Investigative Question

How can we learn and work together?

In Standard K.1, students explore the meaning of good citizenship by learning about rules and working together, as well as the basic idea of government, in response to the question, How can we learn and work together? An informational book such as Rules and Laws by Ann-Marie Kishel may be used to introduce the topic while teachers use classroom problems that arise as opportunities for critical thinking and problem solving. For example, problems in sharing scarce resources or space with others or in planning ahead and ending an activity on time for the next activity will teach students to function as a community of learners who make choices about how they conduct themselves.

The English Language Art / English Language Development Framework states that the more students know about a topic, the more motivated and better equipped they will be in their language development. Thus, when students study Standard K.1, that “being a good citizen involves acting in certain ways,” they will draw upon their experiences at home, at school, and in their communities to learn history-social science content and English. Citizenship is one of the central themes in the History-Social Science Framework.    


Learning about citizenship academically should not be a huge stretch for students. They practice good citizenship every day at school, from standing quietly in line to cleaning up after class activities. Understanding democratic values complements kindergartners’ developing capacities for literacy. As students are encouraged to get along with their classmates and follow classroom and school rules, they get to practice the tenets that democratic societies are built upon respecting others, appreciating rules for order and equity, sharing, and taking personal responsibility for one’s actions.


 With this inquiry set, students will question, examine, interpret, corroborate, and explain what it means to be a good citizen and the behaviors that represent good citizenship. The investigative question that students will answer in evaluating the primary sources is, How can we learn and work together? Using school safety as an example of people learning and working together, students will investigate how people kids and adults have come together to ensure that students arrive to school safely, and how school safety has changed over time. To answer this question, teachers will guide students’ examination of primary sources that depict traffic safety before there were traffic laws, with a crossing guard in 1960, and in traffic safety posters.


Students will compare the two primary sources with their daily travel to school. Asking How can we arrive to school safely? would be a great start before they tackle the main investigative question, How can we learn and work together? Arriving to school safely requires adults and children to be good citizens; everyone must work together to follow school and transportation rules. 


Students will have ideas and stories about how they practice good safety and citizenship on their way to school. Their experiences will enhance their ability to identify how people learn and work together to ensure a safe school environment then and now. 


In comparing their experiences with portrayals from 1906 and 1960, students will gain a sense of chronology about technological advances and safety protocols, in addition to discipline-specific concepts of change over time, cause and effect, and what it takes to be a good citizen on the way to school.

The purpose of this inquiry set is for students to study how people learned and worked together in the past as well as in the present day, using school and traffic safety as an example of good citizenship. Students will learn two key terms: citizen and safety. They will learn that being a good citizen involves acting in certain ways. They will create a timeline to determine how transportation safety has changed over time. In kindergarten, students are just starting to develop their language skills and learning how English works. While writing complete sentences and thoughts may not be possible for some in this grade, teachers can still guide students’ analysis and interpretation of the inquiry set through class discussion, vocabulary instruction, and structured writing. Directions: 1.  The teacher begins by telling students that the class will examine artifacts from the past to answer the investigative question, How can we learn and work together? Teachers will explain that the class will answer this question through the example of school safety, specifically how students arrive safely to school every day. To unearth and build upon background knowledge, teachers ask students, How can we arrive to school safely? Students are reminded that getting to school safely requires adults and children to behave in certain ways. The teacher will chart the following (1) how students get to school (mode of transportation); (2) their safety practices; and (3) the laws (rules) that protect them as they travel to school.
    • Bike, walk, skateboard, skate, scooter, car, bus.
    • Seatbelts, parents, crossing guards, helmets, crosswalks, signs.
    • Speed limits, school zones, street lights and signs, curbs, sidewalks, designated drop-off and pick-up zones.
2.  Teachers will then define citizen and safety for students orally and point to the words in print on the board/poster sheet labeled with the current date. Teachers will explain that both adults and students practice good citizenship by cooperating with one another and following traffic rules for a common goal. Good citizens are safe citizens. These possible answers are written on the board and will be revisited as the students compare safety in the 21st century with safety in 1906 and 1960. For example, the chart could read: [Today’s date] Investigative Question: How can we arrive to school safely?
    • How do I get to school?  (bike, walk, skateboard, skate, scooter, car, bus)
    • How am I safe? (helmet, seatbelts, knee or arm pads, traffic cones, reflective gear, car seats, seatbelts)
    • What rules do I follow on the way to school?
      • Safety signs (hand-held stop signs, School Xing, speed limits, bus stop, crossing guard)
      • Traffic rules (taking turns at lights and stop signs, following crosswalk signals, designated drop-off and pick-up spots, speed limit, curbs, crosswalks, sidewalks, signals)
  • A citizen is someone is who is a member of a state or government.
  • Safety is protection from harm and danger.
  • A good citizen is a safe citizen.
3.  Next, teachers will turn their students’ attention to the 1960 Harry Adams photograph showing a crossing guard and schoolchildren in Los Angeles. The teacher projects the primary source and passes out one copy of the photo per small group or per student. He or she will facilitate a primary source analysis of the picture. First, the teacher lets the students know the place and date of the photograph — a Los Angeles neighborhood at about the time that their grandparents or great-grandparents were kids. This will give students a point of reference for time. Second, students will identify the actions in the photograph. The teacher explains that action words are called verbs in English. This explanation can be done verbally or by drawing circles around the actions in small groups or as a class. Drawing lines between the verbs and the circled actions will reinforce learning. The class chart could look like this: 1960, Los Angeles Cross guard and schoolchildren 4. Once the teacher has created a list of the actions, teachers ask student to interpret what is happening in the picture. Students will determine how the details in the photographs make meaning. Here are a few text questions that can be asked to move students from comprehension to analysis and interpretation:
  • Where do you think this is taking place? How do you know? (city, farm, school, street, etc.)
  • What do you see? Who or what is in the picture?
  • What is each person doing?
  • Where are people going? How do you know?
  • How are people learning and working together? For what purpose?
  • Are there any safety measures that you practice that are missing from the photograph? (helmets, stop light, safety vest with reflectors for crossing guard)
  • Why is learning and working together important? Who does it benefit?
5. Before showing the film, the teacher will summarize the key details and understandings the class has learned about safety procedures on the way to school. 6. Students will continue to compare their travel and safety experiences with those from the past. Now they will view a silent film from 1906, at about the time their great or great-great grandparents were kids. Show the short silent film at least three times (Source 2), more if necessary. First, as with the 1960 photograph, students will focus only on all the actions in the film. Second, students will concentrate on transportation similarities and differences between 1906, 1960, and today. What is the same or different about the transportation in this film? The teacher can write on a chart the responses to the first two viewings of the film. Third, students will identify the transportation safety features (see Student Handout).   Handouts
  • The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.
Teachers should be mindful that students arrive to school using a wide range of transportation options (public and private) and accompanied by guardians who may or may not be related to the student. Students and their families come from a variety of socioeconomic, cultural, religious, ability, nationality, gender, and racial/ethnic backgrounds.