My school is trying out some new units to practice using the new Common Core. I really like them so far, but it certainly has been a challenge to take complex texts and subjects and teach them to fourth graders that I feel have had the bar set way too low for them. They have struggled, but the topics we are tying it in with have kept them trying since their interest is up.
The unit we are going over now is a "Heroes Unit" - can you define a hero in words. We have looked at different kinds of heroes in stories and in non fiction, and collected traits that we see heroes having. One of the texts that we tackled was the poem of Robin Hood and Little John. It was in fancy old English and took more than a week to go through, but was a lot of fun. What really helped was going over the Middle Ages society at that time and it helped with the lingo and lifestyles mentioned in the poem. This meant I had to explain feudalism to fourth graders...a topic I didn't learn until Jr. High.
I did the age old M&M's activity to show the power each class had (the king, nobles, knights, peasants), and I also had them read a general article on how feudalism worked. What really made it click for them was the following reading/writing activity.
I found a simple reading on each of the classes and made copies proportionate to how many there possibly would be in each social class (just a few nobles, a few more knights, and a lot of peasants)
I randomly passed out the articles to the students...boy were they excited to see which class they were given...they were all begging to be knights, but quickly realized there was a lot to learn no matter what.
Their assignment was to read the article and then become that person and write an introduction, introducing themselves and teaching us a few things about their lives as a noble, knight or peasant. I showed them a model by being completing one as a king.
Students took about two days to complete the assignment.
I then posted some of the completed ones in the room (had to be neat), and put them in the feudal pyramid shape. Students loved reading each of their introductions and now have used the facts they learned in their reading and have connected the characters actions to their social class.
We moved on to discovering the real purposes of castles. Students were surprised to learn that they were not built just to be a crazy big house. I then had them complete a RAFT assignment...more on that later.