Teaching Ancient India’s Caste System Using BlendSpace in a Social Studies Classroom for 6th Graders

India lesson picture

The Context for this Lesson

This lesson was written for students in a sixth grade social studies class at Apple Valley Middle School (AVMS) in Hendersonville, NC. I will begin my teaching internship at this school in August of 2016. As I mentioned in my post about TED-Ed, the students that attend AVMS live in a more rural area of Henderson County. The school demographic includes a mixture of natives to the area and English Language Learner (ELL) students, who are immigrants or children of immigrants. To meet the needs of each individual student in this diverse group, I recognize the need to be creative in my lesson planning.

This lesson is about the caste system in Ancient India and how that system has changed over time. The lesson provides a description of each caste level and focuses on what factors have affected the caste system over time. This lesson is intended for sixth grade social studies students in their second or third month of studying world history for the first time. As they begin this lesson, they will need to know that social class structures exist in every society and that these structures may have similarities and differences to one another.Their previous social studies experience in elementary school will have focused primarily on the study of North Carolina and to some extent the study of the United States. Many of these students will come into this lesson knowing very little about India and its social structure. However, with prompting from the teacher in the form of inquiry, students should be able to recognize the social class structure in our society. From this recognition they should be able to make connections and disconnections as they learn about the Indian caste system.

Before this lesson, students in this class will have learned about the ancient world and the beginning of civilizations. They will also have learned about how trade and the introduction of monetary systems led to some wealth, and that the interaction between regions led to an increase in immigration. This will help them as the begin to understand the various class levels in the Indian Caste system and why people from different levels were treated differently.

After this lesson, students will explore additional class structures in other societies. The essential questions used in this lesson will connect to future lessons on class structures such as the one in Ancient Rome. They will be able to make connections between various class structures through the end of the sixth grade year which culminates just before the age of exploration. In the seventh grade, students will also find connections to the evolution of class structures with the age of exploration and the growth of practices such as slavery and indentured servitude. They should be able to make connections from what they learn in this lesson to their seventh grade study of world history through the modern age and to the eighth grade study of U.S. and North Carolina history.

The media that I have integrated into this lesson is Blendspace. I am using Blendspace because I believe it is engaging for students and it allows me to creatively meet the needs of a diverse classroom. This classroom media tool allows educators to gather topical digital resources into one place. Teachers can then organize that content in a way that flows like a lesson for students. Blendspace offers teachers the opportunity to provide a flipped learning environment, project-based learning, and individualized learning experiences (Blendspace, 2016).

The Standard this Lesson Meets

By having my students learn about the Ancient Indian caste system through the use of Blendspace, they will be able to use the information provided to create an essay showing their understanding of how cultural practices affect a particular society (NCES. SS-Culture.6.C.1).

Here is the full list of standards and clarifying objectives addressed in this lesson:

North Carolina Essential Standards. Social Studies. Culture. Grade 6.

  • NCES.SS.Culture.6.C.1 Explain how the behaviors and practices of individuals and groups influenced societies, civilizations, and regions.
  • NCES.SS.Culture.6.C.1.2 Explain how religion transformed various societies, civilizations and regions (e.g., beliefs, practices and spread of Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism).
  • NCES.SS.Culture.6.C.1.3 Summarize systems of social structure within various civilizations and societies over time (e.g., Roman class structure, Indian caste system and feudal, matrilineal and patrilineal societies).

The lesson focuses mostly on summarizing social structures by having students focus on how the  social structure in Ancient India worked and how it evolved into the modern day Indian social structure (NCES.SS-Culture.6.C.1.3). This lesson also introduces how the religion of Hinduism is connected to the societal emphasis of the Indian caste system (NCES.SS-Culture.6.C.1.2). As part of the lesson, the Blendspace allows students to meet these standards by offering a variety of resources that explain the Indian social caste system and how it has changed over time. The discussion activities provided in Blendspace allow students to reflect and respond as they come to more deeply understand the implications of the Indian caste system.

The Media or Technology I Am Integrating

Link to my Blendspace Lesson

This Blendspace is composed of nine tiles. The first tile includes an image with the five class levels of Indian society. While viewing this image, students will fill in the names of each social caste on a pyramid worksheet. They will use this labeled pyramid worksheet to take notes about the various caste levels mentioned in the lesson activities. They will use their notes to complete their essay after finishing all Blendspace activities. The second tile is an instructor created item which contains the two essential questions that were introduced to students before they began the Blendspace. These questions are included to remind students as they complete media activities to pay attention to power dynamics and factors that change social classes.

The third, fourth, and fifth tiles are each short videos that provide students with information about the Indian Caste system during ancient times and during modern times. The third tile includes a video titled “The Caste System of India.” This video provides details about each Indian caste including people outside the caste system and shares some factors that have cause the system to change and remain the same over time (Mr.Dowling.com, 2014). As students view the video, they will be prompted in the comments section to add two to three details about each caste level to their pyramid worksheet. Tile four includes a video titled, “Is India’s Caste System Still Alive?”This video compares the caste system of the past to the current day and notes examples of discrimination despite laws against this practice (Seeker Daily, 2015). The final video, “Rising Above India’s Caste System” shares the story of a man who was able to send his son to school, which allowed his son to move to a higher caste level and support the entire family (Seeker Network, 2014). As students watch all three videos, they will use the comments section of each tile to respond to a prompt. At a later time, they will return and respond to two peers in separate tiles.

Tile six includes a short biography about Mohandas Gandhi, a well-known leader of the Indian movement for independence. This article provides an  overview of Gandhi’s life and shares the surprising fact that many Dalits, the lowest social class in India, rejected the way Gandhi classified them (PBS, n.d.). After students read the biography they will respond in the comments section to a question about the relationship of this piece and the videos. The purpose of this is to have students consider the perspective of the Dalits. By doing so, students will begin to move into the mindset needed to write their essay from the perspective of one social class.

Tile seven is a quiz that I created using the Blendspace quiz feature. The quiz includes seven questions, which are all drawn from the information provided in tiles three through six. This formative assessment is intended to ensure that students understand key points from the videos and reading. As the teacher, I would use the information gained from the assessment to later help students review any areas where they may be having difficulty.

Tile eight contains the assignment that students will complete for homework. Each student will choose one social class and write a three paragraph essay from the perspective of a person in that caste. Students will follow a prompt for each paragraph. Additional information about the assignment is included in the lesson integration section below.

The Rationale for Integrating the Media or Technology into this Lesson

I integrated Blendspace into this lesson because I feel it addresses the needs of 21st century learners and it allows for an atmosphere that encourages individualized learning in a diverse classroom. Through the use of an interactive and exciting interface, Blendspace offers a great way to engage 21st century learners. According to educator Cheryl Lemke (2010), “There is no turning back. The Internet has become integral to life in the 21st century–a place for work, play, communication, and learning” (p.243). As Lemke (2010) advocates for the use of technology in the classroom to better meet the needs of 21st century learners, she recognizes that students of today not only crave the use of technology in the classroom they need it in order to “…live, learn, work, and thrive in this high-tech, global, highly participatory world” (p.244). Students of today are surrounded by technology, so using Blendspace for this lesson and in the classroom in general is both necessary and wise to help prepare my students for the future.

In this particular lesson, the use of Blendspace in the classroom not only engages 21st century learners, it also encourages the use of higher-order thinking skills such as critical thinking. Students will use critical thinking within the Blendspace to analyze the variety of resources provided and to respond to questions in the comments section. They will also begin to synthesize the provided information in order to create a unique essay from a new perspective. Professor and educator, Howard Gardner (2010) stresses how vital it is for students to be able to “survey a wide range of sources, decide what is important and worth paying attention to; and then put this information together in ways that make sense to oneself and, ultimately, to other persons as well” (p.13).

According to differentiation advocate Carol Ann Tomlinson (2010) “Schools are again in a time of transition–a period in which it again seems that one-size-fits-all approaches to curriculum and instruction are a misfit for too many students”(p.248). Blendspace provides opportunities for differentiation of instruction by allowing students to work at their own pace. During traditional direct instruction students may become lost if instruction moves beyond a concept with which they may still be struggling. Blendspace allows students to rewind, pause, and re-watch videos and review past tiles. With the opportunity to review concepts, students can better understand and analyze the provided information. Students can also review information in the Blendspace as they work on the assigned essay. The use of the comments section throughout this particular Blendspace also allows every student to have a chance to interact with the material and with one another. Since Blendspace allows me to include varied sources on this lesson topic, I will be more likely to meet the needs of students with diverse learning styles and abilities and to provide a broader understanding through the inclusion of varied perspectives, such as the perspective of someone from a lower caste in the Indian caste system.

The use of the online quiz feature in Blendspace will provide me  with fast access to student knowledge. The fact that every student must respond to the material in the comments section will allow me to see what all students are understanding on a higher level. Both of these features will allow me to more easily and quickly address individual learning needs and plan to provide additional instruction to correct student misconceptions or better explain concepts as needed.

The ability to provide individualized learning through Blendspace connects directly to the flipped classroom model where students learn new concepts via media at home and have time in the classroom to explore these new concepts through active learning experiences. According to Jerry Overmyr, creator of the Flipped Learning Network, “It’s about that personalized face-to-face time. Now that you’re not spending all of class time doing lectures, you’re working one one one with students” (Hood, 2012). Overmyr’s statement shows the benefit of allowing students to review materials in an interactive way like Blendspace while teachers remain available for guidance. According to researchers Heo and Choi (2014), with the flipped classroom model,”The role of the teacher changes from a mere knowledge transferor [sic] to a coach…highlighting the role of facilitating and guiding the learning of students” (p.96). By using technology such as Blendspace,  teachers are not engaged in direct instruction lecture and students are able to spend class time asking questions, getting in-person feedback, brainstorming with groups and classmates, and receiving one-on-one support from the teacher as needed.

In this particular application of Blendspace for this lesson I will not be using this media to create the flipped classroom. Since AVMS does not have the technology to provide every student with computers to take home, and since some students may not have internet access at home, the media part of this lesson will take place during class time. With this in mind, I will focus on following the Heo and Choi (2014) concept of being available to students for one-on-one support as they view materials and work on assignments. In the future when AVMS moves to a one device per student model, I may consider taking advantage of the flipped classroom model that Blendspace encourages.

The Integration of the Media or Technology into the Lesson

Before using Blendspace, students will participate in several learning activities including: a check for background knowledge, a short discussion to share this background knowledge, and an introduction to vocabulary they may encounter during the lesson. As students enter the classroom, they will find instructions on the SmartBoard asking them to write in their social studies journals about the background information question and essential questions provided on the SmartBoard. Here is the link to the instructions that will be on the SmartBoard.

After writing journal reflections in response to the SmartBoard prompt, the teacher will ask students to share their thoughts in groups of four. Each group will then share two ideas from their discussion with the whole class. Next, the teacher will display a SmartBoard slide with the following new vocabulary terms for this lesson: social class, caste system, Hinduism, Islam, and discrimination. Students will also review two vocabulary words they would have learned when studying other early civilizations in the weeks prior to this lesson: civilization and culture.

Blendspace will provide most of the content delivery for this lesson. As students prepare to use Blendspace, they will each receive a laptop and a worksheet with a blank five-level pyramid on it.  Students will use the videos and reading provided therein to learn more about the vocabulary words defined by the teacher earlier in the class. They will also use the content within to complete their pyramid worksheet and prepare for the group and whole class discussions and essay assignment.

Students will begin working on Blendspace during one class period and will finish the Blendspace activities the following day. If they have technology access at home, students will also be able to view the items at home. Students without internet access at home will have the opportunity to use the school computer lab after school, if they would like to finish the Blendspace lesson before the second day. The goal is for all students to be ready to discuss the videos and readings near the beginning of class on the second day. However, students who are not ready will have the opportunity to finish the online activities while other students begin to brainstorm for their essay. After students have finished using Blendspace, they will receive a copy of the assigned essay shown in this Blendspace. The assignment is also shown here: Link to Essay Assignment

The purpose of this essay assignment is to help students synthesize what they have learned about the Ancient Indian caste system from the Blendspace and to compare it to the present day system in India and the United States. The goal is to help students recognize that social class structures across time and place have similarities and differences and that certain factors and events have contributed to changes in social class structures.

When all students have finished the Blendspace activities and reviewed the essay instructions, they will move into groups of three to four students. They will compare the details they wrote down about each caste on their pyramid and discuss the two essential questions. As a group they will write down two to three sentences about each essential question.

Then the teacher will ask students to help create a class pyramid with caste descriptions on the SmartBoard. After the pyramid is complete, each group will read their short response to the essential questions and classmates will have a chance to respond aloud. If there is time in class, students will work on their essay assignment. They will finish their first draft for homework.

My Evaluation of the Media or Technology Integration

I found Blendspace very easy to use. I believe it provides an excellent platform for creating unique lessons that bring together varied media sources. Materials that can be used include: teacher created and uploaded documents, online videos, online articles, images, and quizzes. For other lessons, Blendspace can even be used by students to create their own product in order to show their knowledge. However, this would take additional instruction time to prepare my students to use Blendspace in this fashion. In this particular lesson, students are simply using Blendspace to view materials and participate in discussions. I feel this level of interaction with the media is appropriate for sixth grade students who will need very little instruction in order to use this program in this way.

The Blendspace website recommends using this media for individualized learning, project-based learning, and the flipped classroom model (Blendspace, 2016). For this lesson, I primarily focused on the individualized learning aspect. I would have liked to create a flipped classroom environment where students completed all Blendspace activities at home and class time could have been spent on discussion and working on individual essays. However, I could not do this, since Apple Valley Middle School is not yet a one computer per student school, and some students may not have technology access at home.

For now, my use of Blendspace will focus on this media’s ability to provide an individualized learning experience. Through Blendspace my students will be able to work at an individual pace as they view videos, articles, and quizzes. Over the next four years “Henderson County Public Schools want to put laptops in the hands of every middle and high school student” (Mundhenk, 2016). When this occurs, I feel Blendspace and similar technologies will allow teachers in this county to include aspects of the flipped classroom in their lesson plans.

One issue that arose as I used Blendspace both for viewing a lesson and creating my own lesson is the discrepancy of facts or terms between resources. In a geography lesson that I viewed, one resource did not include an ocean that other resources did include. In my own lesson I found different spellings of the caste names from one source to another. This could become an issue if it caused students to have misconceptions about the material. However, I believe this could be an opportunity to create a talking point with students about watching for when resources provide alternate or conflicting information.


Blendspace. (2016). Blendspace by TES. Retrieved from: https://www.tes.com/lessons?redirect-bs=1

Gardner, H. (2010).  Five minds for the future. In Bellanca, J. and Brandt, R (Eds.), 21st century skills: Rethinking how students learn (8-31). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Kenrick, N. (1997). Picture of Indian women in market. Photos for Class. Retrieved from: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3891/14461357968_13860a3068.jpg

Krishna.org (n.d.) Picture of the Indian Caste System. Krishna.org. Retrieved from: http://krishna.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/The-Indian-Caste-System.jpg

Heo, H. J. & Choi, M. R. (2014). Flipped learning in the middle school math class. Advanced science and technology letters 71, 94-97.  Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.14257/astl.2014.71.22

Hood, G. (2012). More teachers ‘flipping’ the school day upside down. NPR. Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/2012/12/07/166748835/more-teachers-flipping-the-school-day-upside-down

Lemke, C. (2010). Innovation through technology. In Bellanca, J. and Brandt, R (Eds.), 21st century skills: Rethinking how students learn (242-272). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Mr. Dowling.com. (2014, March 23). The caste system of ancient India—a reading lesson for kids. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/I10Ljbac3xM

Mundhenk, A. (2016). Schools aim to leap the digital divide. Times News. Retrieved from: http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20160515/NEWS/160519875

NC Essential Standards (2012). Social Studies Standards. Culture. Grade 6. Standard 6.C.1. Retrieved from: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/docs/acre/standards/new-standards/social-studies/6.pdf

NC Essential Standards (2012). Social Studies Standards. Culture. Grade 6. Standard 6.C.1.2. Retrieved from: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/docs/acre/standards/new-standards/social-studies/6.pdf

NC Essential Standards (2012). Social Studies Standards. Culture. Grade 6. Standard 6.C.1.3. Retrieved from: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/docs/acre/standards/new-standards/social-studies/6.pdf

PBS (n.d.). Mohandas Gandhi. Freedom: A history of us. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/historyofus/web14/features/bio/B06.html.

Seeker Daily (Producer) (2015, April 19). Is ancient India’s caste system still alive? Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/HyCQDIwHlXY

Seeker Network (Producer) (2015, April 18). Rising above India’s caste system. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/lYKf3-_sjtI

Tomlinson, C. (2010). Differentiating instruction in response to academically diverse student populations. In On excellence in teaching (247-267). Bloomington, Indiana: Solution Tree Press.




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