Saturday, November 30, 2013

Farmer Appreciation Day

The big day finally arrived!  We finished setting up yesterday morning and then farmers started arriving!  We dressed up in farmer clothes.  We had our art and posters displayed on our hallway bulletin boards and in our classroom.  We had a guest book table, complete with a guest book designed by some of the Grade 1s.  Our partners from Mrs. Caldwell's Oak Lake Kindergarten even joined us for the event! 

As our guests arrived, we took each farmer into our classroom and offered them coffee, tea and cookies. Farmers had the chance to relax, visit and enjoy a nice coffee break.  Once everyone had arrived, the students gathered in the classroom with the farmers.  We showed them our video, which we made especially for the farmers.  Then we watched a really funny video (which was suggested by a student for Farmer Appreciation Day.)  The video is called "What Does the Farmer Say?" and it's a lot like the Grade 1 favorite "What Does the Fox Say?"  Our guests had a big laugh watching the farmer version! 

I had some special farmer guests in the crowd today too.  One of my students invited my parents, who are both farmers.  They brought a special surprise for all of the students involved in planning and executing Farmer Appreciation Day.  Through the Ag More Than Ever program, they were able to get each student a t-shirt and some fun items like stickers, magnets and pens! 

It was a very successful day in my mind.  Our farmer guests said many thanks for the time and effort put into our event.  They were pleased that we'd taken the time to show our appreciation.   It makes me so proud to support young learners in their efforts to make a difference in the world and watching kids tackle a big project like this makes me feel especially lucky to be a teacher!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Farmer Appreciation Day: Poster Making & Set Up!

Students wanted to create special posters for decorating our classroom on Farmer Appreciation Day.  We brainstormed messages together and students decided whether they'd like to work with others on big banner posters or individually on smaller posters.  Students worked really hard to do their best printing, drawing, designing and coloring.

 Yesterday afternoon, we started setting up for the event.  We moved the furniture around in our room to get ready for our farmer guests and we started putting up our posters.  It sure looks great in our classroom and I'm so proud of the students for their amazing learning, teamwork and passion! 

Whether it was lifting tables, stacking chairs, setting out cookies or last minute poster-coloring, everyone pitched in to get ready!  We even had a student photographer take pictures to show our setup day.  I helped out with counting chairs, "directing traffic" and reaching some hard-to-reach spots for posters.  Otherwise, the students did most of the work.  They are really engaged in their learning and excited about their project!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

November News

 Our schools put together a monthly newsletter for families.  This month, the Grade 1s worked hard to write their very own news!  This was another great opportunity for students to write for a real purpose and for a real audience, so I really enjoyed the time we spent on this shared writing activity.  We learned about putting sentences together in paragraphs and I introduced the idea of topic sentences.  We also practiced using letter sounds, blends and letter combinations to spell words.  I was very proud of my students' work!

We hope you enjoy reading our November update!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How to Make a Chalky Snowman

We have been learning about procedural texts.  Last week, we read about making chalky snowmen and did the craft by following the instructions.  This week, we wrote our own procedural text called "How to Make a Chalky Snowman".  You can read it to find out how to make your own!

We used this to organize our ideas before we started. 

This is what we know about procedural texts:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Reading for a Purpose: Procedural Texts & Chalky Snowman Art

Our current text-type study focuses on procedural texts, which fit in well with our preparations for Farmer Appreciation Day because students needed to read recipes to bake cookies for the event.  However, once we'd finished baking cookies and no longer had an authentic purpose for reading recipes, I still wanted to explore other types of procedural texts with students.

We had learned that procedural texts give instructions or explain how to do something, so I was searching for books in my school and personal collection that would be good examples.  My Scholastic book order arrived with the book "50 Christmas Things to Make and Do" and I had an idea!  What if students could study procedural texts that explained how to do Christmas crafts/art and then we could actually use that reading for the purpose of selecting and completing our art activities?

I explained my idea to my students, and they were enthusiastic to start!  As a part of  our reading this week, we read instructions for three different crafts.  It was really important for students to be engaged in these reading lessons, because they would actually have to be able to follow the instructions to complete the art at the end of the week.  After reading, we discussed our ideas and opinions as a class.  Comments such as "this one seems too hard" or "I really like that idea" or "I've already done a craft like that" came up.

After the discussion, students asked if they could vote for a favorite to make this week.   The Chalky Snowman was most popular, so we reread those directions to make a list of supplies we'd need.  With a list from the students, I could get supplies ready for our art time.

We completed our art at the end of the week and the snowmen turned out beautifully!  We also started working on shared writing titled "How to Make a Chalky Snowman" which we will complete next week and share with all of you, so that you can also make yourself a "Chalky Snowman"!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Santa Letter Template

Hey teacher friends, I just designed this cute Santa letter template.  Please feel free to follow this link to download a PDF copy to use in your own classroom or right click and save the image file to your computer.  I am happy to share if this template works for you and your students too! 

For students who are ready to write their very own letter without a template, I also found adorable writing pages with blank lines at

I can't believe it is already closing in on the holiday season!  Have fun with your Santa writing!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Farmer Appreciation Day: Learning from a Failure

Since we were scooping cookies until the end of the day on Friday, I had to put some cookies in the oven to bake after students left.  When I took the pumpkin molasses cookies out of the oven, I knew there was a problem...

The recipe said the pumpkin molasses should crack on top and we expected a gingersnap-like cookie.  When deciding what to do after school on Friday, I figured their appearance could be forgiven if they still tasted good, so I sampled a small piece of cookie and... they TASTED TERRIBLE!!   I had to share the bad news with students Monday morning and we talked about two possible problems with the "failed cookies" - (1) the spices we used were too strong and made the cookies taste bad and (2) something made the cookies too watery - either an incorrect measurement of a liquid ingredient or the pumpkin being too watery.  Students were a bit disappointed, but I reassured them that we could try the recipe again.  Students came up with the idea to use less spices and I suggested we strain the pumpkin and measure VERY carefully. 

On Monday afternoon, during our project learning time, a group of students volunteered to retry the cookie recipe.  While other students worked on different aspects of the project, I helped a small group make two new batches of pumpkin molasses cookies. We made both of the proposed adjustments and the dough looked much better.   We had to refrigerate the dough, so we did not bake the new batches until Tuesday afternoon.

The new batches turned out much better.  They looked, smelled and tasted good!  We learned from our failure and made some delicious pumpkin molasses cookies for the farmers!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Farmer Appreciation Day: Baking Cookies

Once we returned from our successful grocery shopping trip last Friday, we were ready to start baking cookies for Farmer Appreciation Day.  We had a quick meeting at the learning carpet so I could go over the plan with students and review expectations and rules for baking.  Since it was during our usual math time, I set up cookie baking as one of our math centers so students could take turns baking.  During centers, students were able to mix up 3 batches of cookies.  PLUS, they did lots of math learning at each center!

After recess, we moved our class down to the kitchen to start baking!  Students had printing and art to do, so they packed up their supplies and materials so they could work on their tasks while we were baking.  Students took turns scooping out cookie dough while others worked on the assigned tasks.  We made a lot of yummy-smelling chocolate chip cookies and it was really hard not to "taste test".  We also got all of the pumpkin molasses cookies scooped out and ready to bake.  It was a VERY busy afternoon!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Farmer Appreciation Day: Grocery Shopping

Once we'd made our pumpkin puree, it was time to get the other ingredients to bake cookies for Farmer Appreciation Day.  As a reading and writing activity, we reread the recipes we'd selected and wrote a list of ingredients we would need.  There were some leftover supplies from previous projects, so next, students went through the supplies and created a shorter list of groceries they'd need to buy.

On Friday, we went grocery shopping.  We walked to the local Co-op grocery store and worked together to pick out and purchase the items on our list.  Everyone had a job to do.  Some important jobs included: grocery list readers, cart pushers, cart loaders and grocery carriers.  I think it's really important for all students to have a purpose and a job that contributes to the task, so I made sure students knew their jobs before we left our school. Once we were at the store, each student took turns doing their part of the shopping.  We stopped a few times to work together as a group: we compared   prices on a couple of products together and we checked 
our cart together to make sure we had everything 
that we needed for our cookies. 

It might seem a little crazy to take 15 kids grocery shopping, but truthfully, it went very smoothly.  Everyone was focused on our end goal of making cookies for the farmers and they easily met my high expectations for how to behave at the grocery store. (I suppose that's another reason why project based learning is so valuable - students are engaged and willing to work together on tasks that have a real purpose for them.)  I was really proud of my class for their teamwork and best behavior! Way to go Grade 1s! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Farmer Appreciation Day: Making Pumpkin Puree

When students decided they'd like to make their big pumpkin into pumpkin cookies, we asked a parent who grows pumpkins to share a "tried and true" recipe.  We read the recipe together as part of our text type study.  One of the ingredients in the recipe confused students - it called for "pumpkin puree" and most of us didn't know what that was.  After we figured out what the recipe was asking for, we decided that we would need to find out how to turn our pumpkin into puree.  We added "find out how to make pumpkin puree" to our Farmer Appreciation Day to do list and here's what we've done:
  •  First, we researched how to make pumpkin puree online and read information/steps from a couple of different websites
  • Next, we made teams to be in charge of different steps in the process - Cut & Clean, Cook & Scoop and Mix and Mash
  • Finally, we got to work on actually making our very own pumpkin puree!
Making Pumpkin Puree

Team Cut & Clean

Students on this team worked together to cut the pumpkin into pieces and to clean out the seeds and strings. 

 Team Cook & Scoop
This team was in charge of loading pieces of pumpkin into baking trays, carrying them to the oven and helping me check the pumpkin as it cooked.  After the pumpkin was cooked, they scooped the soft cooked pumpkin into bowls.  

 Team Mix and Mash
Students on this team took the soft, cooked pumpkin and mixed it until it was nice and smooth. 

Reading Activity
As a follow-up activity, we talked about sequence in procedural texts and students read and sequenced the steps for making pumpkin puree.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Farmer Appreciation Day Project: Reading Recipes

Class Decision Making:
We are planning to make farmers a special treat for the Farmer Appreciation Day we are hosting.  After much discussion and a couple of rounds of voting, we decided to bake chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin cookies.  With that decision made, we've got right to work on the preparation required!

A side note: A high school student that grew pumpkins in her family garden had donated a large pumpkin to our class before Halloween.  Students decided it would be unfair if one student got to carve the big pumpkin during our pumpkin carving center, so they opted to save the big pumpkin for making a treat for farmer appreciation.  (Honestly, THEY came up with that!  I know it probably sounds like a "let's be fair" teacher idea, but students really decided that. And, of course, I'm proud of them for coming up with a fair and interesting idea for using our pumpkin!)  Little did they know, I've never made ANYTHING from a pumpkin, despite my extensive baking experience.  Looks like I will be learning right alongside my students! Here we come pumpkin cookies!  

This week, we have been focusing on studying cookie recipes.  As a teacher, it fits in really well with my division-recommended Literacy Place lessons.  One of the recommended text-type studies for procedural writing focuses on recipes, so I'm glad to have an authentic reason for teaching students about recipes!  And more importantly, students have a real reason to learn about recipes - they want to make cookies for our event!  Suddenly, we have a much deeper purpose for our reading and much more urgency to learn. 

Many learning opportunities have arose from our recipe reading already:
  • more or less - we've learned to look for amounts of flour, eggs, sugar and margarine to determine if a recipe will make more or less cookies than another recipe
  • comparison - aside from quantities of ingredients, students noticed some recipes included different ingredients like oatmeal, coconut or M&Ms
  • considering allergies - some recipes called for nuts, which we could not bring into our nut safe school
  • importance of order - procedural texts often have a logical sequence and we discussed the importance of following recipe directions in order 
  • vocabulary - "shortening" was one example of an unfamiliar word that came up in our reading - we have had some good discussions about new and interesting words
  • further research - one of the pumpkin cookie recipes we read called for pumpkin puree, so we added to our project to do list -"find out how to make pumpkin puree" 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Project Based Learning Update!

I've been neglecting my blogging with the whirlwind of activities going on at school.  From speech festival and the Remembrance Day service to professional development days and report card writing, it's been a busy couple of weeks for this Grade 1 teacher!  A LOT has been happening in our classroom, but one of the most exciting things I'd like to share tonight is an update on our project based learning.

As you may have read, we did a brainstorming session with Mrs. Caldwell's Kindergartens early this year to help us decide what our focus would be for project learning this year.   We narrowed our topics down to "helping farmers" and "helping cats", with the Grade 1s most interested in farming and the Kindergartens most interested in cats.  So much learning and meaningful work has taken place since then!

Students decided one way we could help farmers would be to show our appreciation and to give farmers a break from the hard work they do!  This led to a plan for Farmer Appreciation Day, which students will be hosting later this month.  I don't want to "spoil" the details for any of our blog readers who are attending, but I do want to share some of the great things we've been up to in preparation for this big event!

As a shared writing activity, I helped students write invitations to send to local farmers and posters to advertise our event in local businesses.  After the writing was printed, each student added his or her own designs and colors to the posters and invitations we sent out.  All of our invitations have been sent and students are working on putting posters up this week.

Here's the poster we wrote:
This shared writing activity allowed me to work with students to develop writing for a real-world audience.  (I love it when writing becomes SO important because it is leaving our classroom and being seen by many people!)  We worked together to "stretch out" words and used some of the blends we are learning (like "er" and "ay") to help us spell words.  It was also a good opportunity to practice the lowercase letters we are learning in our printing lessons.  Everyone contributed to our writing and we are really proud of the end product!