Last year, my kiddos and I were beginning our organisms unit. We received our first box of plants for the terrariums and the aquariums..... or so we thought it was just plants. When we opened up the box to check the contents, there was a round container that said chameleons. Well being that it was in the box of plants and we do not get chameleons in this kit or any kit that comes to first grade, we assumed that this was a plant. So we left it in the container until Friday. friday was the day that we were going to set up our terrariums. So it is friday, I open up the box and we are all excited to be placing the plants into the terrariums. I open the round container and what should happen, 7 yes 7 little heads started popping up and out jumped lizards, yes lizards. they were running all over the room. I was in a skirt, crawling around trying to get these quick little critters. I have kids screaming and laughing. The lizards are jumping on the kids. What an experience! But this experience produced the most detailed writing, I have ever received. It also broadened my kids choices of writing! They got into looking up lizards on the computer and writing about them. This led to them looking up all sorts of things and writing about them!
Experiencing this first hand definitely deepened their engagement. Also, the fact that they learned what research is and the enjoyment they received when looking up the lizards on the computer to see what kind they were and other facts really deepened their engagement. I think also, I created name badges and gave them special notebooks because they were being researchers/reporters and they needed these tools to create their writing pieces. My excitement deepened their engagement!
We discuss different things they can write about during their writing conferences as well as during our writing block. My writing center is set up with many examples of the different writings as well as a variety of materials for them to use when creating their writing piece. I do not tell them what they need to write. By providing them the choice, they are more apt to write and write meaningful pieces then when they are told to write a particular piece. they need to have ownership over what they are writing.
We must remember that many of our kids do not have a lot of experiences or a lot of background knowledge about many things in the world around them. Many have never left their neighborhoods. This is where we must teach before we expect them to write. They need to experience things before they can write about them. Field trips, assemblies, curriculum unit of study, class visitors, skype, etc are all experiences we can provide so their writing is more meaningful and enjoyable!
So when you read these questions, how do they apply to your classroom? Please feel free to share your thoughts with us! We would love to hear them!