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Social and Emotional Learning

Combining SEL and Social Studies

Building character using current events and history
April 30, 2012

Those of you working in social studies, history, and civics education will find that social, emotional learning (SEL) can help your students pull together what they are learning in engaging ways that also deepen their understanding of the material. I'd like to present a lesson you can use within the context of your current curricula.

Background and Standards Considerations

Because newspaper articles contain only the most critical points about an issue, attempting to write one provides practice in learning how to summarize information concisely. The following lesson will help students learn how a social decision-making/critical thinking/SEL framework can be used to summarize the main points of an issue.

Also, by working together to create an article, students may better understand how current events represent problems that require solutions. The task of creating a newspaper article is often highly engaging for students as many of them will enjoy creatively designing front pages, and so on. (Note that you can reformat the lesson to be compatible with any set of problem solving/decision making steps students are being taught as part of SEL or character development lessons.)

The Lesson Objectives

Consider the following goals and objectives. Student will...

  1. Understand the process used in creating a newspaper article.
  2. Build decision-making and problem solving skills.
  3. Develop critical thinking skills to use when analyzing current or historical accounts of events.

Instructional Sequence

Begin the class by discussing the topic area under study. Define any new vocabulary words. Discuss the "who, what, where, when, and why" of the topic.

Next, you will want to introduce the idea that historical and current events represent the outcomes of decision-making activities. Stress that just as personal problems require solutions, world problems also need them. Provide students with examples of how different solutions to the same problem result in very different consequences. The examples can come from local (even school) issues affecting students' own lives in order to better make the point. Be sure students understand how to think about current and historical events as problems before proceeding.

Finally, introduce the assignment, which is titled, "Creating A Newspaper Article" (see below). Use the following questions first to help orient students:

  • How was information about current events communicated before the advent of newspapers? (Talk about this as a problem)
  • How is information about current events communicated now? How do you get most of your current events information? (Talk about this as a problem, as well, and look into the potential strengths and weaknesses of the various sources, including the internet, and especially of relying only on one source)

Either have them all work on a common topic or each define an individual topic, or some other variation as fits into your curriculum. Ask them to describe an aspect of the topic as a problem. Once the students have decided on the problem, have them identify those individuals or the different groups who are involved in the problem and to reflect on the character of key individuals in the story. Students can refer to their textbooks, newspaper articles, the Internet, and so on, to do this. After students have identified the different groups, ask them to imagine what the feelings of each group might be. Next, have them identify goals for each group.

Finally, as you prep them for the assignment, provide a reflective opportunity at the end with this question: What problems do you think most reporters face in trying to write an article? What problems did you experience in writing this article? How did you solve them?

The Assignment

(The following assignment can be presented as a worksheet, or digitally, as a Powerpoint or on an interactive whiteboard.)

Creating a Newspaper Article

Directions: Imagine that you are a newspaper reporter for The New York Times or a more local newspaper. You have been asked to write a newspaper article on a current events topic or a social studies topic you have just finished studying in class.

Think about some part of the topic as an event or problem. Then, use the problem-solving outline to help write your article. At the end, be sure to give your article a headline and check to be sure that your article answers the following questions:

  1. What is the problem you are thinking about?
  2. What people or groups of people are involved? What do you know about the character/laws of life of key individuals involved?
  3. What feelings and goals does each person or group have?
  4. What are some possible solutions to achieve each goal?
  5. What are some of the consequences? (Consider both long- and short-term, for each possible solution)
  6. What solution was chosen? Do you think a different choice should have been made? If so, why?
  7. What could have been done to improve the chosen plan?
  8. Summarize the information in the article and draw some conclusions.

Tips for Instruction

Consider first introducing the lesson by bringing in an article and analyzing it with the whole class, using the eight questions above as a framework. Don't allow students to begin working in small groups until they have demonstrated that they understand how to apply the framework.

And remember, although the students are being asked to write a newspaper article, the topic does not have to be a current event. Topics can be drawn from a variety of instructional sources (e.g., history textbooks, videos of historical dramatizations, or news broadcasts).

Letters to the editor and editorials often reflect attempts by citizens to generate solutions to problems. Ask students to read an editorial or a letter to the editor and have them critique it by applying the decision-making framework to examine how systematically the writer thought through his or her presentation of and/or response to a problem.

(For more examples of related lessons, see Social Decision Making/Social Problem Solving by L. Bruene and M. Elias, which offers curricula grades K-8.)

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