Practice Skills

Community Helpers and Apples – Planning with Primary

This week I was privileged to spend time in first grade and kindergarten classes.  The enthusiasm and eagerness to learn displayed by these young students was a treat!

First grade was embarking on their unit on communities, beginning with community helpers.  They asked if I could co-teach a lesson introducing these community members which included a writing piece. Whenever someone mentions people who work in a community, the Sesame Street song “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” immediately begins to play in my head.  Is it possible today’s students would be as enraptured by these singing Muppets as my children had been years ago?

We began by labeling a two-column chart Community Helpers and What They Do.  We then played the first video clip of the Muppets singing about the Fireman and the Postman. (See chart below.)

The characters had the same appeal to present day primary students! 

After the video, we looked at our chart.  What community helper was mentioned in the video?  What did we learn that he or she did as a job?  What else do we know about this community helper?  (We were careful to mention that these occupations can be done by both men and women!)  Together, we filled out our chart.  

It was now time to write!  Our notes were that – notes.  We discussed what we needed to add to our notes to make a complete sentence. The students eagerly chose a community helper and a job they performed.  The room was abuzz as students wrote their sentences and then shared them with both adults and other students. 

We repeated the process with another “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” video.

Students were able to glean the information from the video, complete the chart and set off on their writing.  Before we ended the lesson, we gathered to discuss what we had accomplished in our time together. We had asked a question, looked for the answer, taken notes on what we had learned and transferred the notes to writing!  Wow!

The same process - ask a question, look for the answer, take notes on what we learned and transfer the notes to writing – happened in kindergarten.  The five year olds had been observing apples and had created a map together on the attributes of an apple.  Their teacher and I wanted them to write about their findings in an organized manner.  As their science unit was on senses, we chose to blend the two. 

Looking at their attribute map, we posed the question, “How does an apple taste?”  Students discussed the words written on their map and chose the words they felt best described how an apple tastes.  As they chose words, we circled the words in pink and wrote them on the bottom of our chart.  After we finished choosing the taste words, students set off to write.  A sentence starter “An apple tastes ..” was provided for students who needed that structure.  The kindergarteners were happy to share their sentences with us.  We repeated the process asking the question “How does an apple look?”  Students debated if a word could belong to more than one category and if they could add words to their attribute map.  As they began to write a second time, many began to combine more than one attribute in a sentence – “An apple is red and shiny.”  Using a page for each sense, students were writing books on their own, which they could now read and share with one another.

As I left school on Friday, I noticed a stack of red construction paper books in my box.  The kindergarteners had completed their apple books and wanted me to read them.  They had an audience for their writing and were eager to share their knowledge!  What more could we ask of our young writers?




Your One Thing – Lessons from City Slickers

I love the movie City Slickers.   Three middle-aged men, feeling unsatisfied with their life circumstances, decide to go on a cattle-drive themed vacation.  In one scene, Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch, finds himself alone with the crusty old lead cattleman, Curly (Jack Palance.)  Trying to bestow some life advice, Curly initiates the following conversation:

Curly:  Do you know what the secret of life is?  (He then holds up one finger.)

Mitch:  Your finger?

Curly:  One thing.  Just one thing.  You stick to that and the rest doesn’t matter.

Mitch:  But what is the “one thing?”

Curly:  That’s what you have to find out.

I’ve been thinking about this movie the last few days as I’ve been preparing to have a student teacher during second semester.  Her supervising college follows a collaborative teaching model, so we will be sharing the classroom for the next 16 weeks.  Sitting down to plan our first week together, I began to compose a “Things She Needs to Know” list.  As the list grew, the need to prioritize became apparent. What was the one thing that would help her have a successful experience?

After reflecting, I’ve decided that I need to have two classroom“one things”- one for our classroom community and one for academics.  The first “thing” is being kind – me reflecting kindness to my students, students showing kindness to me, and students demonstrating kindness to one another.  Many other positive traits fall under the umbrella of being kind – respect, responsibility, compassion, and empathy. 

What is the “one thing” for our classroom academically?  It would need to be providing time for purposeful practice.  As human beings, we enjoy activities when we are given the skills and time to learn to do these activities well.  Time to purposefully and safely practice skills and concepts is a gift I strive to give my students daily.

I’m curious to learn how my 4th graders will respond to the “One Thing” question.  I will divide the question into three parts – what is your one thing for a classroom, what is your one thing for learning, and what is your one thing at home?  I’ll be sharing their responses with you. We would love to learn your response to Curly’s question about the secret of life (or teaching!)

Happy Writing!

“We live in a web of ideas, a fabric of our own making.” - Joseph Chilton Pearce

“We live in a web of ideas, a fabric of our own making.”  - Joseph Chilton Pearce

Along with teaching writing, Darlene and I share another similar passion – quilting. Writing and quilting are more similar than they might first appear.  Both begin with the end project in mind – whether it be a table runner or a paragraph.  Writing and quilting are made up of many smaller pieces which must be put in just the right place.