A lot of you know I’m a former teacher. I’ve spent a total of seven years teaching English, social studies, or some combination of both.
One reason it’s so much fun to teach these subjects is the variety of creative ways you can present subject matter. Both social studies and language arts lend themselves to assignments that allow students to work at their own pace and ability, giving them room to dig deep and explore topics well beyond initial classroom lessons.
While teaching English one year, I designed a reading assignment I called Where in the World are We Reading. Each term, my kids had to read a book located on a different continent, with the option of visiting one place “out of this world” (a fantasy title) during the year. Students marked their books’ settings with stick pins on a big classroom map and kept a record of what they learned in a packet I called a Travel Log.
A few years later, I adapted the assignment for my social studies students. This time around, I drew from my students’ understanding of setting (the time and location a story takes place). I gave kids permission to read anything in a different setting. Contemporary books like PEAK set in the Himalayas, historical fiction like Harry Mazer’s A BOY NO MORE, and biographies all qualified.
Again, kids filled out a Travel Log while reading their books. My seventh graders were required to read two books a term. Fifth and sixth graders read one. Fourth graders could read for extra credit.
Some students chose to focus their reading in one area: I had one girl who read only about the Holocaust. She was able to use what she learned in a Social Studies Fair project later that year. Some decided they wanted to read about a specific country or period in history.
As a teacher, I was deeply satisfied watching my students go deeper and wider in the areas of their interest, learning about history and the world through literature.
For those of you interested in using this reading assignment, I have both the Where in the World Are We Reading and Travel Log handouts available as PDFs at my website. Please tell me about your experiences if you do!