Monday, January 18, 2016

Back to First Grade: Penguins and Polar Bears and Reindeer, Oh My!

It's been two weeks since returning from winter break, and I think I've maybe, a little bit, almost recovered from my post-break blues. I traveled back to the States to spend the holidays with my family, and I always find myself in a bit of a funk when I come back to Japan after some time at home. Homesickness rears its ugly head I suppose. I had a particularly exciting trip because I did quite a bit of wedding planning thanks to my family and my soon-to-be in-laws... and I unexpectedly found my wedding dress! Although Kevin and I aren't getting married until summer 2017, I couldn't resist trying on some dresses with my mom and sister. I thought it would just be a fun day out for us and I'd really go for the hunt this summer. Naive, right?! We visited just one shop, Carlisle's of Pittsburgh, and I fell in love. Oh how I wish I could post a photo here... But the most I'll say is, it was inspired by this photo...

I was never the girl that dreamt of her fantasy wedding, but let's just say that once I got swept into planning mode, my inner, suppressed girly- girl combined with my love of organization and attention to detail, and I got caught up in the excitement. Is it summer 2017 yet?!

After finding a wedding dress, selecting the perfect church, browsing potential venues, and getting a tentative "yes" from my favorite Pittsburgh- based band to play at our reception (not to mention 24 hours of travel each way), I had a tough time coming back to reality once school stared again. Fortunately, all that travel time gave me a opportunity to create some fun materials for a mini penguin unit to kick off the new year.

Thank goodness I had some plans ready to go, because my first week was consumed with kids coming and going from my class. My school is part of a military community, which means that the flow of kids in and out is kind of like a revolving door. Within 10 school days, I lost 3 kiddos and gained another three. It's amazing to see the flexibility that these children develop due to this lifestyle! Having lived in the same neighborhood my whole life until I went to college, I can't really identify with the constant state of flux experienced by these children. They come to my classroom with such varied experiences and background knowledge. They've all been through the process of moving, starting new schools, finding new friends- and many of them have gone through it multiple times, at only six years old. As heartbreaking as the goodbyes can be, it's just as heartwarming to see the open arms with which my kiddos welcome new children into our little classroom community. They all get it. Friends come and go when you're a military child. You've got to embrace and appreciate them while you have the chance.

So, given the significant changes to my class during the first week after break, things were a little chaotic for a few days. That didn't stop me from launching into my mini penguin unit, and the kids absolutely loved it! It blew their minds to learn that penguins do not, in fact, live in the North Pole, and that they're only found in the Southern Hemisphere. One student refused to accept that penguins and polar bears don't live in the same place- he was convinced that polar bears love to eat penguins! One thing I love about first graders- the sense of conviction they feel when they are convinced they are right about something. 

We kicked off the penguin- filled fun with New Years resolutions- aka "penguin pledges." They came up with all kinds of interesting goals, ranging from "I want to learn Hindi because my parents speak it" to "I will eat Mandarin oranges" (love how specific he was with that one). My favorite:

"I will do more than 100 pooshups!" Love the sound spelling here!

Our Readers' Workshop focus for the week was comparing and contrasting, so I checked out a few nonfiction books about penguins and other polar animals for our mini lessons. We had already leaned about owls earlier in the year, so I pulled it this anchor chart we had made, and led a discussion about penguins vs. owls:

Then along came polar bears... 

And Venn diagrams to match!

I've got Venn diagrams for penguins/ owls and penguins/ polar bears (with facts to match) in my Penguin Science Activities product available here on TPT. We haven't gotten around to the mini research report available in that pack, too, but that's on the schedule for next week!

We also read about reindeer and narwhals, and although we didn't do any Venn diagrams, students compared and contrasted the animals in their reading journals. To be honest, I didn't know much about narwhals before planning a lesson on them. One kiddo said, "Oh, they're like unicorns, because they have that horn on their heads!"

Another great first grade quote during this unit: "Polar bears don't need to live in groups. They're at the top of the food court!" You never know what will come out if the mouths of first graders!

I planned to introduce adjectives last week, so I put together a noun/ verb/ adjective sort with a penguin theme. I always struggle with finding ways to make grammar fun, so I was relieved to find that they absolutely loved this! I introduced adjectives as a mini- lesson and had the kids brainstorm words to describe penguins; they came up with a great assortment of ideas:

(Forgive the funky- looking penguin. This is what happens when you realize you've got 2 minutes left in your lunch period and you forgot to make your chart.)

After the mini-lesson, we did the center activity together as a class, and I put it in the grammar center the next day. There are nouns, verbs, and adjectives written on on fish, and the kids sort them into the correct buckets based on the parts of speech! For the first few days I just put out the nouns and verbs as a review , and added adjectives later. They also got a kick out of writing silly sentences as an extension activity- they chose one word from each bucket and used them to put together crazy sentences. 

You can find this sort here! Next week I'm introducing contractions with another penguin-themed contraction activity available here... I hope it'll be as big a hit as the noun/ verb/ adjective activity! Here's a preview... Gotta get caught up on my laminating...

Besides the grammar center, I also set up some penguin activities at the writing center. 

To be honest, my kids didn't take these prompts and run with them at first the way I was hoping they would. They turned in some really sloppy, incomplete pieces on the first day! We had a BIG talk about expectations for the writing center, reviewed examples vs. non- examples using the document camera, and placed models at the writing center for reference. It made a major difference. The following is a piece that a student wrote the next day- we reviewed it during "author's chair" and displayed it at the center as a model. She was so proud of herself! It totally paid off, too. The next day, another girl brought her writing to me after centers and asked if she could share it with the class. We put it up on the SmartBoard and discussed why it was a great example. She beamed when I asked if I could display it at the center. She's not normally a motivated writer, so I loved to see her have an opportunity to take such pride in her work. I need to start doing this with their work more often! (Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the 2nd child's work, but here's the first example we discussed)

We've been reading the Tacky the Penguin books by Helen Lester, so the second prompt is, "Write 3 things you would do with Tacky the Penguin if you got to spend a day with him. Illustrate your sentences." Her first idea was so great- "I would play origami with him on the bus." It was original compared to some of the other ideas! These prompts and more are available with a cute penguin craft here.  The Tacky prompt is also available with "Write Your Own Tacky the Penguin Story with Craft" (see more on that below!).

My awesome first grade teammate had her kiddos respond to the Tacky prompt, too, and they wrote this model together before going off to write:

Speaking of Tacky the Penguin, I'm obsessed with the series by Helen Lester! The books are always a huge hit with my first graders. Hawaiian shirts, silly songs, and tender messages about accepting the "odd birds" among us- what's not to love?! If you're unfamiliar with the stories, check out the original on YouTube here. I guarantee you'll fall for Tacky in no time:) My kiddos haven't made the penguin craft yet because I'm planning to have them write their own Tacky the Penguin adventures next week for our bulletin board. It's looking bare at the moment...

... But we'll be making these cuties soon!

They'll be displayed along with the kids' Tacky stories... More pictures of those in my next post!

You can snag the graphic organizers for the Tacky story (there are several options in the file, if you're not crazy about this one), writing paper, and craft template here: Write Your Own "Tacky the Penguin" Story with Craft.

I can't wait to see how they turn out! I'd planned on doing the stories last week, but it took awhile for our class to get back into routines- I think the kids were experiencing some "post- break blues" of their own. Hopefully my board will warrant this reaction...

I'll post the results next week, and in the meantime, I'm also gearing up for our upcoming earth materials unit! I've really been putting the laminator to the test lately between my penguin activities and the "All About Rocks" materials I've been prepping:

You can snag the whole unit here or grab the freebie rock sort here. I'll be posting lots of details about that unit after I implement it next month, so stay tuned by following my blog or my Instagram account (@littleowlsteachertreats) for alerts on updates! Thanks for stopping by!

February in First Grade

Well folks, it's a brand new month. That means my entire store is 10% off for the first three days and you can snag my latest First of t...