Complex Texts – Part 1

This will be a three part series that looks at how to get students to understand complex texts/sources in the social studies classroom. Much of the sources and readings in the new scope and sequence are at a higher level than what our students read and comprehend. Getting students to understand these texts, sources, and vocabulary, is essential to getting students to a mastery level on the LEAP 2025.

This past week I observed a teacher using one of my 8th Grade activities as part of looking at the social aspects of the Antebellum Period. As a part of PLC’s for the last month or so we have been focusing on how we should teach students to read complex texts. Many different ideas and strategies have been thrown out there in order to get students to be able to comprehend these complex texts and sources.

As a team we came up with the following key points for teachers to focus on when teaching students how to read complex texts:

  1. Reading for a purpose: Students should always be reading or analyzing a source with a purpose in mind.
  2. Vocabulary: vocabulary is typically what makes a text complex. Having students use strategies and techniques in order to understand words that they may not know the meaning of will help them comprehend the text/source.
  3. Model your process: Teachers need to model the strategies, techniques, and thought processes needed in order to comprehend complex texts.

The Lesson

For this lesson the teacher focused on the following objective: I can analyze how conflict arose between the different ethnic groups in Louisiana. She focused on the following GLE’s:

  • 8.2.4 Explain how differences and similarities among ethnic groups in colonial Louisiana contributed to cooperation and conflict
  • 8.2.6 Identify and describe economic, social, and political characteristics of Louisiana during the Antebellum/plantation economy, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction eras

For this lesson she used the following source/text.

Now, taking a quick glance at this text, it does not seem to be that complex. But when you delve into it a little deeper, there is a lot of complex vocabulary that an 8th grader may not have knowledge of or understand making this text a complex text. With that said lets look at how she incorporated what we had talked about in PLC’s into her lesson.

1. Reading for a Purpose

Firstly the teacher presented the students with the following graphic organizer.

So their purpose was set, while reading the source students had to find, describe, or identify the following information.

  1. Students had to describe the cultural/ethnic group
  2. Students had to describe or identify what this cultural group has contributed to Louisiana.
  3. Who did the cultural group have a conflict with
  4. What was the cause of the conflict.

Lastly the students were reading the source to understand why conflict might be caused between two different cultural groups.

Before reading the text the teacher showed the student the graphic organizer. She stated to the students that when they read the source they have to find what is needed in order to fill the graphic organizer.

In Part 2 we will look at how she inserted vocabulary and the close reading strategy in order to get students to understand this complex text.


Why Change Laws?

As part of the 8th grade Louisiana History Curriculum Unit 5 part B has students examine the rights and responsibilities of Louisiana citizens that enable them to become informed participants in civic life,  through the following standards:

8.8.1      Describe ways in which citizens can organize, monitor, or influence government and politics at the local, state, and national levels

8.8.2      Explain the importance of being an informed citizen on public issues, recognizing propaganda, and knowing the voting issues

One of the key claims of this section is to answer this question; Why might citizens want to make changes to a law? Students have to be able to understand and answer why people want to make changes to a law. How do you create an activity that allows students to answer the claim as well as using the new instructional shifts:

  1. Shift 1: Use sources regularly to learn content.
  2. Shift 2: Make connections among people, events, and ideas across time and place.
  3. Shift 3: Express informed opinions supported by evidence from sources and outside knowledge.

Let’s look at the following source


Students will look at the source (shift 1) and make an analysis as well as an informed opinion (shift 3) why people would change a law. In this instance people wanted to change the law because the law, prohibition, was not working (shift 2 making connections). Prohibition created more problems than it solved and people of the United States recognized this and demanded it be over turned.

Using the scope and sequences claims and the new shifts allows students to get a more in depth look at the content. It also allows the students to earn their knowledge.

To see more activities and sources like this go to my Teachers Pay Teachers website.

Why did the Germans become French?

During the 1700’s many Germans migrated to Louisiana. Many of these Germans migrated as they were paid by the Company of the Indes to bring their skills and help make Louisiana a prospering colony. Germans along with Africans were bought to Louisiana to cultivate the land and become farmers. These farmers were given very little to work with and worked very long hours. The Germans along with the Africans were very prosperous. They were able to grow enough food for themselves and then provide enough food to support New Orleans who was starving at the time.

So why did the Germans become French? In my TPT activity which is part of the Unit 1A – Cultural Diffusion file, we look at two sources that identify reasons for the Germans losing their heritage and how they became more like the French. One obvious change was the German’s last names. Ancestry Magazine suggests that;

When the first Germans came to French Louisiana in 1719, most German names were changed to a French version of how the name sounded. For instance, the German name Heidel was frequently changed to Haydel or Aydel, Schecks neider became Schexnaydre, Traeger became Tregre. Notice how the “ei” becomes “ay” and the “cr” becomes re.” Names beginning with “H” also underwent a change in spelling since this letter is usually silent in French pronunciation, so that Hubre became Ouvre or Oubre. Note that when this same name is later encountered by the English, it becomes Hoover.

There are various different reason found in the sources, but this follows much more along the lines of how cultures diffuse together and become alike.


Simple Grid System

When would a third grader use a simple grid system to find were they are going? With the latest technologies of smart phones and GPS it is unlikely that students would sit down with a map and find a location on that map using the maps grid system. Well one of the 3rd Grade Standards states the following: 3.3.7      Locate specific places on a map using a simple grid system. The states practice test has the following image.


So how could you create and activity that a third grader would use in their everyday life? I did the following:


I took a map of Audubon Zoo and made a simple grid system on top of it. I then created questions in which students had to find certain locations using this map and the grid system. To get this activity go to Unit 1A – Louisiana’s Geography

Using the Shifts: Shift 1 – Use Sources Regularly to Learn Content

Recently the state department released a document that identified and described the shift in instruction to meet the new social studies standards. They also have stated as part of this there will be a new guidebook and scope and sequences for each grade level. In this post I will break down these instructional shifts in social studies.


Let’s look at Shift 1: Use sources regularly to learn content.

In the past much of social studies instruction was driven by the textbook. With this much of the test was driven by the information given by the textbook. With the 2011 Social Studies standards and the new LEAP 2025 Social Studies test there is a shift from having students regurgitating facts to having students analyzing sources, creating informed opinions, and using the sources to support their opinions. It also is a shift from the teacher giving a lecture and having students copy notes, to now teaching students to analyze sources and answer content and claims based on these sources.

Even before these new standards I tried to have students answer claims on their own using sources. For example one of the old LCC guiding question for the geography unit was; Can students describe ways in which location and physical features have influenced historical events in Louisiana and the development of the state? Part of this guiding questions was to have students identify how physical features influenced the people of Louisianas culture.

shift 1

So I created a document in which students had to analyze the cause and the effects of physical features on the culture of the Acadians that settled in various different regions of Louisiana. Students would use the source and identify that living on the prairies and the prairies being so flat (cause), Acadians farmed cattle and rice which made rice a staple in the Acadian diet. This then helped the development of such cuisines as Jambalaya and Gumbo (effect). Even though there were many more influences that led to the development of these Louisiana cuisines, this source allows students to realize the fact that the physical feature, prairies, led to a certain type of farming which then led to different types of dishes that are a staple of Louisiana culture today.

All of my products on my Teacher Pay Teacher site focuses on using multiple sources in order for students to answer claims using Shift 1: Use sources regularly to learn content.

Breaking Down the Standards

This will be a tutorial on the process I use in order to create a DBQ or an interactive notebook activity.

There have been two processes in which I have used in specifically creating the activities that are used in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. For the majority of the 8th grade activities I used the content and claims based in the scope and sequence created by the Louisiana State Department of Education.

content and claims

As you can see the highlighted with the highlighted text, this addresses the 8th grade standard: 8.4.2 – Describe the causes and effects of cultural diffusion and its impact on diversity in early Louisiana (this standard is focused in the following product Unit 1A – Cultural Diffusion). I will get into how I created the activities for 8th grade in a later post.

Another way of creating DBQ’s and interactive notebook activities is to break down the standard. This method is great for any subject as well as getting to the bones of what the standard is asking. Let’s look at the following 3rd grade content and claims.


As you can see with the highlighted text you have 1 content and claim and 5 standards attached to it. So it is essential to break down the standards in order to make sure you are teaching what essentially is needed for your students to be successful. For this process we will use the following standard: 3.4.7 – Describe the importance of natural resources in Louisiana using maps.

Steps to Breaking Down the Standards:

  1. Identify the Verbs
  2. Identify the Nouns
  3. Identify the standard’s context
  4. Evaluate how it is being assessed

So lets use the steps to break down this standard; Describe the importance of natural resources in Louisiana using maps.

1. Identify the Verbs


In identifying the verbs I usually look for the doing word in the standard. This what the student will be able to do after you have taught your lesson. I also will circle the verb.  In this standard the verb will be describe. Students will have to describe something in the activity. I will typically use a writing activity to achieve this verb.

2. Identify the Nouns


When it comes to nouns I do not get to hung up on the true English definition of a noun. I really look for what the student has to know. For the example, students will need to know the importance of natural resources.  I will usually highlight the nouns.

3. Identify the standard’s context


When I talk about identifying the context, you want to look at what constraints the standard is giving you. Sometimes a standard will not give you a context and you have to infer how to teach it based on assessments. But if the standard does give you a context/constraint then you need to teach the standard accordingly. In our example students will have to focus on  Louisiana and using maps. So a student will have to describe the importance of natural resources but will need to focus on natural resources only in Louisiana and describe the importance using information given to the them on a map or maps.

4. Evaluate How it is Being Assessed

It is best to look at your assessments in order to see how the standard is being assessed. Possible sources could be your teacher made tests, District Unit tests, State Released Test Items. With the new standards and the new way in which they are being assessed, typically this will be assessed with an Item Set, Task Set, or Discrete Items. It will be a given that there will be a map used as the stimulus (maps, graphs, passages, source, etc.) for these multiple choice style questions.

Creating the Activity.

Looking at the grade level (3rd) you will probably need to give some background knowledge, for example, what natural resources Louisiana has and why are natural resources important to Louisiana. Now you have to use the context – maps – in order to create the activity.  As you can see below I created an item set that focuses on using a map as well as answering the standard.


You can get this activity as part of my new 3rd Grade Louisiana History Bundle Unit 1A – Louisiana’s Geography.