A Step-by-Step Lesson With Marilyn Burns

More and more teachers are now taking advantage of math connections in favorite children's literature. Recently, I used Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes (HarperCollins, 1991) to help third graders practice addition, subtraction, and graphing skills. Here is my lesson plan, step-by-step:

Counting letters: After reading the book aloud, we discussed that the name Chrysanthemum has 13 letters—half as many letters as are in the alphabet! “My first name has seven letters,” I told the children. “How many more letters does Chrysanthemum's name have than my name?” I encouraged the students to talk with a neighbor about this, and then had them say the answer together in a whisper voice.

Using complete sentences: After several children explained their answer, I invited students to figure out how many more letters there are in Chrysanthemum's name than in their own—reminding them that they would need to be able to tell the class their answers in a complete sentence. With coaxing, each child was able to report. Devin said, “Chrysanthemum has eight more letters than my name.”

Finding the shortest name: Then I challenged the students to think about who had the shortest name in the class. Together we determined that Made, Isak, Anna, and Will had the shortest names with four letters each. “Stand up if you have five letters in your first name,” I said. We counted five children. Then we counted five children with six letters, two with seven, one with eight, and finally Annapurna, who had the longest name with nine letters.

Graphing our first names: The next step was to make a graph to show this information. The children returned to their desks. As they wrote their first names on sticky notes, I wrote “Letters in Our First Names” on the board and listed the numbers from 1 to 10. I posted my sticky note as a model. Then each student came up and posted his or her name next to the correct number.

Reading the graph: As a class, we discussed what we noticed about our graph. “The longest name has nine letters,” Trent said. “There are the same number of names in the five row and the six row,” Daniela said. “I'm the only one with eight letters,” Danielle said.

Setting a challenge: “Your challenge is to figure out how many letters are in all of our first names together,” I told the children. I invited them to share ideas of how they might do this using the information on the graph. Then I told them that they could work with the other students at their table, but that they each needed to write their own paper and explain their thinking.

Checking with manipulatives: To verify the answer and link the activity to place value, I put a supply of interlocking cubes at each table and asked the children to each make a train of cubes as long as their first name.

Working together: I then asked the children at each table to combine their trains into tens and ones and be ready to report their results. I recorded these on the board and, together, we figured that there were 90 tens and 22 ones. “Talk at your table about what the total is,” I said. After a moment, several students shared their ideas. Isak explained, “Ninety and one more ten is one hundred, and one more ten is one hundred ten, plus two is one hundred twelve.”

Extending the lesson: “What about your last name?” I asked. “Are there more, fewer, or the same number of letters in your last name as in your first name?” I gave each student a 2" by 11" strip of two-centimeter squares. I modeled for the students how to write their first name in one row and their last name on the next row, and then trim the extra squares.

Wrapping it up: I prepared a chart with three columns and labeled them. I said, “You'll post your name strip to show if your first name is shorter than, the same length as, or longer than your last name.” After posting my strip, the children posted theirs. I asked, “Do you think that there are more letters total in our last names or in our first names?” Most thought that there would be more letters in their last names combined. To end the lesson, I said, “Tomorrow we'll make a graph of our last names and figure it out.” This repeat experience would provide the students with additional practice. On another day, I planned to give the students the first names from Chrysanthemum's class and have them individually make graphs of the names, figure out the total number of letters in their names, and compare this total with our class total.