Starting an Inquiry into Early Societies

In Grade 4, when getting started with inquiry I suggest starting with the curriculum. The new Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-6, have overview pages that are meant to provide you with a starting point for planning instruction. Within this overview, there are Big Ideas and Framing Questions that can be presented to your students to stimulate their natural curiosity and get them asking questions that require them to think critically. The follow ideas are meant to be implemented over a developmentally appropriate amount of time. You know your students best!

First, present the students with the following Big Idea, “Not all early societies were the same.” For this Big Idea, the related concept of Social Studies Thinking is Significance; focus on that. Deconstruct this Big Idea as a whole class. Have students discuss, with a thinking partner, how they might be different.

Read students the picture book Westlandia by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. This is an excellent book to use as a provocation for this inquiry. I’ve attached the description below.
Enter the witty, intriguing world of Weslandia! Now that school is over, Wesley needs a summer project. He’s learned that each civilization needs a staple food crop, so he decides to sow a garden and start his own – civilization, that is. He turns over a plot of earth, and plants begin to grow. They soon tower above him and bear a curious-looking fruit. As Wesley experiments, he finds that the plant will provide food, clothing, shelter, and even recreation. It isn’t long before his neighbors and classmates develop more than an idle curiosity about Wesley – and exactly how he is spending his summer vacation.

After reading the picture book, ask students to work in groups and list as many discoveries and ideas that Wesley used in creating his very own society, e.g., what did he grow, make and eat? Once completed, compile all students’ ideas and create a list as a class. It should look something like this:

Wesley’s society includes:
A new language
A new alphabet
A number system to 8
A new way of keeping time
Food and drink
Economy (he sold suntan lotion and insect repellent)

Explain to students that, although Wesley lived alone, his friends did come and visit him. Ask students to think about the following questions:
-What would Wesley’s society need if people lived with him? Who would be in charge of making rules? (Government)
-How would Wesley’s society need to change if it were winter? (Relationships with Environment)

Display a map of the world and explain to students that, although the physical world remains the same, the borders and countries were different between 3000 BCE and 1500 CE. Circle some areas where early societies were. For example, ancient Mayans, ancient Greeks, or First Nations in what would become Canada. Don’t worry about labelling a whole map! Leave it open ended for the students to uncover.

Provide students with a Q-Chart and have them record their questions about early societies. They, or someone else, may be able to answer some of their questions throughout their inquiry.

Use the framing questions in the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum to spark students’ natural curiosity.

Framing Questions from the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum:
1. What are the most significant differences among early societies?
2. In what ways did the environment influence early societies? Does the environment have the same impact on Canadian Society? What has changed? Why has it changed?

I would suggest starting with the first question. In pairs or groups of four, ask students to research and read about one early society. Ask them to record jot notes of what that society used that was similar to Wesley’s in Westlandia. In addition, have them record new findings (transportation, new technology, government, environment, art, religion, etcetera).

Once students have collected enough information, have students share their findings with the class. Hopefully, the groups have chosen different early societies (you may want to guide them in this direction if possible).

Here are some helpful sites that the students can explore to begin their inquiries!

If you are a Peel District School Board employee, don’t forget to check out the eResources on the Peel Board Library Support page. There are many resources that the students can access to begin their inquiries.

Don’t forget that the Big Idea is “Not all early societies were the same.” This is to be the focus of student learning. Teaching through the inquiry process allows students to investigate events, developments, and issues; solve problems; and reach supportable conclusions (The Ontario Curriculum, Social Studies Grades 1-6, page 22). To read more about the Inquiry Process, click on the link below and go to pages 22-23.

Finally, remember that, when teaching through inquiry, it’s the process that’s important and just as valuable, if not more valuable, than the final product! Don’t forget to gather and document evidence of learning along the way. Happy Inquiring!

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4 Responses to Starting an Inquiry into Early Societies

  1. Ellen Vander Kloet says:

    This is great. I love how the book is used as a jumping off point for the inquiry, but is not forgotten, as the kids research and compare and contrast their early civilization with Weslandia. It connects their learning to something that they can relate to. Suddenly an early civilization isn’t quite as remote and distant.

  2. Jessica Partridge says:

    Thanks Ellen. I completely agree!

  3. janet says:

    Jessica, We used your idea of starting with ‘Weslandia’ in our grade 3/4 classroom. I would like to link to your blog post in my S’more of our collaborative inquiry. May I?

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