Making Connections in the Ontario Grade 4/5 Split Grade Social Studies Class

It’s that time of year again when split grade teachers face the challenge of organizing their social studies programs in a way that doesn’t overwhelm either themselves or their students.  I’ve written about how Grade 5/6 social studies can be approached, and today I’m hoping to help Grade 4/5 teachers look at Strand A of the Ontario Social Studies with a positive outlook!  
A quick reminder:  the two units are:

  • Grade 4:  Early Societies, 3000 BCE – 1500 CE
  • Grade 5:  First Nations and Europeans in New France and Early Canada

Looking at the Big Ideas in Strand A

The Heritage and Identity strand of the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum asks students to explore a variety of communities, focusing upon:

a)  connections between the past and the present
b)  interactions within and between different communities

    Looking at the “big ideas” of the curriculum can help teachers focus on the most important concepts we want students to think about, even long after the actual unit is finished.  I’ve spent some time thinking about the big ideas for Strand A, and organized them in this chart:

    Looking at the big ideas this way makes planning just a bit easier!  Basically, I want students to:
    a)  understand that we learn from historical ideas and viewpoints that help us make better sense of things occurring in the world around them
    b)  early societies were created through the conflict and cooperation between groups of people, and between people and their environments

    I am not worried that my students will remember the exact date that Samuel de Champlain arrived in North America for the first time.  Instead, I want them to explore and think about WHY Champlain wanted to create a settlement there HOW he and other Europeans treated the First Nations groups already living there, and WHAT conflicts and instances of cooperation occurred as early Canada developed.  While that particular group is more the focus for Grade 5s, the Grade 4s can also explore the same concepts with the Early Aztecs in Mexico, or with the feudal society in Medieval England.

    These big ideas also invite students to contemplate and explore the overarching question in a Grade 4/5 class:  How Do Societies Survive and Grow?

    Looking carefully at the “Big Ideas” and “Concepts of Social Studies Thinking” at the front of the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum always helps me clarify what my students should really be thinking about, and saves me from panicking at dealing with two sets of expectations at the same time.

    By looking at the curriculum in this way, I can create a unit that let me teach one lesson to both grades, without having to run back and forth between the two groups. After a frontloading lesson about how environmental features affect where societies or cultures establish themselves, the Grade 4s can look at the way the Aztecs of Mexico and the Inuit of Canada were influenced by the land around them, while the Grade 5s can do the same with various Indigenous groups and early European settlers.  

    In fact, I create two units for my Coach’s Corner TPT store, one in PDF format while the other one contains the same lessons and tasks only in digital form using Google Slides.  You can check them out by clicking the links below!

    How do YOU approach dealing with social studies in your split-grade classroom?  I’d love to hear from you!


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