Opening Doors to Social Studies with Children's Literature

By Amy Price

Lesson Plans

Children's Literature

1. Title: Who Belongs Here? An American Story by Margy Burns Knight

2. Author: Margy Burns Knight Illustrator: Anne Sibley O'Brien

3. Publisher and Date: Tilbury House, Publishers, 1993

4. Curriculum Developer: Amy Price

5. Summary: Nary was born in Cambodia. Due to a civil war, he and his family relocated to a refugee camp in Thailand before eventually immigrating to the United States. Nary can hardly believe that he has finally escaped the frightening dangers of his country and has found freedom, at last. This book introduces immigration to the U.S. in a personal and frank manner. It depicts the challenges immigrants may be faced with as they try to build a home in their new found land. Accompanying Nary's story are anecdotes telling the real-life situation of immigration, as others have experienced it. This book is based on a true story, and brings many topics on immigration to light. The reader is compelled to think about this and look for an answer to a diverse and complex situation.

6. Social Studies Relevance: This book will introduce the topic of immigration into the U.S. It will bring to discussion how immigrants may feel about leaving their Mother-Land and coming to another country. This book discusses how American citizens may react to immigrants, and how this land has benefited from immigration through technological advances and diversity.

7. Grade Level Focus: The grade level focus is for fifth grade.

8. Relationship to Social Studies State Core:

Title: Who Belongs Here? An American Story by Margy Burns Knight


Objective: After reading Who Belongs Here? An American Story the students will demonstrate an understanding of how immigration relates to them and others by creating a multi cultural collage and explaining how immigration has affected themselves and others.


Materials Needed: Who Belongs Here? An American Story, magazines, paper, glue, and scissors.



1. The teacher helps the class to imagine that they are living in a country that is at war with the government. The powerful people are killing thousands of others, even the students own parents, and it becomes necessary for them to leave the country. Ask the class, "Where would you go? What would you do? The book we are about to read is about a boy named Nary who lived through a situation just like this in Cambodia". The teacher will ask the students if anyone can show where Cambodia is on the map. Let the students find it. Introduce the vocabulary with the class and then read Who Belongs Here? An American Story.


2. Vocabulary.

a. Immigrate- to come to a new country

b. Refugee- one who flees from home or country to seek refuge elsewhere

c. Culture- The skills, arts, etc., of a given people in a given period; civilization

(Definitions from Webster's New World Dictionary)


3. The teacher will read the book to the students.


4. During the reading of the book as the teacher comes to the questions asked in the text, s/he will stop the class and ask for student response to the questions.


5 .After reading the book, the teacher will explain that the Native Americans are the only people living in the U.S.A. who have not immigrated to the U.S.A. All other people have immigrated from different countries. As a result, everyone is impacted by different people as they share the things of their countries and cultures. For example, pizza came from Italy, hamburgers and hot dogs came from Germany, and coyote is a Spanish word.


6. Hands on. The teacher will demonstrate how to make a collage of the people in America by using cut-outs from magazines and gluing them on paper. The collage is not limited to people, but includes cultural artifacts as well (this would include things like foods, holidays, clothes, cars, and technological advances from other countries).


7. The students will make their own collage.


8. The teacher will show some of the collages volunteered by the students. The students will have the opportunity to explain their collage and their understanding of how America has benefitted from the many cultures and people of the world.


Evaluation: The teacher can assess the students' understanding through the discussion and the completion of the collage. The students will be able to explain the collage and how immigration has affected themselves and others.

Title of Lesson: "What does it mean to be an American?" Part I

Objective: The students will survey an individual, and then report their results on "What makes an American?".

Materials Needed: The song I'm Proud to be an American by Lee Greenwood and a guest (perhaps the principal or a parent volunteer).


To introduce the lesson, the teacher will play the song I'm Proud to be an American by Lee Greenwood. This song may provoke thought and/or feelings towards the U.S.A. Discuss with the students their thoughts and/or feeling toward the lyrics of the song. For example: "And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me, and I'll gladly stand up next to you, and defend her still today..." Ask the students, "Are there other ways to defend America besides in time of war? Is that what it means to be an American? What does it mean to be an American?"

1. Guided Instruction. To get the students thinking, the teacher asks, "What do you think of, when you think of America? Do you think of George Washington? The Constitution of the United States? Freedom? Liberty? The pursuit of happiness? What is an American? Are there certain feelings associated with being an American?"Ask the students to discuss the above questions and then generate survey questions on what it means to be an American.

2. Survey. The students will pick three questions, as a class, that they feel are the most important. The teacher needs to make sure that the questions are open-ended. The students will then decide who they will survey by pondering on who they feel would be able to give them insight on what makes an American. Possible people to survey are: the principal of your school, parents, relatives, older siblings, and other trusted adults.

3. Be sure to instruct the students to record the answers given on paper. If they feel a tape recorder would be helpful, have them practice taping someone with the microphone and then write down what was said. It is necessary to have a record of the answers for accurate analysis of the responses to the survey.

4. Guest. The teacher will invite a guest into the classroom, perhaps the principal or parent volunteer, to demonstrate the survey in action. The teacher will survey the guest and record the answers.

5. The students will complete this part of the lesson on their own time, due by the designated date of the teacher.

6. The teacher will remind the students to listen carefully to the people they will survey and write their answers accurately because the information will be used in the next lesson.

Evaluation: The students have met the objective if they participated in the discussion, were able to pick survey questions and survey a trusted adult or older sibling.

Title of Lesson: "What does it mean to be an American?" Part II

Objective: After discussing the survey as a class the students will demonstrate their understanding of what an American is to them by creating a drawing, short story, song, poem, or some other visual representation of their choice.

Materials Needed: paper, markers, colored pencils, and the students will need their answers from the survey.


1.The teacher will write "What does it mean to be an American?" on the board, with the three survey questions previously decided upon by the class, underneath the question. Leave ample room for the various answers to be written down, you may need to do one question at a time depending on chalk/dry board space.

2. Guided discussion. The teacher will lead the class in a discussion. Volunteers will give the answers they had received. Then as a class, they will discuss the various answers. After the discussion, the teacher will give the class a few minutes to think what it means to be an American to them. Tell the students they will be asked to express their feelings with a visual representation.

3. The teacher will model his/her belief of what it means to be an American, perhaps through creating a poem, song, drawing, or other visual representation of his/her choice.

4. Hands on. The students will create a visual representation of their choice, for example, a poem, song, or drawing, of what they think it means to be an American.

5. The students will have the opportunity to share their creation with the class and share any inspiration or thoughts that they feel comfortable sharing.

Evaluation: The teacher will asses the students' understanding by their participation in the discussion and their creation expressing what they feel it means to be an American.

Title: "Where do you come from?"

Objective: Students will demonstrate their understanding of where their ancestors, or ancestors of another trusted adult, came from by preparing and conducting an oral history.

Materials Needed: Something from your ethno-cultural heritage, any pictures you would like to share of your ancestors, tape recorder, batteries, and microphone if needed by tape recorder


1. The teacher begins the lesson either wearing or showing something from his/her ethno- cultural heritage and begins talking about his/her ancestors, including how they came to the United States, when they came, and what, if any, cultural things their family does. This would be a good time to share any photographs with the students.

2.Oral History: The teacher will tell the students that they will be doing an oral history on where their ancestors came from. The teacher asks the students where their ancestors came from, who were the first people, besides the Native Americans, in their family to make what is now the U.S.A. their home, or are any of them Native Americans? (The Native Americans have a rich cultural background from their ancestors which is different from non-Native Americans. Their questions will vary from the ones listed below.) The teacher leads the class in a discussion concerning what possible questions they might ask of the person they will be interviewing. The questions discussed by the class may include some of the following:

1. Who were the first people in my family, or the family of another trusted adult, to come to America?
2. Why did they choose to leave their homeland to come to a foreign country?
3. What did they bring with them?
4. What cultural things do we still do as a family that I might not have been aware of before?
5. Are there any foods that are part of our family history?
6. What are some of the interesting or unusual stories in the family?
7. Where did I get my name?
8. Do I look like any of my ancestors?

3.The students will decide who they will be interviewing.

4.After the students have decided who to interview, they need to decide, individually, which questions they will be asking in the interview . Next the students need to understand how to use a tape recorder to record the answers that they will receive, since some answers may be lengthy. They may need to practice having someone else talk into the microphone, to make certain that it will not be a hindrance but a tool in their endeavors to capture the most accurate answer. Next the students will need to write down on paper the questions and answers so that they may be turned in to the teacher and used by the students to prepare for their class presentations.

5. The teacher will model interviewing using the tape recorder with another student (the teacher will ask simple questions like, "Where were you born?"). Next, the students will practice interviewing each other.

6. The students will conduct the interview on their own time and prepare a class presentation. In the presentation the students will take the character of the ancestor and tell what has been learned from the ancestor's point-of- view.

Evaluation: The teacher will assess how well the students learned by their class presentations.