Turning a Non-productive Day to a Productive Day

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SWBAT work together to group shells in agreed upon categories based on criteria they discussed in their group.

Big Idea

In this lesson your students work collaboratively to develop ideas and knowledge.


In all my years of teaching when we come to the story Moving Day, by Robert Kalan from Houghton Mifflin Reading Theme 5: Home Sweet Home, my students are so enamored with the shells in the story that we have to stop just to talk about and explore shells. (I was always afraid my principal would walk in and see us “playing”, and then I would have some explaining to do- oops)  I thought I would take advantage of the CCRA.SL1: to prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaboration with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. Instead of looking at this as a “wasted day” I used this lesson to help my students learn to talk and listen in a partially unsupervised small group situation by helping them create rules for the group.

Common Core Connection:

Today instead of letting my students ‘play’ with a collection of shells, I helped facilitate their learning and understanding of SL.1: Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and large groups.  To do this I helped my students establish some ‘rules’ for listening and speaking in a group.

My students also explored CCRA.R.1: read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Lesson Overview:

In this pre-lesson I introduced the fact that many types of animals live in shells.  My students then had the opportunity to develop speaking and listening ‘rules’ before they explored and categorize shells.


  • What Lives in a Shell, by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfield
  • Xeroxed copies of Seashells by the Seashore, by Marianne Berkes and Robert Noreikea, one per student pair, not included
  • Shells Powerpoint(teacher created) optional
  • Large collection of seashells


5 minutes

To begin this first lesson I asked my students what they knew about shells.  I got the answers I expected, they live in the ocean and they are pretty.  I was also not surprised by my students reactions when I asked them what type of animals live in shells.  Nearly all of them thought the shells were all there were and a few knew clams lived in them- but not 100% sure what a clam was.  One child knew pearls came from shells.  After hearing all their replies and comments about shells, I told my students that this week we were going to read about a hermit crab, but first we were going to explore different types of sea shells by exploring their shape and texture to categorize them into groups.

Guided Practice

15 minutes

I then showed my students the front cover of What Lives in a Shell, and instructed them to look at the pictures and listen to what lives in shells.  After reading I again asked my students what types of animals live in shells?  This time they were able to tell me that snails, turtles, crabs, and clams live in shells.  I brought their attention back to seashells by congratulating them on their good listening skills and that I had a few pictures of seashells I wanted to show them.

At this point I had my students move from their rug seating area to their desks where I showed my students a short Shells Power Point of sea animals that live in shells.  Part of the CCRA range and content for student speaking and listening is to give students ample opportunities to take part in discussions through group and partner sharing.  To promote this range, as I showed the power point, I gave my students time to partner share about the type of animal that lived in the shell. Reminding them of the ‘rules’ for partner sharing, which in my class include:

  • The student who sits on the same side of the desk as the ‘Helper of the Day’ is Partner One
  • After Partner One shares, Partner Two must confirm what Partner One shared and share something else
  • When finished both partners look at me with their hands folded on their desks.

 To check their participation, after each slide I used the magic cup (Demonstration: Magic Cup) to call on one or two students to share with the class what he/she and his/her partner told each other about the animal on the slide.  And I know, bad teacher, I did point out that a mollusk is related to a snail- instead of letting my students figure it out on their own.

To further peak their interest (and for more fun than not) after showing the power point, I showed my students a few my favorites from my personal collection of shells, Sharing Shells.  As I passed the shells out for my students to see, I encouraged them to notice the shape, texture, weight, and even smell them. Once finished sharing my shells, I explained next they would be doing two things.  First they would partner read a story about shells, they would have the opportunity to explore and categorize some shells with their leveled reading groups. 

Collaborative Activity

20 minutes

To begin this activity I had my students’ pair up with a student from a different leveled reading group as they.  I did this so that the reading pairs would be mixed levels, with one student from a higher group, who could help the other student if needed.  I worked with my most beginning reading group.  Once paired up I gave each student pair a copy of Seashells by the Seashore, and explained they were to take turns reading the story.  I further explained when they were finished reading they would be able to explore my collection of shells.

Once finished reading, I wanted my students to have the opportunity to work within a small group to categorize the shells and place them in groups based on their agreed upon criteria.

I instructed them that each reading group would have the opportunity to further explore the shells and divide them into groups by color, shape, size, or any way they could put them in groups, I did encourage my students to use the descriptive words from the book as part of their criteria.    However, first they had to had some agreed upon speaking and listening rules.  To help them get started on some rules I reminded them of our ‘rules’ for who shares first during partner sharing, pointing out that these rules work for partner sharing where there are only two people, but who should share first in a larger group, I wondered.  The class decided on the ‘tallest’ person in the group.  I wrote this first rule on the Promethean board.  After my students came up with a list of rules we decided on 5 to keep for our collaborative activity, Our Rules for Small Group Sharing

At that point I divided my class up by their differentiated leveled reading groups and set them in different work areas where I had already set out my collection of class shells.  Before they got started I had the first person to share in each group stand up, I reminded my students I want them to sort the shells, however, they had to follow the rules they just came up with.  As my groups got started I went from group to group to make sure they were working and not playing with the shells, and that they were taking turns, talking, listening, and sorting their shells.

After each group finished forming their shell categories I called the class back to the rug.  We then formed a line and walked around the room looking at each collection of shells.  To further help my students practice SL.1, SL.1a and b, while we gathered around each shell grouping, the students who created them explained how and why they put the shells in each pile. The reading students featured on the accompanying video clip Yellow Group Explaining their Categories are in the Yellow reading group, my third to highest group.  The rest of the class was also given the opportunity to ask questions about each set of shells.

Independent Practice

15 minutes

When my students finished looking at and listening to how the other reading groups sorted their shells, we went into our differentiated level reading rotation block, where each reading group rotates through a reading work area every 15 to 20 minutes.  One of these areas is journal writing where my students write in their journals about the lesson they just completed.  I check their journals for completeness and neatness when they rotate to my reading group area.  Today my students wrote about why it is important to have rules for speaking and listening. 

The prompt I put on the board:  It is important to have rules for speaking __________________.

Ticket Out the Door

5 minutes

To earn a sticker my students had to tell me one rule they created for speaking and listening in a small group.