Social Studies 5th Grade Unit: Barriers and Diversity

To download this Unit Plan as a PDF, click here.

To download the Rubric for this Unit Plan, click here.

Accompanying Assessment Plan: 5th Grade Social Studies Assessment Plan: Barriers and Diversity

Accompanying Lesson: 5th Grade: Introducing Colonial Life


Big Idea: Overcoming Barriers Amidst Diversity

Essential Question(s)

  • How does where a person lives impact the way they live and interact with others?
  • How is an individual impacted by his or her family history?
  • What are the barriers an individual from one culture might encounter when he or she interacts with a person from another culture?
  • Can individuals from different cultures and backgrounds overcome these barriers?


  • CCSS
    • 5.3a – Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.
    • 5.3b – Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing, to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.
    • 5.3 – Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.
    • 5.9 – Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
  • GLCEs
    • 5-U2.3.1 – Locate the New England, Middle, and Southern colonies on a map. (G)
    • 5-U2.3.2 – Describe the daily life of people living in the New England, Middle, and Southern colonies
    • 5-U2.3.3 – Describe colonial life in America from the perspectives of at least three different groups of people (e.g., wealthy landowners, farmers, merchants, indentured servants, laborers and the poor, women, enslaved people, free Africans, and American Indians).


Concepts/Understandings/Skills/Knowledge (Objectives)

  1. Part 1: The learner will be able to dramatize colonial life in America by working in groups of 4-5 students to identify, analyze, compare and contrast, and evaluate the lives of at least three different groups of people in colonial America by,
    1. Writing a 2-page historical fiction story about a real child from a specific people group from the colonial days,
    2. Composing a 5-7 minute skit in which at least two similarities and differences, and two examples of diversity between the colonial groups of people are highlighted in a way that tells one fluid story consisting of the basic story elements (e.g., characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution),
    3. Individually writing a paragraph reflection describing what it might feel like to be a part of a specific people group.
  2. Part 2: Working in the same groups of 4-5 students, the learner will be able to identify, analyze, compare and contrast, and evaluate the lives of at least three different modern-day people groups, acknowledging at least three barriers between these people groups, identifying and creating at least three practical ways to overcome these barriers, and working to implement at least one of these strategies by,
    1. Interviewing three individuals from different people groups about their lives,
    2. Creating a 5-7 minute “documentary” focused on the individuals they interviewed, highlighting at least three barriers these individuals face in their everyday lives when interacting with individuals from other people groups,
    3. Individually outlining and designing a plan of action for one of the barriers, and
    4. Working to successfully implement at least one of these strategies either throughout the entire school or within the school’s community (Teacher discretion advised regarding which setting would be more feasible and effective).

Final Unit Assessment

Part 1

In this assessment, students will be working together in two different groups of 4-5 students. In their first group (Colonial Group), students will work together to learn about a specific individual within a specific people group. They will need to do enough research to be able to write a 2-page, historically accurate and authentic story about this particular individual within this people group consisting of a genuine plot, vivid conflict, and a valid resolution. Following this, students will be divided into their second group (Community Group) to share their stories. They will use each of the stories brought into the Community Group to learn about different people groups found within Colonial America. They will then work together to write and produce a skit that highlights the similarities and differences found within the people groups and the barriers these people faced every day. They will act out their skit in front of the entire class (and if possible, other classes). Their acting should be genuine and reflect the perspectives and personas they are taking on. This part of the assessment will be wrapped up by an individually focused reflection in which students will each write a paragraph describing what they would feel like if they were part of the people group they researched and how they would handle moving to the community of a different people group.

Part 2

In this assessment, students will work together in their Community Groups to implement a strategy that breaks down a barrier between different people groups either in their school or their community. This will be part two of the final assessment in the unit. Leading up to this, students will have learned how to conduct an interview (how to be professional, how to come up with questions to ask, how to ask follow-up questions, etc.) and how to analyze and evaluate multiple interviews. They will interview individuals from modern people groups and compare what they know about colonial people groups to modern people groups, specifically looking for similarities and differences in how to deal with diversity and barriers between people groups. Following this, each student will individually outline and design a plan of action to help break down one of the barriers. The final step to part 2 of the final assessment allows the students to take action and implement one of their strategies in their school or within their community (teacher discretion advised). This final step requires students to tap into their higher level thinking skills to synthesize and utilize what they have learned about colonial people groups and modern people groups to create an implementable strategy.

Student Directions: (Overview – in reality, this will take the form of a student workbook)

You are going to be working in two different groups.

  1. The first group is called your Colonial Group. In this group, you will be learning about a specific people group found in Colonial America.
    1. Explore! Learn about your people group. Remember, at the end of this project, you will become a person from this people group; you need to have enough information to completely “become” that person.
    2. Write a story about a real person from the Colonial Days (this person must fit in with your people group)! It must be 2 pages long and accurately portray what it is like to be a part of this unique people group. Do you have…?
      1. Characters: a real life-person from the Colonial days, other people for your character to interact with
      2. Setting: Is it historically accurate
      3. Plot: make it seem like real life!
      4. Conflict: IMPORTANT!
        1. Your character struggled with some real problems. Pick one problem and write about it.
      5. Resolution: Was the problem resolved? How did your character work through his or her differences with other people?
    3. Be sure to edit your story. Make sure each group member is involved somehow. You will be sharing this story with members of other Colonial Groups.
  1. The second group is your Community Group. In this group, you will be working with members of other Colonial Groups to learn what it was like to work together as a community with many different people groups. You will also be working in this group to come up with a strategy for how to overcome a barrier between modern people groups.
    1. Part 1 – Colonial America
      1. Share! In your Community Groups, take turns reading your stories out loud to everyone. For those listening, be sure to pay close attention! Look for things that might be different from your people group.
        1. Make sure to leave time afterwards for questions. Each student is expected to ask at least one question after each person’s story.
      2. Write a Skit! Using each of the characters in your Community Group, write a skit that shows the similarities and differences found within the people groups and the barriers these people faced every day. Just like your stories, it must be historically accurate and it must be authentic. (Bring to me for revisions when you think you are finished).
      3. Perform! Present your skit to the rest of the class. Make sure you are accurately portraying the individual from your people group.
      4. Reflect! Put yourself in the shoes of a person from your people group that you researched. What is it like being a part of this people group? How would you feel if you had to move to the community of a different people group?
  1. Part 2 – Modern America
    1. In your Community Groups, you need to pick a modern people group and learn everything you can about it. You will have time in class to do some research on the computer and in the library.
    2. Interview! As a group, you need to find a real person that fits into your people group and interview him or her (ask me if you need help finding a person to interview). You want to find out from that person what he or she thinks makes his or her people group so special. This will take a lot of work to prepare for, but I will help you along the way!
      1. Hint: Use what you have already learned about this person’s people group to come up with important questions.
    3. Collaborate! As a class, we will create an interview index so we can all learn about all of the people groups represented in our classroom. We will have time as a class to ask questions about your classmates’ interviews and discuss different barriers we see today between people groups.
    4. On your own: Identify a barrier between at least two different people groups. Outline and design a plan of action that works to break down this barrier.
    5. Community Group Time: As a group, talk about different strategies for breaking down barriers. Pick only one strategy and find a way to implement it either our school or in the community.
      1. Every person on this earth makes a difference to other people in either a good way or a bad way. How will you make a difference?
    6. Reflect! Write me a paragraph. How did you make a difference in a person’s life? What did you learn about Colonial people groups that helped you understand Modern people groups better?

Scope and Sequence




6th Grade: International Trade Day

To download this lesson as a PDF, click here.


Lesson Title: International Trade Day

Grade Level: Sixth Grade

Scope and Sequence

  • The final lesson in the unit

Big Idea: Economic Interdependence

Essential Questions

  1. Why is trade important?
  2. How might importing goods benefit a society? How might exporting goods benefit a society?
  3. How does one country’s economy affect another country’s economy?

Continue reading “6th Grade: International Trade Day”

7th Grade: The Impact of Myths and Rumors

This lesson is part of the Healthcare Unit and Assessment Plan.

To download this lesson as a PDF, click here (student handouts included).


Lesson Title: The Impact of Myths and Rumors

Grade Level: 7th Grade

Scope and Sequence

  • Middle of the Unit; day 6 or 7
  • Explore and Explain

Big Idea: Myths and Rumors

Essential Questions

  1. How do diseases impact a community? Village? Country?
  2. What kind of impact do rumors and myths have on a community, village, or country affected by an infectious disease?
  3. How can myths and rumors be proven false to an entire community? Can the effects of rumors and diseases be resolved?

Continue reading “7th Grade: The Impact of Myths and Rumors”

5th Grade: Introducing Colonial Life

This lesson is the first in the Barriers and Diversity Unit and the Barriers and Diversity Assessment Plan.

To download this lesson as a PDF, click here (Student handouts included).


Lesson Title: Introducing Colonial Life

Grade Level: 5th Grade

Scope and Sequence

  • 1st Lesson in Unit: Barriers and Diversity
  • Engage and Explore

Big Idea: Barriers and Diversity

Essential Questions

  1. How does where a person lives impact the way they live and interact with others?
  2. How is an individual impacted by his or her family history?

Continue reading “5th Grade: Introducing Colonial Life”

Social Studies Lesson Video Critique

Video: Explorers in North America

Explorers in North America explains how Rob Cuddi, a fifth-grade teacher in Winthrop, Massachusetts teaches a social studies lesson about the explorers, the “first people”, and the economic impact of exploration. Mr. Cuddi explains at the beginning that it is his goal to tie everything into the national standards and the essential questions.

Into the first five minutes of the video, I noticed right away that Mr. Cuddi uses the 5E method to teaching, which is why I believe he was so successful with his students in this particular lesson. He incorporated and integrated several literary strategies into his lesson to make this unit on explorers more meaningful for his students.

He engages his students throughout the entire unit. He first off makes newspaper “explorer” hats with his students to get peak their excitement. Then he introduces the essential questions (something his students are already familiar with) and has them react and respond to the questions in their “logs”. Through this process, he is discovering what they know, establishing a foundation, and discovering his students’ preconceptions – these will be his building blocks for the rest of his unit.

From there he leads his students to explore. They come up with more specific questions to fuel their research. Here, students break off into “explorer groups” to research and discover a specific explorer.

After students have “finished” their discovering, Mr. Cuddi brings them back in and begins the explain phase of the 5E approach. He starts with allowing his students to share what they have learned. He then begins to connect this knowledge with vocabulary terms that relate and connect to the essential questions (economics, type of governments, traveling terms, discovery, etc.) all for the purpose of creating deeper meaning. Up to this point, his students have been figuring out the concepts and now he’s providing terms to make sense of the concepts.

After a period of discussion, he begins to elaborate with his students; he makes their learning fruitful. He starts helping his students make connections between past governments and our government today. He has his students present what they’ve learned in the format of an “Explorer Presentation”, which utilizes literary devices and creative thinking.

It’s very clear that Mr. Cuddi has done quite a bit of work to get his students to the point where they can integrate language arts concepts with social studies concepts. The students get 24 hours to work on their group presentations. When it comes time for presentations, they are required to not just simply present what they have learned, but they must be sure their facts are historically accurate, they must present their literary poem, they must write an epitaph to commemorate their explorer, and it must be creative.

Following the presentations, students assess each other based on the rubric posted at the front of class and they discuss the facts presented. It was very interesting to watch each student present questions that showed not only a depth of knowledge, but also an attentiveness to detail. These students could intellectually discuss history facts about these explorers as if it were something taking place in modern day.

The final thing Mr. Cuddi had his students do is respond to the essential questions again. He had them write down, as a group, what they had learned, and then respond to the questions in their logs based on what they had learned. Through all of this, Mr. Cuddi was practicing the final ‘E’ of the 5E approach: Evaluation. Not only was he evaluating, but he was building on his knowledge about his what his students knew so that he could help them attain a deeper level of understanding about the explorers and about learning. In the end, Mr. Cuddi did more than simply teach his students about explorers, he taught them a love for learning and equipped them with the tools to pursue learning for the rest of their lives.

I did not notice any strategies that did not seem to work. Mr. Cuddi’s teaching style was very effective. I’ve seen the 5E approach in Science, I’ve seen it in Language Arts, and it was fascinating to see it again in Social Studies.


(Paper hat picture by Kate Ter Haar from Cedarville, MI, USA (I wear my newspaper hat) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)