Common Core Connection
Today I am focusing on 1LS1-1 and combining opinion writing. This lesson is basically a culminating lesson to a unit on how plants use their external features to survive. We specifically have studied thorns and resin. So, students are going to analyze their data that they have collected in their science journal throughout this unit. I also kept the plants and their posters, so the students can use them to reflect upon the plants features that help them survive. I do find that by using writing as a culminating activity I can engage the class in a reflective experience where I can assess their understanding, but the students can also reflect upon what they really got from this entire unit.
There are a few things that I keep consistent through ever lesson, and these are just a few things that I believe really help my students persevere through such a complex lesson. Every lesson the class begins in the lounge, we move to the middle of the room for the majority of the lesson, and last we evaluate each others work in the evaluation section of the lesson. The center of the room is set up in groups of four, and the students work with their peanut butter jelly partner throughout every lesson.
In the beginning of the lesson I assess my students knowledge and get them exited. Then we engage in data analysis, creating an opinion piece, and presenting the students opinion paragraph. This paragraph does need to have evidence that we have learned in this unit. So, there should be at least three reasons that the students use to say why either thorns or resin are the best defense to enable plant survival. I do provide the highlighted text from both previous lessons.
Now is the time to get the class excited about learning, and I usually do this using technology. So, I project the lesson image on the Smart Board. Next, I assess the students prior knowledge by asking, "Will you please tell your peanut butter jelly partner what plant feature really helps them survive the best? Your choices are thorns or resin." When I watch and listen to the students I can assess their current knowledge level. This helps me determine how much support I am going to need to give my students as they try to defend their opinion in the lesson. I then allow the students to share their opinion to encourage discourse, and teach them to share ideas. Discourse is also a great way to teach students to bounce ideas off each other. After one child shares I ask others, "Will anyone add to that? Begin your sentence with I can add to that." This is just one way of teaching students to communicate and develop their speaking skills.
The last thing to do in this section is to share with the students what we are going to do in the lesson. Students really become at ease when they know what the plan is for the lesson. So, I share the plan and ask the students to chant the lesson goal, "I can create an argument about plant defenses and support it with evidence." Chanting the goal helps students remember what is expected in the lesson.
Now we explore all of our notes from the previous lessons to allow the students to reflect upon which plant defense is the best, and why. I ask, "Will you please get out your science journal and look at your notes on thorns and resin? Read your notes and decide which one you think is a better defense. Write either thorns or resin on today's page in your science journal." Then I walk around and make sure each child can read their notes, and if they can't I read them to them.
Then I read the two text we reflected on in the lessons that included the thorns and resin. Each child has their copy, because I saved them. So, the important parts are already highlighted from the other lessons. This helps the students find information easier. Then I say, "Now I want you to list three reasons that you think thorns or resin are the best in your science notebook." I walk around and make sure each child is recording notes. If I see a student struggling I just say something like, "Why does this text say thorns or resin is best?" You may find my video on complex tasks helpful.
At this point the students are going to engage in scientific discourse which is going to help them develop their content knowledge, and learn to build upon the ideas of their peers. This is the time when the students who are not sure about the answers get an explanation from their peers which seems to be more meaningful than if I tell them facts.
So, I ask, "Who wants to share what they think is the best defense for plants?" I expect somebody to say something like, "Resin is the best." Then I say, "Can anyone add to that?" Hopefully somebody else will say, "I agree, because it is sticky." This is when they build upon each other's ideas. I also prompt them with, "Did anyone find anything different they want to share?" Maybe another child will say, "Plants like Cedar trees have resin and their odor repels insects." Another great question to really get the students using evidence if they don't use it is to ask, "What is your evidence that supports your opinion?"
I do find that all this discourse is very challenging to create in a class. It take a lot of modeling of what I expect the students to say, and restating their ideas in complete thoughts. I typically engage in this process at least once everyday. It is now the first of December and my students are really getting the courage to talk, but it takes a lot of practice to get first graders to communicate about science. I believe perseverance and practice are the two main strategies that help students learn to engage is effective scientific discourse.
Now I show the class an opinion paragraph I wrote about a similar issue. I explain how I break apart the prompt to create a topic sentence that really states my opinion about plants' external features. Then I read each point that I make, and the closing. I say, "The closing really just restates the topic sentence in a different way." First graders need a model before they write.
Next, I explain, "You are going to take your notes from the explore section where you made points about why thorns or resin is the best and you will write them out in sentence form. So, you will have your topic sentence, three details or points, and a closing." You are writing in your science journal. Then I walk around and help students get started. Keep in mind this is December, so students have participated in several other opinion paragraphs prior to this lesson. I find myself asking students, "Which is best, thorns or resin?" Then I just help them put that into a sentence. I remind the class they can find the spelling for most words in their documents we read, or their notes. But, I have some really particular kids that will sit and not write, because they are struggling with spelling. Even though I say, "Just sound it out. It does not have to be perfect if it is a word you don't know how to spell." So, I just write words on the board as I see they need to know how to spell them.
The end of the lesson is back in the lounge where we are all close together and ready to share opinions, and the students listening need to give peer evaluation. I select two or three students to share: presentation their opinion paragraph, and I do have a rotating chart where I check off who has presented, so I know that each child gets the same amount of turns sharing.
Then I use some positive behavior support to get the students to sit and listen, because this can be a challenge for younger students. We chant, "Criss cross apple sauce pockets on the floor. Hands in your laps talking no more." Then I remind the students, "This is your argument that is supported by the evidence we have learned in this unit. I hope you really reflect and think about each students opinion, and think about if it is supported by evidence we have learned."
When I look at my assessment for this lesson I use a rubric. It's simple and has a place to put a check or minus under each standard I am addressing. There is a column for 1-LS1-1, W1.1 Common Core Standard Opinion Writing, and 1LS1.1 Common Core Standard Speaking and Listening. For 1-LS1-1 I am looking to see that there are three pieces of evidence we learned in this unit in the paragraph, and for W1.1 I want to see a specific opinion statement. When I think about speaking and listening I just want students to speak loud enough to be heard and communicate their opinion with confidence. I use the assessment information to see who needs more practice in each area, and I can plan specific small group instruction to help meet my students' individual needs.