US History Bellworks

Please see my previous post here on the importance of bellworks at the beginning of class.  It helps establish a routine and expectations as well as spark interesting discussions.  Some get the students forming their own opinions before we begin a unit or topic, and others review information letting us as teachers know where they are in their thinking.  Below are a few examples from my first grading period broken down by topic.

First Question at the Beginning of the Year or For a New Student

Write a paragraph about yourself, including anything you believe I should know about you.

Civil War

How can disagreements be settled so that they do not lead to arguments/war?

What do you believe to be the most significant technology invention that impacted the Civil War and why?  How did it impact the War?

If you were a freed black slave, would you run towards the North, stay in the south and try to get a house and a paying job, or join the Union army?  Why?

If you were a rich, white southern plantation owner, what would be your reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation?  How do you know?

How do you think the attacks on September 11, 2001 and December 7, 1941 (to bring the US into World War II) compare to each other?

Imagine you are President Lincoln and have just accepted the surrender of the Confederate army.  What would be your punishment for the southern states that seceded?

How does the Civil War still affect us today?  Please write 3 or more sentences.

Industrial Revolution

What does it mean for a country to industrialize?  What does it mean for a country to go through a revolution?

If you had the money and power to own your own factory, how would you treat your workers?  How would you determine their pay?  Would you rather be a railroad, oil, or steel owner? Why?

Which of the Robber Barons that we studied yesterday would you rather work for?  Why?

Progressivism and Social Change

How would you handle a work situation where you felt that you were being paid unfairly and working too many hours?  What if the conditions you were working in were dangerous?  Who could you contact?

Imagine you are moving to a new country.  What feelings would you have?  What would you expect the process to be like?  Do you think it would be easy or difficult to find a place to live and work?

What might be the benefits and drawbacks of having a political machine?  Who do these types of systems hurt?  Who do they help?  Do you think a political machine and/or “pay to play” systems always lead to corruption?  Why or why not?

Describe the working conditions of the average worker during the early 1900s.  Was this treatment fair?  How do you think they could correct this treatment?

Do you know of any organizations today that help people find housing and jobs?  What are some of those organizations?  How do you go about finding a place to live and work today?

Come up with a list of how you can determine the importance of a person or industry (such as railroads or steel).  How would you determine the impact that person or industry had on Florida?

Imperialism

What would be the benefit for the United States in owning property all around the world?  What would be a disadvantage?

What makes you read a story or a news article?  Which type of article or story grabs your attention? (studying yellow journalism)

Why would countries welcome the United States’ influence into their lands?  What would be their motivation? What could be their motivation to not want the US involved?

The ever important bellwork

Dream of having students walk in the door, sit down, and get right to work?  Think it’s completely impossible?  It’s not.  Establishing routines in your class is the number one thing to create at the beginning of the school year.  Believe it or not, human beings are prone to routines and, in fact, crave them.  Students feel more at ease when they know exactly what the expectations are each and every day.

In my classroom, students are expected to get their notebooks from their bin, sit down at their desk, and begin work on their bellworks which are posted on the board.  Bellworks are general questions that can preview or review information from the class.  I grade the bellwork sheets every Friday.  Each day is worth 5 points and if a student is absent, I just ask them to write in “Absent” on that day and I still give them credit as long as they write the word.  It shows that they are cognizant of their responsibilities.  I do not necessarily grade their responses on right or wrong answers because 99% of the questions are opinion.  This gives the student more freedom and encouragement to actually answer the question.  We always, and I mean always, review their responses at the beginning of class.  This does two things- the first is to let them know that I actually care about their answers and their thoughts.  The second is a form of formative assessment.  I want to know where they are at that moment based upon their responses.  At the beginning of the year it was like pulling teeth to get them to verbally respond.  Now, we can get into lengthy discussions based upon responses without any prompting from me.  They respond and counter each other and it is a beautiful thing to see in a classroom when we encourage free thought without fear of a grade behind it.

Over the next few days I will be posting some of my bellwork questions from the first grading period in US History, Government, and Economics.  Enjoy!

Pre-Class Writing Prompts

jBorrowed from Todaysadmin.comWhen students come into a classroom it’s often hard to get them to settle down and get ready for a lesson.  Between intense discussions with each other, being distracted with other responsibilities, or just non-interest in the subject, their attention is often focused elsewhere as they shuffle into the classroom.  Setting up a beginning-of-class routine for them is one way to curb this distraction.

I like having students keep a journal that they write in with a daily writing prompt.  It’s often a good idea to have the students’ keep their journals in your classroom so you don’t run the risk of someone forgetting it or losing it completely, though this will take up valuable real estate especially with large class sizes.  Keep them by the door in boxes labeled by class so that they may pick them up when they walk in.  Talking can be kept to a minimum and once the routine is established it becomes second nature for the students (ideally, though they may still gripe about it).  Keep the writing prompts interesting enough for the students to be able to form an opinion that they can write on for at least one to five minutes.  These may also serve as an excellent way to help determine if the students are doing their homework reading assignments!  The idea is to keep the students writing and thinking.

Of course, these do not have to be limited to historical concepts.  If there has been an issue in your classroom, you could creatively ask the students to come up with a solution or ways that they could make the situation different by reacting differently or standing up for a friend.  Bullying is always a hot topic, but be careful and try not to single out students.  Make these types of prompts as broad as possible.  Writing prompts could also be a segue into teaching students empathy about a subject you will be teaching about, like the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 or Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

I like to check the writing assignments once a quarter, spot checking them (not reading every single entry).  Students have the option of folding back a page once a week, letting me know that this is personal to them (though I check to make sure there is writing on the page without reading it).

Some writing prompt ideas can be:

American History:

  • If you were a farmer living in one of the original 13 colonies, what livestock would you raise and why?  What crops would you be farming and why?  Which colony would you prefer to live in?
  • What Constitutional amendment would you like to see added in the next 20 years to the United States Constitution?  Who would it benefit and why?  Who would it hurt and why?
  • Consider the technological advances in the last 100 years that have become so important in our every day lives (electricity, telephones, cell phones, computers, internet).  What do you think will come out of technology in the next 100 years?  How will it shape our daily lives?
  • If you were the President of the United States, what could you do to change the country for the better?  What laws would you create or change?
  • During an (earthquake, hurricane, tornado), most of us do not have the time or presence of mind to do more than duck beneath a table or into a doorway.  Afterwards, we may wish we had been able to save an object of sentimental value like a photograph or childhood toy.  Pick one thing you would want to save from destruction and write about it.  Describe this thing and why it is special to you.  (Adapted from http://staff.esuhsd.org/danielle/english%20department%20lvillage/CAHSEE%20English/Sample%20Writing%20Prompts.pdf)

World History:

  • If you had to live as a Spartan, a Viking, an English Knight, or a Roman warrior, which would you choose and why?  What would a day in your life look like?  What would be the fun parts and the not so fun parts?
  • Imagine that the Roman Emperor has just sentenced you to fight in the Colliseum for a crime you have committed.  What is the crime and what would your argument be to him to help save your life?

General:

  • If you could have grown up in a different place and cultural from your own, where and which would you choose?  How would it be different?
  • We have studied numerous historical figures so far in this class.  Who has been your favorite so far?  Why?  Are there any characteristics of this person that you see in yourself or any that you would like to see?
  • Imagine that you are on an archaeological dig (essentially, a bunch of people looking for old stuff in the ground) and you come upon an amazing discover. What is it and what do you do when you become famous for the discovery? (Taken from: http://www.build-creative-writing-ideas.com/5th-grade-writing-prompts-social-studies.html)
  • Think about the historical figures we have learned about so far this semester.  If you could have dinner with any of them, whom would you choose and why?  What would you talk about or ask him or her? (Adapted from http://staff.esuhsd.org/danielle/english%20department%20lvillage/CAHSEE%20English/Sample%20Writing%20Prompts.pdf)

Resources:

http://www.theteacherscorner.net/daily-writing-prompts/

http://www.build-creative-writing-ideas.com/5th-grade-writing-prompts-social-studies.html

http://staff.esuhsd.org/danielle/english%20department%20lvillage/CAHSEE%20English/Sample%20Writing%20Prompts.pdf