Building Global Awareness in the Classroom

By Hayley Cloud, third-grade teacher in Chester County

With rural west Tennessee being my home, the Gulf of Mexico being as far south as I have traveled, Chicago being as far north, and having never stepped foot out west, I initially found it a bit unimaginable and extremely ambitious to teach students about the world as a whole.  I feel confident in my ability, as a leader to teach students everything they need to know about an individual society, such as the country, state, or community in which they live.  How to form a global society is more complicated, and while many practices, such as travel programs, allow opportunities for students to reach out in a global society, they are not all tailored to fit elementary grade levels.  While it may be challenging work, there are many resources and practices available to help teachers build global awareness in their classroom.

While it may be challenging work, I have found that there are many resources and practices available to help teachers build global awareness in their classroom. Here are a few ideas that have been successful in my classroom:

Build thematic units

Teaching students about our global community through a curriculum is one practice that I can identify with as a leader in my own elementary classroom.  States, such as Tennessee, have revamped their previous academic standards into standards that provide rigorous instruction, critical thinking, and more complex text that increase student global awareness.  The third grade Tennessee social studies standards cover the geography of the world.  They include analyzing the globe, locating major countries, continents, and oceans, and identifying physical features of the world.  I have been able to teach in themes, such as global poverty, global advocacy, and global citizenship.

Use high-quality online resources

There are many websites available with a plethora of lesson plans, videos, activities, and texts. There are two sites, World’s Largest Lesson and Newsela, that help me build global awareness in my classroom. I use the resources from these sites to teach students about classrooms around the world, problems our world faces, and all sorts of news and events from across the globe. A global collaboration website called iEARN allows students to learn through global projects and learning circles with participants in 140 countries. This year, the students in my class used iEARN to participate in a project that required them to research and discuss the causes of hunger in the world and brainstorm ways to solve the global issue.

Use technology to connect with others

Skype can be used to connect with other classrooms, authors, and experts from around the world. It is a free service that allows your students to interact with others through video chat. This year, my goal is to use the service to organize book clubs with other third grade classrooms across the globe. Another way to connect with different classrooms is by assigning students to e-pals at other schools. Epals is a platform where students can make meaningful connections with other learners from across the country and the world. Teachers can even assign students to online projects to work on with their e-pals. This year, my third graders are participating in a class-to-class recipe exchange to build cultural awareness. So far, students have shared their favorite recipes with their e-pals and engaged in an online discussion about how geography shapes culture. Merging these two forms of 21st-century communication can open up doors in our global society and break down global barriers in education, as well as address the standards that many United States classrooms teach.


Hayley Cloud is a third-grade teacher at West Chester Elementary in Chester County and currently serves as a Hope Street Group fellow. A version of this essay was originally published on the Hope Street Group blog, Tennessee Teacher Talk.