July 18, 2016

10 Reasons Why Parents Need to Read Aloud to Their Children

10 Reasons Why Parents Need to Read Aloud to Their Children

Those hours spent on parents laps reading picture books matter. Here are 10 reasons why caretakers should keep up the tradition of story time on a frequent and consistent basis during childhood:

1. Higher Academic Achievement. More than a fair amount of studies prove over and over again that students who read regularly put themselves on the fast track to language mastery and academic success.  

2. Well Developed Phonemic Awareness. Children will be able to hear, identify, and break down a word into its smaller units of sound, which is of an advantage when phonics and spelling are taught.

3. Better Communication Skills. Children who are ready to learn to verbally interact, listen, and express their emotions and feelings with others in a more healthy manner.  One Yale study showed us that students who struggle with reading often struggle with verbal processing along with other communication skills. Reading and communicating are intricately interlinked to one another.

4. Builds the Brain's Vocabulary Bank. Books use language rich words that we don't use as frequently in our everyday conversations with one another. 

5. Bonding. Reading to and with your children from an early age and throughout elementary school, provides opportunities to bond with your child and strengthen your relationship with them. During those times you're also (most likely) cuddling with them, which is a stress reliever for both of you.

6. Modeling a Love for Reading. Children who attach a sense of enjoyment to reading early on are far more likely to pick up books later in the classroom. They're also more likely, in the long run, to return to reading for fun and pleasure over other activities like playing video games or watching television.

7. Promotes Brain Power! Reading is an activity that requires our brains to practice decoding skills far more than watching a television show; it strengthens and builds the brains wiring (neuron connections). Thus, it trains a person's ability to concentrate for longer periods of time.

8. Builds Your Child's Background Knowledge. Think of your mind like a series of filing cabinets. When new information--be it text, pictures, dialogue, etc.--is taken in through your senses, your brain then files the information into categories or "folders." The more knowledge one takes in, the bigger their "folders" become over time. When go to teach something new to our students, as teachers, it's of far greater benefit to build off of what the child already knows--what "folders" their brains have already started building. We know that if a student can build off of something they've already been introduced to (even if it's just a tiny dose) previously, they will be able to obtain, remember, and apply newer knowledge quicker and better.

9. Develops Basic Logic Skills. When we're reading we use various logic skills to deduce and inquire about meanings and ideas behind a text (comprehension skills). This is why teachers often stop and ask students questions like, "What do you think will happen next?" or "If this happens to our character, what might be the result?"

10. Character Building. Reading teaches us how to make judgments in certain contexts and situations through modeling via story. Children who read fiction show that they have a greater ability to be empathetic towards others.

July 6, 2016

Story Workshop + 30 Loose Parts to Use in Story Workshop



Story Workshop

I was first introduced to the story workshop during my student teaching by another first-grade teacher: Story Workshop is a workshop process that starts with giving students the space to build their stories concretely with open-ended objects and materials (called loose parts) before putting pencil to paper. Students are thus connecting their "play" to storytelling.

It wasn't until recently though, this past spring, that I had the opportunity to bring story workshop to both my own classroom and while visiting another nearby school. Now having experienced the model in practice first-hand, I can say that this has been the most enjoyable manner in which I've ever taught writing to younger elementary students for a couple of reasons. I've found this model to naturally lend itself to differentiating instruction. Story workshop integrates a playfulness into the learning seamlessly, thus engaging and motivating children--my students who normally have an aversion to writing were just as engaged with the learning as my students who naturally love writing.

Story Workshop

There are five components to the story workshop model:
  1. Preparation: The teacher provides a menu or variety of open-ended materials for students
  2. Provocation: Questions are posed to students around writing strategies and traits (often through mini-lessons, mentor texts, etc.)
  3. Invitation/Negotiation: Students explore and 'shop' (pick) for their story materials as they reflectively begin planning them. The teacher helps students find items that will represent and tell their story well.
  4. Creation: Students play and build purposefully with their materials to create their stories while the teacher confers with them. Students then write their stories out. (Once the students have built their stories I photograph it to have them use as a reference when they then sit down to write them.)
  5. Congress: Students share their stories and gain feedback from peers and the teacher

For this particular week, my students were posed with the question "How do characters overcome (solve) problems?" We read a handful of mentor texts where the main characters had to overcome a series of problems they faced. Here were the beginnings of a couple of stories the students built and wrote:

Story Workshop

"Once upon a time there was a forest. Deep in the forest there was a river. It was a special river full of tears. All of the animals would gather around the river and also a girl. The river had rocks and trees and flowers and dirt and one bird that was a parrot. The river was full of the girls tears because she had been cursed..."

Story Workshop


One day in a farm in Paris there lived a farmer and his wife. They were very poor. They only owned a few home things and a horse and cow and sheep and piw and a goat and donkey. One day a wolf came... 

Story Workshop

Deep in the jungle there was a tree boa and a monkey. The tree boa ate the monkey. There was a sea turtle there too and he saw this along with his friend--an anteater...

Story Workshop Loose Parts

If you're interested in incorporating story workshop into your writing lessons, you'll be needing a stock of open-ended materials, or loose parts, that students can manipulate as well as use to represent different aspects of their stories in as many different ways as possible. Here are 30 ideas of materials to get you started:
  1. Glass marbles, round and flat
  2. Playdoh
  3. Pine cones
  4. Small sticks 
  5. Bark chips
  6. Various fabric squares
  7. Fake flowers (detached from wire stems)
  8. Small plastic animals or play figures
  9. Various types of blocks
  10. Toilet paper rolls
  11. Small stones
  12. Seashells
  13. Buckeyes and acorns
  14. Buttons
  15. Beads
  16. Various types of paints
  17. Small containers
  18. Lincoln Logs
  19. Straws
  20. Sand
  21. Plastic and wooden spools
  22. Corks
  23. Fabric placemats (great for representing landscapes as a story's setting)
  24. Round clothespins
  25. Popsicle sticks
  26. Pom-poms
  27. Pipe cleaners
  28. Foam shape cutouts
  29. Leaves
  30. Wikki Stix

June 1, 2016

An Architecture Mini-Inquiry (1st Grade)

Architecture Inquiry First Grade

We've been spending the past couple of weeks exploring architecture during our morning work and STEAM time. Here is our board where we documented our learning as we worked through the learning objectives (I used selected lessons from Architecture, It's Elementary which you can get for free here)...

Architecture Inquiry First Grade

First, we learned about different vocabulary words using the book Into the Sky, along with different textures, doors, and window types, and simple floor plans.

Architecture Inquiry First Grade

Architecture Inquiry First Grade

Before we got into our block building we performed a simple experiment: Taking different shaped forms we tested their strength by setting books one at a time on top of each one. Afterwards, we discussed how columns are used to support buildings.

Architecture Inquiry First Grade

Floor planning commenced! 

Architecture Inquiry First Grade
Architecture Inquiry First Grade

The students spent time constructing a variety of different structures using different blocks, but their favorite was building castles using the MagnaTiles.

Architecture Inquiry First Grade

Architecture Inquiry First Grade

We used primarily these three mentor texts during our learning: Into the Sky, Iggy Peck Architect (by far the children's favorite for it's rhyming, humorous tale) and How a House is Built. 

May 11, 2016

First Grade Tide Pool Inquiry

First Grade Tide Pool Inquiry

Our nature table got a little transformation for the last couple of weeks of school and became beach themed as we began our final inquiry on tide pools. 

First Grade Tide Pool Inquiry

We began by making a K-W-L chart of what we already knew about tide pools and our wonders which would serve as our guide during the inquiry. After that, we watched a handful of video clips and read mentor texts to build up our schema. You can check out our read-alouds here and playlist here below...

 
Here's a little look into some of our morning work and centers activities...
 
 
First Grade Tide Pool Inquiry

We had one thinking routine for this inquiry. I put out shells, a dried sea star, an abalone, and illustrated reference guide on tide pool life.

First Grade Tide Pool Inquiry

A shell sorting activity had a large basket of shells out for the students to organize any way they wanted to. Some students chose to sort them by size while others did so by type using nomenclature cards.
 
First Grade Tide Pool Inquiry

Students drew what they thought sand would look like under a microscope. They had one picture as a hint. Later I showed them several shots of sand up-close.

First Grade Tide Pool Inquiry

Students also had opportunities to play at the light table with loose parts (shells, glass beads, and small plastic animals) to orally share their creative stories involving tide pool creatures.

Having learned about shells and how sand is made and formed, each student made a clay imprint of a shell of their choice from our nature center. After the imprints had dried, they painted them to look like they were lying in the sand or in the water.

 First Grade Tide Pool Inquiry

The next day we performed two science experiments to learn about wave movement--how it rises and falls. Our first experiment had us reenact the effects of high and low tide on the life forms that live in tide pools which you can read in more detail in this previous post. 

First Grade Tide Pool Inquiry
 
The second experiment had the children make wave bottles using baby oil, water, and food coloring (you can get the full directions here).

First Grade Ocean Activities
 
For math, we used Ocean Measuring Palooza to practice and review our measuring skills. The students especially loved the activity where they measured how tall they each were in crabs. 
 
First Grade Ocean Activities
First Grade Ocean Activities

And finally, we had some special show-n-tell items that students had found on their own trips to the ocean in summers past. 

May 9, 2016

2 in 1 Tide Pools Experiment and Sensory Play

Tide Pool Sensory Play

Our class has been spending these last couple of weeks of school investigating and exploring tide pools. For one of our activities, we made a mini-tide pool of our own to re-enact how the rise and fall of tides affect the creatures that call these pools home. We took a plastic bin and set the stage by pouring sand in the bottom, followed by seashells, stones, and other objects to represent the various lifeforms found in tide pools...

Tide Pool Sensory Play

We slowly poured the water in as we discussed as a class how tides rise and fall at different times of the day and what possible causes and problems this may have for creatures who make their home there.

Tide Pool Sensory Play

After our experiment and discussion, we the materials then doubled as a special water sensory exploratory center that the students rotated through.

Tide Pool Sensory Play


April 26, 2016

Botany and Garden Inquiry (First Grade)

Last week our students had the opportunity to participate in a lesson from the Botany on Your Plate curriculum (as adapted by myself and my grade level teammate). We first gave students botany journals of their own to decorate, and together as a whole grade, we made a chart to record all the different ways we used plants while discussing what botany is and the job of a botanist. (We paired this first part of the lesson with The Magic School Bus's episode Get's Planted.) Before we began the second portion of our lesson, we asked students to predict which of the veggies they thought they're whole class would like the most.

Botany on Our Plates


Each student got their own pieces of our vegetable selection: carrots, asparagus, cucumbers, celery, green beans, and cauliflower. First, they drew what the veggie looks like on the outside, then we sliced them in half for the children to draw what they saw on the inside. They practiced writing descriptive words for the veggies to compare their differences, and then finally, they got to eat them! 

Botany on Our Plates

Botany on Our Plates

While we worked our way through each vegetable, we kept a tally graph of the data on which ones we liked best. At the end of the activity we were then able to discuss our data and if it had matched our predictions at the beginning: Carrots for the win!

Botany on Our Plates

Following up with the day's activity, we moved on later in the week to examine some herbs...

Botany Inquiry

Students had the opportunity to explore three different herbs--mint, sage, and rosemary--after having read selected poems from Anna's Garden Songs for our current study on botany and gardening. Before I gave each student their specimen we conversed on how these different herbs have and can be used. Students then had to use their five senses to then write descriptive words about each herb. Here's how a couple of students described sage:
"It feels soft and fuzzy--kind of like how the leaves on pumpkins feel soft sometimes."
 "It smells a little like mint, but it smells more like the stew my mom makes for dinner."
"It's furry-like and reminds me of fall."
Botany Inquiry

From there, we moved on to making some garden maps...

Garden Maps

Garden Word Wall

The students first sketched and labeled their maps with the help of our nomenclature cards (you can get some nice ones like those shown above here), followed by adding all the color using watercolors. 

Garden Maps

Here were some of our final products... 

Garden Maps

Garden Maps

Garden Maps

April 12, 2016

Entomology and Ladybug Inquiry (First Grade)

Insect Inquiry

What matters in learning is not to be taught, but to wake up! ~Jean-Henri Fabre
We've come so close to wrapping up our spring unit on entomology--and I have to say, I think it's been both the students' as well as my favorite unit we've dived into this year. 

Insect Inquiry

We began by documenting what we already knew about insects followed by our wonders and questions. The students as a whole had an especial interest in one of their peer's wonder: How does a larva become a ladybug? This would later be the wonder we as a class zoomed in on in greater depth, but we continued to look at insects generally for a few more days.

Insect Inquiry
This lead to reading several read-alouds where we learned about six different insects and documented specific attributes and characteristics of each one: praying mantis, fireflies, bees, ants, and ladybugs.

Insect Anchor Charts

Insect Anchor Charts

This unit fell right in the middle of our two language arts units on inferring and synthesizing texts. When we practiced these skills as a whole class we used a combination of fiction and non-fiction books on insects: The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco, The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle, A Beetle is Shy by Diane Aston, Ladybug at Orchard Avenue by Kathleen Zoehfeld, and Ladybugs by Gail Gibbons.

Insect Word Wall
Our insect word wall as a writing and reading resource for students

One of our mentor texts was a book called Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects by Matthew Clark Smith (Purchase on Amazon) on the life of entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre. We learned that Fabre's love of insects started early in his life as a child and how he would collect and closely observe insect specimens. He would draw these insects in great detail in the journals he kept. Each child then made an entomology journal of their own to practice, like Fabre, drawing insects of their choice in detail using photograph we found from media resources and plastic insect models we had in our nature center. Students also labeled the main body parts on each of their insect drawings.

Insect Inquiry

Students also got the opportunity to sculpt insects using clay!

Insect Inquiry

Insect Inquiry

Insect Inquiry

One of our insect centers had an activity where students got to create their own insect with the stipulation that their insects had to include the particular body parts all insects have (see student samples and other insect center ideas by clicking here).

Insect Hotel

We created insect hotels (STEAM project) one rainy afternoon...

Insect Hotel

One of our recent STEAM projects came out of our entomology unit: insect hotels. After seeing dozens of elaborate insect hotels in my own Pinterest feed, I decided to try and find a way to let me students build a mini one during one of our afternoon science blocks. We had been reading about insects and their habitats, so we collected our research on what we had learned attracted really beneficial insects. Pine cones, dry leaves, branches, bark, and--yes--even straws--these were the (primarily) natural materials we gathered to arrange into snug nooks and crannies in tin cans to create these mini-homes for our insect friends.

Insect Hotel

And here's a finished one...

Insect Hotel

We tied ours up with Baker's Twine to be hung, and the students got to take them home to find a garden for them.

Insect Inquiry

Hands-down the coolest part of this unit was watching live ladybugs develop as a class! Each day we observed our ladybugs from larva to pupa, to fully grown, we documented our observations together as a class. When they were finally grown we released them out in our school garden.

The culminating project for this unit had the students creating a diorama habitat for a ladybug using shoeboxes and various art materials. After they completed the habitat, they made models of each stage of the ladybug's life cycle by molding beeswax as we witnessed our ladybugs grow.

Insect Inquiry

A couple of habitats created by students with their wax models:

Insect Inquiry

Insect Inquiry

Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf...
~Thoreau
Additionally, here are just a few of the morning work activities that have deepened our learning:

Insect Inquiry

#1. See, Think, Wonder Thinking Routine: Pick an insect related object (I had honeycomb and part of a wasps nest) for kids to examine up-close. I put out magnifying glasses and related books as well for the students to use too. Then they use the I see, think, and wonder paper to help guide them in their observation independently (can be found here for printing). 
 
Insect Inquiry

#2. Simple Sculpting: Stick Bugs: In two jars put out small sticks and then pipe cleaners for students to manipulate into creating a stick bug. Most of my students immediately went hunting for a pair of scissors to cut the pipe cleaners into various shape and sizes to make their insect. When they finished they were then able to free write and draw about their new little friend.

Spring Bug Syllables

#3. Spring into Syllables: This is an activity I found over at Mrs. Jone's Creation Station. Children dig through to find different insect word to break apart into syllables. I created this half sheet graphic organizer for students to stay on track with that activity you can download and print here for free.

Insect Inquiry

#4. Insect Symmetry: This insect unit happened to be timed pretty well with our math lessons on symmetry making a great integration point in the curriculum. For extra practice in the morning, I printed out a variety of different insects (found here) that students could draw the other half of their bodies. If you have a light table and your students need more help then just trying to free draw, by all means--track down some tracing paper to have them use with it.

Insect Inquiry

#5. Invent an Insect: This is an activity idea from Mrs. Miners TPT store. After having read in a class lesson about the various parts of an insect, students are then asked to invent their own unique creepy crawler, but they have to include the body parts that all insects have--the rest is up to you! Here was a couple of invented creature from Room 14 students:

Insect Inquiry

Insect Inquiry
Insect Inquiry
© Natalie Grimm. Made with love by The Dutch Lady Designs.