March 8, 2013

Persuasive Letters

For most of the month of February, we have been working on a unit about Persuasive Letter Writing. I took this unit primarily from Lucy Calkin's Writing Workshop, but make a few tweaks, of course.

I chose a bunch of fun Mentor Texts for this unit, including Click, Clack, Moo, by Doreen Cronin and I Wanna Iguana, by Karen Kaufman Orloff.   Early in the unit, we were fortunate to go see the play version of "Click, Clack, Moo" which just happened to be touring with TheaterWorks USA right here in DC!  It was so fun to see this wonderful book come alive on stage and I think it also helped the kids conceptualize how a persuasive letter could really make a difference.

We started by examining our Mentor Texts to develop an Anchor Chart for the "Features of a Persuasive Letter."  The kiddos were quick to come up with most of these features. I was particularly impressed that they could articulate how a persuasive letter should include "what things are like right now."  For instance, in Click, Clack, Moo, the cows begin by explaining that they are cold - which is why they need to electric blankets from Farmer Brown.

After the kiddos understood the components of a Persuasive Letter, they began brainstorming and drafting their own letters.  I encouraged them to think about who would be an appropriate audience for their letters.  They came up with such great ideas!  Some kiddos wanted to write to their parents to request trips, toys, or pets; some kiddos wanted to write to the mayor about needs for our city; and still other wanted to write to me or our principal with requests for our school.  

Once they had their appeal in mind, the kiddos had to think of reasons why someone would grant the request. Although, most of them eventually came up with at least 3 good reasons why their reader should give in to their demand, this was a very challenging task for most of first grade writers.

As we moved through drafting, we also talked about a number of ways to revise and enhance our arguments, including adding "if...then sentences," and asking questions.  During editing, I created a second, more specific, Anchor Chart about what the kiddos needed to include in their letters.

Publishing for this unit was a little different than previous units because we didn't need to add a cover or think of a title for our writing. Instead, I took pictures of the kiddos with the item they requested.  I'm planning to create a bulletin board with their adorable pictures and letters in the next month.

March 7, 2013

Measuring Length

For the past few weeks, we have been working on measuring length.  We began this unit by identifying the longest edge of classroom objects, such as cards, pencils, scissors, and glue bottles.  Then we started measuring the objects with connecting cubes.  My initial goal for the kiddos was to understand that we have to measure from one end of an object all the way to the other end.  They also needed to understand that units of measurement need to be the same, and they need to lay next to each other with no gaps.  

In order to break down the steps, I created an Anchor Chart for the steps to measure accurately.  Then we practiced measuring objects with different units, including inch tiles and clips.  Quickly, the students began to notice that an object could be a different "length" when it is measured with a different unit.  For some kiddos this is a complicated concept.  However, after practicing with a variety of different measurement units most of the kiddos began to get the hang of it.  

Finally, I introduced the idea that not all objects are whole numbers.  The kiddos learned how to notice and record 1/2.  This is another difficult idea for the kiddos to comprehend, because they tend to count the total number of units and then add the half.  We reviewed how to choose a measurement unit and how to count until the last full unit before adding half.  This unit is very hands-on which helps the kiddos make a lot of connections and develop their understanding quickly.

March 6, 2013

100 Days of First Grade!

 Every morning we count how many days we have been in school by putting straws in our "Let's Count: Hundreds, Tens, and Ones" chart.  On February 11th we celebrated the 100th Day of School!  The kiddos were so excited about this milestone. About a week before, we started counting down to the 100th day to build the excitement event more.

The Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade teachers decided to each plan a variety fun 100-related activity and have the kiddos rotate around our rooms for the morning.  We got tons of greats ideas for 100 days activities from websites and blogs.  The kiddos had a great time counting to 100 throughout the day!

Check out some of the projects they made:
100 "Gumball" fingerprints

100 Stickers on a Crown

100 Days Acrostic Poem
100 Fruit Loops on a Necklace

Black History Month

I've been way behind on posting... so this is my Black History Month post, a month late.  

I try to rely on the "Dos and Don'ts of Teaching Black History Month" from Teaching Tolerance when planning activities for the month of February.  Even though we read literature with diverse characters, discuss authors and historical leaders from a variety of backgrounds, and acknowledge different backgrounds and cultures all year long, I do make a special effort to talk about African American History during the month of February.  

Our school asks each class to study one historical African American figure during the month of February and create a visual display of our learning.  This year our school's focus was Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old girl who became the first African American child to attend a white school in New Orleans.  In order to learn about Ruby, we read a few stories and also watched this great interview by a child reporter on Scholastic.  

My kiddos then drew pictures about Ruby Bridges' Kindergarten in a segregated school and the Kindergarten at our school.  They wrote a short caption under their picture.  I made copies of the kiddos' pictures and cut up their drawings and words to create a class display of "Then" and "Now." I think it turned out really well and showed how much the kiddos have learned about the history of segregation in schools. 

This year I also decided (after reading The History Behind Black History Month) to discuss the history of this month-long celebration.  I created a SMART Board presentation about Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month, and our class discuss why Woodson had to work so hard to find information about the contributions of African Americans.  I think it's important for even young students to understand that African American History Month was created as a way to "bring greater regard for the contributions of African Americans to this country, to understand and overcome a legacy of oppression and racism, and, in so doing, to further racial harmony among us all."