Clifford's Preposition Mystery
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
Clifford’s missing! Where could he be? A lesson on prepositions takes Mrs. Power’s kindergarten students around the school looking for their lost friend. Watch our Clifford's Birthday Party Mystery video to see if the students can find Clifford in time for a special surprise! Also included are the steps that we used to make this learning project a huge success. Go ahead and give it a try with your students. You will be amazed at the amount of excitement and learning that takes place.
A good friend and technology trainer in my district, Linda Foote, worked with me and my class on this project. Aside from student learning, this model project is used to help teachers understand how the use of technology enhances project-based learning and can be easily implemented in the classroom. Mrs. Foote presented this project to teachers attending the International Reading Association’s conference in April 2010.
STEP 1: Digital Photo Assignment and Evaluation
The class brainstormed a list of emotions to photograph. They decided on four emotions that groups of students would go out and take pictures of. I reviewed camera instructions and rules before sending the groups out to take pictures. I used an LCD projector to view all the pictures with the class and asked students to guess which emotion they thought the pictures were of and to tell us why. We evaluated the pictures for what was good about them and what was distracting.
I like to say that there are amateur and professional photographers. Most people are amateurs who just point and shoot. My students catch on very quickly, they're more like pros. I explain that they need to concentrate on composition and framing of their photographs. I also teach them tricks and tips to make their photos look more professional. They do a great job! In fact, one former student went on to work with a professional photographer who was shocked by the talent of this young child.
This project doesn't just teach students how to take good pictures — it helps them how to think critically and how to evaluate their pictures — two higher learning skills! We used math when we break the photos into thirds to teach the rule of thirds. I also use this project to connect our work to writing. Photographers, just like writers, have to plan out their work. They need to look at their subject critically and to make sure there is nothing in the background to distract viewers from seeing the focus of the photograph. It's similar to revising writing to make sure there is clarity. With these types of projects, I start to see students taking more ownership and pride in their work. Typically they are already hooked and want to practice using their new skills. We did this activity again later on a smaller scale to show how much our photography skills have changed as a result of this project.
You don’t have to be an expert or take a class on digital photography to do this (I never have). MediaCollege.com has a great Introduction to Photography tutorial and pages of tips about subjects like photographic composition.
STEP 2: Evaluating a Digital Photo Story and Creating a Rubric
With a critical eye, we watched this great digital story called "City Mouse and Country Mouse" created by Matthew Needleman’s class. Next we discussed what the kids did well and what they could work on. As a class we came up with a list of what makes a video effective. Here's our class rubric that Mrs. Foote complied from the students responses: Download Rubric8x11 Download Rubric11x17
I wanted to see what my students where able to point out that makes a film effective. This generation of students has a very keen sense about film since they have been brought up around TV, fast paced movies and video games. They are already experts at evaluating this type of media. As teachers, we just need to help them communicate their evaluations and teach them how to use that knowledge to produce better work.
STEP 3: Introduce Prepositions With Read Alouds
Mrs. Foote read us the Berenstain Bears book called Bears in the Night, written by Stan and Jan Berenstain.
This is a cute, age appropriate book on prepositions that my students loved. It was a great way to start our project and we used it to get ideas about how to write our story.
STEP 4: Create List of Prepositions and Draw Examples on Index Cards
We started this project by reading Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins. As a class, we created a list of as many prepositions as we could. They were typed onto little word cards and these were sent home for students to practice and think about. Students also chose a word from the list and created an index card with a phrase to describe where something was. For example, "I was on top of the chair."
Having students think very hard to come up with a list of prepositions was a great learning activity. I found that many of my students were only able to recall the basic prepositions that they heard often. The index card activity made kids show their understanding of the preposition. It was a good thinking activity as well as assessment of students’ understanding.
STEP 5: Go on a Picture Hunt Around School and Evaluate the Pictures
Now that we had our list of prepositions, we had to go around our school and see where we could take pictures using these words. Students went around the school and playground finding places and taking pictures of the action and preposition. For example, kids went under the swing and around the pole. Once we got back to our classroom we viewed the pictures and evaluated which ones worked best and why.
The students were highly motivated to find and take pictures displaying the prepositions we brainstormed. They were very creative about what words to use and found interesting places all over our school to show them. The evaluating process was effective because they were now much better at critiquing photographs from our previous lesson. For example, we had two pictures of a person going in between the swings. The students were able to identify the better picture and were able to explain why it was better.
Students determined this was a better "in between" picture because you can see the arch behind the girl.
STEP 6: Decide on the Story Elements
Here is where the planning of our story started. We revisited the books we read and the "City Mouse and Country Mouse" video we watched to discuss the characters, setting, problem, and solution. The students determined that most stories have these elements. The class then shared ideas for all of these elements and voted to decide which we would use for our story.
I love the creativity of young children! It is amazing the ideas that students have and how they build off each others' ideas. This process was exciting to watch as students were not afraid to share their big ideas.
STEP 7: Write Our Story
We took several days to write the script for our story using the ideas from the Step 6. Constantly modeling how writers go back and read their writing as they are adding onto their story was a big lesson during this stage of the project.
This was an excellent way to work on sequencing a story, as well as adding details to our writing. Some students wanted to skip ahead to different parts of our story and gained a lot of learning from writing the whole script together. It was a great opportunity to model writing and how writers go back and reread hundreds of times as they are writing. Students also learned a lot about the writing process of revising during this writing phase of the project.
STEP 8: Storyboard
Before starting the storyboard step, we reviewed the different types of camera shots and angles. We looked at a few pages from our script and decided if they would need to be establishing shots, close-ups, or extreme close-ups. Once the students felt confident with this, I printed out the script and put students in groups to illustrate the lines. After every page was finished, we worked as a class to sequence and reread the entire story. You may want to use copies of this storyboard page to organize your story.
I found that my students really understood the idea of camera shots and when to correctly use each type. These higher-level thinking skills can easily be transferred into their own reading and writing. Mediacollege.com has a section of their website that will help teach you and your students about different camera shots.
STEP 9: Make and Gather Needed Props and Film
Students read through the script to make our list of needed props. We worked together to create these props and gathered costumes in preparation of filming. During the filming stage, students used the storyboard to guide them on what photographs needed to be taken.
The students did a great job taking the pictures for this project. We had over 90 pictures to take because our story became very detailed and the students wanted to have the right pictures to tell the story. As the students were taking the pictures, they were thinking about their composition and figuring out how to frame the photograph correctly so it will show the important part of the picture. I think after watching our movie you will agree that the students did a phenomenal job taking the pictures.
STEP 10: Edit
The photographs were put into PowerPoint first to add the words and then exported as .jpegs to add to Photo Story. The reason for this extra step is that it is easier to sequence the story first in PowerPoint. Once the photographs were in order in Photo Story the students took turns recording their pages. Once that part is completed we can animate the pages and add music to complete our project.
I love this editing step of creating videos. This is where students' pride in their project really shines through. Most students want to rerecord their reading several times because they want it to sound perfect. If you have never recorded reading with young kids before, you are in for a treat. It is such a highly self-motivating way to practice students' fluency. Rereading and rerecording comes from the student listening and evaluating his or her own reading.
Now View and Enjoy Our Hard Work
We shared our digital story with our parents and Mrs. Power imported the photos into a Shutterfly book. Parents were able to purchase the book from Shutterfly as a keepsake for their child.
Teachers often ask me how I am able to fit in technology projects like this one and still manage the grade level curriculum. I think this project is a great example of how they both mesh together to enhance student learning. It is not either/or, but both working well together that brings out student success. Yes, I could have taught prepositions the way many teachers do with worksheets or games, but all the other learning that goes along with writing and creating a digital story would not be there. Students learn so much more than the curriculum when they are active participants in a project like this. Reading, writing, math, and critical thinking skills are embedded in every activity.
Students worked on and practiced many important skills with this project, including:
- Story elements
- Comprehension skills
- Interactive writing
- Writing with the 6 Traits
- Working in partners and small groups
- Higher critical thinking skills like evaluating and synthesizing
- Problem solving
- Self esteem, confidence
I encourage you to review your curriculum for next year and think about areas where you can implement more project-based learning activities. Taking student learning beyond the traditional activities and lessons will produce amazing results far beyond what you can imagine or describe in words. Happy planning!