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Social Studies Generation (SoGen)

Grades 6-8

To extend students’ opportunities for developing academic language, discussion, and written argumentation skills using the same principles that inspired the original Word Generation program, we have developed three six-week social studies curricular sequences around topics commonly included in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade social studies content standards. These curricular materials can be used in place of the standard curriculum materials, or as a supplement. They are fully aligned with the social-studies-specific literacy standards prescribed by the Common Core State Standards, providing opportunities to read, write, discuss, and build arguments about social studies topics.

Fifteen- to twenty-minute activities for use in ELA, math, and science classes are coordinated with each week of the social studies units, so that the cross-disciplinary benefits of Word Generation can be exploited during use of the intensive social studies program. All the activities relate to the central question of the week, build relevant knowledge, and provide opportunities to encounter the new academic vocabulary in new semantic contexts.

18 One-week Social Studies Units Available

  • Ancient Civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome

    6.1 The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt: Oppressors or Great Leaders?

    In this unit, students examine the lives and actions of various Egyptian pharaohs. They also wrestle with the difficult question of whether pharaohs displayed the important qualities of leadership or if they used their power to oppress people. Students consider the effect of these leaders’ god-like status and the related issues of loyalty, protection, and rights of individuals.

    6.2 The Egyptian Pharaohs: Wise Investors or Wasteful Spenders?

    In this unit, students continue learning about Ancient Egypt and the pharaohs. They explore daily life in Ancient Egypt and the difference in resources between the villagers and the pharaohs. The unit also gives students a chance to debate about whether or not the Ancient Egyptians were wise investors or wasteful spenders.

    6.3 Was it better to be an Athenian or a Spartan?

    This unit aims to introduce students to Ancient Greece by focusing on Athens and Sparta. Students learn about the different people who lived in these cities and debate about whether it was better to be an Athenian or Spartan by using historical evidence. Students also get a chance to write about their arguments and reflect on the debate.

    6.4 The Legacy of Alexander the Great: Great Leader or Power-Hungry Tyrant?

    This unit continues a focus on Ancient Greece by studying Alexander the Great. Students read the story of how Alexander came to be known as Alexander the Great and write up either a resume or crime report by using historical data. Students then form arguments and counterarguments to debate if Alexander the Great was a great leader or a power-hungry tyrant.

    6.5 Ancient Roman Government: Whose Voice Counts?

    This unit teaches students about Ancient Rome’s government system. Students learn a brief history of Ancient Rome and the gladiator fights. They explore different arguments for and against the fights and compose their own arguments using evidence. Students then debate over who has the right to decide whether the gladiator games be banned. Students also get a chance to think about UFC in our own society and discuss parallels between UFC and the gladiator games.

    6.6 Pompeii: An Irresponsible Decision or Unexpected Disaster?

    In this unit, students continue studying Ancient Rome by focusing on what happened to the city of Pompeii. Students learn about the history of the city before the eruption to build background knowledge. Then, students create arguments to debate whether what happened to the residents of Pompeii was an irresponsible decision or an unexpected disaster. Students also complete a writing activity about the dangerous places to live in today’s world.

  • Experiences of Two Children in War-torn Sudan

    7.1 What happens to your life when you’re uprooted?

    This unit is the first of six units about fictional siblings named Aluel and Gabriel from Sudan. Students are introduced to their lives in Sudan and learn briefly about the Dinka culture. They also read about Aluel’s and Gabriel’s experience fleeing for their lives after their village is attacked. Students then learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the concept of violating those human rights. Students also complete an activity where they read about young people who have moved to new countries and take a position on granting them refugee status.

    7.2 Who do you trust when your life is at stake?

    This unit is the second of six units about Aluel and Gabriel. In this unit, students follow the siblings and their group right after they fled their village on their journey to find safety. Students continue to learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and debate about which path the group should take on their journey. Students also complete a writing activity related to a painting about a first hand experience of escaping to safety by crossing the infamous Gilo River.

    7.3 Where is home?

    This unit is the third of six units about Aluel and Gabriel’s journey. Students learn about life in a refugee camp in Ethiopia and the politics that caused Aluel and Gabriel to flee their camp. When Aluel and Gabriel settle in a new refugee camp in Kenya, a new issue arises about educating girls. After reading about different opinions, students debate and write about the issue.

    7.4 Who will we become?

    This unit is the fourth of six units about Aluel’s and Gabriel’s journey. The Reader’s Theater introduces students to the refugee crisis after Hurricane Katrina. Students then read about Aluel’s and Gabriel’s trip to the U.S. and also read first hand accounts from three real Lost Boys about their experiences returning to Sudan after living in the U.S. In the unit debate, students explore whether or not it is ever justifiable to displace others in the name of progress. Students also complete a writing activity where they give advice to Aluel and Gabriel on adjusting to American life.

    7.5 How do I fit in?

    This unit is the fifth of six units about Aluel and Gabriel. In this unit, students learn about “fitting in.” They read about Aluel’s and Gabriel’s new lives in Minnesota and the problems in the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Students also dive into the citizenship process in the U.S. and continue to build knowledge about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The unit debate compares immigration in the 1800s and present day.

    7.6 Should we stay or should we return?

    This is the final unit about Aluel and Gabriel. Students learn about the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between northern and southern Sudan and South Sudan’s independence six years later. Students explore the work of different NGO’s and debate whether or not Aluel and Gabriel should return to their home country. A writing activity has students take their own position about returning to Sudan.

  • Complex Questions Related to American Democracy

    8.1 What are governments good for?

    In this unit, students are introduced to the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens. Students learn about the 2001 Patriot Act, while getting a chance to discuss the pros and cons of the law. Students also read three case studies about government policies in Singapore, London, and New York City. Using evidence and information from the case studies, students debate which city, New York or London, has a better strategy for controlling crime.

    8.2 Who gets to say what I need to know?

    This unit explores the role of government in education. Students are introduced to the topic by learning about the Scopes “Monkey Trial” and the issue of teaching evolution in science classrooms. Students then collect evidence to debate whether schools should teach the best up-to-date science or take parental values into account in deciding what to teach. Students also complete a writing activity on a related question.

    8.3 What is the value of your citizenship?

    In this unit, students explore what it takes to be a citizen in the U.S. and in other countries. Students analyze the different rights given to citizens, legal immigrants, and undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and debate whether or not the way immigrants are granted citizenship should be easier or harder. Finally, students will write an opinion piece about whether citizenship should be a birthright.

    8.4 When is a crime not a crime?

    This unit focuses on crime and the idea that some acts may or may not be legal depending on the situation. Students learn about the different crime classifications and build background knowledge by reading about Trayvon Martin, interracial marriage, and marijuana legalization. The unit debate centers around the question of whether or not everyone should receive the same sentence for the same crime. Finally, students complete a writing activity on their point of view about President Obama’s post-Zimmerman trial statement.

    8.5 Where is the justice in our justice system?

    This unit explores issues related to race and crime. Students learn about the rights for an accused person in the United States and learn about the different methods of punishment. Students read a case study about a man who turned his life around after being convicted of a felony. Students analyze numerous infographics about the U.S. justice system to prepare for the unit debate, which asks students what the primary purpose of a justice system should be.

    8.6 How do we right the wrongs of the past?

    In this unit, students are introduced to the idea of righting past wrongs. Students build background knowledge by reading about Jim Crow segregation, the discriminatory practice of redlining, and even some international cases of wrongful actions by governments. Students then debate whether or not the U.S. government should compensate African Americans in order to acknowledge past wrongs. The writing activity has students respond to a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the struggle against racial segregation.

The WordGen TeamDevelopment of Word Generation was led by Catherine Snow (Harvard University) through a SERP collaboration with the Boston Public Schools and other districts in Massachusetts and Maryland. Support for Word Generation was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Leon Lowenstein Foundation and the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education through grant numbers R305A090555 and R305F100026. The information provided does not represent views of the funders.
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