In this part of the lesson, I ask students to think (silently, for at least 3 minutes - I time it) about an experience they have had with heavy rains and/or flash floods. This activity will work with any seasonal weather hazard, major or minor, that students have experienced.
After the initial think time, I ask them to be prepared to answer:
I ask them these questions for several reasons. First of all, I want them to engage with this topic on a personal level. Secondly, I want them to practice describing a weather hazard event in a manner which includes as many specific, objective details as possible (where, when, observations, who was w/them). Finally, I want them to develop the habit of pushing their own thinking further, always. This is addressed with the prompt for them to think about why the flood happened.
I either have them share out to the entire class or put them into an inside-outside line and go through at least 4 or 5 switches. The richness of their verbal discussions helps them develop English proficiency and skills that translate to writing. I encourage and prompt for specific language and complete sentences.
After they have shared, I remind them that our ultimate goal is to plan some strategies for dealing with a local weather hazard (flash floods on divided highways). Prior to designing our plan, we need to make some more observations of flooding and heavy rains in our area.
This is an exploration activity that takes place on a day during which we are experiencing weather that is related to our local weather hazard. In our case, I take them out into the rain during the late summer “monsoon” season.
In August and September I’m always prepared for this opportunity because in the desert, you can’t take rain for granted! I have blankets in my room because the children sometimes feel a little chilled when they re-enter the air-conditioned classroom. Few of them have jackets and I almost never see a child with a raincoat because our seasonal rains occur during the hottest time of the year. Therefore, it’s quite comfortable for us when we are walking around outside in our beautiful desert.
As we walk slowly around the school grounds in the rain, I stop them often and remind them to not just look but to listen, smell, feel the weather on their skin, and taste the rain. My primary role is listen to their conversations and encourage specificity. (My secondary role is making certain that we don’t disrupt the other students trapped indoors and to also ensure that I don’t have any puddle jumpers or water spout divers. I wouldn’t mind, but I suspect that their parents/guardians would!)
For example, if a child says, "The water is crashing off the roof like schploooosh!" I compliment their onomatopoeia and then challenge the class to come up with specifics. Do they think that a gallon of water was pouring down the spout in a minute? Two gallons? Ten? Does it look like enough water to fill a bucket, a bathtub, or a small pool!
If another child excitedly says, "That puddle is so, so, SO deep!" I ask them to estimate how high it might rise to on their leg. Unfortunately, none of my students have rain boots, so I can’t let anyone test it puddle depth. Every year I’m quite tempted to go in myself, but that would make the children suffer from puddle jealousy! As I have them estimate the depth of puddles, I might also guide their conversations towards theories about why they are deeper/wider in some locations. This will be related to flash floods. If I were taking children on a walk on the snowy day, the same question could be asked about where the snow is the heaviest and/or deepest, and later a connection could be made to road closures and power outages due to ice and snow laden branches crashing down on power poles.
When we come back in from our rainy walk I lead them through a guided descriptive paragraph about what what we've experienced outdoors. I reiterate something I've talked to them about before - the difference between subjective and objective observations. I explain that in this paragraph we will use both because we want our writing to be informative, accurate, and interesting and full of voice.
This is Our Rainy Day Walk class writing sample. It is an example of the type of paragraph I guide students through. When they write independently I give them tremendous freedom but occasionally when we write together I take a very active role in shaping their phrases, sentences, and observations into more fluent form because I think it's good for them to observe, numerous times, how this is done. So the ideas here are theirs and we discussed it but I took a very active role in the writing process, thinking aloud as I helped them reshape their ideas into new sentences.
This activity prepares them to use details when they write about the weather they observe from their car, school bus, their home, a walk around the neighborhood, or, in even on a hike in a local canyon! Learning to be specific and detailed is a critical speaking and writing skill that transfers across all subject areas.
I remind students that they will be thinking in specific, descriptive terms when they observe our seasonal weather hazard (flash floods) outside of school. While I encourage families, if possible, to take their children for a walk in a local canyon, this is a definite extra credit assignment. It takes at least 4 hours, so if child does go hiking at (Sabino) Canyon then they do not have any other homework for the next 4 days. It's my way of thanking the parents and acknowledging the time they took.
I let students know that these observations of weather related to flash floods can be done anywhere, at any time. For example, they make observations while riding in a car!
Students collected videos, photos, and notes as they went out to explore the rainy season. They brought back everything from clips of driving through puddles on the bus (on their little phones) to making presentations about hikes they took in a local canyon with their families.