Monday, April 15, 2013

Rhyming, Inferring, and Jane Goodall

We are back in the swing of things after spring break. Welcome back, everyone!

PreK 3 and 4: Guiding Question - What forest animals do we know? What are the parts of a story?

For this week's theme, we talked about forest animals and practiced telling stories of our own. We read two books, then I gave each child a card with an animal on it (from 

In pairs, they tried to tell a little story about the animal: Intro (who is it), Problem, Solution. This is an easy version of "Someone, Wanted, But, So, Then". The stories tended to go like this: "This is Joe the squirrel, and he needed nuts, and so...." and then it went on and on and never ended. But hey, it's a start!

The Terrible Plop, by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Andrew Joyner

This is a fun rhyming story about forest animals (including some jungle ones like monkeys) who are running from a terrible "plop" noise. The rabbits hear it first and soon a whole herd of different creatures are fleeing the scene. When they run into big brown bear, he doesn't believe anything could be scary enough to panic about, so he insists seeing what this "terrible plop" is all about. WE know what it is all along; this adds to the fun (dramatic irony!), as does a twist at the end.

Help! A Friendship Story, written and illustrated by Holly Keller

Mouse has heard that snakes are dangerous to mice. He's concerned about his friend, Snake. Hedgehog tells him not to worry, but Mouse worries anyway - so much that he doesn't look where he's going and falls into a hole. How's he going to get out? All of his other forest friends have various reasons why they can't help. Who'll save the day? You guessed it! 

This is fun and makes a good point about friendship (and how to say "thank you" after a good deed). I read Snake's part with a cowboy-style accent - it just seems to suit him.

Kindergarten: Guiding Question - What does "infer" mean? How can it help us understand a story?

Continuing with our "Story Strategies" unit, we learned that we can infer events in a story that the author hasn't explained to us. We gather clues to help us figure out what happened and make an inference, a smart guess, about parts of the story that the author hasn't actually written. This is a sophisticated concept, so we'll continue with this next week, too.

City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon Muth

City Dog meets Country Frog and they play together through spring, summer, and fall. When winter comes, however, frog is not in his usual spot. He's not there when the snow melts, either. Our inference task: What happened to him? 

This is a beautiful story, a testament to the talent of Mo Willems, famous for his hilarious Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie books. Here, the writing is spare and quiet. The illustrations, showing expressions of love, happiness, confusion, and sadness, complement the story perfectly.

Fireflies, written and illustrated by Julie Brickloe

Unlike the previous story, here the author tells us the events of the story but we need to infer the character's feelings. It's an example of "show not tell" writing; the actions and description of the character subtly reveal his emotions.

A boy joyfully captures a jar full of fireflies. When he sets them on his bedside table at home, however, their shining brightness seems to grow dim. He tearfully chooses to let them go, but why is he also smiling? 

Grade 1: Guiding Question - Who is Jane Goodall?

In our biography unit, we learned about Jane Goodall, someone who lives in the present. Talking about her and her early love of nature sparked lots of discussion. We pretended to be mini-researchers by watching some videos of chimpanzees and seeing what we could notice. Thank you, Animal Planet.

Me...Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell

This is a charming story about Jane Goodall's childhood. From an early age, she loved to observe all aspects of the natural world and showed extraordinary patience in her observations.

This book is picture book perfection: font, paper, layout. Cartoony drawings lead us through a slow unfolding of Jane's deep curiosity and love of the natural world. Then, we feel dramatic surprise as we see how her dream of a life in Africa comes true. This gets an extra star for teary final page turn.

The Watcher, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter

A second book about Jane fills in basic details of her adult life: how she first lived in Gombe National Park in Tanzania, what she discovered there, why she left, what her life's mission is now. There's a sense of fun throughout the story: she looks and looks for the chimps when she first arrives but can't see any, but we can see them looking at her. There's also a sense of the urgency of the problem threatening the extinction of chimps and a sense of the peace of mind Jane feels in the jungle.

The colorful graphic illustrations keep the tone light, but the text does not shy away from the drama of Jane's choices: her brave nights alone in the jungle, her difficult decision to leave, her close ties to a chimp who becomes a best friend.

Grade 2: Guiding Question - What are Tall Tales?

We had a treat this week and watched Paul Bunyan tales in DVD format. We have several good collections of tall tales, but none that felt just right for a story time. This does a good job of giving background information about what was happening in US history at the time of Paul Bunyan with clips explained by a cowboy character named "Curly Joe" and then cartoons of some of the outlandish stories told about Paul. 

Grade 3: Guiding Question - What rhyme schemes can we identify

We began a three-session poetry unit this week. The focus is on rhyme and rhythm, culminating in a recording of a poem and explanation of its rhyme scheme and analysis of its rhythm.

Here's the rhyme scheme powerpoint I made to help explain and give students some practice. Afterward, they continued with more independent practice with poems from Knock at a Star, by X. J. Kennedy and Dorothy Kennedy, my hands-down favorite book for teaching poetry.

Students got into the groove of being poetry detectives and enjoyed being able to figure out the pattern the poet used to create the rhyming effect.

Grade 4: Guiding Question - How do products from the rainforest impact the rainforest?

We finished up a mini-project this week in which students learned about rainforest products from a particular country and the impact of one of the products on the rainforest itself. Teachers loved these small rainforest posters for their classrooms during this unit.

This week, the task was to search for the impact of the growing and/or harvesting of the product. We learned that parentheses keep terms together in a search, so we entered our search like this: (rainforest destruction) + bananas, OR (rainforest destruction) + coffee.

Students needed to write one clear sentence about how the presence of that product has some impact on the rainforest. 

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