Lori Rice teaches fourth grade at West Elementary in Wamego and is the current Kansas Council for the Social Studies elementary teacher of the year. You can find Lori on Twitter at @MsLRice. She also blogs on all things teaching (not just social studies) at The Educator’s Room.
The beginning of the school year brings excitement and anxiety for teachers and students alike. It is a year of new possibility, new classmates and new opportunities.
Every school year I start with lists. I have a list of school supplies I need to buy and hunt down at sales. I have a list of things to do to prepare and organize my classroom for a new set of students and families. Then there is the coveted class list. We get our elementary list in August.
When I receive my class list every year, I look at it with curiosity and a little worry. Who are these children coming into my room? What experiences do they bring to our room? What experiences are they lacking? How have they been taught in previous years? Where do they go home each night? Will I be able to provide all they need?
Building a classroom community is the most important part of the first weeks of school.
It takes time for students to build relationships and trust within the classroom walls we will spend our next nine months. Being a social studies teacher, it is so simple to intertwine my curriculum from the first day into the discussions, activities, and lessons we do from the start. The HGSS standards and social/emotional skills can be taught at every grade level and woven into literature, art, music, and especially classroom management.
There are many great picture books and chapter books to start the year with. I use Absolutely Almost or Wonder as a great read aloud to start discussions about differences and strengths. I have been teaching fourth grade for twelve years and this is my twenty-fourth year in education. We all have our favorite lessons. These are two that I love starting the year with:
Superhero Writing Activity:
My fourth graders start the year exploring superheroes. We create a list of superheroes we know, we do a getting to know you activity thinking about our super powers, we listen to Smash Mouth “Average Ordinary Everyday Superhero” to discuss the lyrics and think of how we are all superheroes, and we think about our own personal strengths and weaknesses. This is an opportunity to discuss how choices have consequences and everyone has rights and responsibilities (the first two state standards) around a fun and engaging topic.
Next students brainstorm their personality traits and use those to turn themselves into a superhero. We discuss qualities of heroes:
- What makes someone a hero?
- Do they have to have superpowers?
- What characteristics do they have?
- What faults do they have?
- How do they overcome these faults?
From this information all students write a paragraph or story organized around a main idea. This is a free writing activity to encourage students to write on a single topic with detail and organization. The last part of this activity students turn their story into a comic strip. Check out this fun PDF that allows for creativity in publishing the comics to share.
Our superhero activity not only addresses ELA and HGSS standards, it also allows students to get to know each other and builds our classroom community. It provides me with insight into how students view themselves, what they enjoy (great knowledge for motivators later in the year), and is a fun way to think about expressing personality traits. You can take this activity as far as you want with students drawing themselves as superheroes, making more comic strips . . . the possibilities are endless.
Classroom Constitution Activity:
In fourth grade, we start our social studies unit with government. This unit explores the purpose of government and compares different levels of government – including our classroom. After reviewing rights and responsibilities and exploring the US Constitution, students work together to write their own classroom Constitution. This discussion allows students to share and understand the responsibilities they have in the classroom as well as those others have in the classroom. Focusing the discussion on rights and responsibilities of all classmates builds our community to strengthen relationships and foster an environment of learning for all.
Let me know what works for you!
(Photos by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com)