When I want to do something complex with my students, I always think to myself, "How can I scaffold this lesson so that my first graders can understand and complete it?" I want to scaffold lessons in such a way that my students are working on rigorous objectives at their level and not just working on an activity that has been "dumbed down." First graders can often complete tasks at a higher level than what we give them credit for.
Today's lesson addresses W1.7 as students get a chance to participate in shared research and writing projects. I knew that I would have to model how the research process works for my first graders because, in first grade, researching is a guided process. If we begin to show students how to ask good questions about topics they want to research and show them how they need to demonstrate their understanding of a topic, they will be able to accomplish the anchor standard for W1.7 in future years. I want my students to see that going to college is a possibility for all of them. I want my students to rely on themselves for their own learning. Today I am showing them a process for how to research, which is a process that relates directly to college and career readiness. Exciting!
For today's lesson you will need to get a variety of informational texts about elephants your first graders can access. This would be a great opportunity for you to differentiate texts depending on student's ability levels and interests. You will also need to make a copy of the paper, "My Questions About Elephants," My Questions About Elephants.pdf, and a 4-branched tree map, Tree Map Elephant Writing.pdf, for each student. You will also need either the Smartboard Elephant Writing.notebook or Activboard Elephant Writing.flipchart lesson.
My students have written expository text before, so they have the tools to be more independent in this unit. Thus, I am going to step back more from my role as the expert on the topic and have them do most of the investigating. I wanted to keep my introduction short and sweet. I said, "Today we are going to start researching information on elephants so we can learn about them and be able to write a piece of expository text of our own about elephants. When we begin to research we always start with questions that we have about elephants. Who has a question about an elephant that you might want to learn about?" Then I let a few students ask their questions so the class could get the gist of what we were going to be doing today. I said, "Those are all great questions and I'm sure you have more. This is what we are going to do. We are going to be in partners of 3 today. Each of you will get a paper that says, "My Questions About Elephants." You are going to work with your partners and brainstorm a list of questions that you have about elephants that you can find the answers to in our research. You will have 10 minutes to do this. Does everyone understand what we are doing?"
I have 21 students in my class and someone is always left out if we do partners in pairs. Using triples fixes the problem, and it is also a great opportunity to do mixed ability groups with your students. Stronger readers/writers can support the weaker readers/writers, and sometimes your strugglers just might surprise you if you pair them with a student that works well with them. I gave my students about 7 minutes to generate questions. You can see them generating questions here: Brainstorming Our Questions About Elephants.mp4.
When students were done brainstorming, I called them all to the carpet with their papers, a pencil and something hard to write on. I pulled up my Smartboard lesson and went to the question page. I had the students share their questions and I wrote them down on the board. I think it's important for students to share their ideas because one group may have thought of an interesting research question that another group didn't. Sharing benefits all students. We did our whole group sharing for about 8 minutes. You can see us sharing our questions here: Sharing Our Questions With the Class - Elephants.mp4 .
After teaching the lesson, I realized I needed to do a bit more modeling to show students how to form "just right" questions for their research. Some of my students wanted to research areas that were much too narrow and wouldn't be able to elicit 8 details about the topic. For example, one group of my students asked the question, "Do elephants eat peanuts?" While this shows that they are cluing in well to the work we've done asking/answering questions about a text (RI.1.1), I had to explain that we should make that a broader area to research and we turned that into "What Do Elephants Eat?" I wanted to guide them to seeing how much more interesting this question is than a simple yes/no question.
Modeling how to broaden topics so they can be able to find many details in their research is a real world application that students will need to be explicitly shown. It's my job as a teacher to explain that if they narrow a topic too far, then they won't be able to find many interesting details. I am glad some of my students went too narrow with the questions that they wanted to research. This was a teachable moment for my students, and I was glad I was able to model this for them. You may want to nip this in the bud and tell your students to avoid research questions that can be answered with yes/no in your model from the start.
In fact, I think that in order to strengthen this lesson for next time I may add a lesson before the Day 1 lesson that teaches my students to ask good research questions first. I found this great resource online from readwritethink.org that helps students to research and ask good questions before researching. If my students have a better understanding of how to ask good questions before they research, than today's lesson will be even better.
In this section of the lesson, I show them the process of narrowing down the questions but letting the students have all the choices in their research. I want to balance supporting students and letting them work independently.
I took the list of questions and I modeled how I would take what I thought were the 4 most interesting questions and begin to research those areas. I put a star next to each of the 4 questions. Then I took a 4-branched tree map. I titled the tree map at the top "Elephants." Then I put one question at the top of each column. These questions are going to turn into the subheadings for each part of their final product.
After I had put a question at the top of each of my columns I picked up an elephant book and referred back to several lessons we had already done on nonfiction text features. I reminded the students by saying, "Remember that when we research well we don't have to read the whole book - just the parts that answer our research question. We reviewed that the Table of Contents and Index are two tools we could use to help us research efficiently." I picked up an elephant book and showed the students both the Table of Contents and Index. I said, "We are connecting what we've learned in our nonfiction text features lessons and applying those skills to our research today. I expect you to use both your Table of Contents and Index as you research your questions today."
Before the students got to work I explained that when we research well we get our information from more than one source. After they had picked a fact or two from one book, they could trade their book with another group. I also told them then didn't need to fill in every line on their tree maps today. Today we would be researching using our books and tomorrow we would be watching some videos on elephants so we could add to our maps tomorrow as well.
I worked hard this year to set up a classroom with a climate of respect, and my students tend to work well together no matter the level they are at. I told my students that there would be several students that would only have to do a 3-branched tree map so not to worry if someone else's map looked different then theirs. Giving your struggling students a 3-branched tree map, or even a 2-branch, is an easy way to modify an assignment and the students are still expected to participate in the same rigorous assignment as everyone else.
Once students understood what they were doing, they took their tree maps and books and got to work. It was noisy in my class, but everyone was on task. They also did a great job of trading books with each other. You can look at how the researching process went in my class. I have a video for you here: Researching With Our Books - Elephants.mp4.
I said, "You will find someone who was not in your research group today and each of you will take turns and tell your partner 2 things you learned about elephants today. Since we have an odd number of people someone has to be my partner." I gave them 30 seconds to find a partner and start talking. Each of the students only take about a minute to tell their partner their 2 facts so the closure is short and sweet - exactly how I like it.
I am trying to teach my students responsibility and organization. I asked them, "Where do our questions about elephants and tree maps go?" We have a writing folder that we put ongoing projects in. They will be able to find their written materials tomorrow during writing time quickly.