Sunday, August 9, 2020

Another Picture Book Lesson for the First Week of School: Chrysanthemum

Happy second week of August! I'm back with another picture book lesson that I LOVE to use the first week or two of school. 

In my last post, I shared how I use a picture book to introduce the first writing assignment of the year. Today, I want to show you how I introduce our first sharing assignment of the year. 

Please notice I didn't say the other "s word"--speech.  Shame on you, what were you thinking? I can tell you've taught middle school, my friend.😉  In my experience, the word speech conjures up all sorts of negative connotations in 8th graders' minds. They panic, procrastinate, and play hooky just to avoid doing a simple sharing assignment.

This leads me to wonder...what happens to us as learners as we grow up? Most preschoolers I know LOVE show-and-tell and can hardly wait until it is their turn to share. Fourth graders love the spotlight as they share experiences and their work. But something happens in middle school when students are called to share in front of the class. For many students, this is not a pleasant experience.

Folks, this is where we as teachers need to step up our game. The first speech sharing assignment we do has to set the tone for the entire rest of the year. We need our kiddos to know that this is a safe place to share and be heard. We tend to spend a lot of time teaching kids the speaking part of these assignments (make eye contact, don't read from your notes, etc.), but I think teaching students how to be good listeners is just as important, if not more so. Because of this, I do a lot of introductory work to set the stage.

To create a safe sharing environment, I have my kiddos work through different scenarios as I pretend to be the For example, we pretend that I am very shy and I dare to make eye contact with you, when you suddenly lean over to ask your friend if she wants to go grab a soda after school. What am I, as the speaker, probably going to think?

Or I am telling the emotional tale of my grandmother naming me as she is on her deathbed, and you start to giggle because someone made a face at you. What am I, as the speaker, probably going to think?

After working through several of these lessons in empathy, I inform my students that they will earn speaking sharing AND listening grades. Yep, both are equally important in my classroom. After all, don't we have speaking AND listening standards? 

Also, every administrator I have ever taught for has commented on the safe learning community we have established in my classroom. I believe that is the biggest compliment any of them could have ever given me. And I truly believe it is derived from this lesson during the first week of school.

And this important lesson begins with this important book...

Yes, many of the kids have already heard this book by the time they reach 8th grade. I just explain that this is the year that we learn to read like writers, and we have a different purpose in our reading. They buy it, and we move on.

In case you missed my last post, here's my routine for picture book reading time:

* I place the book under the document camera so everyone can read aloud. (Sometimes I use Vooks or Epic if I can't locate a copy of the book.)

*I remind students of our reading norms as needed:

1. Everyone pays attention to the book. No one is doing homework, talking, drawing, or sleeping. 

2. I read the entire book the first time with NO interruptions. I don't stop to ask questions or make comments (usually) and students shouldn't either. Most of us don't like our television programs interrupted by commercials, so we're not going to do that when we read.

I love to use different voices for each character in this particular book, so I practice to make Victoria, Rita, and Jo sound especially annoying. 😉

Obviously, the social-emotional component of this story has to be addressed because: 1) It's a huge part of the story, 2) It will be an integral part of the sharing assignment that they will do this week.

We discuss that our names are the first gift our parents, and possibly other family members, give us. This makes them very special and personal to us. Because of this, we ALL need to be respectful of EVERYONE'S name and the unique story behind it. We reflect on the effect Chrysanthemum's classmates had on her and how that's not okay. 

I then share a personal connection of how I named each of my children. I explain the months of agonizing thought and care that went into every part of my children's names. I used family names, combined names, and borrowed the name of a childhood hero.

I tell them quick anecdotes of friends' and family's names. One of my college roomates was named by her mother pointing to a name in a baby book. My sister-in-law was named after her grandma's favorite soap opera character. A high school classmate was named after his dad's favorite baseball player. Finally, some families are like the Duggars and like to have all their children's names start with the same letter, and other families are really into alliterative names, so they choose names based on that. 

The kids always enjoy hearing these stories, and they become excited to share their stories, too.

Now it's their turn!

Sharing assignment guidelines: 

Visit with your parent(s)/guardian(s) about the story of YOUR name. It doesn't have to be a long, involved story--it just needs to be YOUR story. Here are some things to consider:

*Where did your parent(s) get your name? A baby book, movie, TV show, song, book, relative, hero, etc.

*Why did they decide to give this name to YOU? For example, did they decide to use this name because you looked like someone named this, did you have a physical feature that reminded them of this name (Raven = black hair; Rory = red hair, etc.)

*Do you know the meaning of your first and middle name(s)?

*Tell us as much or as little as you are comfortable sharing. Your sharing time must be at least one minute.

I usually assign this sharing activity on the first Monday of the year, and students begin sharing on Friday. In addition to interviewing their parents/guardians, I also have the kids write down what they are going to say. There are a few reasons for this.

1. It gives their story some organization. When they write the information down, it tends to have a beginning, middle, and end. If they just get up to speak, they tend to forget something and we get a lot of, "Oh, wait I forgot..."

2. It helps some kids not to be so nervous. If students know they have a paper to refer to (I don't let them read their paper), it helps ease their jitters. Also, sometimes just having something in their hands, helps give them a little added boost of confidence. 

3. It's the first gift I give their parents/guardians at parent-teacher conferences. I collect the paper from each student when they are finished sharing. I then hold onto them until I meet with parents in October. It's a great conversation starter, and I tell parents it's theirs to put into a scrapbook or memory box. I tend to see LOTS of these at high school graduation receptions, and it just makes my heart so happy. 


PLEASE NOTE: We all know that life isn't perfect. Because of this, not every student is going to be able to tell the story of HOW they got their name. Case in point, *I* don't know why my parents named me my name. By the time I created this lesson seventeen years ago, my mother couldn't remember details other than she just liked the name. That's okay because I still love my name! I share how people mispronounced my name as I was growing up, how I wished my middle name had an "e" at the end of it, and how my initials spelled another name that I loved.

I've had kids in foster care or whose parents have passed away, and we just focus on the positive. We look up what their names mean, if they think their names fit them, famous people who share that name, etc. They still get to tell THEIR story and not one student has questioned anyone's story over the years. No one. We're all so busy getting to know each other and enjoying our stories that no one ever questions how the story is told.


This activity makes me excited for school start! It is probably the BEST bonding experience I have ever used at the beginning of the year. We get to share a great book, set up our safe learning community, and learn part of each other's story. 

And like Chrysanthemum, I like to think it is "absolutely perfect."

Until next time, friends!

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