5 Benefits for Teaching Students to Show Skills with this Delightful Social Studies project | Mentoring in the Middle

5 Benefits for Teaching Students to Show Skills with this Delightful Social Studies project

 You've got to love the optimistic spirit of 6th graders! In the histories of their countries, almost no one has a military.  

"There is no military.  Because no one believes in war."  

The most common laws? "Don't steal, don't lie, don't cheat."  

What a world ours would be if we all abided by their rules!

Why do this project?

Create a Country is a great combination of blended learning: Social Studies, English, and Art.  If you're looking for a way to have your kids show you what they know in one or more of these subjects, you'll be delighted by what your students do!

The hands-on nature is a nice break from other kinds of learning.  Students need to use their geographic knowledge to incorporate all the landforms in their project, they use critical thinking skills for locations and relationships between towns and landforms.  Informational writing skills are reinforced with a dose of creativity!

An added bonus: I've watched unlikely partnerships emerge as one student helps another brainstorm or finish coloring an ocean that took up more of the poster board than was anticipated.  It's really lovely to see.

When's the best time to introduce this project?
I've inserted this project at DIFFERENT TIMES of the year.
  • the beginning of the year when you're first learning about Geography before you move into History
  • Mid-year when kids need a break from structured work this gives them the freedom to be creative, but with an academic focus.  (You can assess them in Social Studies or in ELA, and in multiple ways.  Or one or the other.  Or not at all.)
  • It's a great before-a-big-break or end-of-the-year project.  When kids are getting restless, nothing says fun like laying on the floor designing your country.
What if I only teach ELA?
I've done this project both as an ELA and as a Social Studies teacher.  It's important background-building for ELA.  How can a student understand the challenges faced by Isabel, Joseph, or Mahmoud in Refugee if they can't tell an island from a peninsula or an ocean from a lake?

After designing their country around a theme, students will begin to write its history.  Use a graphic organizer like this one to help your students write about the most important aspects of their country: general information, early history, geography, government, important people, education, and lifestyle.  
Social Studies project graphic organizer
Once those ideas are in place, students write a 1 - 2 page history about how their country came to be. This is an informational piece with a creative twist.  Because of that, you may allow students to include some fantasy elements that pertain to their theme, like the dragon who created the country, or the video game win that led to a person assuming power.

Insert mini-lessons
Discuss first sentences that hook you in, and make sure students don't give you, "I'm going to tell you about...."  Mentor sentences from books in your classroom can be a huge help.  You can read about how I use them here.
Create a Country project, beginning lines of country history

Review nonfiction text features like headings, sidebars, maps, and photographs with captions.  Text structures like main idea and details, compare and contrast, and descriptions are easily incorporated into their histories.

What if I only teach Social Studies?
Geography is an important foundation for Social Studies and this project fits right in.  Creating their own country means that your students have to know landforms and bodies of water.  I have them create a booklet with definitions, pictures, and real-world examples.
Geography booklet, a description and picture of a delta
You could stop there.  Or you could have them continue and create the country with the landforms and bodies of water in it.

Writing is an important part of Social Studies and you can decide if you want students to write the history or just certain parts of it, depending on the time you have.  I've done both and each has its place.

The Social Studies Project
  • If you want this comprehensive Social Studies project that is completely done for you, I have what you need.  This project includes all the lessons you need, the geography vocabulary terms booklet with an answer key, and the graphic organizers to write the history.  You can grab the Create a Country Geography & Map Skills PBL here.

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