Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Social Studies through FREEDOM and OPPRESSION

Are you capitalizing on every opportunity to teach your students about theme? Could conceptual lenses raise the level of the work your students do in social studies and help you meet some of your literacy goals? What is the purpose of a conceptual lens?

A CONCEPTUAL LENS NARROWS THE SCOPE AND PROVIDES DEEPER FOCUSES FOR CURRICULUM. It provides a reciprocal relationship between CONTENT learning and CONCEPTUAL levels of thinking. Conceptual lenses provide direction for the kinds of thinking that will be accomplished during a unit of study.

I got super-excited this year as I began teaching THEMES through my social studies instruction. Teaching through a conceptual lens has been the biggest shift in my social studies instruction this year and I believe it has made a huge difference. As students think about historical events through different lenses, they are learning to recognize patterns and make connections that transfer beyond social studies and that specific time period. In addition, this helps me FOCUS the materials I choose to use during the unit. 

One of the beauties of a theme or lens is that these "big ideas" can also be found as important themes in literature. Therefore, by teaching through a focused lens in social studies, you are providing students with opportunities to access literacy concepts and skills across the curriculum.

To begin my instruction with conceptual lenses, I decided that US History (and surely every other history) boils down to FREEDOM and OPPRESSION, and within that, a struggle for power. I decided that freedom and oppression would be my overarching themes for social studies this year.
These posters are currently hanging on a bulletin board in my classroom to remind students of these themes. 

Here's a basic outline of how I launched our yearlong theme and goal for social studies --thinking through FREEDOM and OPPRESSION:
Another option would be to use a book like Encounter by Jane Yolen and chart examples of freedom and oppression from both the point of view of the Spaniards and the natives.

I decided to think through the larger chunks of US History and come up with themes that are threaded through those time periods that could be used as conceptual lenses. Here's a peak at some of the other themes/conceptual lenses I came up with: 


Not only did I make these theme definitions for bulletin boards or to pull up on smartboards, I also created student journal definition pages. These are 4 to a page, so you can easily copy them and have students glue them into their notebooks. We put our freedom/oppression definitions on the first page so that we could continue to look back and reflect on how our current study relates to freedom and oppression.

I got so excited about conceptual lenses that I decided to also make fold-ables to go with the themes. 

(My conceptual lenses include: freedom, power, oppression, change, causes, effects, compromise, propaganda, conflict, perceptions, relationships, assimilation, revolution, independence, government, democracy, ideals, beliefs, advancement, division, discord, movement, equality, injustice, influence, prosperity, crisis, being responsible, wants, needs, educated decision, innovation, interconnectedness, globalization) You can find both of these products on TPT


  1. This is a fantastic concept, your posters and foldables look great!

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    Keep Calm and Apple On



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