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Students have been buzzing in my fourth-grade class since the World Cup began on November 20. It was evident this was an event they were interested in, but knowing very little about soccer, I was unsure how I could share their excitement in the classroom. I love teaching through picture books, so I decided to research elementary-friendly literature options on the World Cup. To my surprise, I found a wealth of exciting titles to share with my students. Not only were these books relatable, but they were also highly informative and met the students’ reading levels. I felt like I had hit the teacher jackpot.
As teachers, we constantly seek ways to engage our students and relate to the things they love. Incorporating significant events, such as the World Cup, allows students to take something they are intrigued by and put that interest into hardcore learning. What makes this even more engaging is when we can devise ways to incorporate our students’ interests into multiple subjects. I like to call this the “learning trifecta”: when objectives from three subjects can be taught under the umbrella of a singular topic. In this case, the topic I wanted in the spotlight was the World Cup.
Is It Easier Said than Done?
Many elementary teachers are wary of cross-curricular lessons. These lessons require extra work on the part of the educator, and they tend to be challenging for beginner teachers or teachers who only work with one subject. Studies have shown, however, that cross-curricular lessons can be highly beneficial for elementary-level students, primarily when they focus on a topic that is “new and now.” According to Lucy Madden, CEO of prescientist.org, “Cross-curricular teaching, or instruction that intentionally applies multiple academic disciplines simultaneously, is an effective way to teach students transferable problem-solving skills, give real-world meaning to school assignments, and increase engagement and rigor.”
With an in-depth understanding of lesson planning and student needs, cross-curricular planning can be a fun way for teachers to highlight specific subjects in their classrooms to draw student engagement. It may be easier said than done, but the outcome is well worth the work!
Connecting Lessons Through History
The Soccer Fence: A Story of friendship, hope, and apartheid in South Africa by Phil Blinder
Hector, a young South African boy, dreams of playing soccer with friends from another part of his city. The apartheid, a word meaning apartness, segregated non-white citizens of South Africa and kept Hector’s dreams from coming true. That is, until 1990 when a South African prison finally released Nelson Mandela. Then, the apartheid began to fall apart, and Hector finally saw hope for his future. Hector’s age makes him a character easy for young children to empathize with and understand. This book beautifully portrays how sports can bring people of different colors and beliefs together to believe in a shared love – in this case, soccer. The rich, informative historical content keeps students engaged in history and literature.
Connecting Lessons Through Science
STEM In the World Cup by Meg Marquardt
This text does a great job of explaining the science behind the scenes in the World Cup. From physics to technology to engineering, STEM processes can be found everywhere in soccer. This book has informative sidebars, including STEM in action, infographics, and a glossary. Teachers can take this text a step further by adding an age-appropriate STEM soccer activity to complete in the classroom. At Michiganlearning.org, educators can find a free video explaining the “science of soccer” that includes a STEM challenge for young students: designing a mini foosball table!
Connecting Lessons Through Math
FIFA World Cup 2022 Kids’ Handbook by Kevin Pettman
This is a World Cup book that truly has it all. Exciting historical events from previous World Cups, biographies of the most talented players, a summary of Russia’s 2018 World Cup, and tons of stats and facts are just a few things this book includes. This selection also has an incredible “group stage” section where students can track stats for all 64 of this year’s World Cup games, making this book the perfect text for incorporating cross-curricular math lessons. Students can find averages of team scores, chart team wins and losses, and calculate goal differences – all while learning World Cup facts! This book is tailored to elementary students, making it an excellent text for practicing critical background math skills.
If you’re interested in taking the math cross-curricular approach a step further, Pettman has also written another book, Soccer Number Crunch, which is ideal for combining math and reading in the classroom and is perfect for students 8-12 years of age.
Bonus: Connecting Lessons Through Our #ownvoices
For the Love of Soccer! by Pelé
A real-life approach is essential for our elementary students to relate to what we teach. In this #ownvoices publication, Pelé, one of the best-known soccer players in the world, tells a story about his love for soccer passionately and bravely. As a child of poverty in Brazil, Pelé overcame the challenges in his life and played in his first World Cup in 1958 in Sweden. He was only an astounding seventeen years old! He scored three goals in a semi-final game against France to make his mark in soccer for years to come. A significant aspect of this engaging picture book is it’s geared towards grades preschool and up, so it will work in any elementary classroom. Pelé’s message of endurance, hard work, and success is a lesson that students can cherish and benefit from for years to come.
Sharing the knowledge, feelings, and curricular depth of picture books with your students can offer them a new world of experiences. If there is a topic you would like to hone in on in your classroom, consider cross-curricular teaching through literature. I guarantee it is a lesson you will not regret teaching!
About the author:
Ashley Chennault is currently a freelance writer and 4th-grade teacher in the small coastal town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Ashley is in her 18th year of teaching and holds a master of arts degree in elementary education. In addition, she became Nationally Board Certified in 2020. In her free time, she enjoys her second job as a contract grant writer for philanthropy corporations, boating, beaching, cooking, watching her teenage sons play sports, and spending time with her three adopted wiener dogs, Georgie, Henry, and Tripp.
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