Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Read Aloud to Real Challenges: An Early Literacy and Challenge Class with a Christian Flair

This spring, at our spring co-op, I am teaching a course for 5-8 year olds that I planned called Read Aloud to Real Challenges: An Early Literacy and Challenge Class. Basically, it is a hands-on storyhour, where we read a story together each week before doing a related challenge that is tied in to some tradition or story within our faith.

This past week I facilitated our first class – and, boy, did we have fun. For those who would like to borrow my ideas, I am sharing a detailed description of the lesson below.

Welcoming Prayer and Stretch
Welcome students to the class, explaining that we plan to have a lot of fun in the coming weeks reading stories, doing challenges and using our gifts of creativity and problem solving, among others. Explain that we’ll have to really use our mind during class, and that I believe one of the best ways to get our brains going is by stretching our bodies. Teach the following prayer and stretching exercise which will begin each class:

 We thank you God for the sky above, (Stretch onto tip toes, arms up high, really reaching for the sky) and for the ground below. (Bend over and touch toes or floor.)  We thank you, God, (lunge to one side, really stretching arm out) for everything (do the same to the other side)  that we come to know. (spin around and sit down).

Warm-Up Challenge
Explain that now that we have stretched our bodies, it is time to stretch our brains with a little mini-challenge. Place a pile of foam letter stickers (which actually contains the letters for each child’s name in it) in front of the students and tell them their challenge is to organize the stickers into as many groups as there are children. For example, if there are only three children in the group, let them know that they must organize the stickers into three groups that make sense.

Then, allow the students to work together, trying different approaches to organization. Expect them to do such things as sort the letters into some kind of alphabetical order, into piles by color, into groups of the same letters. As they do so, comment only on what they are doing, not on what they could or should be doing, and if their efforts meet the challenge guidelines. For example, “Oh, you have all the A’s together, and the L’s, and a J, and two S’s. That’s one way to sort the stickers. Do you have more than three groups though?”

If the students seems to be getting frustrated, offer increasingly less-subtle hints until you note one student “discovering” the key. (A big hint might b taking attendance and noting that there are four A’s among all the names on the list.) Once a child starts to “get it”, encourage others to note what that student is doing and to follow suit.

After everyone has taken their own stickers, offer each student construction paper, so they can choose a color they like to make a name plate for themselves. Note that “we don’t have a trash bin for the pieces we are ripping off. What could we use to collect our trash until we can get to a trash can?” Let a student solve the problem, perhaps suggesting putting all small scraps on a piece of newspaper.

Read Aloud: Albert’s Alphabet
Albert's AlphabetCongratulate students on working well individually and as a team to meet their first challenge. Explain that you will now read a book about a duck that has his own letter challenge to meet. Then, read Albert’s Alphabet slowly, really inviting the students to look at the detailed illustrations on each page, noting how Albert attacks his challenge, how creatively he used materials, etc. Have fun talking about the strategies and materials he uses, his creative ideas, etc., as well as predicting in what ways Albert might make the next letters – especially the “Z” at the end. Also be sure to point out the paper plans Albert sometimes uses if no student notes them first.

The Main Challenge: Building the Holy Spirit
Referring to Albert, comment that he sure had a gift of creativity and that God gives each of us gifts. Ask if anyone knows about the gifts related to something the Church honors this month. Ask if anyone knows what this month is dedicated to. (The Holy Spirit).

Elicit and expand upon what the students know about he Holy Spirit, using print outs from Catholic Culture for background and visuals if you wish. Ask if anyone knows a symbol for the Holy Spirit, perhaps one that is a bird, like Albert is a bird. (Dove). Then, explain that the word D-O-V-E will be the basis of our Big Challenge today, but that, first, we need to think about how to approach any challenge.

Using Albert’s challenge, as well as the mini-challenge from the beginning of the class as examples, briefly discuss the approach we will take to challenges in our course:

  1. Identify the challenge or problem.
  2. Brainstorm ideas on paper, through discussion or just by trying things out.
  3. Testing our ideas and revising them as necessary.
  4. Sharing our results.
Offer white boards and highlighters or dry-erase markers for students who might like to write about or sketch their plans as Albert did in building some of the letters he did in the book.

Finally, draw attention to a set of materials – paper scraps, cardboard tubes, tape and craft sticks – and a set of tools – scissors, glue, pencils and crayons, and offer the challenge guidelines:

Your challenge is to build the letters D-O-V-E using the materials and tools provided. The letters must be freestanding and they can only be made using the materials provided.

Let the students use their creativity to do so, stepping in only to offer guidance about respecting the space your are in (for example, putting newspaper under constructions that are being built with messy dripping glue) or using each other for help when needed (for example, “You can work individually or as a team. Either way, go ahead and ask each other for help or suggest ideas to each other.) Focus on process over product, being aware that some students may not be able to complete the entire word before the end of the class period.

If there is time at the end, which is unlikely, have each student share how they approached the challenge – their ideas, revisions and successes. If there is ample time, offer a second challenge: Now, build your own name.

For larger groups, consider making Design Brief Hand Outs, such as the one found at one of the sites that inspired this plan.

Have fun, enjoy and be amazed, as I was, at the creativity God gifts each and every one of us and the gusto with which children work together to use it!

And, if you happen to try this out, be sure to stop by and let me know how it went.  I always enjoy collaborating to tweak and improve plans for future use!

This post is being shared at We Are THAT Family's Works for Me Wednesday, since both co-op, and free resources online that can be adapted for our lesson plans, really work for me.  What works for you at home, school or work?  Link up to share at WFMW.


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