Summary and Context
The Common Core State Standards ask students to read and comprehend literature at grade level. They also ask to give students the opportunity to talk with diverse partners. Our school is mostly composed of English Language Learners and for that reason we seek to give our students as many opportunities for academic conversations as possible.
Additionally, we seek for our students to get to know one one another, and giving them interactive experiences helps to build community with each other.
Every six weeks we have events that we call "Unit Openers." Unit Openers are designed to introduce the new theme we will be reading about in our anthologies, and, for this lesson, we gather all three classrooms together. After the opener, we dive into the theme separately. Every theme is composed of six stories that all second graders read in their respective classroom. The teachers design the literacy tasks the students will experience during the Unit Opener. The tasks are designed to convey a message about the specific theme.
Our first theme for this unit is "Relationships." In thinking about relationships, we thought of topics that could contribute to the students' conceptual understanding of relationships. We created five different stations for the unit opener (see the next section for details about each station). These stations work for our students, but I invite you to create stations that would benefit your students and their needs.
All the students will be divided into smaller groups. These groups will be rotated every 10 minutes. The groups are made up of students from all three classrooms.
We hold the Unit Opener in the multi-purpose room to have plenty of space to move around and to give the groups space to carry out their task.
I facilitate the Unit Opener, and I start with all the students as a whole group. Our multi-purpose room is also our auditorium. We have our classes sit on the floor in front of the stage. They will be engaged in a Think-Pair-Share activity to active their prior knowledge of relationships. While I facilitate the opening, the other teachers are present and helping with management and the stations. We recruit our teaching assistants to help out too.
Please note: It is important to be in communication with the principal and the custodian to have the necessary space ready for the Unit Opener. The teachers worked to prepare the materials and to set up the materials the day before. This allows for the Unit Opener to flow smoothly. While it may seem like much work, the students benefit much from getting together with their peers from other classrooms and from having a different space to explore their learning. It keeps the learning fresh.
Once the students have gone through all the stations, we gather them again in a whole group and discuss what they have learned about relationships. Then, students are dismissed and they continue to build their knowledge of relationships through the six stories they read (one a week) and through the other activities each teacher creates respectively in their classroom.
Students’ pencil boxes, poster paper, chart paper for Circle Map, and books on relationships. I have included a list of suggested books in the next section's resources.
Now students work in their stations and rotate every 10 minutes to give them the opportunity to experience all stations. During these stations, the students continue to have collaborative conversations. In this case, their conversations take place in smaller groups.
The topics we created for the stations are: Library Station, All About Me, My Family, My Friends, and What I Like. I am attaching a document that gives more details on all the stations: Station Information.
The tasks work to meet the speaking and listening skills of our students. They benefit much from these conversations. I invite you to create tasks that address the needs of your students.
Taking on the responsibility of planning and implementing a Unit Opener was a great experience and provided several benefits. For me, it was an opportunity to be a leader. Also, it helped to create community between the staff as well as the students. In addition, it created the opportunity to be creative instructionally. To foster buy in, I spoke with the two other teachers during lunch about what type of activities we wanted the students to engage in to begin to develop conceptual understandings of relationships. We brainstormed a list and I put together the materials, reserved the multipurpose room, gave a copy of the lesson plan to all participating adults to be prepare for it, and facilitate the event.
I had fun facilitating the process. I thought the students enjoyed themselves in all the stations. They were well behaved and on task with the assignments. I feel that is a great way to build school community. It helps to have as many adults in the room as possible to make this Unit Openers go smoothly, so please keep that in mind as you collaborate on putting together this type of learning experience.
I didn't ask my students what they liked about the unit opener, but from now on, I will ask them for feedback to make sure we are providing experiences that they love as they learn important concepts about reading and life. In doing this next year, I would engage my students in an oral conversation about what they liked back in the classroom. I would have them pair-share to continue their collaborative conversations. I would have a few share out loud, and then I would add a reflective writing piece by asking them to write about what they learned and a question about what they want to learn. I feel this would help them synthesize their learning on a deeper level.
I would have them share their writing with the whole group and then write their question on a different paper to place the questions on the Concept/Question board. I would use these questions to plan future lessons.