I gather the kids on the floor by calling them one table at a time and telling them that I am going to get them thinking about trees by taking them on another tree walk around the campus, but this time we are only going to see three different trees.
I ask the kids what they can remember from the tree walk we took in an earlier lesson about trees. I list things they remember like the different color and textures of barks, leaves and flowers.
I ask them if they can remember which kind of bark we saw with which kinds of leaves. This places a "seed" in their minds so when we go for our walk, they will be looking for these things as we visit the three trees.
The rees we will visit on our campus today is:
I have the kids line up at the door for our walk by calling kids by shoe color to line up after I call for the line leaders and the door holder. The "field trip" to the three trees takes about five minutes.
We return from our walk and sit together on the floor. I explain to them how we are going to explore, a little closer, the trees we just went to visit.
Since my school is located in a desert, there have been years when I solicited the assistance of a pen pal in another state to harvest items from commonly found trees such as oak, maple and pine. Living in the desert can have disadvantages when it comes to studying trees.
Another variation to this lesson is to include all of the above and make the book in two different sessions, one for local trees and one for the pen pal trees and use Google Earth to show the kids where the trees are coming from. A virtual field trip can be made on Google Earth and Skyping with with pen pal of another region is an option to bring it altogether.
A few days before this lesson is taught, I gather materials from three different trees found on our school campus and I place them in a gallon size ziploc bag for each student. Each bag will contain bark, leaves and seed pods or flowers from each of the three trees. The seed pods or flowers are dependent on what season the materials are harvested.
The kids are asked to sit at their tables and GENTLY explore the materials in their bags using only their hands and a magnifying glass. They are instructed to have ONLY one item out of the bag at a time.
I set the timer for 10 minutes and let them know that once the timer goes off, we need to immediately return the materials back to the bags and go sit back on the floor.
I ask the kids if they can make connections and match times in the bag to each other by remembering what we experienced on our tree walk. I ask them to think about which bark goes with which leaf.
I roam the room as the kids are exploring and ask pointed questions about the materials in the bag to get them thinking about the colors, textures and objects in the bags and how they relate to the trees we just saw. I ask things like, how does that bark feel? Which tree do you think that bark might have come from?
When the timer goes off I say, "Hands up!" and all hands go in the air. I then say, place your materials back in your bag and put your magnifying glass on the table next to your bag.
I then call each table to the floor one at a time to explain what the next step in the activity is going to be.
Once we are all gathered on the floor, I demonstrate the task for the kids. I take a bag of materials and look at each piece as I think aloud:
I say something like this:
"This piece of bark is very rough. I remember that when we touched the pine tree outside it was very rough and bumpy and it had big 'rivers' in it like these." I run my finger through the veins in the bark.
"I think this bark is the same color as the bark we saw on the pine tree. I think this bark is from the pine tree. I also remember that the pine tree had needles instead of leaves." I reach in the bag and take out the pine needles.
"I think these needles go with this pine bark. I also remember that pine trees have pine cones." I reach in the bag and take out a piece of pine cone. "This small thing looks like it came off of a pine cone. I am going to put these three things together and find my pine tree paper."
If you have a doc cam, it would be very handy to use for this section of the lesson.
Directions and modeling:
I then pick up the pine tree paper and show the kids where it says Pine tree. I stress the P so that the kids who are still struggling with blending sounds in reading can easily access the page on their own. I trace the words Pine tree with my pencil so that they can all see what I am doing.
I read the word "bark" and trace it with my pencil. I then glue a piece of bark above the word "bark". I then read and trace the word leaf. I say, "I know that the pine tree has needles for leaves so I am going to glue these pine needles above the word leaf." I glue the needles on so they can see what I am doing. I then find the word "pine cone" and I read and trace it. I pick up the little piece of pine cone and glue it to the paper.
I move on to the next bark and repeat the steps. It moves along much faster with the second and third tree, bottle brush and ash.
I hang the pages I create so students can use it for support while they complete their work. The goal is to have an understanding that all trees have unique characteristics and that by using these characteristics, we can identify a tree by its parts.
These tree books also serve as a strong reminder of the kids science experiences in kindergarten.
I ask the kids why it might be important to be able to look at things and use what we know to get clues and connect things together.
Some of the answers kids have given include:
This puts the responsibility for learning on them in a fun and engaging way. I have had students come back to see me years later and tell me that they still have their tree books.
I provide the three sheets the kids are going to use for the project by calling one student at a time and handing them the pages to take back to their table. I call them by how they are sitting. The kids sitting appropriately and demonstrating expected kindergarten scientist behaviors. They are reminded to write their name on the name line on each paper as soon as they sit down at their table.
The pages are copied on heavy copy paper or card stock to hold the weight of the tree materials.
Reminder: Each page has a tree name and a place for leaves, flowers or seeds and bark. Each word on each page is typed in dot-line letters so the kids can trace them. If this lesson is taught toward the end of the year, blank lines can be used instead of dot-lines.
The kids get started with their work as soon as they get to their seats. Once everyone is working, I roam the room and assist anyone who gets confused or has questions. I remind them that it is a good idea to ask me to check their work before gluing anything to a paper.
I evaluate the work as I roam the room. It is a very informal evaluation. I just check to make sure the kids correctly matched the items on each page before they begin gluing.
I also ask "How do you know...?" questions like, "How do you know this leaf goes with this bark? Can you tell me why you put them together?" This causes the kids to use evidence to defend the visual argument they've unknowingly presented on their pages.
Once all the kids have the three pages done, I have them leave them on their tables to dry.
I call the kids back to the floor one table at a time to sit like scientists. I close out the lesson by reviewing what we experienced and did throughout the lesson. I use my finished tree book to walk through our exploration.
I collect them at the end of the day and hole punch them so they can be made into a book. During our reading lesson the next morning, I have the kids create covers with title, author/illustrated and Kindergarten Smart Kids as the publishing company.