Tapping In and Teaching On

I don't know about you, but I love kicking off a new unit of study!

One of my favorite ways to start a new unit of study is to encourage students to tap into what they already know (accessing their background knowledge).   I mean, we all like to brag about what we know, right? 

There are lots of different ways that you can access background knowledge, of course, but I love making charts as a whole group. Why?  Because they are great for reinforcing listening and speaking skills, and the students enjoy sitting on the carpet and sharing their ideas!

The can/have/are organizer is one of my go to charts.  To kick off our apple unit last month, I made these fun apple shaped have/are charts.  Since apples can't do much, I omitted that category. We had a great brainstorming session as we filled each apple with information specific to the designated category.

Note: you do not have to make a chart shaped like your theme.  Regular chart paper would be just as effective (and, I use it often)!  And, sometimes, I have the students make their own can/have/are organizers using a graphic organizer.

Sometimes, I use a chart and sticky note combo to access students' background knowledge.  When we kicked off our spider unit, I gave each student a sticky note.  I asked them to write one fact about spiders on the post it.  Then, the students read their fact and placed it onto this spider web shaped chart. Again, plain chart paper would work just fine for this purpose...I've used it plenty of times!  This year, I just happen to be feeling a bit more crafty with my charts.  #thistooshallpass #mostlikely #hehe

I digress.  After everyone had placed their sticky note on the chart, I read a book about spiders.  Then, we revisited the chart and removed any misconceptions.  I also removed any facts that were not confirmed in that particular reading. Many of the students shared similar facts (I think at least five kids wrote that spiders have eight legs), and their writing was so small that it was hard to read their notes.  So, I rewrote their facts on sentence strips so that they could be easily seen and reread throughout the unit.

Note: Whenever we are able to confirm one of the unconfirmed facts (blue notes in lower right corner), I write it on a sentence strip and add it to the web.

One last way that I often have my students tap into their knowledge base is by using a KWL chart.  They may not be the most exciting, but I do like how it encourages the students to think about things they would like to know.  This really helps them to buy into a new unit of study because they are interested in having their questions answered.

Sometimes, I kick off a unit by giving my students information, rather than accessing their background knowledge.  When I first learned about this strategy, I was told that it was called a "tea party."  I've always wondered why.  I've been to a tea party. It was nothing like this strategy.  Hehe.  I call it a mingle.  I give each student a strip of paper with a fact printed on it.  I give the students three minutes to mingle about the classroom reading their fact to as many classmates as they can. I recently used this strategy when I kicked off a mini unit about our state.

After the three minutes are up, we come back together and the students share the facts they read and/or learned from their classmates.  Often times, I add these facts to a piece of chart paper.  Yep, plain chart paper.  ;)  The students like to get up and move around and they think it is fun to share their fact with so many friends in a short period of time.

One last way that I like to kick off a unit of study is by using a mystery bag.  My teaching buddy shared this awesome idea with me, and, well, I'm hooked!

To use a mystery bag, simply fill a bag with a few items that hint at what you are going to be learning about.  For example, I did a mini unit on Halloween Safety this week.  To kick this unit off, I placed a trick-or-treat bucket (which meant I needed a big bag), a flashlight, a glow stick, a cell phone (which you don't see because I used it to take the picture), a small Halloween trinket, and some candy into a bag.

I pulled each item out of the bag and let the students guess what we might be learning about.  I had to nudge and guide their thinking a bit, but they knew it had something to do with Halloween and trick-or-treating.  They loved guessing what we would be talking about, that's for sure!  Once I shared that we would be learning about ways to be safe during Halloween, the students participated in a Halloween safety mingle.

There are so many ways to kick of a unit of study, and they don't have to be over the top to hook your students.  Sometimes, all it takes is a simple approach that allows your students to connect with the new content to get them excited about the subsequent lessons in your unit. :)




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Spider Web Art Tutorial

Let's talk spider webs.  I'm not a fan.  Not in real life, that is.  But, artsy webs, that I can do!  Every year, I make these webs with my students, and they are always a huge hit!

I'll admit, I'm not the first do this project, but I have done it for years using different mediums (crayons, oil pastel, colored pencil, etc).  There are many tutorials out there, but I thought I'd add mine to the mix after sharing our projects on Instagram and seeing that other teachers were interested in doing this project in their own classrooms.  :)

This project is so easy to do, and it doesn't take much time.  My second graders completed it from start to finish in less than 40 minutes.  And, the end result is a stunning, cheerful display perfect for the month of October (or to compliment a unit of study on spiders).

Not only is this guided art project lots of fun, but it's a great way to work on visual discrimination skills, as well as listening skills. So, let's take a look at how to get this project done!

Here's what you'll need:
  • card stock (cut into 8x8 inch squares)
  • pencils 
  • Sharpies
  • watercolors and paintbrushes
  • plastic spider rings (optional)
I like to use the 8x8 inch size paper because it works better for the design and it's a more manageable size.  In the past, I have also cut the paper down to 6x6 inches.

Begin by drawing a line through the middle of the top and side (you're making a giant plus sign).

Then, draw a line from corner to corner.

Confession: I find that even I have a hard time drawing a straight enough line from one corner to the other, so I actually show my students how to start at the middle of the "plus sign" and draw a diagonal line to each corner from that center point of the paper.

Now that the support lines are drawn, it's time to add those swooped lines that will transform the design into a spider web!  I model this one section at a time for my students because it is tricky for some of them to make those swooped lines.

I like to point out that the swooped lines in one section should connect to the swooped lines in the next section over.  This helps them to make sure their web is more consistent and recognizable, but trust me, even if they struggle with this, the end result is still great! Notice, mine isn't perfect either.  ;)

Once all the pencil lines are drawn, I give each student a black Sharpie to trace over their original lines.  Then, they erase any pencil lines that are peeking through.

Finally, it is time to paint!  If your students have never used watercolors before, you may want to start with a brief tutorial on how to do that.  Mine are pretty well versed in the watercolor department, so they knew exactly how to use them.  I don't tell them how to paint them, I just let them have at it, and make them colorful.

Once the spider webs are all dry, I place a plastic spider on each web.  Plastic spider rings are super cheap, and are perfect for this.  I cut off the ring part prior to hot gluing the spider in place.

Then, I hang the paintings up so we can enjoy them!



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Integrating Science and Language Arts

One of my favorite ways to cover our social studies and science standards is by integrating them with language arts.  It's such a great (and easy) way to reinforce important reading, writing, and critical thinking skills!

Some topics lend themselves to this more easily than others, of course, but I love being able to sneak in more nonfiction reading and writing when I can.  I tend to integrate my language arts into my allotted science time, and not vice versa (due to curriculum requirements, etc).  We recently began learning about bats which has given the students a chance to learn about something fun and interesting, as well as an opportunity to apply previously learned skills to other learning areas.

So, what does this look like?  Keep reading!

Whenever I can, I have my students practice the skill of taking notes.  Obviously, this looks a bit different in second grade than it does in the upper grades.  When my students take notes, it is a guided process.  I read aloud a portion of a simple nonfiction text and stop periodically.  When I stop, I task the students with writing down something they learned.  More specifically, I stop and ask, "What is something that you learned from the pages that I just read?  Tell your elbow partner."  After they have had a chance to share their ideas with each other, I pull them back in and tell them to write their information down on their paper in the form of a complete sentence.  We need to practice that skill as often as possible in second grade!

Note taking also keeps the students engaged as I read aloud because they are being held accountable for the information being shared with them.

This year, I thought it would be fun for the students to choose their favorite fact from our note taking session and record it in a "giant" bat shaped poster.  I traced the outline of bat onto butcher paper using a bat shaped template that I had on hand. I placed the template under my Elmo and projected it onto the paper.  Easy peasy!

I'm always looking to expose my students to as much nonfiction text as I can.  Nonfiction reading passages are perfect for our short science block (30 minutes)!  I like to use passages that require the students to go back to the text to locate evidence.  They use different colored crayons to locate key information in the text and answer questions using text evidence.

When my students answer the questions, they go back to the text and locate the information that will help them formulate their answer.  They underline the text and write the question number next to it, in case they need to refer back to it as they write their answer.

Here is a better picture of how they code the text to show where they found the helpful information.

By interacting with the text, they are engaged and learning an important skill: go back to the text to find the answer!

Wondering about the fact and opinion paddles shown a few pics up?  Sometimes, after reading a nonfiction passage I give each student a paddle and we practice distinguishing between fact and opinion.  I state facts from the passage and/or opinions about the topic (in this case, bats) and the students use their paddles to show their understanding of my statements.  It's a sneaky way to work on those listening skills too.  ;)

You can grab these free paddle templates by clicking here. To make them double sided, simply glue the "fact" label to one side of a craft stick, and the "opinion" label to the other.

Fact and opinion is a biggie in my classroom.  I think it's important for students to recognize the difference between the two since they are required to write both informative and opinion based writing pieces.  I also think that being able to differentiate between the two is an important critical thinking skill.  So, when I can, I like to have my students interact with this skill, and sorts are always a fun way to do this.

Scholastic News is also a GREAT way to bring in more language arts when covering your social studies and science units.  Sometimes, I like to use my own activities with the various issues, like this Three Truths and a Lie activity.  The students are tasked with writing three factual statements, based on what they read, and one lie (made up fact).  Then, they pair up with their teaching buddy and trade papers where they then read each others statements and figure out which ones are the truth and which one is a lie.  They love trying to trick their friends!

When it comes to writing, I tend to do different things throughout my unit.  That is, I might have the students write a constructed response.  I might have them write a paragraph showcasing everything they've learned, or I may have them write a poem.  In all honesty, it depends on what we are doing in writer's workshop at the time.  I try not to overwhelm my students with too much writing in one day. 

This year, I opted to have my students write a poem.  Cinquains are one of my favorites to use during themed units.  I like that the students have to come up with a variety of words that relate to the topic.  It's a different way for them to showcase their knowledge.

I hung the poems on our outside bulletin board and displayed them with this super duper cute bat craft from the super duper talented A Cupcake for the Teacher.  You need this quick and easy (free!) craft in your life!

You can grab the free poetry template here. :)

Scoot and I Spy (Around the Room) usually make an appearance during my units too.  Not only do the students get a chance to show what they know, but they also get to move around.  In the Scoot game below, students practice identifying parts of speech, and in the I Spy game, the students evaluate the statements printed on each card.  While these specific examples may not be tied directly to a language arts standard, they do require some critical thinking skills as the students evaluate and interact with the text and task presented on each card.   

As with anything, there needs to be balance, so some of the activities I do during a unit might be interactive and hands-on.  I usually find some sort of art project to use, and if I can, I have my students do something that gets them moving around.  For example, this week, we will "act out" echolocation on the playground, and the other day, the kids made this fun mosquito model from Fun in First.

Most of the activities shown in this post can be found here:
Bats {An Integrated Unit}
Nonfiction Close Reads for the Fall Months

You can check out my other integrated units here.  :)

Thanks for stopping by!

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