As we walk in from lunch, I say, “Girls and boys, you have colored graphs before. You have worked with graphs and done really well. Today, you are going to build a graph! Your very own graph!” I declare.
“A candy graph?” one of my turkeys asks.
“Well, not with candy, although that would be very cool,” I concede. “We are using cool math materials—color squares!—to put on our graphs that we will create and then work to compare numbers.”
“Shall we practice building a graph together?!”
“Yes!” students proclaim, enthusiastically.
I use the trusty document camera to project my page on “the big screen.” It would have been fairly easy to use a Promethean flip chart to practice, but my students need practice with the actual materials they will be using when they work independently. (With other groups, though, I would totally go with the Promethean graph!)
We talk about the color words, “Red, yellow, green, and blue,” and I quickly draw a line under each color word as it appears on my graph. This will serve as reference for the students when they work independently.
“Okay, so after you get a bunch of squares, what do you do?!” I ask.
“You sort them!” students respond. I pick on a kid to sort the handful of squares, and surprisingly, the student sets them in rows on the graph! (I was honestly expecting 4 piles, but we’ve been working with graphing for a while, and making piles is so… beginning of the year!)
As my buddy is working away at the document camera, I narrate. “Notice she’s starting on the left and placing the squares in each spot,” I say.
One of my turkeys starts singing our “Addition Number Line Shuffle” song when we mention left to right, but I just smile and continue on. We are a joyful, goofy group here!
I thank my friend who set out the color tiles on the graph, and I ask what happens next. Students tell me to mark the squares to color in. We talk about how it’s a good idea to match the colors of our crayons with the colors of the squares. I throw in my big math vocabulary, explaining that it’s “accurate representation” of what we are graphing.
At this point, I interject, “Why do we make graphs?!”
Students respond, “To show information!”
Now, I could have started the lesson with why we build graphs, and back in the day, that’s exactly what I would’ve done. We were told a few years back that we had to clearly state the lesson objective, have students repeat or rephrase it, and then provide a purpose for the lesson. I tried that for a while—I did. But it seemed kind of “stiff” for me, so I have practiced sneaking in important information early in a lesson, but keeping natural energy and “flow.” It doesn’t always work, but I try!
“Absolutely, smart friends!” I declare. “And again, we must be accurate in our graphing, showing only the squares that we actually have. How do I know exactly which squares to color?” I ask.
This time, I pick on a friend who seems a little less engaged the overall group. It’s not nice, but I like to keep the turkeys on their toes, or at least, keep their focus on the lesson!
“Umm… you put those little marks where the stuff is?” the student guesses.
“Are you asking or telling?” I state, in my most serious tone, but with a big old smile.
“Telling. You put little marks where the stuff is,” the student repeats with a little more confidence.
“Yes! You said it!” I declare before calling on a wiggly friend to demonstrate.
I like to involve everyone in our guided practice, particularly when it’s a whole group demonstration, but I can’t lie. I get nervous sometimes, because it is definitely safer to call on the kids that you know “know it,” but to be honest, making everyone part of the learning process builds community and accountability. There is also something to be said for developing the skill of correcting students without making them feel “wrong”—particularly when they’re in front of other kiddos.
I try to hide the fact that I am holding my breath as my little buddy slides the color tiles up on the graph and makes little marks in the squares that tiles occupied. Holy frijoles! She marks the squares perfectly! Woo hoo! Life is good! I want to yell, but I know composure is good when standing in front of a group of learners, so I smile and give her a genuine, heartfelt compliment on her careful sliding and marking.
“What next?” I ask.
I pick another student who doesn’t have her hand raised, although this lesson is getting momentum, and it’s honestly hard to find an unfocused kid right now. If only this could last forever… She responds with confidence, “Color over the little marks!”
I get the kiddos to provide specific details while a student is at the document camera actually coloring squares on the graph. They provide details like color carefully—only on the squares with the little marks—and color carefully. I press on, “Why???”
The students respond that the graph has to show information, and we can’t scribble all over. This is really too good to be true, I will soon find out, but for the moment, life is sweet.
We go over writing the numeral at the bottom to match the number of squares colored, and we even discuss how we will mark most and least (or fewest) at the bottom as we interpret our graph.
The kiddos get excused to their tables, one group at a time to avoid kindergarten chaos, and our helper of the day passes out graphs with me.
A note on the color squares: (They’re 1” X 1” plastic tiles that seem to be standard in most math kits. 1” X 1” pieces of construction paper would also workd.) I tried, very carefully, to make each student’s set of squares uniquely different from others at his or her table. I tried to have one clear color with “more” and one clearly fewer color, with each student’s group uniquely different from other students’ color combinations. I am not sure my efforts were either effective or worthwhile, to be honest, but I will explain more later.
As students are building their own graphs, most students are doing remarkably well! Ah, but we have a new kid, whose old class apparently never worked with graphs. (The Common Core lunatic part of me says “Kudos!” to his old teacher. Graphing is not really a big part of Common Core Kindergarten, even though it’s traditional kinder curriculum. It’s a nice visual way to compare numbers, I will admit, but I’m happy to keep graphing as a “back burner” activity, for the most part.)
While I am walking through each step of the graph building process with the new kid, who is working so hard and seeming to catch on pretty quickly, some of my turkeys at a table that usually gets a good part of my attention are building graphs without marking the squares, and Oh. My. Goodness! They have combined color squares and are totally confused with their materials. So much for my careful planning. It’s a minor color square catastrophe! (I photographed my instructional failure for everyone to enjoy.)
As I’m trying to help my very well intentioned but clearly confused turkeys, the new kid needs assistance again. Friends at another table are finishing up and wanting to share their work, and I am feeling the need to split myself in thirds. Ugh.
“Remember friends, math and science, (and other subject areas you will study) have to do with being precise,” I remind the class. “We must make those little marks and then only color the squares with the little marks so that we can manage our information. Graphs that don’t show accurate information are not useful at all, so it is very important to keep track of your materials, only color where you have a color square, and do your best to be precise,” I try to say without nagging or bringing attention to the kiddos who have made a mess of their materials.
I assign a “junior teacher” to help the new kid, but I remind the “junior teacher” that her hands must stay empty—the new kid is moving the squares and making all marks on the paper. If I am not very clear about her limitations, my little “junior teacher” will complete the new kid’s graph for him.
I go back to our confused friends to help as much as possible, but in the excitement of our lesson gone slightly astray, time has been wasted, and we need to wrap up. Most students are finished or finishing at this point, but the end of our lesson will be shortened, I realize.
It’s fun to have students display their graphs on “the big screen” at the end of the lesson, and we discuss things like how the graphs are colored and which colors have more and less (or fewer). We also discuss rows that are the same, and I point out beautifully written numbers or carefully colored bars.
I ask how the lesson was, and even though some kids were very confused with their materials, they all say the lesson was “good.” Oh, kindergarten! They are so funny!
When I ask about their favorite part of the graphs, they come up with some funny “favorites.” They like the colors or they like the squares. My super competitive buddy notices that he has more yellow than other kids at his table. Heck, they’re comparing numbers and using data!