unit of inquiry

How Service Learning Fueled a Teacher’s Unit of Inquiry

By Kevin Fayarchuk, Third Grade Teacher American International School of Budapest

We take an integrated approach with our third-grade unit, Rights and Responsibilities and encompass as many subject areas as we can: reading, writing, math, unit of inquiry, and several Service Learning components. Introducing children’s rights and responsibilities opens a whole new world of awareness, insightfulness, and empathy and leads to positive action that will empower students to help them maintain and recognize children’s rights.

Students coming to us from first and second grade will have exposure to related units with their Culture and Community units of inquiry. This unit also scaffolds well with the fourth grade unit Humans and the Environment and fifth grade unit dealing with Making a Difference. Teachers in these grade levels can and do make connections with our Rights and Responsibilities unit through Service Learning projects or other related activities.

Curricular Components

In the Right and Responsibilities unit, which spans six to seven weeks and we refer to throughout the year, students explore children’s rights and responsibilities, needs and wants, and ways they take action through Service Learning projects or other related activities to help recognize and protect their rights and other children’s rights. The unit project – the Game and Goodie Market discussed below – has evolved into an all-encompassing third grade project that our entire school community attends and sees first-hand how students can apply what they have learned in a multi-faceted event.

By using the Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions as the driving forces for this unit of inquiry, in addition to curricular standards that guide instruction and assessment of student learning, we enable the possibility of inquiry at many levels. Over the past 13 years of teaching this unit at AISB and with the help of teacher and student collaboration, it has transformed into a meaningful and authentic experience.

Reading Informational Literature

Students learn more about children’s rights around the world and organizations that help children.

Social Issues Book Club and Realistic Fiction

Relevant titles engaged with in book clubs allow for appropriate comprehension, a point of view, role play and class discussions.

Persuasive Writing and Technology

Students will learn that persuasion is a process where we advocate from our perspective and try to convince someone to take a certain action, to think a different way, or to just appreciate a different point of view.

Compare and Contrast

Students compare their rights to those of other children around the world using library books and internet search tools. Students may use Google Slideshow, Google Docs, See-Saw,  and posters and create poems, stories, skits to present to class and parents.

unit of inquiry

“When the teacher creates an atmosphere where all students feel that they have equal opportunities to participate actively in the lesson, this helps promote the notion that learning is a collective endeavor and everyone should reap the rewards.”

Propel student learning with inquiry >>

Service Learning in Action

This area has developed in meaningful ways over the years as a result of teacher and student problem-solving, collaboration, looking at ways to make the action plans sustainable and authentic.

Salonta Children’s Home Trip

16-18 high school students, along with a high school teacher, participate in a service learning trip twice a year to the Salonta Children’s Home in Salonta, Romania.

In addition, third grade students write pen-pal letters to children from the Salonta Children’s Home, and high school students meet with third grade students and share their experiences from Salonta trips and how they help the children there recognize their rights.

Community Connections

As a way to make this unit authentic, we invite guest speakers to talk with our students about their area of work and their impact on the rights of children and others. The range of speakers come primarily from our parent and school community and varies from year-to-year. The list has included high school students involved with Salonta project, local police officers, school nurses, Salvation Army members, UNHRC/UNICEF parent speakers, and United Nations parent speakers.

Salvation Army Visit

Students pack lunches and make friendship cards at school in preparation for our visit to the Salvation Army. Students receive a tour of the facility, help serve 270 lunches, and take part in a question-and-answer session.

Miklos Children’s Home Visit

Third grade students collaborate to create age-appropriate activities for the children at the Miklos Children’s Home. Students tour the facility and engage in a question-and-answer session.

Game and Goodie Market

This is an all-encompassing third grade project that our school community attends. Students promote the sale of used books, toys, puzzles, etc., make announcements, and create posters for the entire school community that is invited.

Students have added technological elements, such as slide shows, to raise awareness of children’s rights and ways to help the cause. They have also added a bake sale, homemade jewelry table, and raffle prizes out of their own initiative and ideas. The proceeds of the Game and Goodie Market go towards purchasing playground equipment – selected by the students – for a local children’s home in Budapest and for the Salonta Children’s Home in Romania.

This unit of inquiry model works particularly well for our AISB school community. It is a framework that other schools can modify to integrate curricular connections, tie in Service Learning projects, and make inroads within your school and the local community.

Encourage inquiry at all levels to deepen students learning.

Kevin Fayarchuk
Contributing Author:

Originally from Canada, Kevin has been an international elementary teacher for more than 25 years and has taught in Toronto Canada, Taipei Taiwan, Zurich Switzerland and Budapest Hungary. He has taught grades 1,2,3,5 and P.E. In addition to teaching, Kevin has been a Social Studies Coordinator and Instructional Lead. His passion for elementary education is to develop meaningful Service Learning projects for elementary students.

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