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The Debrief

Taking informed action with Newsela’s Cornerstone Activities collection

Julia Bromberg
Mar 10, 2020

I’ve always loved history. One of the reasons that I became a social studies teacher was to share that love with students. My focus in the classroom was to always bring history to life with my students. Now, as a social studies content producer at Newsela, the same mission guides my work here. On a day-to-day, my goal is to create content that is engaging, thoughtful, culturally responsive, and leaves students wanting to learn more. To me, in order for students to find a love of learning in social studies, it must be relevant to their lives and the world around them. 

To make social studies relevant to students and their lives, students need to be able to see important events as more than just ancient history - they need to be able to connect it to their understanding of the world. It’s incredibly valuable to provide students with different ways to demonstrate their understanding. Educators are all aware of the need to differentiate instruction, but it can be difficult to think of the ways to do this, while also lesson planning, grading, participating in extracurricular activities, and dealing with all the other facets of being an educator. 

Newsela’s Cornerstone Activities collection was designed with this challenge in mind. The collection connects historical texts, primary sources, current events, and even some fiction articles.  

In creating the Cornerstone Activities collection, we wanted to develop a collection that gives students the opportunity to take informed action on a variety of different topics. The articles selected expose students to diverse  viewpoints, while still providing the opportunity for them to have autonomy within the activities and select the articles that interest them. As a former teacher, I love this collection because it includes all of the essential information that I would have needed while planning instruction - all of the resources are in one place for the students, and the step-by-step instructions and pacing guide makes it easy to determine how much time should be allocated.

The Cornerstone Activities collection shows that any social studies topic can be made more meaningful for students when they are allowed to connect it to current events and consider history’s impact on their own lives and the lives of those around them. Activities include diverse tasks, such as writing essays and newspaper articles, creating social media profiles, holding mock trials, making multimedia presentations, and more. Take a look at the example below to see how the collection addresses different social studies courses and disciplines.

The Cornerstone Activities: Religion

The Cornerstone unit on Religion provides a selection of Cornerstone Activities that prompt students to explore different religions and cultures around the world. In the unit, students are asked to complete a variety of activities, from multimedia presentations and guidebooks to writing thoughtful analyses of complex topics. 

Comparing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

In the article, Comparing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Lesson Sparks include an overview, assignment set-up, and pacing guide to help guide teachers. Students will learn about the special holidays and traditions celebrated in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and pick additional articles of their choice. To demonstrate their understanding of the subject, students will select a holiday celebrated in a religion, and choose between creating an informational multimedia presentation, brochure, or social media event invite, explaining the history, traditions, foods, ceremonies, and other customs associated with the holiday that they chose to focus on.

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