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Brainy Apples: November 2016
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Setting Discussion Norms

Setting discussion norms is critical if you want your students leading your class discussions. Regardless of what subject you teach, having students take the lead will result in them taking ownership and responsibility more so than if you are dictating the conversations.

social studies, Brainy Apples, student-led discourse

This is something I start at the beginning of the year, so that as time passes, my students become more comfortable at contributing to our class discussions. You want to lay the foundation for the academic conversations that will take place throughout the year. Usually you will have students who are reluctant to participate, and you will also have students who like to be the center of the discussion and try to take control. It's important to establish norms so that your quieter students won't feel overpowered and your louder students give those quieter students ample opportunity to participate. Students need to learn how to have student-led discourse, where the teacher is an active listener and the students are the leaders.

It is also very important to teach students how to participate in an active discussion, especially when there is not one right answer. You have to deliberately teach students how to debate ideas in a positive manner where they respect and value each other's contributions to the discussion.

I discuss each norm with students and provide an example of each with selected students acting out each norm. I found that having students role play each norm with an acceptable action or response AND an unacceptable action or response helps students get a concrete idea of what is and is not appropriate. After we go over each norm, I post them in a prominent place so students can easily refer to them during the year. Students will use these reminders often, and you want to encourage them to refer to the norms if they aren't being followed.

 I found it's easier to help students learn these norms by introducing two a week. If you choose too many, then students aren't able to focus on each norm and really understand how to follow it. After about a month, you will have introduced all of the norms to students, and you can expect them to follow all of them. Remember to encourage students to review the norms any time they forget one of them.

If you would like the poster set in the photo below, you can click {HERE} or on the photo. It's free! I made a full color set and a black and white set. You can print the black and white set on color paper to save on color ink.
social studies, student-led discourse, Brainy Apples




2 Easy Ways to Use Primary Sources In the Classroom

I wanted to share with you all something that I have made a goal for myself this year, and that is to incorporate primary sources into each unit I teach. I’m not sure about you, but I found myself shying away from using primary documents because a) I didn’t know where to find quality primary sources, b) I wasn’t sure how to use them in my classroom, and c) I just wasn’t sure if I had time to spend. In the past I did use primary documents, but not as often as I knew I should be.

social studies, Brainy Apples, primary document analysis

Before I get into how I use them and offer some ideas, I want to talk about why we all should be using primary sources in our classrooms. And it just isn’t for social studies teachers! ELA/reading teachers can absolutely use primary sources, too. It’s an easy way for ELA/reading teachers to integrate social studies into their content, and social studies teachers will be integrating ELA/reading as well. (If you are interested in learning more about how to integrate literacy across the curriculum, I have offered and will be offering a FREE webinar called “12 Steps to Implementing Close Reads in AnySubject, grades 1-6” soon. Click {HERE} to view the upcoming dates.)

So, why should we be using primary sources in the classroom?
I think a comment several of my students made sums it up best- “I can touch history!” History is something that can be elusive to our students. It can be abstract. History is events that occurred, and we can read about it and watch videos to help our students better understand. However, history is something that our students can’t touch or feel. We know students learn best when they can manipulate objects or ideas. History occurred in the past, and we can’t take our students there. If we live near a museum then we can certainly go on a field trip, but for those of us who aren’t close to museums or don’t have the funds available, how are we supposed to allow our students the opportunity to get up and close and personal with history? Primary sources are how!

Deepen Understanding
Like I said earlier, I made it a goal of mine this year to incorporate as many primary sources as possible this year because I knew it would help unlock the mysteries of history for my students. I am four months into the school year, and my students this year have a better understanding of the topics we have learned than my students last year because I bring in primary documents multiple times a week. My students are able to piece together what we have talked about in class and what they are analyzing from primary sources to construct new knowledge that they better understand than if we had just read about it and watched a video. They are able to view history from multiple perspectives and compare primary sources that sometimes contradict one another (propaganda) to better understand the complexities of history.

Develop Critical Thinking Skills
Not only do my students understand the topics I teach at a deeper level, they are also learning how to be critical thinkers and analyze sources like a historian would. Oftentimes primary sources lack all of the information needed to fully understand the message or point. Students have to use prior knowledge and analyze multiple sources to be able to fully understand them. Students must move from making observations about the primary sources (explicit facts) to making inferences (implicit facts). Not only this, but students must also be aware of the bias present in propaganda they look at and question the point of view and purpose of the author, especially when they are presented with contradictory primary sources. If you are going to be using Document Based Questioning (DBQ), then it’s REALLY important for students to learn how to analyze primary documents.

Student Engagement
This is probably my favorite reason for using primary sources. My students this year are at an all time high level of engagement, even during those topics that are typically considered boring. I have had several students comment that they used to be bored during social studies, but now they can’t wait for class to begin. I had several students comment that history has come alive for them because they can touch and feel the past. Using primary sources has helped my students make connections with the events of the past in meaningful ways. Many of my students have told me they have went home and continued researching what we discussed in class because they wanted to learn more. There is a difference between reading a second-hand account and a first-hand account, and even if students haven’t learned the technical differences between the two, they know that a first-hand account helps make events seem more real and personal evoking emotions. Primary documents help students feel what it was like to be alive during that particular time period, especially when you use not only paper documents but also music and art.

Where do you get primary sources?
I spent a lot of time this fall researching a variety of sites that offer primary sources, and some site are easier to navigate than others. Some sites seem to have more useful primary sources than others. I love the Library of Congress, DocsTeach, and the Digital Archives; but there are so many more…too many to list. I usually start with these sites, and then I also Google primary sources + the topic I am teaching. Yes, it can be time consuming because you have to weed through a lot of “junk”, but once you find those hidden gems, you can use them year after year. As I find a quality site, I bookmark it as a favorite site so I can easily navigate to it in the future. You can find tons of print documents online to use in the classroom.

If you want to truly bring history into your classroom, then I highly suggest traveling trunks. Sometimes there is a fee, but I have found trunks for free. I live in north Georgia, and Kennesaw State University offers traveling trunks free of charge. The only fee is the return shipping. However, they also offer free in-house programs, so I make sure we are finished with the trunks so the speaker can take the trunks back with him for free. They allow you to keep the trunks and traveling exhibits for three weeks, so I schedule the in-house program at the end of those three weeks. We are able to use multiple trunks, a traveling exhibit, and have an in-house program for free! It took a little bit of time to research, but it is well worth it! The trunk contents are actual items from that time period, so students are able to touch and feel history. The looks on their faces are priceless! We were able to create our own museum using the contents of the trunks and the traveling exhibit. Before we create our own museum, I use my no prep lesson about the Holocaust to provide students with background information they need, so when they do visit our museum and listen to guest speakers, they are able to make those connections.

social studies, Brainy Apples, document analysis

Also in one of the trunks was a CD with music from the time period of the Holocaust. The mood in my classroom while my students were listening was very somber. We know that music can evoke emotions that reading does not. My students were able to make an emotional connection that they had not made during our unit until they listened to the music.

Also, don’t count out other staff members in your school. One of my fellow teacher’s father served in the military during World War 2. He has several artifacts from his dad including his Purple Heart medal, the telegrams his parents received when he was thought to be missing/killed in action and then later found to be “slightly wounded in action”, money used in Nazi Germany, and even a Nazi soldier’s armband that he took off a dead Nazi soldier. A little gross, yes, but my students LOVED it!

social studies, Brainy Apples, document analysis

Another staff member visited Germany during the time of the Berlin Wall, and she was able to bring in an actual East German flag that flew in East Berlin (not quite sure how her mom was able to get it through Checkpoint Charlie) and a piece of the Berlin Wall. As my students were passing around these items, I could see the spark in their eyes and curiosity/interest growing.

In both of the above cases, I also gave my students print primary documents to examine. It was amazing the connections they were making and how engaged they were. I realized that print primary sources are important to use, but so are actual artifacts. Those artifacts are what help students make a connection with the past. Finding actual artifacts is not as easy because you can’t Google and print, but once you find museums that offer these types of services, it’s very easy to reserve for future years. I wrote a blog post about Holocaust resources and trainings that you can obtain for free. Many states have similar commissions/museums that provide very similar services (click {HERE} for Georgia's), and there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum that you should check out for your Holocaust and WW2 units. The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust will even help you schedule a Holocaust survivor to speak with your students. We did this last year and this year, and it is such an incredible opportunity for students to listen to a survivor's story. It's absolutely incredible.

How do you use primary sources?
Once I was able to locate primary sources, I needed to decide how I was going to use them in my classroom. I wanted to use them to enhance our units as well as provide my students with the opportunity to play detective and analyze these sources for new information and to deepen their understanding. I created a document analysis that I give to my students when they are using primary sources. I also created three posters that I hang in my classroom when using primary sources as a reference for my students.

The first document analysis poster walks students through the steps of what to do before reading, during reading, and after reading. My students use this often to keep them on track until they become proficient on their own. The second poster lists out the types of documents students might be given to analyze. It also helps students find their own primary sources when I give them a research project to complete. One of the requirements is that they have to include primary sources.  The third poster lists out unique characteristics of primary sources that students refer to when they are complete the document analysis sheet. Identifying unique characteristics helps students better identify the time period, purpose, bias, and other factors they must analyze.

The document analysis sheet helps students focus on the important aspects of the primary source, whether its print, video, or audio, and guides students to conclusions based on the primary source.

When I first started using primary sources, I knew I had to teach my students how to analyze. We worked through the gradual release model, moving from whole group with me modeling, to whole group with students modeling, to small group with students working together and sharing out, and finally to independently analyzing primary sources. Not all of my students are independent yet, though. Students who were ready to move on, I let move to independence. However, I still have several students who need to work in small groups and listen to other groups’ analysis. I model to my students how to use the steps on the poster I described above, and the poster matches the analysis sheet, so as we move step by step, students are able to complete the analysis sheet.

If you would like this FREE analysis sheet along with the three posters, click {HERE} or the image below (The posters are 8x10, but you can adjust your printer settings to print it out over multiple sheets to enlarge it).

social studies, Brainy Apples, primary source


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