Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Writing conceptual statements with 3rd graders

Among the 22 social studies benchmarks that third graders need to learn, third grade teachers meet the following three benchmarks by guiding their students through an inquiry into why ancient civilizations settled where they did. For this lesson, the teacher follows the simple inquiry cycle Invitation-Investigation-Demonstration.

  • Economics Benchmark Explain that producing any good or service requires resources; describe the resources needed to produce a specific good or service; explain why it is not possible to produce an unlimited amount of a good or service.
  • Geography Benchmark Create and interpret simple maps of places around the world, local to global; incorporate the "TODALS" map basics, as well as points, lines and colored areas to display spatial information.
  • History Benchmark Explain how the environment influenced the settlement of ancient peoples in three different regions of the world. (Early Civilizations and the Emergence of Pastoral Peoples: 8000 BCE—2000 BCE)

To invite students to inquire into why ancient civilizations settled where they did, the teacher shows a world map, asking students what they see on the map. The discussion centers on the fact that this is a world map and that the ancient civilizations are concentrated in a particular place on the map (Europe-Africa-Asia).


Then, the teacher shows the students a map that "zooms" in on this concentrated area. This "new" map shows something different. The teacher states that this map will give us information that we need to answer the question, "why did ancient civilizations settle where they did?"

Next, the students divide a piece of lined paper into thirds, horizontally. Students label the thirds with the words "See", "Think", and "Wonder". See-Think-Wonder is a Visible Thinking Routine from the book Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Morrison, and Church.

After students write down what they see on the map, they share with someone near them. Next, the students share out with the whole group and the teacher scribes the students' thinking, sorting as students share.

After, students label the categories.

Then, students are given a couple of quiet moments to write down what they are thinking about what the map is telling them, especially regarding where civilizations settled. Like before, they share with a small group before sharing in front of everyone. The teacher again scribes their thinking.


To demonstrate their conceptual understanding, the students are instructed to write down one sentence that sums up all the learning that they did about where ancient civilizations settled. Once everyone has had a chance to synthesize their own thinking, everyone shares their thinking, starting with a simple statement and then revising it until the statement is timeless, abstract (to a degree), universal, and transferrable. In the example below, the quotations between the drafts are the teacher's prompts. The changes on the drafts reflect the suggestion from the 3rd grade students.

"Why did ancient civilizations settle where they did?"

"What else to we want to include? What is missing?"

"What do we mean by 'everything they needed'?"

"I'm a little confused who is doing all of this and what they're doing. Our subject needs a subject and a verb."

"Was it just Egyptians that did this?"

"I'm going to read a page from the text Understanding Civilizations by Stefan Stevens. In the book, the author wrote a page that explains why ancient civilizations settled where they did. Let's check to see if we're missing anything."

Understanding Civilizations by Stefan Stevens

"You know a band of the Dakotah-Sioux Indians settled on the banks of the Mississippi River near our school for a lot of these same reasons, but they only settled there several hundreds years ago. Also, the South St. Paul stockyards were started here in 1886 because of the river. How can we change our statement to include these more recent events?"

After reading about how third grade teachers have written a conceptual statement with their students, how have you or could you write generalizations with your students?

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