Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Social Studies Wednesday

Every year,  Sarah and I teach the following Social Studies indicator for 5th grade students in Ohio.  The students need to be able to describe the experiences of African Americans under the institution of slavery.  Through past years of experience, we know the idea of slavery is a very grown up idea for 10 and 11 year olds.  Most of our students have limited knowledge on this topic.  Our History Alive text that our district adopted has a thoughtful and insightful opening for this indicator.  We have had students come back from middle school and even high school and tell us this was one of the most memorable events for them.

We accomplish this activity by having students lie their heads under their desk and face up with the lights out.  The area is small, and our purpose is to have the students have the feeling of that tight space. The students lay there as we read an excerpt from a SHIP OF HORRORS by Olaudah Equiano which is his autobiography written in 1789. which is a primary source (another indicator).  After this experience,  the students write about their thoughts and finally we share as a class.  In addition, the students will read from their text book and complete a dilemma worksheet about what choices they would make. 

To connect with Wonderopolis:  #138 What Was the Underground Railroad?  Many of the students had background knowledge about this topic, so we connected our new learning with this wonder.  In addition, there are some very thoughtful and supportive picture books that we read aloud to the class. 

The list included:  Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad which is a 2008 Caldecott Award.  The summary of the book is Henry Brown doesn't know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves' birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday — his first day of freedom

In addition, I share different poems from Bronzeville: Boys and Girls by Gwendolyn Brooks. The summary includes in 1956, Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks created a collection of poems that celebrated the joy, beauty, imagination, and freedom of childhood. She reminded us that whether we live in the Bronzeville section of Chicago or any other neighborhood, childhood is universal in its richness of emotions and experiences. And now a brand-new generation of readers will savor Ms. Brooks's poems in this stunning reillustrated edition that features vibrant paintings by Caldecott Honor artist Faith Ringgold.

Also along with making connections, I found a new book last year called A Taste of Colored Water by : Matt Faulkner.  The summary of the book is about a complex tale is set in a small town in the rural South in 1960, the beginning of the active civil rights struggles. Two cousins named Jelly and Lulu are anxious to go into town and see the colored water their friend Abby has told them about. She said she saw a water fountain in town with a sign above it that read “Colored.” Lulu and Jelly get their chance when Uncle Jack needs to go into town for a tractor part. When they get there, they witness a disturbance surrounding a civil rights march. Plenty of shouting and meanness is going on so Uncle Jack insists they stay in the truck, but they have other ideas. When they find the water fountain with the odd sign, they attempt to take a drink, but an angry policeman with a dog yells at them to get away from the fountain for coloreds. The whole scene is confusing and frightening to them, plus Uncle Jack is mad at them for leaving the truck. The issues are not resolved in the story, so teachers and parents who read this story to youngsters must be knowledgeable and prepared to explain this challenging time in American history. Excellent book for beginning conversations.


  1. What a lot of great resources and ideas! I love the idea of getting under the tables to replicate something of the experience aboard slave ships - it's so hard teaching about this brutal experience. Thanks, Maria!

  2. Hi Maria, I love your idea about being under the desk for a while. I have done similar things with simulation activities & think that they are effective. Thanks for the book ideas too. There are quite a few available about the Underground Railroad, & these are new to me so I will put them on a list to look for.