The Importance of Me!

Throughout the year, we teach our students about the important places, events, and people of our world.  While these are all valuable lessons, it is also importance to teach them of their own importance and significance in our world.  Many may be thinking that I am referencing elementary aged students and the lessons they learn in the early grades as they adapt to the classroom.  Instead, I think the responsibility falls to the upper grades.  It is in these years that we can teach the students the costly lessons in life, and how to avoid the mistakes made by others throughout history.

What should we teach?

Start with the history or the literature or any other content.  Teach them about those people who have made our world what it is.  The heroes, the activists, the ground-breakers.  And then teach them their place in the world, and how they are responsible for making it a different place than it is today.
  • Lead students to identify their areas of interest.
  • Discuss with students the wrongs of the past.
  • Identify the problems of today.
  • Ask students what they can do to make a difference.
  • Challenge students to change the status-quo.
  • Encourage students to stand up for their beliefs.
  • Allow students to be individuals and to think for themselves.
  • Teach them that they are responsible for their world, and that by-standers are never positively significant.
Teach about today.  Talk about the hot topics that are on the news, and challenge students to think about what they would do differently.  And push them to think through topics, and to step away from the generic responses of generations past.  Today is a different world - and they should be different citizens of that world.  It is up to them to make it change!

Some of my suggested topics or activities to spur discussion:
  • Review Important People and identify what made them important.  What could they have done differently?  How could they have changed the world or the future?  What lessons do they teach us about the world we live in now?
  • Talk about the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon.  Ask your students what they would have done?  Would they have run from the scene?  Run to help the injured?  Are they angry at the bombers?  How can we prevent these events in the future?
  • Discuss the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.  What would prompt someone to do this type of thing?  How would they deal with a situation like this in our community? Do they understand how someone could do something like this?  Is there any explanation?
  • Refer to the Theater Shooting.   How would they respond in such a situation?  What about their friends or family with them?  Are they sympathetic/empathetic to the shooter?  Can they explain why these things happen?  What would they change to prevent these shootings?
  • Examine the Events of 9/11.  Is this really a battle over religion?  Were the terrorists bad people?  Were they following the tenants of their religion or acting as individuals?  How should individuals or nations respond to an attack such as this one?  Should we have gone to war?  Against who?  Are the people of the nations where the terrorists are from responsible for these attacks?
Challenge students to investigate other current events or Significant People in our World.  What is their role?  What is our responsibility as individuals?  What should our nation do in response?  How do they see the future? 

And then, ask your students to evaluate.  What type of person am I now?  What do I do on a small scale that impacts others?  How can I help my community?  How can I influence the people around me in a positive way EVERY day?  What can they do to make positive change?
  •  A fun way to allow students to self-evaluate is to have them Create Paper Dolls of themselves.  Just as they would evaluate a character from a book or an historic figure, they can detail the characteristics of their own personality and identify their own contributions.
As the school year comes to an end, challenge your students to become better people for their futures.  Challenge yourself to do the same!

Michele Luck

Teaching the Important Lessons

As I end each school year with my students, I want to leave them with a lesson they will never forget.  I want to teach them about the world, about life, and about themselves.  I want them to know that the world is what they make it, and that the by-standers of the world will only become its next victims.  To teach these important lessons, I use the example of the Holocaust.

First, let me discuss the lessons that are still very real-world for our students that can come from the Holocaust:
  • Religion can be a backdrop for any event we discuss in history or in modern day.  This does NOT mean that any particular religion is responsible for the actions of individuals who perpetrate these atrocities.  If we talk about the Holocaust, we are discussing the attack on the Jews by Christians.  Yet, the big lesson is that Christianity did not act out this crime, individual Christians did.  More importantly, if those individual Christians actually followed the doctrine of their religion, they would never have acted in the way they did.  This same message can be shared about the 9/11 attacks.  Those responsible for the terrorist attacks were individual Muslims who acted against the most important tenants of their religion while claiming they were performing as a response to its demands.  
  • By-standers allowed the Holocaust to become as deadly as it did.  While atrocities happen all around the world, the numbers of the victims rise as the number of by-standers increases.  Every individual in the world is responsible for those around them, and our inaction can sometimes be just as bad as others' action.  In the Holocaust, many turned in their friends and neighbors, claiming they feared for their own safety.  If the entire population had refused to cooperate, or if other nations of the world had refused to stand by and ignore the signs (many signs of the persecution), the outcome would have been very different.  This lesson is one more often seen on a personal level for our students... Bullying.  How often do we all stand by as someone else is picked on or humiliated by others?
  • Knowing who we are is humbling, yet also fills us with a sense of obligation to the world we all live in.  The more we know about ourselves, the less we should be willing to persecute others at any level.  As our world becomes more and more interlinked, we find that we are no longer individuals without anything in common with those around us, or even those far away from us.  We all share hopes, dreams, and aspirations.  Moreover, we all have flaws.  And if we want to talk genetics, as done by Hitler, the US government (sterilization programs and segregation practices throughout history), or even the KKK and other hate groups, we can now see that all of our genetics take us back to a singular shared origination.  This does not matter what religion or civilization you claim as your own, we all share common genetics.  And, in our modern times, our genetic mix is becoming more and more diluted with each generation.  Why look for these differences?  Why not look for the commonalities?
  • Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it!  This lesson is often the one overlooked, but should be the most important.  Why can we not learn the lessons of our past?  If the people of Europe had learned from the past, they would have known what was coming.  Same message could be shared in America every day as we step into the same traps.  Even in our personal endeavors, we make the same mistakes over and over.  Why is this such a challenge?
Next, I want to share how I inform my students on the horrific events and how I allow my students to learn the important lessons through their own investigation and discovery:
  1. I always start my unit with a Silent Timeline Activity.  The silence is important because it sets the stage for the significance of the topics that will be read once the students have arranged themselves into chronological order.  Also, students quickly realize the the Holocaust did not erupt with the coming to power of Adolf Hitler, but followed long-standing anti-Semitism across Europe.  In addition to this one activity, each timeline card can lead to a number of other lessons valuable in the study of the Holocaust and its significance.
  2. A Complete Lecture Outline of the History of the Jews and the Holocaust helps students to organize the key information significant in the unit.  Students begin to evaluate the rise of the hatred across Europe, and are able to see how someone like Hitler could lead to such a devastating event.
  3. Once students understand WHAT happened, and how it came about, it is important to introduce them to the terms of the event.  So many vocabulary terms are significant in the Holocaust.  One of my favorite scenes in Schindler's List is Stern informing Schindler that "special treatment" is not a good thing.  As important as the terms themselves is the image that comes with them.  A Vocabulary Visualization Activity helps students to develop the understanding and the importance with those images.
  4. Dividing up the People of the Holocaust helps students to see the significance of the many different groups and individuals involved.  As students investigate the varying groups, and their impact, it helps them to start to see how things could have been different based on individual decisions.
  5. At this point in the lesson, I want my students to begin to place themselves into the event to understand the impact they could have had then, and the impact they could have now.  More importantly, I want them to realize the significance of their situation in any event, and how what they perceive over time may change as facts become more clear.  Who Am I? Activities help students to begin this self-reflection.  This FREE set of materials also includes response sheets for reflecting on different events, different situations, and their own thoughts and feelings on the world and its people.
  6. Depending on the time available in your classes, I could recommend many visual or literary activities to help make the unit more impactful for your students.  I always showed all or parts of Schindler's List, emphasizing the role of the by-standers and the heroes.  In addition, I showed Nuremberg (the TV version with Alec Baldwin) to show real footage clips and the response of the nations after the fact.  Finally, I have my students read many different accounts of the Holocaust for reflection.  One of the greatest resources are the ID Cards available for download from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  These were used as my bell-ringer each day, with students reading a card, sharing their person with a neighbor student, and then reflecting on the individual stories.   In addition, we read aloud always as a whole class and then individually completing the reading guide, Night by Elie Wiesel
  7. My next lesson is on the Propaganda used by the German government (and others) in the persecution of the Jews.  I stress that students need to be able to evaluate the propaganda around them and to discern what is positive and negative in nature.  I also encourage my students to look for the fact in the fiction or vice-versa with much of the propaganda produced by all of the governments discriminating against any group.
  8. The final activity is an investigation and research activity on the Ties of the Holocaust to Today.  This helps students see that it is still relevant discussion, and that their action or inaction is still very important in our modern times.  As students see that Hate Groups are still very prevalent, and that atrocities and genocides are still occurring in our world, they are more willing to see their role in world events.
  9. Finally, the Self-Reflection Materials are utilized again, asking students to re-evaluate themselves and their role in daily events or in major atrocities.  This message becomes clear as students compare their earlier response to this one in the end of the study.
Many school administrators and districts will argue that you do not have the time or resources available to teach this unit.  Considering the bullying, acts of terrorism, and other atrocities in our modern world, I argue that you do not have the time to NOT teach it!

Complete Holocaust Unit with all above activities included (except Night Reading Guide) available in my TpT Store.

My TpT Store

Additional Resources & Websites:
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Teaching Tolerance
Simon Wiesenthal Museum Tolerance Center

Michele Luck

Make It A Schoolwide Event!

Why does your content need to stay in your classroom?

As a student teacher, I had the opportunity to visit numerous schools for a day to get a feel for their school culture.  At one high school, my team entered the building to find bare walls, in the halls and even in the classrooms.  Our description of this building:  Simply Sad!
Since that very valuable lesson, I always posted student work in the hallways outside my classroom.   Then it dawned on me.  Why just post the student work?  Why not create "Content Immersion" for all of the students in my building?  It works for foreign languages, right?  Why not Social Studies?  Or Math... Science... ELA...

So, next came my Walking Tours, Centers Activities, Archeological Digs and more.  I started off in the early fall with my Renaissance Walking Tours in my World History classes, my Reconstruction Road to Rights in U.S. History, and the U.S. and Canada Stations in Geography.  After finishing these activities in class, I transferred the materials outside the classroom just above the lockers in my hall adding samples of student work from each culminating activity.  Next unit, I moved a bit further down the hall.  And the gallery walk continued! By spring (and testing season), students throughout the building were able to see all of the lessons we learned in our classes. 

What could be better to reinforce content, review entire year content, and set-up our students for long term retention.  Oh, yes, and for testing.   :)

Michele Luck

Reading in ALL Content Areas!

Reading?  In a Social Studies Class?  A Science Class?  A Math Class?  Of course!

As Common Core Standards have come to the forefront in many trainings in schools across the country, teachers have been told they must reinforce reading skills in their content classes.  ALL content classes!  What?  Are they crazy?  But, I teach Social Studies! 

Come on people... we read everything.  We read math equations.  We read primary sources.  We read lab reports.  And most importantly, we read menus and ads and just everything!  Reading is an everyday thing for all of us.  It cannot be avoided, and it shouldn't.  Reading is also fun!  It allows us the opportunity to travel the world, solve mysteries, or just escape from our mundane lives.  Why can't we/shouldn't we teach that lesson to our students?

So, how do I, as a Social Studies teacher (or Science or Math or...) teach reading skills?  Simple.  Teach your content!  Teach your skills.  And expect students to read all along the way.  More importantly, do not spoon feed them facts, but allow them the chance to explore, experience, and engage in those facts through reading.

Finally, practice basic reading skills in everything you do.  Require comprehension.  Require analysis.  And require the love of reading!

Here are a few ideas to help you utilize reading skills in your classroom:
Character/Significant Person Analysis

Poems for ANY Class

Social Media Templates

Michele Luck

Spring Fever AKA Classroom Chaos

As your students begin to lose focus and their behavior starts to reflect their desire to be anywhere but in your classroom, it is time to prepare yourself with the tools you need to keep the chaos from getting out of control!  And just keep in mind, the end is near...

I always loved my students, but as Spring set in, they turned into these crazy creatures that stared out the windows and whose thoughts wandered off to playing outside (or driving their cars for my high school sophomores!).  They almost drove me crazy!  So I quickly learned, that I had to be prepared.
  • First of all, I had to keep them busy.  I could not let them have one moment of "down time" or any freedom to find their own time fillers.  I knew where that would lead.  Keep your students busy on doing what they should be doing until the very last days of school - LEARNING!  
    The e-book for every teacher!
  • Next, stick to your content and stick to your routine.  It will make your life so much easier and your days far less stressful.  Students thrive when they are in structured environments.  And sadly, they falter when they are not provided that structure they need. 
  • Another suggestion is that you make learning fun.  This is the time to bring back in the review games and the activities that keep them engaged while learning.  
    Scavenger Hunt Game Sets!
  • For older age groups, turn your lessons to more controversial or intriguing topics.  This will keep their attention through drawing their interest and allowing them to engage their emotions in the lesson. 
    9/11 Response Groups & More
  • Finally, for those students who cannot focus and must have a plan for maintaining their classroom behavior, have a plan in action.  Sometimes you can simply make that students your "helper" to keep them busy, or a behavior contract may come into play. 
    A Teacher Tool FREEBIE!
Spring is also the time to enjoy your time with your kids.  Soon, they will be moving up to the next grade, and you will miss each and every one.  Take time to reflect on the year.  Spend time doing what you enjoy.  And last, but not least, enjoy the outdoors together.  Some of the best learning for my students took place outside as we all sat in a huge circle on the grass.  Notebooks and learning resources in hand, we all took in the sun as we took in our content!

Happy Spring!


Michele Luck

The Power of Pictures!

"A picture is worth 1000 words!"

I have always loved using images in my classroom.  When students are able to attach an image to information, they process it more thoroughly and they remember it longer.  This simple tool in your classroom can make all of the difference!

As we are swallowed whole by testing this year, many teachers may be trying to hit the content hard, pulling out anything they feel to be fluff in their lessons.  This can be a great mistake for those teaching visual learners.  Every year in my classroom, I stuck to my curriculum calendar as the testing weeks approached.  It was inevitable that I would be in the Civil Rights Movement as my students would be experiencing formula stuffing in their math classes and novel immersion in ELA.  I stuck to what I knew worked best for my kids... Pictures!  And it always paid off.  As testing would wrap-up, my students would run back to my classroom telling me they SAW stuff they knew in the testing booklets because the images reminded them of the lessons we learnedJACKPOT!

To use images successfully in your classes:
  • Do not simply show images, but allow students to analyze images as a whole group.
  • As students are first seeing images, do NOT provide any background information.
  • No comment or idea about an image is wrong.  Open the floor for all ideas.
  • Encourage ALL students to participate by stating details THEY see.
  • Use spiral questioning to help students open up an image.
  • Introduce images in the order that they will help to develop your content.
  • Continue to refer to images as you introduce new content and as you continue the lesson.
  • Allow students to create their own images to help them further process content ideas.
And a "secret" tip for History teachers:
The Migrant Mother by Dorthea Lange  and the Supreme Court Steps Brown v Board Newspaper images are almost ALWAYS referred to in standardized testing.  Use them in your classes to help student feel that success we want them all to feel as they test this spring and every year!
Picture Analysis Introduction Product Link
Great Depression Image Analysis Product Link
9/11 Impact of Images Product Link
WWI to WWII Image Introduction Product Link

Happy imaging!


Michele Luck

A Human Game Board for Spring Review!

Spring Review for Testing can be one of the most stressful times of year for both teachers and students.  So this year, instead of the seat and lecture review, try something new.  Make it fun!

Transform your classroom into a Human Game Board
Use templates to turn your classroom floor or wall into a game board on which your students can compete as they review the content of your class.  It's simple!  It's fun!  It's ENGAGING!
  1. Create or purchase game board cards.
  2. Laminate the cards for long-lasting use.
  3. Attach the cards to your classroom floor or wall (I use packing tape for easy, clean removal).
  4. Use review questions to quiz students on your CCS.
  5. Award winning students or student teams for their game selection.  I NEVER use candy in my classroom, but instead offer homework passes, mechanical pencils, and stickers!
Be creative in your game play!  Use a Word Game Review Board for content vocabulary practice or use a Colors Game Board for more child-like play!
Word Game Board Product Link
Colors Game Board Product Link
Human Game Board Product Link
Red Human Game Board Product Link
And remember... Learning can be FUN and EFFECTIVE!

Michele Luck