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July 25, 2018

Literacy Lessons That Are Icebreakers

By Scholastic Editors
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    The first days of school are spent learning names, sussing out personalities, creating community, and establishing rules and routines. Somewhere, somehow, curriculum also needs to fit in. Choose from these half-dozen activities to get the learning started while you and your students learn about each other.

    Wrinkled Hearts

    In kindergarten, we talk a lot about thinking before speaking and being careful with our words. I read aloud Chrysanthemum at the beginning of the year, but before I begin, I pass out red paper hearts to each of my students. I tell them to crumple their hearts up each time someone says or does something that hurts Chrysanthemum’s feelings. As the story goes on and the teasing (about Chrysanthemum’s name) continues, the children’s hearts get quite wrinkled. After discussing how it feels to have a wrinkled heart, I ask my kids to try and smooth out the heart each time someone tries to comfort Chrysanthemum. At the end, the kids notice that no matter how hard they try, they can’t completely smooth out their hearts. We then read a poem and once again talk about being careful about our words.

    Shari Carter — "Getting to Know Your Students and Building Caring Communities"

     

    Begin With Thematic Read-Alouds

    IMG_5034

    Several thematically linked read-alouds sparked discussions among my students about the importance of names, cultural diversity, tolerance, and self-acceptance. Below is a short list of some of my favorite books on the subject. 

    Picture Books About Names:

    Chapter Books About Names:

    I also set out a basket with a variety of baby name books borrowed from the public library.

    You would never believe how much excitement baby name books generated among my students! This was a new micro-genre for most of my students, and they eagerly pored over the books with their partners. The classroom was full of exclamations such as: “Lauren, your name was the 30th most popular name!” “Mia’s name was the 14th most popular in 2008!” “I can’t find Keo’s name in any of these books!” We charted their discoveries, touching on several features of nonfiction books in the process.

    Alycia Zimmerman — "What's in a Name? A Back-to-School Literacy Unit"

     

    Not a Bag

    After reading Not a Box by Antoinette Portis and reflecting on imagination and creativity, students were given a brown bag of materials. Their goal was to take the materials from inside the bag (and the bag itself if they wanted to) and design something that represented them.

    • First we brainstormed a list of ideas.

    • Then every student was given a brown paper bag containing the same number of random items: 2 paperclips, 2 rubber bands, 2 pipe cleaners, 2 jumbo popsicle sticks, 4 twist ties, a 5" x ½" piece of foil, and a straw.

    • They were given a set amount of work time (20 minutes) to create.

    When everyone was done, students were invited to present to the class what they made and how it related to them personally.

    Kriscia Cabral — "Back-to-School: First Week Fun!"

    Meet and Greet Similes

    Jon Simile Text   Catherine Simile

    Writing even a short poem can seem daunting to some students at the beginning of the year, so we start with a single simile sentence. I read my students Quick as a Cricket by Audrey Wood, and we discuss how the narrator uses a series of creative similes to describe himself. After immersing my students in the language of similes, we chart an extensive list of character traits that the students can pick from to write their own descriptive similes. Finally, my students illustrate their favorite personal simile with oil pastels and watercolor paints using the wax resist technique. Last year, I displayed their paintings along with their similes on sentence strips on a bulletin board in the hallway. Everyone loved learning about my students through their similes.

    Alycia Zimmerman — "Poetic Beginnings"

    It Starts With the Book

    After reading the Never Take a Shark to the Dentist, talk with your kids about different things that they would never want done to them or things that they would never do.

    Partner your students (alphabetically, by height, etc.) and assign an "A" person and a "B" person and explain their roles: person A will have an allotted amount of time to interview person B. After this, the roles reverse. Based on what they learn, students then create a personalized phrase about their interviewee. 

    I distribute the following template for more guided writing when necessary:

    Never _______________ partner's name ___________________.
    Never _______________ partner's name ___________________.
    But always _________________ partner's name ________________.

    After the interview process, students write their "Never" and "Always" phrases about their partner. When the activity is complete, students share what they wrote about their partner giving everyone in the class an opportunity to speak, listen, and learn a little more about their classmates.

    Kriscia Cabral — "Never, Always: A Getting-to-Know You Writing Activity"

     

    All About Me

    If time is limited, try an All About Me poster. While browsing Scholastic Teachables, I also came across the “I Am Special” mobile activity. If your school’s fire code permits hanging items from the classroom ceiling, this project may be exactly what you are looking for to brighten your room. I would suggest recruiting a few parent volunteers to help with assembling this project.

    Michelle Sullenberger — "Getting-to-Know-You Activities: The First Week and Beyond"

    The first days of school are spent learning names, sussing out personalities, creating community, and establishing rules and routines. Somewhere, somehow, curriculum also needs to fit in. Choose from these half-dozen activities to get the learning started while you and your students learn about each other.

    Wrinkled Hearts

    In kindergarten, we talk a lot about thinking before speaking and being careful with our words. I read aloud Chrysanthemum at the beginning of the year, but before I begin, I pass out red paper hearts to each of my students. I tell them to crumple their hearts up each time someone says or does something that hurts Chrysanthemum’s feelings. As the story goes on and the teasing (about Chrysanthemum’s name) continues, the children’s hearts get quite wrinkled. After discussing how it feels to have a wrinkled heart, I ask my kids to try and smooth out the heart each time someone tries to comfort Chrysanthemum. At the end, the kids notice that no matter how hard they try, they can’t completely smooth out their hearts. We then read a poem and once again talk about being careful about our words.

    Shari Carter — "Getting to Know Your Students and Building Caring Communities"

     

    Begin With Thematic Read-Alouds

    IMG_5034

    Several thematically linked read-alouds sparked discussions among my students about the importance of names, cultural diversity, tolerance, and self-acceptance. Below is a short list of some of my favorite books on the subject. 

    Picture Books About Names:

    Chapter Books About Names:

    I also set out a basket with a variety of baby name books borrowed from the public library.

    You would never believe how much excitement baby name books generated among my students! This was a new micro-genre for most of my students, and they eagerly pored over the books with their partners. The classroom was full of exclamations such as: “Lauren, your name was the 30th most popular name!” “Mia’s name was the 14th most popular in 2008!” “I can’t find Keo’s name in any of these books!” We charted their discoveries, touching on several features of nonfiction books in the process.

    Alycia Zimmerman — "What's in a Name? A Back-to-School Literacy Unit"

     

    Not a Bag

    After reading Not a Box by Antoinette Portis and reflecting on imagination and creativity, students were given a brown bag of materials. Their goal was to take the materials from inside the bag (and the bag itself if they wanted to) and design something that represented them.

    • First we brainstormed a list of ideas.

    • Then every student was given a brown paper bag containing the same number of random items: 2 paperclips, 2 rubber bands, 2 pipe cleaners, 2 jumbo popsicle sticks, 4 twist ties, a 5" x ½" piece of foil, and a straw.

    • They were given a set amount of work time (20 minutes) to create.

    When everyone was done, students were invited to present to the class what they made and how it related to them personally.

    Kriscia Cabral — "Back-to-School: First Week Fun!"

    Meet and Greet Similes

    Jon Simile Text   Catherine Simile

    Writing even a short poem can seem daunting to some students at the beginning of the year, so we start with a single simile sentence. I read my students Quick as a Cricket by Audrey Wood, and we discuss how the narrator uses a series of creative similes to describe himself. After immersing my students in the language of similes, we chart an extensive list of character traits that the students can pick from to write their own descriptive similes. Finally, my students illustrate their favorite personal simile with oil pastels and watercolor paints using the wax resist technique. Last year, I displayed their paintings along with their similes on sentence strips on a bulletin board in the hallway. Everyone loved learning about my students through their similes.

    Alycia Zimmerman — "Poetic Beginnings"

    It Starts With the Book

    After reading the Never Take a Shark to the Dentist, talk with your kids about different things that they would never want done to them or things that they would never do.

    Partner your students (alphabetically, by height, etc.) and assign an "A" person and a "B" person and explain their roles: person A will have an allotted amount of time to interview person B. After this, the roles reverse. Based on what they learn, students then create a personalized phrase about their interviewee. 

    I distribute the following template for more guided writing when necessary:

    Never _______________ partner's name ___________________.
    Never _______________ partner's name ___________________.
    But always _________________ partner's name ________________.

    After the interview process, students write their "Never" and "Always" phrases about their partner. When the activity is complete, students share what they wrote about their partner giving everyone in the class an opportunity to speak, listen, and learn a little more about their classmates.

    Kriscia Cabral — "Never, Always: A Getting-to-Know You Writing Activity"

     

    All About Me

    If time is limited, try an All About Me poster. While browsing Scholastic Teachables, I also came across the “I Am Special” mobile activity. If your school’s fire code permits hanging items from the classroom ceiling, this project may be exactly what you are looking for to brighten your room. I would suggest recruiting a few parent volunteers to help with assembling this project.

    Michelle Sullenberger — "Getting-to-Know-You Activities: The First Week and Beyond"

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