In social studies, our 4th graders have been busy time-traveling through American history, from early Native Americans to European exploration, onward to colonial America and the Revolutionary War.

Our 4th grade teachers have integrated social studies into their reading and writing instruction in so many ways, including historical fiction book groups, tons of first-person writing (like our explorer projects in the fall and students’ colonial diaries), not to mention hands-on experiences like candle-making and quilting.

Once we reached the Revolutionary War, we decided it was time to immerse ourselves in another biography study. There are so many important and fascinating historical figures who lived during this time!

The 4th grade social studies standards include King George III, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Benedict Arnold, Patrick Henry, and John Adams; to this list, we added Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, Abigail Adams, and Molly Pitcher.

Of course, after we made our list, we thought of many more additions we could make next year! 🙂

To choose their research topics, our 4th grade students participated in a biography “tasting” in the library to learn just a little bit about all eleven historical figures. (You can read more about our book tasting experience here!)

4th graders tasting short biographies of each historical figure
4th graders tasting short biographies of each historical figure

As we planned the project, the teachers and I discussed what level of knowledge and understanding we wanted students’ work to reflect. It’s easy enough to find and spit back random facts about a historical figure, but we wanted students to think more deeply about how their historical figures were involved in the causes, events, and results of the American Revolution (standard #SS4H4).

So, for the first part of the project, students gained a basic overview of their figures’ involvement with the Revolutionary War by creating timelines of events.

Part 1: Revolutionary Timelines

First, students created two-column graphic organizers for their note-taking, with one column for dates and another column for events.

For many of our historical figures, we knew we would find a TON of dates. Also, many of our informational books already included detailed timelines of the figures’ lives.

So, one of our reading and note-taking strategies for this project was to skim for relevant information.

We discussed the word “relevant,” and then we talked about examples of relevant information (actions during the war, involvement in the Sons of Liberty, participation in establishing our new nation, etc.) and not-so-relevant information (birthdays, dates children were born, dates of marriages or college graduations).

Once our note-taking was finished, students published their timelines using a wide variety of craft supplies, including sentence strips, notecards, receipt tape, yarn, and Wikki Stix. The great part of this process was that students could keep the design of their timelines as basic as they wanted, but they were also free to get super creative!

The finished timelines are hanging up in the 4th grade hallway:

Part 2: Bio Cubes

Now that students had a basic understanding of their historical figures’ involvement in the war, we moved on to deeper questions about the figures’ character traits and significance. To share this knowledge, we used a cool tech tool on the ReadWriteThink website called the Cube Creator:

screenshot from to visit!)
screenshot from
(click to visit!)

To introduce this part of the project, we started by reading a picture book together called Saving the Liberty Bell by Megan McDonald:

image from

After reading the story, I modeled the process of using the Cube Creator to make my own bio cube for John Jacob Mickley, who in this true story helps his father smuggle the Liberty Bell away from Philadelphia so that British forces cannot steal it to melt down for weapons and ammunition.

Rather than selecting the pre-formatted Bio Cube option, though, the 4th grade teachers and I came up with a slightly modified set of elements for students to include using the Create-Your-Own Cube option. This allowed us to customize the assignment for our purposes, replacing the “Personal Background” face of the Bio Cube with a blank face for students to design logos to represent their historical figures.

To plan their cubes, students returned to their informational books and articles as well as to the knowledge they had already gained about their historical figures.

While some faces of the cube were easy to complete with facts that were explicitly stated in our informational texts, the sections for significance, personality traits, and logos required students to draw conclusions and make inferences about the people they were studying.

In fact, the logos ended up being one of my and the students’ favorite parts of the project! Students had to think about their historical figures in a broad, big-picture sort of way and then distill that understanding into a single image. Not only that, but this option also gave our visual and creative thinkers a great outlet to show off their talents.

Students planned first by taking notes on a graphic organizer that included six sections, one for each face of the cube.

Here’s the example I made for John Jacob Mickley:

We went through this example together before students did their work so that they would have a clear picture of what their finished notes would look like.
We went through this example together before students did their work so that they would have a clear picture of what their finished notes would look like.

Once students finished their note-taking, it was time for them to publish their cubes.

Students worked on netbooks to type their notes to the Cube Creator, which outputs students’ response into a printable pdf file with instructions for cutting and folding:

Kid-friendly and fun to assemble!
Kid-friendly and fun to assemble!

After saving these pdf files to their computers, students uploaded the files to their Google Drives and then shared the documents with their homeroom teachers. The teachers printed the cubes onto sturdy 11″x17″ cardstock.

The final week of our project included time for students to draw final drafts of their logos on the sixth face of the cube, decorate and color the faces, and–finally–cut and assemble the finished cubes!

Now, the cubes are on display with the timelines in our 4th grade hallway. I love seeing our students’ hard work, creativity, and knowledge being shown off for the whole school to learn from and enjoy!