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. :)