Teaching Combined Grades

This project:

  • highlights a process that teachers can follow as they plan for combined grades;
  • emphasizes common skills, understandings and culminating tasks and,
  • features teacher and student reflections through a series of videos
    (click here to access the combined grades professional learning page)

This page includes a variety of resources and videos that support a planning approach that teachers can use to be successful with their combined grades classes.

  • Planning for Combined Grades – Using the 2013 Revised SSHG Curriculum
  • What tools can you use to plan your units?
  • The Planning Process begins by organizing common ideas
  • Identifying Common big ideas/process /product in a grade 1/2 class
  • Talking about Combined Grades

Video: Planning for Combined Grades – Using the 2013 Revised SSHG Curriculum


This video identifies a process that teachers of combined grades can use to address the 2013 Revised Social Studies, Geography and History curriculum. Teachers of combined grades often feel overwhelmed by trying to teach their class as two separate groups, and in separate ways, at the same time. This strategy tends to lead to stress, classroom management issues, and less than optimal learning conditions for students.

An alternative approach is to focus on what is common between the two grades. Differentiated instruction asks us to look at ways of differentiating content, skills, or product, based on student needs. In a combined grades classroom, it is useful to do the opposite, and look for similarities in content (big ideas), similar skills, or a common product that students in both grades can work on.

Next step

How do you perceive combined grades classes?
Can you deliver a combined approach or do you need to split the teaching and learning?

Hint/Messaging (Focus on big ideas and skills, rather than covering all of the content)

What tools can you use to plan your units?

Take a look at the templates below to determine the tools that fit your planning approach (for each example we will have a blank template and a more complete template)

  • Planning templates Blank and with Examples (pages 1-2)
  • See the template that the Ministry uses in this grade 2/3 example.

Video: Planning for Combined Grades – Organizing Common Ideas

The Planning Process begins by organizing common ideas


The steps in this process include:

  • Using the overview pages from the SSHG Curriculum document
  • Compare Overall Expectations, Concepts of thinking, Big Ideas and Spatial Skills looking commonalities

Identifying Common big ideas/process /product in a grade 1/2 class


A combined grades teacher is speaking about planning by looking for commonalities between the grades.

Talking about Combined Grades

Guiding Question

Which templates or processes or organizers are most useful to you?
How can you organize overall expectations to big ideas to identify common skills and products in a way that makes sense?

Hint/Messaging (Every combined grade is different due to the numbers and learning strengths and needs of your students and teachers organize and plan in different ways too!)


A combined grades teacher is speaking about planning with big ideas and working with others

Combined Grades Website


Visit the Combined Grades website to see how teachers have approached combined grades with the previous SSHG curriculum. The site includes video links and teaching/learning strategies.

How are teachers approaching this combined grades process?

Watch the following videos to see how our colleagues are approaching combined grades in a grade 5/6 class. The following video clips highlight elements of the combined grades process In this section observe how teachers create conditions for success. They also reflect a stance that supports their practice. What kind of mindset is needed to experience success in combined grades classes?

  • Sample – Overview Planning Process
  • Creating a Central Question
  • Culminating Task
  • Subtasks and Questions
  • Collaborating for Success
  • Inquiry Process

Planning for Combined Grades – Sample- Overview Planning Process


This is an overview of the process our host teachers used for their grade 5/6 classes.

Guiding Questions

Examine the overview pages for your combined grades.

Identify a common big idea , concept of thinking and several skills.
Consider questions that can guide your inquiry.

Planning for Combined Grades – Creating a Central Question

Description: Observe as the teachers construct overarching questions that address the big ideas in both strands. These questions can guide an inquiry over a period of a few weeks. These questions posed at the beginning of the unit, should be rich enough to allow students to engage within many of the concepts and skills from the Overview as they investigate possible answers. It would also encourage students to explore alternate paths to determine their answers. At the end of the inquiry, as they communicate, justify and support their varied responses to the question, students would demonstrate learning of a number of concepts and skills from the overview while using the concepts of disciplinary thinking.


(Think beyond content, focus on big ideas and consider how students may uncover some of the background information to support the inquiry)

Guiding Questions

How can you organize the choices for your students? Can student voice be included? What pre-teaching and practice must occur before an activity can become one of the options for demonstrating learning?

Planning for Combined Grades – Culminating Task


Developing curriculum rich and authentic tasks allow students to creatively respond to the Central Questions and to demonstrate learning about Big Ideas, Social Studies Thinking Concepts, Overall Expectations and Spatial Skills.

As well, tasks allow for student choice, learning modalities, and differing content. A PSA (Public Service Announcement) is used as an assessment of learning with group work. A personal reflection of the PSA is an individual assessment component. Another assessment of learning is a book cover done independently. The key criteria for activities is the ability for students to reflect all areas of the achievement chart. Activities must go beyond knowledge and understanding.

Criteria for the process and product in both tasks allow for integration of skills from other subject areas (language, art, etc.). These are cumulative assignments and can be used part way or at the end of a unit to summarize learning of specified skills and content. They are by no means exhaustive culminating assignments. In this case, students do both the book jacket and PSA. In other instances, students take part in the design of culminating tasks, or are given choices about the communication forms used. To emphasize content with a geographical focus we must include map and globe skills.

(Ensure that the focus is on big ideas, concepts of thinking and spatial skills)

Guiding Questions

What opportunities do you see for critical and creative thinking, cross curricular approaches, differentiation, technology, inquiry processes and learning skills?

Consider strategies that are effective for all grades i.e. concept recognition, mapping skills, apply the concepts of thinking (patterns and trends)

Planning for Combined Grades – Subtasks and Questions

Description: In this video the grade 5/6 teachers align expectations from different subjects and determine subtasks that will lead to the culminating task.

Guiding Questions

How can you find allies to plan with?
How can you take advantage of moderated marking opportunities to improve student success?
Hint (Consider going beyond your school if you do not have allies for planning within)

Planning for Combined Grades – Collaborating for Success


In this segment we see how teachers gain support from each other to develop ideas for teaching.
How do you plan in your schools? Do you have a colleague to co-plan your units and to reflect on the success and challenges?

How is inquiry a key to success with combined grades?

Inquiry is a common link in all social studies strands. This step in planning is an ongoing and fluid process. The teachers will review and modify plans as they teach the unit based on student questions. Inquiry is infused in this unit as students investigate answers to a divergent central question (thick, open-ended question with many possible answers) which incorporates multiple skills and expectations. Inquiry is also in the design of the daily learning experiences.

These experiences involve inquiries into more convergent questions or thinner questions that uncover important information, evidence and data, to support perspectives about the central question. The Q-Chart pictured below can help students with designing their own productive questions for inquiry. The teachers play a supporting role as students investigate their questions, teaching skills as needed to further the inquiry.

The components of this inquiry process identified in the Social Studies Curriculum involve:

  • formulating questions
  • gathering and organizing information, evidence, and/or data
  • interpreting and analysing information, evidence, and/or data
  • evaluating information, evidence, and/or data and drawing conclusions
  • communicating findings

Guiding Questions

Consider the environment of a class that encourages inquiry. What elements are already in your class? What else can you be doing to prepare your students to be successful while they conduct inquiries?

Hint: Teachers can land on any parts of the inquiry process at any time. Inquiries do not have to be to be big. What small inquires can occur in your class?

Planning for Combined Grades – Inquiry Process


The video shows teachers incorporating elements of inquiry into their programs.

B1) Video: Planning for Combined Grades – SReflect PEEPS Explained

Student Explanation of the Inquiry Focus


Listen as students explain PEEPS (Political, Environmental, Economic , Physical and social) aspects.

B2) Video: Planning for Combined Grades – Reflection on Planning and Implementation


Listen as the teachers talk about key strategies needed to reach success as they implement their unit. These strategies include focusing on the guiding questions and success criteria.

B3) Video: Planning for Combined Grades – Reflecting on the Inquiry Process


Listen as the teachers reflect on the inquiry practices that they need to reinforce with their students. The teachers explain how their facilitator roles is demonstrated in the classroom.

B4) Video: Planning for Combined Grades – SReflect Collaborative Technologies


Students reflect on the collaborative technologies that they used to conduct their inquires.

B5) Video: Planning for Combined Grades – SReflect Group Work


Students talk about the group process for the grade 5 and 6 students.