Making The Abstract, Concrete!

This weekend, I am taking a long look at the Social Studies expectations for the unit on Our Changing Roles and Responsibilities. In Grade 1 at our school, we start the year with both a Science and a Social Studies unit, and up until this point, I’ve been focusing more on Science. Now it’s time to start thinking Social Studies. While this first unit will allow the students to look closely at their lives, it’s an abstract topic for many of my students that are just learning the English language and benefit from concrete examples. How do I make the abstract more concrete?

Here are my thoughts:

  • I’m going to collect items that might be associated with home and school responsibilities (e.g., I’ll bring in some clothes to help students think about getting dressed each morning, but then I’ll also bring in a jacket to help students think about getting dressed to go out for recess).
  • I’m going to put the items out for students to explore, talk about, and write about during our Language block. I’ll also include some books about roles and responsibilities. Lori St. Amand, another Grade 1 teacher in our Board, mentioned the Mercer Mayer books, so I’ll look for some of them to use. I think that students need some small group and individual thinking and exploring time before we discuss the items together.
  • Students can work together to label the items. Not only will this give them a real world printing opportunity (something that I think is important as the students develop their printing skills), but it will also provide the students with the vocabulary to use during our discussions. My thought is that this labelling can begin as a shared writing activity (with the students giving me the words to add to the items), move to an interactive writing activity (with the students working with me to use the letter-sounds to do some of the writing), and finish as an independent writing activity (where the students work on their own to label the items).
  • I’m going to work with the parents on this plan. Beginning in October, I’m inviting the parents into the classroom for 20 minutes once a week to work and learn together with the class. Exploring some of these concrete provocations during this time could be great, as then together, we can work on a shared vocabulary to use when discussing roles and responsibilities with the students. Having the opportunity to have these discussions at home and at school will hopefully help the students become more comfortable with the topic, leading to them sharing more information. (As an aside, for those parents that can’t come into the classroom, I’ll add information about this topic to my monthly newsletter and daily emails and blog posts, to still allow for these home/school discussions.)
  • I’m also going to try and make the learning meaningful. I can’t help but think about our school focus on inquiry. As I read the first overall expectation, the big ideas, and the guiding questions, I thought to myself: why do roles and responsibilities matter? How can Grade 1 students meaningfully share what they learned and show others the importance of these changing roles and responsibilities? And that’s when I started to think about Full-Day Kindergarten. At some point in the year, the Full-Day Kindergarten teachers introduce the program to the new group of Junior Kindergarten students and parents. Coming to school is often a big change for these young learners. Their home responsibilities may vary significantly from their school ones. How do we prepare students for this change, and could our next youngest learners play a role in this? What if they shared what they learned as a way to help these 3- and 4-year olds, and their parents, adjust to these changing roles and responsibilities? Students can decide how they share their learning. It could be something as simple as a podcast or even a drawing (that could be photographed). With apps like iMovie, all of the different ideas could be combined into one and easily shared with next year’s Full-Day Kindergarten classes. What do you think?
Our School Focus That Is Making Me Think About How I Can Make The Social Studies Learning Meaningful

Our School Focus That Is Making Me Think About How I Can Make The Social Studies Learning Meaningful

I’m hoping that this plan will help meet the varied needs of my learners: allowing them to see and discuss their current roles and responsibilities and look at how they change. What other suggestions do you have? What feedback to you have on this plan? I’d love to hear your thoughts! I have no doubt that this current plan will continue to change with the very important addition of “student voice.”



18 thoughts on “Making The Abstract, Concrete!

  1. -Perhaps photos of important buildings in the community to discuss how roles, responsibilities and behaviours change when visiting different places I.e. Church, synagogue, temple, hospital, grocery store, grandma’s house, park, etc…
    -also different places in the school I.e. Library, gym, classroom, office

    • Thanks for the ideas, Dawn! I love them! Some of your suggestions I think actually connect with our second Social Studies topic on the community. I wonder if it matters if I keep them separate, or if the opportunity presents itself, could the ideas be combined? What do you think? Maybe they could be approached now and then expanded on later. Thanks for giving me something else to think about!


      • I love it when ideas hit on more than one expectation. It also means that you have a built in “anchor” when you begin to talk about the next area of study.
        This morning I was listening to a song in the car that I know my students are familiar with. All of a sudden, I pictured asking them to find patterns in the song (repeating, growing), how could they represent them in another way, could they represent a section of the song using different kinds of lines (curved, straight), could they create actions, how did the song make them feel and how could they represent that feeling either dramatically or visually (tableaux, what colours, etc…)

        • So funny that you gave this example, Dawn, as we’ve been exploring math, music, and visual arts as we look at creating music for Aviva’s Awesome Abstract Art Gallery. Now you’ve given me an idea on a totally unrelated topic to the blog post (but still something to think about). Thanks!

          I agree with you too. I love when there is this overlap when it comes to expectations. I just wondered if it mattered that it was in a different Social Studies unit/topic, but maybe it doesn’t.

          Thanks again for the help!

  2. Sounds good, Aviva. Another thing I like to do is have students interview other adults and students in the school about their roles and responsibilities. We brainstorm questions and they interview and record. We then compare them to our own roles. It is interesting when they discover that sometimes the rolesarethe same.

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Lora! I think that I have to get my students to develop their language skills a bit more to move onto this interview idea. Maybe we can interview some people as a class though. This might help students with question formation. This could also be an option for the students that are ready to do more and can record more of their thinking as well. Thanks for giving me something else to think about.


  3. Hi aviva,
    I love hearing your thoughts as you begin to plan. The first thing that popped into my mind was… What would the students’ wonders or questions be? I think your artifacts/provocations will illicit really interesting “wonders”. This could drive your inquiry (with a lot of modelling and guidance at this stage). You can try to anticipate their Qs but I’m curious what they would wonder about. Linking it it critical literacy and higher order thinking I wonder what would happen if you explored roles and responsibilities from another country. What wonders would come out of the students then!!?? This can be your student voice piece. Their wonders will drive the inquiry… Just my thoughts. I can’t wait to hear how it goes!!

    And my thoughts about it leading into communities is a natural fit. I would run with it – keeping the curriculum (big idea) always in your mind as you proceed. See where it takes you! 😉

    Amazing read. Thanks Aviva!


    • Thanks for the ideas, Stephanie! I was actually tweeting yesterday about the fact that students are really struggling with developing questions and wonders. They tend to describe observations, but not “ask” anything in an attempt to find out more. My previous vice principal, Kristi, gave me the idea of a game to turn their comments into questions. I like the sound of it, and am going to try and play around with this idea this week. I agree with you that these provocations should help bring about some good conversations, and hopefully some questions and wonders too.

      Your idea to link this Social Studies topic to how roles and responsibilities vary in other countries is a very interesting one. I have lots of students that were born in different countries, and still have family members back there. Many even go back to their home country to visit it. This could get them more excited to share, and would provide a wonderful opportunity for comparisons (both within this current Social Studies topic, but also as part of our community one).

      I can’t wait to see where this goes! If you have any other suggestions, please just let me know. I really appreciate them!

      • Hi Aviva,
        I saw a teeny bit of that twitter conversation. I’ll have to go back and read the whole thing. I think using your students’ schema and experiences about roles and responsibilities in a different country would be an AMAZING connection and would extend their thinking about what happens in their school and in other households in Canada and around the world. I am an inquiry junkie so I get REALLY excited about stuff like this! 😉

        So I have been thinking A LOT about the questioning piece lately and I have some thoughts about it. Let me know what you think.

        I think the deep thinking at grade 1 is so tough for kids and teachers BUT I think the answer (maybe!) is in the words HOW and WHY. Modelling these questions often leads to deeper responses as well as students learning how to ask richer questions. For example: How did you feel when your mom asked you to make your bed? It’s simple but VERY different from: What job did you have to do at home this morning? Taping into the students’ emotions and feelings is a step towards making the connections that we want to show empathy towards others and to start thinking critically about why and how we do things… I’ve had many conversations like this lately and so have had it at the very front of my mind.

        Okay – enough of this heavy thinking for today! 🙂

        • Thanks for continuing the discussion, Stephanie! I think that it would be awesome if students are interested in finding out more about roles and responsibilities in different countries. This could be a very meaningful link for them. I can’t wait to see where this goes!

          As for questioning, I think that these “how” and “why” questions are really important. I tend to use them a lot too. In my situation, I think that much of the difficulty has to do with having many of my students that are just learning the English language. They’re still developing their oral communication skills, and as they struggle with even labelling items, getting into deeper questions and wonderings is harder. I’m hoping that this questioning game, the use of real objects to help with oral communication, and modelling of questioning types will all help. I’ll keep you posted! 🙂


  4. You are focusing on great provoking activities for your students. Having them aware of their community and everyday people roles and how these roles affect their lives daily experiences, will deepen their understanding of what role they play in their classroom and school community. Looking forward to how the activities will unravel and deepen their understandings.

    • Thanks Rola! I’m excited to see how things unfold too. I have a large collection of items to bring into school this week, and I can’t wait to see how they get students thinking about their role at home, in the school, and in the community. I’m sure that as their ideas develop, the direction of this inquiry will develop as well.


  5. I have found this discussion really helpful, especially the importance of asking children the HOW and WHY questions and to get them asking those questions themselves. In introducing the topic of home responsibilities I read Anthony Browne’s Piggybook to my students. It was published in 1986, so the illustrations are really of another era. Nevertheless, it generated some really valuable discussion about roles and responsibilities at home. There is a useful discussion of possible routes into the text here:

  6. Hi Aviva,

    I’m intrigued by your ideas in this post. I think it’s a great way to provoke learning about this Social Studies strand. My university students are searching for ways to use provocations effectively, and these ideas helped clear that up for me!

    I am also very interested in hearing about the 20 minutes you’re inviting parents in for each week. Are they all invited at the same chunk of time or will they be popping in and out all week? I can’t wait to hear how this goes!


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