Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Power of a Theme

Even though I'm excited to have a break in a few weeks, I am loving summer school.

I have a class of 7 kids. I can work individually on something with every kid, every day. I can call on them each probably at least 10 times a day. They each get a worthwhile classroom job every week. Our line in the hallway and our time spent going on bathroom breaks are wonderfully short. When I walk around the room, I can check every paper every time. When students turn in a quiz, it is easy for me to meet with each one to go over the answers. Every student does fluency practice every day. We can do hands-on, materials-intensive projects. I can assess students while they play games much easier, so we do less worksheets. I feel like we can do so much! In some ways, I wish school was like this year-round.

The opportunities for differentiation are fantastic, too, but I think my very favorite thing about summer school is that we have a theme in the curriculum for each week.

Besides our reading choices being focused on the same theme, we also have a designated time (30 minutes per day) for thematic science or social studies instruction. When possible, we connect math and writing to that theme, too. There is a focus, and I love it!

Having that theme gives me somewhere to start, especially for science and social studies. It gives me ideas for better lessons. Last week, we learned about giants. Our standards were measurement of length in centimeters and inches; writing a brief description of a familiar person, place, or thing; and identifying synonyms and antonyms. Here were some of our activities:
  • Reading aloud a rhyming fiction story about a giant
  • Reading non-fiction about giant animals, a legend about a giant, and two poems about giants
  • Giants readers' theater (a fairy tale)
  • Reading about redwoods and experimenting to see how stems move water up a plant
  • Discussing perspective and drawing from the perspective of a giant

  • Creating a "giant" out of straws and measuring its body parts
  • Writing a description of the straws giant
  • Brainstorming synonyms and antonyms for the word giant
  • Created giant ants with antonyms on them
  • Folding an icosahedron model of the Earth
  • Using our models and flashlights to simulate the movement of Earth around the sun

Obviously, we did other activities that weren't tied into the theme, too. This was actually one of the harder themes to integrate, I felt, but we still did all of these things related to Giants in five days.

I can't wait to try more of this during the regular school year, because it makes the planning and teaching more fun for me, and- most importantly- the kids are SO EXCITED to learn! And I'll post more about this later, but I think that's half the battle.

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