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Instructional Unit Samples - Social Studies
A Message from the Content Specialist
I am very proud to present the teacher-authored instructional unit samples in social studies. Each of these units represents the work of a team of Colorado educators to translate one curriculum overview sample into a full instructional unit with learning experiences, teacher and student resources, assessment ideas, and differentiation options. To learn more about the unit development process and the unique aspects of the social studies units, please consider watching one or more of the instructional unit webinars.
Each of the units posted here was authored by a team of Colorado educators. As examples, they are intended to provide support (or conversation/creation starting points) for teachers, schools, and districts as they make their own local decisions around the best instructional plans and practices for all students.
You can also view the complete list of social studies curriculum overview samples and use the instructional unit template to begin constructing your own Colorado Academic Standards-based units.
Social Studies Content Specialist
- Instructional Unit Process Guide
- Instructional Unit Blank Template
- Curriculum Overview and Instructional Unit Template with Explanations
- Recorded Instructional Unit Sample Webinars
- Questions?: E-mail Stephanie Hartman, Social Studies Content Specialist
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Civics Unit Title: Securing the Blessings of Liberty (Montrose County School District)
Unit Description: This unit explores the historical events and the role of government in shaping U.S. domestic and foreign policy, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens to participate in policy decision making. The unit begins with a look at political parties and the role that party platforms play in policy decisions. Next, students will study monetary and fiscal policy decisions and how citizens may react to and/or influence those decisions. Next, students examine domestic and foreign issues/polices, the tools used by the federal government to make those decisions, and the ways in which citizens may influence policy decisions. The unit culminates with students will creating a newscast that illustrates the social and economic conditions, and priorities of the people related to an ongoing domestic or foreign issue.
Economics Unit Title: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions (Denver Public School District, Douglas County School District, and Colorado Council for Economics Education)
Unit Description: This is an introductory unit on economics. Economics is the science that studies the choices of people, businesses, and governments trying to satisfy their wants in a world of scarcity. Students will be introduced to many fundamental concepts and principles of economic reasoning. Through real-world and personal financial literacy examples, these concepts are explored at the student level to increase relevancy and application. Students will be asked to weigh the costs and benefits of various decisions in order to begin to think like economists. The unit culminates in a performance assessment that asks students to use their economic knowledge in pursuit of a college scholarship.
Economics Unit Title: So, You Want to Be a Millionaire? (Brighton School District)
Unit Description: The focus of this unit is on the creation of wealth and future prosperity. Students will be introduced to concepts of financial planning, wealth and financial management and the protection of one’s wealth and financial prosperity. The unit will culminate in the creation of a financial plan to work towards becoming a millionaire by investing $150,000.
Geography Unit Title: Whose Earth Is It...Anyway? (Ellicott School District)
Unit Description: This unit focuses on energy resources and energy production at state, national, and global levels and considers the policies and implications of both non-renewable and sustainable forms of energy. The unit begins with a focus on individual energy uses and fuel source usage; asking students to consider what, where, and how (much) energy they use. During the 6-8 weeks of the unit, students will then examine state, national, and international efforts to develop, maintain, and sustain the dominant existing sources of energy (i.e., fossil and hydroelectric); examining both the economic and environmental factors and concerns connected with these efforts. From there, the unit then moves on to parallel state, national and global policies and programs that incentivize the development of sustainable/renewable forms of energy; looking at both the conflicts and opportunities for cooperation inherent in these efforts. The learning experiences build to a performance assessment that asks students to take a position on a particular energy source in Colorado and to present that position/perspective to a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing; making a compelling case for the development of and investment in this resource.
Geography Unit Title: Globalization: Promise or Peril? (Mesa County Valley School District, Boulder Valley School District, Briggsdale School District, and Brighton School District)
Unit Description: This unit focuses on the many facets of globalization. Students explore the concept of globalization and then examine the political, economic, cultural and environmental impacts of our increasingly interdependent world. Students then look at ways globalization impacts the distribution, access to and availability of resources. Students also examine how globalization and issues caused by increasing populations and decreasing resource availability leads to the potential for both cooperation and conflict. This unit culminates with a presentation to the President of the United States recommending if and/or how the United States should intervene in an international conflict.
U.S. History Unit Title: Change is a Comin' (Durango School District)
Unit Description: Definitions of national unity based on romantic ideals of justice for all are often tested by populations who question the existence and breadth of civil liberties. Through this unit, students will develop an understanding of how changes in the perceptions of civil rights and liberties have led to an infringement on people’s civil rights. Students will look at changes over the past 150 years in the United States by studying events such as women’s suffrage, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, minority rights, etc. Finally, students will discover how individuals and groups have affected social change in the structures of power and authority through civic engagement.
U.S. History Unit Title: War and Peace (Lake County School District)
Unit Description: Throughout this unit, students will explore the ways in which the forces of imperialism, nationalism, militarism, economic self-interest, and geopolitical alliances taken to the extreme can result in international conflicts. The unit begins with the Spanish-American War and leads students through post 9/11 America. Students will examine national and international responses/policies (e.g., alliances) to international conflict and times of peace. Finally, students will analyze public perceptions of war and the subsequent actions/reactions of the public. This unit culminates with students creating a “special edition” of Time Magazine focusing on the international conflict involving the U.S. since the Spanish – American War.
World History Unit Title: How We Relate (Valley School District)
Unit Description: This unit focuses on the ways in which international expansion led to increased human interactions; thereby, contributing to practices and policies that limited and/or expanded human rights. Students will study how the beliefs about the rights of people have changed over time (1400’s – present) and how economic, political, geographic factors/policies, and religious beliefs had an impact on the infringement on human rights. In addition, students will investigate how nations reacted (or didn’t react) to the policies that marginalized cultures and violated human rights. Finally, student learning should be focused on the changing nature of human rights violations and how nations have fought to preserve the rights of all people.
Unit Title: Finding Our Voice (Ellicott School District)
Unit Description: This unit focuses on the foundations of U.S. government, the Constitution and the development of an American voice. The unit begins with a look at the major social, economic and political aspects of the newly independent 13 states. Then, students examine the Constitutional Convention and the various changes, compromises and additions to the Constitution necessary to promote the common good and provide individual rights to citizens. Next, students study the development of a political culture in the United States and how this led to an American identity in the global world. Finally, the unit culminates in a performance assessment which has students creating a presentation for a United Nations Youth Assembly to share the principles of American democracy and evolution of the American identity within its first 50 years.
Unit Title: From Subject to Citizen (Ellicott School District)
Unit Description: This unit focuses on the era from English colonization in the United States through the American Revolution to independence. The unit begins with a review of the economic and political benefits of colonialism in British North America. Students will analyze the political, social, and economic circumstances of the Colonies prior to the French and Indian War. The focus of the unit then moves to the increasingly oppressive policies of the British Crown on the colonies and the colonists’ efforts to increase self-determination and continue self-governance. Students continue an analysis of the forms of rebellion used by the colonists against the British Crown, ultimately ending in revolution, which left the new nation with new challenges. The culminating performance assessment has students investigating various perspectives and reactions to the rebellious acts of the colonists in the form of creating a documentary segment for the History Channel.
Unit Title: Growing Pains (Del Norte School District)
Unit Description: As nations expand, various cultures and ways of life merge leading to both and enrichment of cultures as well as conflict. This unit focuses on the cultural interactions among peoples brought about by the westward expansion of the United States and how those interactions led to both cooperation and conflict. Students will learn about the interactions among peoples such as settlers, Native Americans, Mexicans, etc., as well as the governmental policies regarding resource allocation/distribution during the expansion of the United States from 1800-1900.
Unit Title: Reality Check - Unresolved Issues (Ellicott School District)
Unit Description: This unit begins with a look at the major economic, social, geographic and political differences between the Southern and Northern states. Next, students look at the most prominent tensions/disagreements/differences, the extension of slavery, and state vs federal rights. Students will then analyze various actions and reactions to these regional disagreements. Then, students will take a look at the Civil War, and its effects and major changes the country went through after the South surrendered. The unit culminates with a performance assessment which has students creating a proposal for a display case concerning the unresolved political, social and geographic issues between the Northern and Southern states.
Unit Title: Money Matters (Pueblo County School District)
Unit Description: In this unit, the students will learn the basic concepts of credit and debt. Students will formulate strategies for making good financial decisions by investigating different types of credit, loans, and the costs associated with using credit. Students will also discover the importance of maintaining debt. The unit culminates with students demonstrating the practical application of personal financial literacy using the basic concepts of credit, debt and management skills to make educated financial decisions.
Unit Title: Rules, Roles, and Religions (Ellicott School District)
Unit Description: This unit begins with students hypothesizing the traits that characterize a civilization. Students will then be introduced to the geographic location of the ancient river civilizations and how the nomadic peoples transition to settled peoples in these locations. Using this introduction, students will then begin a case study of each of these river civilizations by looking at the ways humans interacted with other humans in these areas (e.g. the social and political structures) and the ways humans interacted with ideas (e.g. the cultural legacies). The unit culminates with the students developing a “history trunk” full of artifacts, activities, maps and information for classrooms around Colorado to study these river civilizations.
Unit Title: All Roads Lead
To From Rome… and Greece (Ellicott School District)
Unit Description: This unit focuses on the classical civilizations, Greece and Rome. The unit begins with an introductory look at the legacy of Greece and Rome to engage students’ prior knowledge. Students will then discover the geography of Greece and analyze its impact on the development of their political and social structures by studying the Minoans, Mycenaeans, Athenians and Spartans. To transition to Rome, the students will investigate the cultural diffusion of Greece in order to explain the establishment of the Roman Republic and Empire. Next, students discover the political structures and culture of Rome. The culminating assessment has students creating a travel blog that takes travelers around the world to sites influenced by the Greeks and Romans.
Unit Title: Haves and Have-Nots (Ellicott School District)
Unit Description: This unit focuses on the Medieval to Renaissance era. It begins with the students analyzing the need for protection after the fall of the Roman Empire. This includes the students examining the feudal structure and the power of the Church. Then, students will examine the cultural rivals of Christian Europe and Islam, which will lead students to exploring the Crusades. After exploring the Crusades, students will analyze the major societal and political changes that occurred, which led to the decline of feudalism and a change in thinking throughout Europe. Finally, students will take a look at how the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution were examples of these changes in thinking. The unit will culminate into a performance assessment which has students creating a newspaper that highlights the significant changes that occurred during this time period.
Unit Title: How Much Is that Colony in the Window? (Woodland Park School District)
Unit Description: The focus of this unit is the economics, technologies and innovations from the Middle Ages through the colonial era. Students explore the allocation, access, availability, and distribution of scarce resources, how new technologies changed the way people worked, communicated, and competed for the scarce resources. Additionally, students will study the ways in which trade, access to goods and resources, and competition led to a “global economy.” Finally, they examine the ways in which industrialization and technological advances encouraged colonization and the effects of colonization on colonized peoples. The unit culminates in a G7 Summit where students work in teams to develop a Memorandum of Understanding addressing global economic concerns.
Unit Title: Ch…Ch…Ch…Ch…Changes (Mesa County School District)
Unit Description: The focus of this unit is the continent of Africa. Students will investigate and analyze the economic (such as access to and availability of resources), social (the proliferation of cultures, interdependence), political (unrest) and/or environmental reasons why people migrate. The time frame encompassed in this unit is Ancient Kingdoms (e.g., Egypt, Kush, etc.) to European imperialism and the impact that the movement of peoples on native peoples/cultures. Teachers may choose to make connections to present day Africa in order to illuminate the continued conflicts that have their roots in European imperialism and/or the forced movement of people.
Unit Title: One of the Certain Things in Life... Taxes (Woodland Park School District)
Unit Description: This unit begins by connecting supply and demand to consumer choices. Then it continues into why and how citizens pay taxes and the types of taxes they pay as well as what personal finance responsibilities citizens have. Finally, students will have an opportunity to apply their knowledge of income and taxes with a simulated tax paying experience. The unit culminates with students writing a dialogue between a tax preparation professional and a new taxpayer.
Unit Title: What Did They Leave Behind? (Montezuma-Cortez School District)
Unit Description: In this unit entitled “What did they leave behind” students explore how aspects of ancient cultural life are interpreted through artifacts left behind. Students will focus on material cultural artifacts as the physical evidence of the human experience. In addition, students will be introduced to how archaeologists and historians assess and evaluate primary and secondary sources to learn more about the lives of people in the past. This unit focuses on the early civilizations in the Americas, including the Maya, Inca, Aztec and Inuit. The unit culminates with students creating a website illustrating an analysis of artifacts found at an archaeological site and the significance of those artifacts.
Unit Title: Movin', Movin', Movin' (Ellicott School District)
Unit Description: This unit addresses the European explorations of the Americas and the interactions between the Old World and New, with a particular focus on the outcomes of those interactions. Students will study the various aspects of those outcomes and how they affected indigenous peoples in the Americas. Additionally, the unit addresses the impact of exploration on the global economy (e.g., the Columbian Exchange).
Unit Title: The Action of We the People (Ellicott School District)
Unit Description: This unit begins with students revisiting their prior knowledge of colonial rule in North America. Students will be reviewing the political, economic, and social structures that existed in the 13 colonies. They will also be introduced to colonial rule in Canada. Using their knowledge of colonial rule in North America, they will explore colonial rule in Latin America and discover the significant differences of Spanish colonial rule as compared to British and French colonial rule. Next, students will investigate the various ways in which colonized peoples reacted to the oppressive colonial policies. The unit culminates with the creation of a documentary focusing on one of the major revolutions in the Americas.
Unit Title: Show Me the Money (Ellicott School District)
Unit Description: This unit focuses on economic decision making and cost benefit analyses at the personal, national and global level. The unit begins with a focus on basic concepts of economics such as needs, wants, supply, demand and economic systems. Then, the unit will focus on the individual, where students will explore their aptitude for certain careers, the economic potential of those jobs (income), and where in the Colorado (or the US) the resources are available and accessible for those careers. From there, the students will create goals, a budget and practice investing in the Stock Market. Once students have an understanding of basic economics and how their careers are economic choices, they will reflect on how their personal economic choices have an impact globally. These learning experiences build towards their performance assessment where students will research and analyze data concerning the economics and demographics of Colorado towns in order to make a formal bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Unit Title: The Melting Pot? (Buffalo School District)
Unit Description: In The Melting Pot, students will learn about early explorers and explain the economic and political motivations for exploration and settlement of the New World. When the first explorers arrived in the Americas, they encountered native peoples who already inhabited those lands. Students will discover the motivating factors that prompted individuals to migrate to the New World such as oppression, persecution, and differences in beliefs and values. Throughout the rest of this unit, students will identify how native peoples and immigrants interacted, and how both groups adapted their environment in order to survive. Students will be able to distinguish among the varying perspectives of the relationship between the diverse groups and summarize the effects those interactions had on each other.
Integrated Unit Title: Whose Land Is It Anyway? (Stanley British Primary School, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Brighton School District, and Platte Canyon School District)
Unit Description: In this unit, students will focus on the interdependence of organisms in their environments. Students will understand the cause and effect relationships of Colorado’s environmental systems by identifying, observing and analyzing patterns among biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components of ecosystems. Across the unit’s 4-6 week duration, students will explore the diverse economic, social, civic, geographic and ecological factors that influence Colorado.
Unit Title: Boom and Bust
Unit Description: This unit focuses on the human and social phenomenon of cycles of boom and bust. Colorado’s dynamic history, unique physical geography, and diverse natural and human resources provide the content and context for the unit. Across the unit’s 4-6 week duration, students will consider the social/cultural forces and resources that drive and/or sustain particular economic “booms.” Likewise they will examine the factors (including limitations of physical resources/geography and the effects of human activity) that can facilitate economic “busts.”
Unit Title: Choices and Consequences (Boulder Valley School District)
Unit Description: In this unit, students will learn about the social and economic development of Colorado; as well as the important role that physical and natural resources have played in developing and establishing economic stability in the state. Students will investigate how different groups have adapted to their environment and used the local resources and how resource use has had both a positive and negative impact on the region. Finally, students will study how the use and availability of resources have affected community expansion and development and how state and federal governments work together to manage and regulate the use of these resources.
Unit Title: Pieces of the Puzzle-What Can You Learn from Each Other? (Cherry Creek School District)
Includes Personal Financial Literacy
Unit Description: This unit includes and emphasis on Personal Financial Literacy. Students are introduced to the concept of the interdependent relationship between producers and consumers and their impact on the economic success of a community. Students will explore how a local economy functions, including the roles of producers, consumers, businesses, and the local government. In addition, students will identify ways in which taxes are collected and distributed within the community to provide infrastructure, goods, and services to support the people of the community. Students will also identify different sources of income and the opportunities those provide when making choices about spending money (entrepreneurial, philanthropic, etc.). The unit culminates with students proposing a business plan that includes background information about the business, a marketing plan, and the impact it will have on the economic success of the community.
Unit Title: State Your Claim: How Do We Gather and Use Evidence to Support A Decision? (University of Colorado at Boulder pre-service elementary teachers)
Unit Description: This unit centers on personal and community-based economic decision-making. It begins with a focus on students’ individual economic decisions and moves into considerations of the ways in which communities negotiate conflict around economic issues; considering how diverse perspectives contribute to the discussion and resolution of financial decisions. During the 6-8 weeks of the unit, students will examine their own financial planning/choices, respond to primary and secondary sources related to a specific (past) economic decision within their community, and examine the ways in which diverse perspectives in the community make their voices heard during the decision making process. The learning experiences build to a performance assessment that asks students to take a position on a particular proposal with distinct economic ramifications, present that position/perspective to a mock city council, and work with their fellow community members to reach consensus about how best to work together for the betterment of the community.
Unit Title: Who Has What? (Boulder Valley School District)
Unit Description: This unit focuses on the existence, use, and maintenance of both physical and man-made resources with community environments. Using the local community as the organizing structure, students will consider the ways in which resources impact the kinds of lifestyles/lives people experience within the community and how the nature of available resources had an impact on peoples’ decision to reside in their community. During the 3-4 weeks of the unit, students will explore various resources as well as compare the nature of their community against other communities with different resources. The learning experiences build to a performance assessment that asks students to construct a presentation that conveys the attributes they think could lead people to choose their community as a place to live.
Unit Title: The Choices I Make (Denver Public Schools, Jefferson County School District, and Poudre School District)
Unit Description: In this unit, students will be exploring choices (e.g., financial, occupational, personal) and how their choices positively and/or negatively affect self and others. During their exploration, students will investigate various roles and responsibilities that are related to the community and how their roles and responsibilities are a result of the choices they make. Students will also examine how responsible citizens contribute to their community. The unit culminates with student groups identifying a need in the community and then creating a proposal designed to address the need.
Unit Title: Change Happens (Park County School District)
Unit Description: This unit focuses on change as a defining and natural feature of the human experience. Using family as the organizing structure, students will consider how time and events alter roles and responsibilities and they will identify the ways in which humans adapt to their environment and changes in the environment. During the 4-6 weeks of the unit, students will use their own family (historically and in present day) to understand change as a constant factor in people’s lives. They will respond to texts and images and construct short written pieces documenting family changes and adaptations. The learning experiences build to a performance assessment that asks students to construct a guidebook for younger peers to help them navigate the changes that life brings.
Unit Title: How Do I Fit In My (Classroom) Community? (Adams-Arapahoe School District and St Vrain Valley School District)
Unit Description: This unit focuses on the ways in which people demonstrate responsible citizenship practices in different environments. Using the “me/we” dichotomy throughout, students will begin to explore the difference between wants and needs in relation to (personal) decision making processes and the importance of rules. The learning experiences intentionally spiral through students’ experiences in classrooms and in school in order to deepen their understanding of their roles in creating secure and stable communities. They will respond to texts and images and construct short pieces documenting their increasing understandings. The learning experiences build to a performance assessment that asks students to construct a presentation for peers to help their school, as a whole, better exemplify responsible citizenship practices.
For content specific questions, please contact Stephanie Hartman.