Saturday, April 5, 2014

Colony "Balloons"

Do you ever have an vision of a project that you want your students to do, but no real sample, and no real idea of what exactly it will turn out to be?  That is what the following project I am going to describe started out as.  I knew in my head what I was visualizing, but needed to figure out a way to get that mental image translated for my students.

We are just beginning our studies about the 13 colonies (the time between the first English settlement and the Revolution) and I wanted to share with you the "Colony Balloons" we made to get us started into the research of everything.

Now, here is a little disclaimer:  These aren't actually balloons.  I just didn't have another name to call them, so in class I called them "balloons" once, and it stuck.

To begin with, the students broke into groups of 2 or 3 and were assigned one of the original 13 colonies to do some research on..  I gave them this Colony Research Organizer and set them loose on their social studies books, the few encyclopedias we had access to, and some teacher trade books with information to begin the process of researching the colony they had been assigned.  Since we also happened to have Computer Lab that week, they continued their research in the lab.  (luckily, we have been learning how to parse the question when searching in Google and it REALLY paid off.  Made for quick and focused research....but that is a post for another day.)

Once the research was done, the students drew the outline of their colony on a large piece of white butcher paper.  I asked them to make these big, not to scale.  So Rhode Island and Delaware are actually HUGE.  I just wanted the kids to have a lot of space to do the project so I wasn't so concerned with scale.  They cut out the colony shape with a second piece of paper behind it.  That way, when they were all done cutting, there were actually two pieces of paper in the shape of the colony.  I immediately stapled these together, leaving a small part unstapled so we could stuff them with paper later.

The next step was to take the information that they had researched and place it within the colony border.  I wanted them to use visuals and captions to portray the information (going back to our unit on text features ;) ), not just words, so the kids were creative here.  They found ways to use pictures and diagrams that I had not actually thought of!  I was immensely impressed with how they were able to take what I was visualizing in my brain and bring it to life on paper!

Once the visualization of the research was done, I asked the groups to work together to write a paragraph summarizing the most important parts of the HISTORY of the colony.  Not just random facts about it, but the actual history of its founding.  (who founded it, when, why, what made it unique as compared to the other colonies)  This paragraph was then written on the back.  I asked them to write large so as to take up the majority of the space with the one paragraph.

Finally, the kids stuffed the balloons with crumpled up newsprint and scrap paper.  I stapled shut the last little bit, and these fun puffy balloons emerged!  My plan is now to hang them up from the ceiling over our cupboards.

This idea can be adapted for pretty much any subject that you are studying in class.  My friend Susie, the Panicked Teacher, is using this same idea for the 50 states.  You could do it for a project on the California Missions, or symbols of the United States.   Even a report on a science topic would work (ie: in the shape of a tree for a study on plants.)  How do you think YOU could adapt this project?


  1. Great project! I'd call it a pillow.

    1. Pillow! MUCH better than balloon! Why didn't I think of that??

  2. This is awesome, Steph! I love how they turned out - front and back. I've got to figure out a way to do this with my class ... maybe for flight and have them make airplanes .... wheels are turning. :)

    1. Airplanes would be fun! Anything non-fiction, that you would research, I think would work. Though it really is super open-ended and you can do so many different things.

  3. This is awesome! I am totally sending this on to one of my good friends who teaches 5th Social Studies! :) Thank you!

  4. Fantastic idea! Since I am 6th grade and we do Ancient Civilizations, I might call them Megaliths. Thanks for the idea!

  5. Great way to tie in your text feature lessons. I can see the evidence of that on the balloons!


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