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Kindergarten Social Studies Unit: Navigating School

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

Inquiry Question

How can we make school a great place for everyone?

In order for students to feel a sense of agency at school, they must first understand the physical spaces they will inhabit and the people they will interact with throughout their school day. In this Inquiry Journeys elementary social studies unit, K-2 students develop a strong foundation from which to understand their own role in school and how they can make choices that will make school a great place for themselves and those around them.

Unit Launch

These two social studies lessons are designed to hook students into the unit, introduce the Inquiry Question, and prompt students to generate their initial Investigation Questions.

  • Lesson 1: Students read the book School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson in order to imagine first-day jitters from the school’s point of view. Considering another perspective supports students in developing empathy and prompts an investigation of the places, people, and norms of school.

  • Lesson 2: Students are introduced to a modified version of the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to generate Investigation Questions that will guide their exploration of how people can work together to make school a great place for everyone.


What does it mean to navigate school?

In this series of lessons, students unpack what it means to navigate school physically and socially by exploring the locations, activities, and behavioral norms of different areas of the school. They explore basic mapping skills and work with peers to begin a concept map of their school that serves as a visual reference throughout the unit.

  • Lesson 1: Students plan a tour of the school to observe the important locations and norms they encounter throughout their school day. They revisit illustrations from the bookSchool’s First Day of School through a Picture Walk activity to consider the activities in various learning spaces and think about how and why behavior norms might differ in different locations.

  • Lesson 2: Students explore important locations in their school to observe people working, playing, and learning in these spaces. They see school helpers at work and look for evidence of the norms that are needed in each of these different school locations.

  • Lesson 3: Students reflect upon the learning spaces they observed on their school walk and work with peers to brainstorm the importance of norms in various locations. Then, they create a drawing to show a learning activity and norm related to a school location, and they attach these illustrations to the Our Class Unit-Long Display, creating a visual reference of important school locations and norms. Lastly, they consider how knowing these norms will help them better navigate school.

Who is here to help me?

In this series of lessons, students investigate and show appreciation for school helpers. They draft and critique questions, and then conduct an interview to learn more about the people and work that help to make school a great place.

  • Lesson 1: Who are the helpers in the school? Students read a nonfiction text about school helpers to launch an investigation of the helpers in their own school. They begin to practice recognizing and forming questions in preparation for the next lesson, where they will create interview questions to help them learn more about the people in these roles and the work that they do to make school a great place.

  • Lesson 2: When students are working on a meaningful deliverable, it can be very helpful to facilitate a critique session so that they may improve their work. Here, students are introduced to the basic steps of critique by starting with a low-stakes critique of teacher work. Then, students have an opportunity to look at their own work in light of new learning to see whether they have new ideas to add.

  • Lesson 3: Students conduct a whole-class interview of a school helper to learn about that person's role and its importance to the community. Each student asks a question and evaluates the response, determining if a follow-up is needed.

  • Lesson 4: Why is each school staff member important? Students reflect on the work of school helpers and how their contributions help to make school a great place. They write a claim that demonstrates the value of a school helper’s work by showing what the school might be like if they didn’t have someone doing this job.

How can I be a problem solver?

In this series of lessons, students learn the importance of rules and norms in a community, and the role that kindness plays in making school a happy and productive place for all. After reflecting on learning throughout the unit, students make a claim about how they can help make school a great place.

  • Lesson 1: What is my role at school? Students brainstorm and discuss the many ways to be responsible, safe, and respectful throughout the school, and how doing so helps make the community better for all.

  • Lesson 2: Students read and discussBe Kindby Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill in order to learn ways to spread kindness throughout the school community.Then, they watch a video to think about how being kind can feel good. Finally, students make a pledge to try an act of kindness at school.

  • Lesson 3: Students reflect on their learning throughout this module and create a plan of action to be a helper at school. They make a claim about the best way to help make school a great place.

How can I help others?

In this series of lessons, students investigate common problems that arise at school, analyze the possible causes, and brainstorm ways to solve them. They begin to strategize about how they can become upstanders and problem solvers, and look for challenges and opportunities within the community to prepare for taking informed action. Students conclude this module by working together to develop an Inquiry Challenge Statement that describes the action they will take, the product they will create, the people they will affect, and the goals they will work toward when they take action.

  • Lesson 1: Students investigate the types of conflicts that can arise at school, their possible causes, and the ways to avoid them. They begin to strategize about how they can become problem solvers in the future, and even avoid problems altogether.

  • Lesson 2: Students investigate strategies, or plans that can help them solve problems. They generate and present strategies that are specific to distinct school locations in order to prepare them for problem-solving in the future.

  • Lesson 3: Students use what they have learned to coach someone in how to solve a problem. Then, they review their learning from this unit as they prepare to design an authentic product in response to the Inquiry Question. They brainstorm ideas about needs and opportunities within their own community. 

  • Lesson 4: In this pivotal lesson, students transition from investigation to action. They consider the content they have explored, the relevant knowledge they have gained, and the questions they have asked (acknowledging that some may have remained unanswered and new questions may have emerged) to decide how to create an Inquiry Product that has an authentic impact.

Informed Action

In these lessons, students take Informed Action based on the conclusions and key findings from their investigation. They are guided by an Inquiry Challenge Statement that clearly describes the action they will take and its intended result, as well as any Target Group the action will affect. As part of this process, they move through a cycle of brainstorming, feedback, and revision to create an Inquiry Product that helps to carry out their action. Below are examples of how students have taken Informed Action within the Navigating School Unit.

  • Narrative Book: Students instruct new students in their school through an original storybook in which the main character learns how to navigate the expectations and opportunities that come with such a big change.

  • Table-Top Game: Students encourage their peers to be better helpers and problem solvers by designing and creating a game that illustrates “what would you do” scenarios for different areas of the school building.

  • Persuasive Ad: Students persuade members of the school community to demonstrate positive and appropriate behaviors in various areas of the school building through the design and creation of posters that promote helpfulness, safety, and problem-solving.