Our grade 6 social studies classes are based around the book ‘Story of the World’, which is a fantastic book which talks about the beginnings of human civilisation in story form, and also contains a whole host of activities to do with your students. We were reading about the nomads. In ELA (ESL), our main theme was ‘goals and challenges’.
I decided to connect the two together by taking the kids into the forest to build a shelter, nomad style. Having kids work together in the forest is fantastic for a whole host of reasons, physical, social and otherwise, so it made sense to take the opportunity when it was so clear.
We spent a few minutes in the forest talking about what challenges the kids thought nomads would face in their lives as a way to introduce the topic, and then the students were given their task. ‘Build a shelter’. I showed them what we had (a piece of rope, some string, scissors and a small saw) and let them get on with it.
They struggled to begin with, mostly because they were trying to do things without thinking carefully about the cost/benefit – in one instance they were trying to bury a stick as the central pole, rather than simply use a tree! But as time went on they renegotiated, strategised, assigned roles and worked together to make it work.
There were a few points along the way where I stepped in to give pointers. The kids were struggling to get sticks long enough to lean high enough to keep the angle needed, so we talked about some basic construction ideas – putting in a support about half way up so they could use smaller sticks (and improve the strength of the structure).
They hadn’t really considered the importance of waterproofing, so we stopped for a minute to think of how to do that.
In the end, they had a structure they were happy with.
We came together once more to talk about how they had done, what challenges they had faced (and more specifically, how many more challenges the nomads faced than the students had predicted), and how these challenges were overcome.