay cut food onto some cheese cloth. Cover with another layer of cheese cloth and watch the food wither up. Then rehydrate some and let kids watch in amazement.
The Incredible, Edible Egg Farm Lesson
I hope I have inspired you to try some farm topics in your classroom. I will have more posts coming this year with specific lessons I have done. Additionally, I will be posting some lesson plans and projects specific to farm lessons to make your job easier! Until then, here are a few of the things we did on the farm during our Incredible, Edible Egg lesson:
- We used my Graphic Organizers to compare and contrast a chicken egg, a duck egg, and a turkey egg.
- We tested out different kinds of egg cartons to see which protected our egg the best.
- We measured the circumference and height of different eggs.
- We looked at egg shells under a magnifying glass.
- We read the book Chickens Aren't the Only Ones and learned about other animals that lay eggs.
Tuesday TESOL Tip #3: Let the kids talk! Kids can't learn to speak English without opening their mouths.
Back in 2012, when I taught English Language Learner exclusively in Morocco, I began a series called "Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tips". The series was long before a variety of website changes, so I have decided to revise it. I will be sharing one tip each Tuesday, starting with the original tips and expanding on them with the additional knowledge I've added in the last 9 years. Today's TESOL Teaching Tip is to speak SLOWLY!
ELL Teaching Tip #3: Let Them Talk
This week’s teaching tip is a hard one for me, because my classroom is SOOOO loud sometimes! There are times that I really can’t hear myself think, and I wish so badly that my students would just be quiet! However, when I get to that point, I try to step back and ask myself – are my students speaking in English? If they are, than even if they aren’t talking about what we should be learning, they are practicing their spoken English vocabulary, and for a class of English Language Leaners, that’s important. (Often in Morocco there were days that the noise is in Arabic or French – and then we would talk about how we are in class to learn English, so we must use our English to practice it. But we'll save that discussion for a separate post.)
Now, this isn’t to say you need to let your English Langue Learners talk all day about whatever they want, but do appreciate that when they are having those sidebar conversations, they are at least using their English. Back before Google Classroom when I used Edmodo, I had to create a whole "chat room" because the kids would talk back and forth so often when they were supposed to be doing their homework. I had another teacher suggest that I make a rule only allowing academics on Edmodo. However, my point to her was that none of those children spoke English at home, but they were using English to communicate on this website. As an ESL teacher, my primary goal is to have my students communicate in English. So why would I stop that communication?
Strategies for Encouraging Planned Discussions
In addition to that natural conversation that fills your classroom (and can give you a serious headache), it is important to give your English Language Learners plenty of planned lesson time to use their English. There are many ways to do this, including:
Collaborative Learning Teams: Putting students into groups with a specific goal almost always facilitates conversation. These teams can have a goal as simple as solving a puzzle - my math tiling puzzles are great for this - or as complex as creating a complete project. While students work to complete the goal, they will talk about how to get there.
Language Peer Pairs: Depending on the makeup of your classroom, you should always try to pair language learning students with native speakers. Now I've worked in many classrooms where that is not possible. In those settings, I would pair stronger language students with struggling language students. However you pair your students, I have students keep that same partner for a long time, at least a month. Every time we have a partner project, they work with that language partner. This builds their vocabulary and their confidence because they get comfortable with this partner instead of having to relearn peer dynamics each time they have an assignment to work on.
Partner Projects: As I discussed in my 10 Ways to Make Projects Work in Any Classroom blog post, I am not a fan of group projects for many reasons. However, for language learning students, projects done in large groups can be a real disaster. Students get lost or won't speak up within a larger group. So instead of group projects, I do partner projects. Give students a long range research project or book report project that they can work on with a partner and you will see the language start coming out.
Read and Rephrase: Sometimes when you read in another language, you don't get every word. Students get very frustrated with this and give up on wanting to read. So I do a lot of work with read and rephrase. Read a passage and tell me the gist of what you understood (kind of like summarizing, but without such a focus on main idea and details). This is a great strategy to use with language partners. Each student reads separately, then shares the general gist of what they read with their partner. Finally they discuss where they both got the same idea and where they didn't and see who got it right.
Tell a Friend What I Said: This strategy is great for listening comprehension as well as talking. After I give directions, I will have students retell the directions to a friend. This helps make sure they know what to do, and also gives them that talking chance to try out new vocabulary.
Tell Me What She Told You: Just like telling a friend what I said, sometimes when students are sharing an answer in pairs I ask them to tell me what their friend told them, instead of their own answer. This focuses on listening comprehension, but also builds up vocabulary and rephrasing skills.
Below, I will talk about my favorite way to encourage spoken vocabulary, but please know that this isn’t the only way for students to use their spoken English vocabulary. Any place in your lesson that you can encourage your English Language Learners to talk is important! Also, remember to talk slowly and give them ample response time while you are including talking into your lesson, but please include time to talk wherever possible. (See Tip #2 about rate of speed and pause time, and Tip # 21 about teaching your non-EL’s about English Language Learning.)
Real Life Teaching Example:
My favorite strategy for encouraging spoken English in a general classroom is to tell the students to “Turn to a friend, and then another”. When I do anything that requires my kids to come up with an answer to an oral question, I try to use the turn to a friend strategy. (This is not my strategy – I learned it in a workshop somewhere, don’t quite remember where – probably SIOP). With this strategy, I ask the question, give a 2 minute thinking time and then let them turn to a friend near them and tell their friend the answer. After their friend has told them the answer, they switch roles and listen to their friends answer. Then, I repeat the process with at least one (generally two) more partners. Once they have shared with their partners, I will choose 2 or 3 students to share the answer with the whole class. After a class is well trained in this strategy, I have even asked students to tell me what one of their partners told them, instead of their own answer.
This strategy gives your students the opportunity to talk about their answer with another student before they are called on. Since it is easier to talk to just one partner than the entire class, this allows students to build up the confidence to answer in front of the entire class, a skill that can be hard for many English Language Learners. And additional partners build up additional confidence. Additionally, this strategy builds in wait time, so that your English Language Learners have more time to process the words they want to use. Plus, they have heard other people’s responses, so they may pick up new vocabulary or concepts from their peers.
"Turn to a friend, and then another" works best when using with open-ended questions. One place I use this strategy the most is in coordination with my Reading Journals (works with Primary and Intermediate). Before a read aloud, I will ask a thinking question. After a read aloud, I will have kids write down the answer to the question in their Reading Journal. Then, I will have kids use the "Turn to a friend, and then another" strategy before we all share our ideas about the answer to the thinking question.
How do you encourage English Language Learners to talk in your classroom?
Hand students the ability to create their own understanding. 10 tips to making project based learning manageable in any classroom.
So often in education, we give students information like they are empty buckets and we are filling them. We do this even though all the research shows that students remember so much more if they create their own knowledge. How do students create their own knowledge? With integrated, multistandard, open ended projects. Project based learning is a great catch phrase that is often thrown around in education, but in reality there is very little true project based learning happening in our classrooms.
Why don't teachers actually teach with projects? Because projects take a lot of time and effort and "distract" us from the scripted curriculum. However, creating projects help teachers to cover multiple standards at once, and help students to retain knowledge longer and dig deeper into content. So they are worth the effort. However we've gotten so far from project based learning that many teachers don't know where to start. Today, I will give you 10 tips to make project based learning REALLY work in your classroom, no matter the demographics or the format of your classroom.
Tip #1: Use a similar "format" in different ways.
One of the hardest part of using projects is teaching kids the "how to do it" and the "expectations". I simplify this by using similar formats repeatedly. I choose 2 or 3 formats that I like and use them in a variety of ways. This way when I start my Women's History Project, I don't have to teach those things because I can just tell the kids "This project is just like the Black History Project, and the Hispanic History Project and the Native American History Project that we did earlier in the year." New topics, new standards, same format.
Tip #2: Make a list of ALL standards covered when using a project.
The biggest reason teachers tell me they don't do projects is because they don't have time to do them and cover all of their curriculum. My answer to this is our job is not to teach curriculum, but to teach standards. I can teach The Case of the Gasping Garbage to my students using the standard scripted curriculum and cover 3.RL.1 - ask and answer questions and 3.RL.3 - character traits. OR I can use my Mystery Book Report Projects and cover the same book (or even better a wide variety of mysteries, each at the correct level for the individual student) and cover: 3.RL.1 - ask and answer questions, 3.RL.2 - summarize, 3.RL.3 - character traits, 3.RL.6 - point of view, 3.RL.9 - compare and contrast, 3.W.3 - narrative writing, 3.SL.2 - ask and answer questions from a speaker and 3.SL.3 - present on a topic. In fact, this project probably covers more standards, especially if kids are working in groups, or I'm helping them edit and revise their projects, etc. etc.
So when I teach using projects, I make a list of all the standards we are working on, and I post it. This helps the kids and I know our focus, but it is also a great CYA when my admin wants to know why we aren't following the script for that day. For other tips on how to teach what kids NEED while using a scripted curriculum, check out my Outside of the Boxed Curriculum blog post.
Tip #3: Embed projects within a center rotation, with the scripted curriculum as a different rotation.
Now if a list of covered standards isn't enough to convince your admin, you can also use projects alongside your scripted curriculum. Personally, I always teaching using a rotation or checklist format, so that I get to meet with my students in small groups every day, while the rest of the class are working on independent or partner work elsewhere. So when I was required to use scripted curriculum, I would teach the script three or four times to small groups, while the rest of the class worked independently. And you can be sure that one of their tasks was to work on that project. On the occasions I was blessed to not have a scripted curriculum, I still used projects as part of my rotation. Only then my group would be to either work on specific skills that group needed, or to help guide students through the project in a small group setting. Either way, kids are getting exactly what THEY need, while covering multiple standards.
Tip #4: Allow for student choice within projects.
All of learning and teaching is about buy in, right? Kids will work harder when they have bought into a project. This is really why projects are more effective than most other teaching methods, because the students are more interested in them and will buy in easier and work harder. However, to really get kids in, let them have some choice. They need to study an animal for the Animal Research Project? Let them choose the animal. They need to study a biography for the Biography Project? Let them choose the person.
Choice is also why so many of my projects are matrixes. If students MUST research one topic, then let them choose the way they will present their information. Not only will you students get more involved in a project this way, but it encourages metacognition. Teaching kids to think about their own thinking is important. When they choose a project type, ask them why they chose that one. Discuss how different people like to do different things, and they should find what fits them. My oldest son, given a choice, will always do an outline or Cornell notes on a topic. My middle son, loves making comic books over writing an essay. My youngest son, will always choose the artsy option. Kids are different, and if we give them choice, they will dive into projects.
Tip #5: Keep projects as open ended as possible.
So often I see writing prompts and worksheets labeled as PBL. If you know exactly what your students' projects will look like before you start, you are not doing project based learning. Projects should be as open ended as possible. Students should be in control of the learning and the finished product. That does not mean you don't give them a focus. One of my favorite open ended projects is my Vocabulary Game Project. I give students the vocabulary words and a guidance sheet. They find the meanings of the words and then they use the guidance sheet asks them questions to "guide" their thoughts, but there are so many choices that every game in a class of 25 kids comes out vastly different. Another reason I love this project is that it can be used with any vocabulary words, so I can use it again and again and challenge students to try different game formats each time.
Another great time to keep things open ended is in science. This is the basis of my Create Your Own Cookie project and Create Your Own Lamp project. Design is essentially open ended in it's core. Having students design anything will allow for a whole lot of creative and higher level thinking.
Tip #6: Use the literature of the scripted curriculum as the base of an engaging project.
If you're a regular reader, you will know that I am not a big fan of scripted curriculums. However, the one thing I do like is the diverse and interesting literature that they often provide us. I've had books like The Year of Miss Agnes, Knots on a Counting Rope, A Bad Case of the Stripes, The Recess Queen, and Thundercake as part of my curriculums. Use that literature as a base for your projects. As already discussed, this can easily be done with my larger book report projects. However, these texts are also great for simple projects like the Be the Teacher: Make the Test project. Instead of giving students a bunch of pre-designed questions, let them create the questions and test their friends. The testing out process is key here because it encourages students to re-think questions that were much too easy or much too hard, or that were worded in a way others wouldn't understand. The thinking and the creating is what is key to project based learning.
Tip #7: DON'T just assign projects to advanced students or quick finishers.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when teachers only use projects for higher level, quicker working students. Projects should be for EVERYONE in your class. Advanced students are often already engaged or motivated to learn. However, lower level students often need help engaging and getting motivated and projects help them with this. Projects also cover multiple standards at one time, providing a built in "review" for students who need to touch on standards multiple times.
Additionally, working on projects is a confidence builder as they most often end with the students creating something. If you are one of the few in class who never gets to create, but always has to complete a worksheet, how does that make you feel? Unsuccessful, that's how. Students don't become stronger students by being made to feel unsuccessful all the time. If you need help using projects with lower achieving students, check out my blog post on Making Project Learning Successful with Lower Achieving Students, but please, please don't exclude anyone from project based learning.
Tip #8: Create tiered versions of a projects so that everyone can be successful.
This tip goes right along with number 7 because there are ways to tier projects so that they meet each student where they are. In fact, projects are one of the easiest things to differentiate for me. Because of the built in student choice and open ended creation, tiering a project so that all students are working on the same thing at their own level, is very easy.
Some ways to tier a project for lower achieving students are to:
- provide easier texts for literature or research articles
- allow students to use videos, audio books or website reading technology when doing research
- allow for speech to text when writing essays or recording notes
- pair down research questions to the most important
- encourage students to use art or drama as part of their creation to reduce stress on spelling or grammar
Some ways to tier a project for higher achieving students are to:
- provide more challenging texts for literature or research articles
- encourage the use of different research sources, including encyclopedias or scholarly articles
- teach students to create a bibliography, requiring a certain number of sources
- encourage students to add additional details to projects
- encourage students to publish their projects using technology - videography, vlogging, blogging, graphic design, website design, etc.
Tip #9: Allow for partner projects, using strategic pairing.
As a student, I DETESTED group projects, so I very rarely use them. I hated them because I was always the kid who did all the work while everyone else sat around and talked. So, when I do use group projects, I allow students to "grade" their group members and include that grade as 10% of the individual's final grade. Now that being said, partner projects can be a very useful tool.
When doing partner projects, I strategically pair students who each have a strength and a weakness. One may be a great reader and the other a great artist. Or one may be great at finding facts while the other is great at thinking outside of the box. Then I teach my students how to break down the work of a project using the strengths of each individual. (Back to metacognition again!) Because they are each seen as successful, both students are engaged, even if one student is stronger academically than the other.
Tip #10: Start small! One successful project with lead to more projects.
I have been doing projects with my students (all ages, Kinder through 5th) for 15 years. I've had projects be amazing and projects completely flop. And each project I do, helps me to do a better job with the next project I plan. But if you've never done projects before, don't plan 10 for the school year yet. Start with one. See how it goes. If it flops, reflect on what would have made it more successful. Try again, with one more project. Eventually you will find what works for you with project based learning. And of course what works well with this year's students might not work well with other classes. The key is not to try to do everything in a project, get overwhelmed and then decide projects aren't for you. One bad project is the same as one bad lesson. You reflect, you change a bit and you try again.
Starting small can also be an inspiring thing. Because when you get that first project that goes amazingly and you can step back and see all of your students actively engaged in creating their own learning, it fills you with joy. Kids are naturally curious. They are meant to explore and discover on their own. They are meant to create and to learn from mistakes. Our curriculums don't allow time for this type of learning. Projects do.
So what project are you doing with your kids this year? Here are a few ideas of projects from my Teachers Pay Teachers store that may be helpful in your classroom.
Book Report Projects for Multiple Different Genres
Rock Research Project
Exploring Africa Using Folktales Project
The Great Plant Experiment
Amazing Americans Research Project
Earth Day Video Project (FREE)
Earth's Minerals Online Poster Project
Balanced Checkbook Project
Design Your Dream School Project
Create a Virtual Field Trip to the Desert
Tuesday TESOL Tip #2: Slow Down! Decreasing the rate at which you talk is the best way to help your EL students.
Back in 2012, when I taught English Language Learner exclusively in Morocco, I began a series called "Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tips". The series was long before a variety of website changes, so I have decided to revise it. I will be sharing one tip each Tuesday, starting with the original tips and expanding on them with the additional knowledge I've added in the last 8 years. Today's TESOL Teaching Tip is to speak SLOWLY!
If you’ve ever tried to speak or understand another language, the first thing you notice is how fast every seems to speak. Actually, most native speakers of any language speak at about the same rate, anywhere between 150 and 200 words per minute, (give or take some, depending on dialect and whose doing the counting). However, when you are learning a language, and you don’t know all the words, your brain processes what you are hearing at a slower pace. In TESOL Teaching tip #23, we will talk about why it is important to experience being the language learner when you are a language teacher. For now, though, let’s do a simple experiment. Watch these two videos. The first one is a student who is just learning Arabic. The second one is a native speaker of Arabic. Which one are you able to understand better?
Now, I know you saw a difference in the speed of these speakers. Remember also, that when you are being taped, you tend to slow your rate of speed. Imagine that the native speaker wasn’t talking for a video camera, but was having a conversation with a friend, I am sure that his speech would then get faster.
How do English Language Learning students feel in a classroom?
For 3 years, I was a non-Arabic speaker living in an Arabic speaking country, and I have had Arabic speaking in-laws for 18 years. I can tell you that Arabic still feels like it is spoken a million miles a minute to me. This helps me to understand why my students tell me that they feel that English goes a million miles a minute. Truly, it is just part of learning a language, the language we are learning, whichever language it is, travels by us faster because we are not understanding every word.
Now picture the English Language Learners in your classroom. Every day they sit and hear the language traveling around them so fast they feel that they miss more and more words each time you talk. Frustrating – right? Frustrating enough to make them start to tune you out, and maybe act up a little? Frustrating enough to make them give up on understanding? Frustrating enough for them to start daydreaming or talking to a friend in their home language? These are behaviors I have seen in my classrooms and that I have done myself when feeling overwhelmed in a French as a second language classroom.
How can we help EL students feel less frustrated?
SLOW DOWN. Don’t over-exaggerate your speech. Language learners need to hear real language flow, not a simplified version of English. However, they also need to understand what you’re talking about. So pretend there’s a camera in front of you and slow down to a solid 130 – 150 words per minute. Also, give a nice solid pause between sentences and an even longer one when you ask a question. (Try counting to 50 or 100 Mississippis in your head after you ask a question.) Language learning students are often still processing the words of the question when we are sitting impatiently waiting for an answer – give them a chance to finish processing before you move on and give them the answer. (You may also want to train the other students in your class to be patient during this time. I have some suggestions for this in Tip# 21.)
Another thing that will help your students is recording yourself and giving them them the recording to have as a reference. For example, let's say you're doing a "lecture" based lesson on an important person for a Social Studies class. After the lesson, you are going to have your students complete one of my Digital Graphic Organizers to reflect on what they learned. While you are "lecturing", record yourself. It doesn't have to be fancy, FlipGrid or your computer's video camera would work. Then post that video to Google Classroom so that students can use it while completing the graphic organizer. This might not slow you down a lot, (Although being recorded does seem to slow our speech overall.) but it will give your students a chance to listen again. They can also be taught how to use the software to slow down the audio as they re-listen.
Real Life Teaching Example:
One simple way to help you slow down when asking questions is to give students a 2-colored chip or card. I like to glue a red construction paper square to a green construction paper square, so that when flipped it looks like a stop and a go sign. While you are talking, the red side is up (this is also a great cue that they shouldn't be talking.) Then after you have stopped talking, they take time to process what you said and think of an answer to the question. When they have an answer, they flip the card over and you know they are ready to answer because their card is green. In addition to giving students additional processing time, this gives you a real life idea of how much processing time students need.
Pro-tip: This can be used with all students, regardless of their language learning status. If you have some students who are processing much faster than others, then have a notebook or sticky notes ready for them to write (or draw) their response on while they wait for the others to finish processing.
To improve the future, we must learn about the past. Five strategies to make teaching history more successful.
So often within our curriculum, we ask students to explore topics and cultures that are so foreign to their own lives that they cannot understand them. They don't have the background knowledge to grasp them. This happens a lot in Social Studies, but also in literature with historical settings or diverse characters.
I also see this often happen with Holidays Around the World programs. Kids "visit" a country, learn very little because they have no way to connect what they are learning to their previous knowledge, and then walk out with very odd misunderstandings about that country. For my part in Holidays Around the World, I always taught students about Ramadan and Eid al Adha in Morocco. The one year we were asked to have the kids create a craft, so we designed prayer rugs. Many, many kids drew crosses on their prayer rugs because in our 30 minute "class" we hadn't had time to really explain the religion of Morocco wasn't the religion they practiced. So these kids had this misunderstanding in their heads about what a prayer rug in Morocco would look like. (There are many other problems with Christmas Around the World programs, which you can read in my previous blog post - Christmas Around the World is Harmful to Students.)
Now, please don't misunderstand me, kids need to be exposed to these topics and books that are way outside of their understanding. However we, as teachers, need to reassess HOW we are teaching these topics. Without building their understanding and background knowledge, we set our kids up for failure, or we give them barely a skin deep understanding of the topic which leads to large misunderstandings. These misunderstandings can have serious consequences.
So what's the key to helping students understand historical and cultural topics? Well, ideally it would be lots and lots of time and exposure to different people and places. But I live in the real world, where we're often lucky to have an hour a week for Social Studies and we're asked to rush through a historical fiction book in a matter of a couple of weeks. So here are a few tips that can be used in any classroom.
Teaching History Strategy #1 - Use Those Pictures and Videos!
When we see a picture or watch a video we give students multisensory input that aid in the imagination process when they are later reading an article or story. Often, we ask kids to visualize the story, but they are limited by a lack of experiences. I used to do an experiment with my students where I would read them 2 similar stories - one about dinner in the USA and one about dinner in Morocco. I would ask the students to draw a picture of each story. Then, I would show them pictures of the reality. We would talk about how the picture of dinner in the USA was much easier for them because they had the background knowledge to understand it.
A students' imagination will always be dictated by their own experiences (including books they've read and videos they've seen). If they've never seen a camel or a manatee in person, they will struggle to understand a description. However, show them a picture or video of a camel or a manatee and ask you will increase their understanding. Of course, in person learning is best, but none of us are Ms. Frizzle, so pictures and videos (along with books and stories) are the best way to give our students background knowledge on a variety of topics.
Teaching History Strategy #2 - Try It Out!
If you're learning about Native American kids or frontier kids being expected to do chores like grinding corn or making butter, then take the time for kids to try those things out. They'll be able to understand much better why the characters are tired! If students are learning about kids in Alaska making and eating dried fish, perhaps tried some smoked fish as a class. Even if they hate it, they'll have a better understanding of the smell and taste. If kids are reading about kids who learned by candle light, turn out the classroom lights and light some candles. Kids need experiences! They cannot imagine a world without every modern convenience because that is all they've ever known. It is our jobs to give them as many chances to try it out as possible.
Teaching History Strategy #3 - Use Historical Fiction
There are so many amazing books that will put the kids in the shoes of the characters living in different time periods or different countries. Use these books to their fullest. Choose 2 or more books for each topic so that students can "feel" what it was like to be in the shoes of different people during that time period. If you can't read the entire book, share a section or a chapter with the whole class and then make the book accessible to kids to read on their own.
For example, when learning about the American Revolution, you might sample from the books: Felicity, American Girl 1774, George Washington's Socks and Chains. Or you could bring in an even larger sample of books and allow students to each choose their own book (or a book per group or pair) about the time period, and complete a Historical Fiction Book Report on the topic. As they share their projects, students can compare and contrast the viewpoints of the various books they read.
Teaching History Strategy #4 - The Devil is in the Details
Because we all come at life from our own point of view, students will often gloss over details that would never occur to them. That is why I use my Time Machine Presentations to introduce time periods. In each Time Machine Presentation, I talk about things like not having bathroom facilities indoors for the majority of American History and how people would get from place to place. It wouldn't even occur to students to consider things like chamber pots being used or whether rail roads were in use during this time. However, these things come up sometimes in stories. So bringing up these details helps students better understand the reality of a time period.
Teaching History Strategy #5 - Connect, connect, connect!
One of my favorite memes talks about the fact that Ann Frank, Martin Luther King and Dianne Sawyer were all born in the same year. The reason this meme blows our minds is that people in general will compartmentalize facts, especially about history. So helping students to find connections is very important. When I taught in Georgia, we taught about 8 different people who were important in American History. It felt very disconnected to my students, so we built a life size timeline around our classroom. Every time we learned about a person, we added important events from their life to our timeline, so that students could see who lived at the same time and who didn't. They could see overlaps and progression. (I then made this into a handy printable for their interactive notebooks that they could refer back to. You can download this from my Teachers Pay Teacher Store.)
Maps are another important way to show connections. Having students label maps with the names of people (or groups of people) that were there can help them see why some people interacted and others didn't. History is the story of people interacting. We need to teach kids how to see that.
I know that Social Studies isn't very high on the priority list when it comes to most curriculums. But over and over we talk about how we need to understand history in order to prevent from repeating it. In order for our children to learn history, they have to build their background knowledge and understanding of Social Studies. Our future and theirs will be better if we can get them to understand history and what they can learn from it.
Stop eliminating lessons where students celebrate other cultures! This reduces the chance of students learning about other cultures.
Recently I have had resources removed from Teachers Pay Teachers for these two reasons: "Resources where students are required to speak from the perspective of victims of or participants in traumatic events may trivialize the experiences of affected individuals or groups" and "Activities where students write from the perspective or otherwise roleplay as people from specific cultures may disrespect or marginalize individuals from associated communities."
Now I would understand removing resources that are disrespectful of certain groups, but I don't understand removing resources that CELEBRATE the heroes or culture of marginalized groups. Specifically, my worry is that so much of our curriculum already barely mentions other cultures in a positive manner. If we now take down the resources that we do have, teachers are even less likely to teach about these cultures in a positive manner.
Why are we removing celebrations of other cultures?
There are hundreds of Christmas plays available. In these students can act out the Judeo-Christian Christmas story and no one blinks an eye at it. However, my Light Up the World with Celebrations holiday play which has students pretending to be various students from all over the world celebrating different celebrations, in different ways, all with the joining theme of light, was removed. So now when a teacher is looking for a way to include diverse ideas into her classroom, they will have one less option. But none of the Christmas options are removed. This means that rather than making these other holidays, like Kwanza, Hanukkah, Eid and Diwali less marginalized, it makes them more so. Now I have other resources for these holidays - Vocabulary Packets, Presentations, and Cookbooks. However, this play is what the teachers actually use during those crazy, harried, days before winter break.
Since Teachers Pay Teachers chose to remove the play from my store, you can now find it on my Free Resources page here on my blog. I want to make sure that teachers have a chance to use it if they feel as I do that all holidays should be celebrated for their importance, not just Christmas.
Does acting out interviews trivialize the heroes of other cultures?
The other three resources that I have had to update are my Mister and Me Novel Study packet, my Black History Project and my Women's History Project. All of these included an acting out element. Playing pretend. Looking at life from a different perspective. All of those higher level thinking skills that make critical thinkers.
I removed those acting out activities because I was told that this was trivializing an experience of a marginalized population. I would like to note that the activity I took out of my Mister and Me Novel study is the EXACT same activity that is in my Charlotte's Web Novel study. I was not asked to remove the activity from the Charlotte's Web Novel study, which means that kids CAN act out a chapter from a fictional book about a white girl, but CANNOT act out a chapter from a fictional book about a black girl. To me this increases marginalization, rather than decreasing it.
Now, please don't get me wrong. I don't want students acting out a slave auction. I don't want them acting out segregation. But interviewing an African American hero about all of the success they have had? I think that is a great way to learn about the heroes of all groups. Again, no one blinks an eye at someone doing a mock interview with George Washington. Why is it wrong to have students create the same mock interview with Barrack Obama?
As a white woman, I always try to double check everything to make sure that my resources celebrate all students. I don't ever want to have students feel left out in my class, even inadvertently. But by removing these resources, I feel that many teachers will just not bother to teach about diversity. I wish we lived in a world where our African American, Native American, Asian American, Women and other marginalized groups were celebrated in our general ELA and Social Studies curriculums. But for the most part that is not true. So we as teachers need to bring that element to the classroom. We as teachers need to make sure that the heroes of all groups are celebrated, not just the heroes of white males.
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