Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Snow Kids, Guided Writing, and a Few Lessons Learned

When you live in Alabama, whenever you see the teeniest, tiniest little snowflake--it's kind of a BIG DEAL.  For real.  ONE snowflake, and people are like, "Stop the world."  So if there is EVER any chance of the stuff, I get my tail to that grocery store to stock up on ALL the milk and bread in the world.  That is, if there's any left by the time I get there--but I believe I could live just fine off of cookies and coffee and that is all.  Anyone with me?  ANYWAY....flashback to a few weeks ago, when we woke up to a blanket of thick snow, and the flakes were still coming down hard.  Hands down, one of the most amazing snow days I have experienced here!  It was magical and surprising, and it was something my own kids took full advantage of, even though they had NO snow boots or snow suits.  Because of the whole "not prepared for this kind of weather clothing deal"-- they ended up changing out of wet clothes about a million times.  But they didn't care, and I didn't care, because...SNOW!!!!

Check this out.  Emma's jacket is two sizes too small--but we hadn't bought her a winter coat yet this year, so thankfully we had a jacket from our ski trip a few years ago to get her through! Bless.  Yes, Greyson is wearing fuzzy PJ pants.  It was the warmest he had.  I mean, gracious.  Luckily his coat fit.  Praise the Lord for an elf who had the idea to leave some gloves and earmuffs for these Southern children! 

Usually at this time of year, when I teach a science unit about snow, or read snow books, or we do snow themed writing, it can difficult to get kids to relate--because in their 6 or 7 years--living here in the South--they haven't had much experience with snow.

This year, all of that is very different.  Because of that one magical snow day, the kids are more engaged and curious and able to contribute ideas during our snow and winter unit than I have seen in other years when we didn't get snow at all.  I think it just proves that personal life experiences are integral in building interest and creating background knowledge for learning.

Today we did  a precious directed drawing with a cute snow kid.  Then we wrote about our magical snow day from a few weeks ago.  Truth be told, when the kids first got started, they struggled with details.  It was a lot of... "One day, it snowed.  I was happy.  I made a snowman."  I mean.  I know these kids woke up and were about to burst like a confetti cannon from excitement.  They probably did little happy dances.  Some probably laughed and clapped, and grinned from ear to ear.  I know it, because I did almost ALL those things, and I'm old, so....

I had to stop them where they were.  I said, "Guys, let's think back to our snow day.  Let's try to relive that day a little.  Starting with when you woke up.  Can you describe exactly what your eyes saw?"  So we walked through trying to "paint a picture with our words".   I explained that the words we use have the power to paint pictures inside a reader's head.  Sometimes in reading, I like to call their mental pictures their "Brain TV".   After sharing a few examples with them, we practiced sharing  descriptive words and figurative language to tell about the snow.  Some kids said it looked like vanilla ice cream all over the ground.  One said it looked like a white paintbrush had painted the ground and trees.  UM, that's what I'm talking about!  YES!

After they focused on writing only what their eyes saw, we worked on explaining how they felt.  (In case you didn't know, according to first graders, there are only three emotions--happy, sad, mad.  Ha!  But really...anyone else see this besides me?)  So we had to talk about what they truly had going on those heads when they woke up to see all of this magical, glorious snow.  One friend shared that he felt all of this blood rushing around--that he was so excited he felt he just HAD to get out in the snow right then!  Another one said she was so surprised and couldn't believe her eyes.  And another friend just wanted to stare at it.  She felt calm.

Finally, I guided them to explain the adventures they had in the snow.  We shared out the different things they did, and I explained that even the littlest details in writing make it more interesting to read.  I loved that instead of seeing, "I made a snowman"--a friend revised his work to say, "I worked with my brother to roll snowballs for a snowman.  We gave him a warm scarf and a blackberry nose."  So. Much. Better.

(Our directed drawing is inspired from johnpost.us)

So, I learned a few things today as a teacher.

1.  Personal, real life experiences make learning about certain subjects more accessible for students.
2.  Guiding writing with a explicit examples can make all the difference in the details and effort they put into their writing.
3.  Break down writing projects--focus on ONE thing at a time. Even if it takes a few days to complete.  Ideally, this writing piece would have taken three days.  I couldn't wait.  So we did it all today, because I HAD to see the finished products.  Mean old Mrs. Cooley.  Hands were hurting a little today from all that writing.
4.  Teaching writing makes me tired.  But it's rewarding to see results.
5.  Coffee and cookies are always necessary and always yummy--whether they are for a snow day, or used just as a reward for getting through the writing lesson that day.  :)

Can someone please invent time travel and take me back to this day?  Nothing better than a Snow Day.


Southern Ladye said...

I totally agree with you on the personal experiences! I live in Mississippi, so like you, we don't see a lot of snow. When I saw that we had a chance of snow, I started talking to my kiddos about it. We read books about the snow. We looked at places that get a lot of snow. BUT they still couldn't relate to it. Then when is snowed and we came back, OH YEAH, we could totally relate to what we had been reading and discussing. The funniest thing ever was that before the snow, when I had the kids draw pictures, the snow was a rainbow of colors. When they returned and looked at their pictures, they were like, "Um, yeah, no, that's not right". Personal experiences matter!

Unknown said...

I love this post <3 . I do love the excitement that you southerners have when the snow comes! I'm glad it did so you could share this wonderful project with us!!

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