I begin with this initial activity so my students think logically about how they'd lead an expedition down an unknown river to the Pacific coast. We're studying Westward Expansion in social studies, so it's a solid social studies connection, and a nice lead-in to the day's main activity, writing a persuasive letter to help the reader determine if it's a good idea to move West or not.
To begin, I pass out a worksheet called, "Making a Thoughtful Decision" Working together with classmates of their choice, they use the graphic organizer to decide step by step what options make sense. Students brainstorm before they share.
PROMPT: Imagine you are leading an expedition that is looking for a route to the Pacific coast. You want to travel west by river, but you do not know this river well. Follow the steps below to decide on a course of action.
It's interesting listening to their conversations. Some have experience with boating, which brings an interesting element to their discussion, and reinforces the significance experience plays when it comes to learning. Listening in on the conversations is also eye-opening in helping me to evaluate both the lesson and how well the students respond to their task. A creative idea mentioned was not floating down the river at all, but staying next to it- using it as a guide. What I found creative was that the student interpreted the prompt differently, though still looking to reach the same goal, and defended his position to his group.
They worked together well and debated more than I expected they would over this worksheet. A few groups used the internet to gather information or I allowed them the "BYOT" Bring your own technology option which is something I'm slowing getting comfortable with. Letting them work with friends was key in this particular activity. They had the opportunity to travel with people they wanted to travel with, and there was minimal conflict. I don't always let them choose groups, but it was fun to do it today. One of the less pleasing things I heard was a child discussing not crossing this (western) river at all due to alligators. A new discussion on geographical regions was put on my mental list of what to do in the future.
Westward Expansion is our unit in Social Studies at the present. In an activity yesterday, the kids had to make good decisions about how to travel: down the river. As I get them ready for today's lesson, they reflect on the conclusions they reached earlier. These conclusions are their supporting evidence and will help them write their persuasive letters convincing a family member to move west, or stay where they are.
On the Smart Board I display the "Ideas to Ponder" worksheet and read each question with them. On their copy, they answer the questions. Their answers are dependent upon their own thinking after our activity on crossing the river, classroom discussion, Watching Westward Expansion video, short powerpoint Moving Westward in the 1800s and rap (at 4:29 of the video) on Westward Expansion.
The kids give me ideas to write under each section, and they're allowed to add them to their own papers if the idea fits their opinion. They will use these papers as supporting evidence to their opinions when they write their persuasive letters. "Ideas to Ponder" page alongside its letter
Our unit is early 1800s Westward Expansion. They will be writing a letter about the decision to move or NOT to move West. I expect most of the kids to follow Social Studies suit and automatically put themselves in the place of pioneer families. Here is the letter alongside the flyer I passed out to the kids. This year, one student wrote with modern day moving in mind. After he brought it to my attention, I decided it would be a great idea for him to do this. Comparing the two different time eras would make for an interesting discussion. After I thought about his take on the assignment, it made me wonder if I should assign this as a two-fold idea next year. I could easily split the kids into two camps: one group writing about moving West in 1800s and the other about moving West 2014...
One student finished writing his letter and abruptly decided to use the primary resource flyer I'd passed out to convince settlers to move west, but from the opposite point of view. Flyer to Persuade Settlers NOT to go West. I love the idea, and had it not been the Friday that starts Spring Break, I may have encouraged everyone to create one. As it was, I was fortunate to get the amount of work out of them that I did.
The letters aren't very long, but are cute, fun to read, and most importantly are persuasive. I had a nice mix of both points of view (even though I didn't assign them to one side or the other.) This was interesting to me and we had a side discussion about the different points of view.
They've had a good time writing their persuasive letters and now is the chance to come forward and share them. They have the opportunity to state their opinions and support their reasons for either Moving West or staying in the comfort of their present homes. Here are some students explaining the reasons behind their decisions. This is another opportunity to practice the skills of Speaking and Listening SL.5.4 through presentations.
The kids have strong opinions about what they're going to do. I was surprised that a lot of them supported the idea of staying where they were. The informational text we've read, and videos about the dangers and pitfalls of moving to the unknown had an impact!
Here are the Pro and Con Letters for Moving West.