Tag Archives: first grade

#writeout: Because of an Acorn

When life gives you acorns…turn it into a #writeout inspiration!

On Saturday I found myself at UC Davis meeting with an incredible group of writing project teachers from all over the state as we launched year 2 of our CWP Environmental Literacy and Justice Collaborative. In that space we imagined all the ways to support our students as they learn about the earth and its systems, grow their appreciation of the natural world and resources we share, and use writing to think, to reflect, to question, and to advocate for the world we need and want for ourselves and for our future.

My colleague Carol brought some wonderful acorns she found in her neighborhood as inspiration for a making project…and lucky me, I ended up taking the extras home with me to use in my classroom. These acorns are bigger than the ones I am familiar with…and so beautiful!

And they were perfect for the book I had already borrowed from the library to read this week–Because of an Acorn by Lola Schaefer. After reading and studying this deceptively simple text, we talked about what they noticed in the book. They were quick to notice that it included aspects of life cycles…and they loved the cutouts on the first and last pages. Serendipitously the NWP Write Out newsletter included a link to a video about acorns by a park ranger at the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. My students loved learning more about acorns–and the ways that trees communicate with each other.

Then it was time to pull out our #writeout pencils and notebooks. We took time to look carefully at the acorns and sketch them in detail. Students were encouraged to use numbers and words in addition to their sketch to capture information about their acorn.

After a break for their music class and recess, we returned to our notebooks for some writing. To push students’ thinking, we used the prompts: I noticed…, I wonder…, and It reminds me of to describe the acorn we had studied and sketched. These first graders had no hesitation. They had plenty to write about and were eager to get started! To keep the words flowing, students were encouraged to use their best “kid writing” (or phonetic spelling), prioritizing ideas over correctness.

Best of all, my students are paying attention to the environment and appreciating all that it has to offer. It is my goal that this immersion in nature will lead us toward advocacy as we consider the ways all of us, as community members–young and old(er), can be a catalyst for change to make the world a better place.

A Wonder Walk

First graders are naturally filled with wonder. It doesn’t take much to get them to look closely, to pay attention to details that many others miss.

Our school has the most amazing librarian. Last week I asked her about a book–a book I know I own, but cannot find in my classroom. And she not only found me a copy of that book, but she also suggested another that was new to me…and just what I needed today when I found it in my mailbox.

#writeout is a collaboration between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service that urges all of us to get outside and find inspiration in whatever nature is around us. We started #writeout yesterday with time in the school garden. Students learned about weeds, donned child-sized gardening gloves, and dug and pulled and delighted in seeing roots break free of the dry soil.

Today we read Wonder Walkers, that book our school librarian left in my mailbox. It was perfect for setting the stage for a wonder walk, time on our school grounds looking for interesting things (think leaves, seed pods, sticks, etc.) from nature that we collected using our collection tool (shout out to Little Pine Learners). Before we headed out we talked about what items we could collect and what we should not (living bugs, picking flowers and plants)–and students were excited to get started.

They looked carefully and their collectors began to fill. Some were exuberant and filled their spaces quickly, crowding dried roots and pine droppings with sticks and crunchy leaves. Others were more selective, leaving more spaces between the items collected. A child with sharp eyes found a dandelion puff that didn’t have to be picked, truly a treasure that her classmates envied!

Before we headed back into the classroom, I gathered students close and encouraged them to hold out the collectors so they could see each other’s collections and also so I could take a few pictures.

Once back in the classroom, students used their iPads to take a photo of their collector for future use. Then we settled to read another book. An old favorite, Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, is a wonderful mentor text for students to use as a structure or frame for their writing. I loved the gasp when students realized that this book was non-fiction, yet so accessible with beautiful illustrations. They also remembered their experience with weeds from yesterday and the conversation with the garden teacher about how weeds are not “bad,” they are just not the plants you want in a particular space.

After comments and observations about the book, we tried on using the Weeds find a way… frame with objects from our collectors. “A red leaf finds a way to swish and swoosh through the air,” was one example that got us started.

We ended the day by starting a Zine to showcase our nature items through writing and drawing. We used a single sheet of copy paper to fold a small booklet (with a single cut and no tape or staples) that will soon become tiny treasures worthy of #writeout. More about that in another post!

Primed for Summer Writing

Weirdly enough, this school year ended with 2 minimum days–on a Monday and Tuesday. With the class party dealt with on Friday, what do you plan for those last days of school with first graders?

Inspired by a post I saw on Two Writing Teachers, we began our last two days of school by creating a character–a puppet of sorts–to feature in our writing and to prime the pump for some possible summer writing.

Yesterday morning armed with cardstock, construction paper, scissors, glue, markers, and colored pencils we began creating our characters. Students knew I would make an egret. (They know I love egrets and often feature them in my writing) I demonstrated one way to put a character together…and also started talking through a story featuring the character that was brewing in my head. And then they were off…

As they crafted and created they were also having conversations about their characters. They talked about where the characters lived, their special features and coloring. All the perfect pre-writing you always wish for (and sometimes doesn’t happen). I love this time in the school year when students are comfortable and confident, allowing the creative juices to flow. Once completed, we left the character puppets to dry on the counter.

Today we began with our sketch pads, setting our characters in their places, giving them action and a problem to solve. And again, as students sketched and colored they also talked about their stories.

At this point students were eager to write. We talked about adding dialogue and thoughts, sound words, and setting. And on this very last day of first grade, these students wrote and wrote. They loved that they were filling the page (or more) with their writing. They were excited to read their stories out loud and they were willing to add even more details.

The added bonus is that they also created a list of other stories featuring this character that they may write in the next hours or days or weeks. They left with their notebooks and sketchbooks and their character in hand…and their brains primed and ready for some summer writing (I hope)! I leave the school year knowing that my students left on this last day of first grade as writers, knowing they can put their stories on the page for themselves and others to enjoy.

Would I have students write on the last day of school again…the answer is a resounding YES! It was a wonderful way to spend our last days together, immersed in this community of writers developed over the course of the school year. There were so many things that were hard about this year of teaching, which makes me even happier that these last two days were a joy…for me and for them. They and I left the school year wanting more…that wonderful bittersweet feeling of being happy and sad all at the same time.

Tulips and Poetry: SOL22 Day 29

As March comes to an end, National Poetry Month is right around the corner. To get a bit of a head start–especially since we begin our Spring Break next week–I decided we needed to immerse ourselves in some poetry this week.

Poetry is nothing new in our class. We study a poem each week and then illustrate it, creating an anthology of poems we’ve worked with during the school year. We’ve written some poems of our own here and there. But the time is right for a deeper dive.

Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer is a perfect book to get started. The first graders loved that the poem Daniel wrote was a compilation of the answers from all the animals that answered Daniel’s question, “What is poetry?” And it set the perfect stage for our own Poetry Is… brainstorm. After a start yesterday, we took this idea further today, stretching out ideas and embellishing them with vivid description. Here’s a few examples:

  • Poetry is a glass of warm hot chocolate on a cold, snowy winter day.
  • Poetry is a grasshopper jumping and hopping and bouncing all around the fields.
  • Poetry is a coconut with the flavor inside and the outside is so hard and thick like a layer of armor.
  • Poetry is a slippery fish, as beautiful as a butterfly.
  • Poetry is the sound of my dad snoring.

And somehow, in my mind, poetry and flowers are a perfect pairing. I had purchased some tulips and daffodils from Trader Joes over the weekend, knowing I wanted students to have a close up look at these symbols of spring (that are not commonly found growing around here). Yesterday students used a black oil pastel on watercolor paper to do a directed drawing of tulips in a vase. Today, we used liquid watercolor to create vibrant paintings of these beautiful spring flowers. The results are stunning!

Watercolor paintings drying on the classroom floor.

I plan to matte them along with the “Poetry Is…” writing. And I think I may have each student contribute one line to create a class Poetry Is poem for a poster to hang on our door! After all, National Poetry Month is right around the corner!

Word-le-ing Around

Like so many others on social media (at least my feeds), I have been participating in the Wordle craze. I like that I can only play once a day, that it is limited to 6 guesses, that the words are all 5 letters long and that the whole world is playing this one word each day. There is something about limitations that funnels my focus, and while my first guesses often seem fruitless, somehow I usually pull it out by guess 4 or 5.

The first graders in my classroom have been playing a math game called digit place. In this game, I think of a 2-digit number and students make guesses to determine what it is. With each guess I indicate whether there are correct digits and whether they are in the correct place. For example, if my number is 12 and students guess the number 27 I would put a 1 in the digit column to represent a correct digit (the 2) and a 0 in the place column to show that it is not in the correct place. Subsequent guesses narrow down the possibilities leading students to a correct response. At first there were lots of random guesses, but the class is becoming strategic and quite successful. (I’ve had third graders who played this game with much less strategy and success!).

We’ve been focusing on 4-letter words ending with a silent e in the last week, building word ladders and noticing how this e causes the other vowel to be a long vowel. Students are building their skills and getting better at changing just a single letter to make another word that fits the rules of this ladder. Today, I found myself thinking about Wordle, digit place, and word ladders…and decided to try my own version of Wordle–first grade style.

So…I introduced this new game to my students. I drew 4 lines to represent the 4 letters in the word I was thinking of. I grabbed a black, blue, and green white-board marker announcing that letters in black were not in the word, blue meant the letter was correct but in the wrong place, and green meant the letter was correct and in the right place. I wasn’t sure how this game would work out–or if it would even make sense to my students. But…it was great! Students loved this process–and caught right on. I could hear them telling each other whether a guess was a good one (“…we already know there is not an “s” or “h” in the word…) and the game definitely caught their attention. We played several rounds today…and I remembered to take a photo of the last one.

My social media involvement was put to good use in the classroom today. I love having a new engaging, educational, and no prep game in my back pocket for those few minutes that need filling from time to time. Wordle for first graders–and we don’t even need the internet!

First Days of First Grade

It’s still August, we’re deep into summer and yet school started on Tuesday. Now my days are filled with first graders. I love their unfiltered questions, their earnest effort, and unbridled joy. After a few years of not teaching these young ones, it’s refreshing to be reminded that these learners are eager to make things, to say things, and to play, play, play!

Tuesday was loooooooong. That first day back after summer’s break requires stamina that has dimmed since June. And on the first day of school in first grade, teachers are busy! Just remembering my new schedule took a crazy amount of effort!

But there was also lots of room for fun (which also doubled as formative assessment for me). I braved the paint (on day one!) and students watercolored their self portraits. Collaborative tower building revealed gaps between students who already knew how to work smoothly with others and those who clearly wanted all the control of the build. For some groups, collaboration meant building separately and then looking for ways to combine the small builds into something larger.

Waterlogue 1.4.5 (128) Preset Style = Bold Lightness = Auto-Exposure Size = Large Border = No Border

One of my favorite activities was inspired by author and artist Debbie Ohi. She has a series of illustrations created emerging from broken crayons. As part of our morning message yesterday, I asked each student what they could imagine coming out of a broken crayon. I heard about dragons, strawberries, flamingos and more.

We studied Valerie Worth’s poem, Crayons, noticing her use of the words grubby and stubs. We talked about how crayons work even if they are broken. And each student drew an illustration to accompany the poem.

But the true magic happened when each student selected a crayon, broke it, and created an image emerging from the broken crayon. After drawing, each 6-year old carefully glued their crayon pieces to their creation and carried their art over to a counter to dry. Then it was time to write.

I led with the assumption that they could all write. I reminded them that if they weren’t sure how to spell a word, they should write the sounds they hear when they say it. And they were off. I asked for a sentence about their crayon art. Some stayed safe, writing a simple sentence like, I made a cat. Others included more elaboration and showed confidence as writers. But all successfully used their imaginations and created something wonderful.

After school ended, I typed up their sentences and created a display for parents to browse when they come to school for Back to School Night next week. I hope they enjoy their children’s early first grade work as much as I do!