The Three Pigs and Big Bad Wolf

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To end the school year, I wanted to do something fun to help keep my students motivated and engaged during the last few weeks. From Twitter, I saw that @missmac100 had done a project based on the 3 Little Pigs and Big Bad Wolf with her second graders. This project included a real-life application and incorporated different subject areas. I read her blog posts about the project and started a discussion with her as I began planning. I met with the Instructional Coach to figure out how to tackle this task. We looked at the standards I needed to include to end the year and how the different aspects of the project met the standards. I also researched on Pinterest, and found other versions of the project. I took all these ideas and modified them to best fit the needs of my students and the time frame we had.


First, I read different versions of the 3 Little Pigs to my students. They looked forward to the books! After each story, we created a story map about what happened, and they began noticing the differences in characters, building materials, and endings. We also were able to discuss whose point of view the story was written from. After reading multiple stories, students compared and contrasted two versions and also wrote their own story!

I also introduced the topic of architecture to the students. We brainstormed questions to research that would help us build a strong house. We also discussed, researched, and modeled different architectural structures, such as columns, domes, bridges, and arches.

After, students formed groups and started brainstorming and creating a blueprint of their house design. They were not happy when I told them their budget was $600 after they saw the price of the materials!! They added up the cost of their materials, being careful not to go over, and drew their design before purchasing materials from me. While building, I let them return or trade materials, as long as they had not been used.




Once students finished their houses, we tested them using the Big Bad Hairdryer. Students were quite nervous, but cheered when their house survived! Amazingly, none of the houses fell apart! One blew off the table, but that didn’t count! I was going to give them additional money to revise their house, but that turned out to not be needed.


We then moved on to the next part of the project. We talked about advertising and how to sell your house. Students needed to create real estate ads and posters why other Pigs should buy their house. They continued working in their groups to create these. We talked about descriptive and persuasive language to be the best sellers.



Finally, students presented their posters. They then chose which house they would buy and one.



Phew! This project took the last few weeks of school, but it was definitely worth it.   Students were engaged and excited to build. They needed to work together and share ideas in a small group, which wasn’t always easy, and problem solve when things didn’t go as expected or they went over budget. These skills are just as important as the reading, writing, math, and science standards that this project entailed. I’m proud how this project turned out and hope it is something the students remember for a long time.

What’s in Lilly’s Purse?

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Last school year in first grade, we made Frosty’s Lunchbox, and I knew the project could be extended to other characters and ideas.  When planning for my summer school class, Write Like a Famous Author, I knew I wanted to do something with Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse during our Kevin Henkes’ week.  I decided to have the students make and write about what’s inside Lilly’s purse; I also gave the students the option to crete what’s in Owen (or another character’s) toolbox or bag.

After reading aloud the story, we brainstormed what items could be in Lilly’s purse.  The students came up with a great list (they did such a great job cleaning up that they erased the board before I could take a picture!)  The students were excited about the project, but didn’t know where to start.  I modeled an example and we brainstormed possible topic sentences.  Then students got started and were very creative.  They worked at their own pace with writing and drawing pictures.  I helped them with cutting the purse and figuring out where to glue the pictures so they popped up.  It took them 1.5 class periods to complete (each class is 90 minutes) but it was worth it since they were engaged and worked hard.  I was pleased with the project turned out and am excited for more creations this summer!

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Building a Diorama

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As a fun concluding reading activity, we had the students create a diorama of one of our reading stories.  They picked their favorite story from the year and chose one scene to recreate.  I also created a simple rubric and a place for them to write the title, genre, and sequence of events of the story.

Students enjoyed being creative and designing the characters and setting.  They needed to use a lot of details, which helped some of them take their time and show their artistic side.  This project was challenging for those students who are not as strong in creativity, but it was a good experience to expose them to thinking outside the box.

This was a multi-day project, but the students really enjoyed it.  It took a lot of work to create the diorama and write about it!  This was a good, culminating activity for the students to demonstrate what they’ve learned throughout the year about all the literary elements.  A lot of choice was involved in picking the story and deciding how to best represent it.  The sequence writing was also a good way for students to use a lot of details to describe what happened in the Beginning, Middle, and End of their story.

After the dioramas were done, students did a gallery walk around both classrooms to share and see others’ work.  I was very impressed with their creations and would love to have students build dioramas again!

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Who doesn’t love receiving a letter?!

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Who doesn’t love receiving a letter in the mail?!  Letter writing is still a valuable, authentic learning experience in the classroom.  It teaches students how to effectively communicate their thoughts into writing.  It gives students a purpose for writing.  And they eagerly wait for a reply!

In each teaching experience I’ve had, letters have been included and provided an authentic, meaningful experience.  Below outlines some of the activities I’ve done and I know the list can be expanded.

  • Second grade students learned how to write letters around Thanksgiving time.  They had to choose a teacher at school to write a letter to saying why they were thankful for that person.  I was lucky to receive a few!
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  • Second grade students learned how to write letters while learning about government leaders.  As a class, we wrote a letter  to the mayor that I emailed to him; he wrote back!  I then planned an assembly for him to come answer some of their questions.  Students also each wrote a letter to President Obama asking him questions and telling him something they were learning.

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  • First graders learned how to write letters and each wrote a letter to their parents.  Using a class email account, they typed their letters and sent them.  They wanted a reply, and their parents sent very sweet ones.  We checked the email account a few times during the day and read aloud the replies.  Both the students and their parents loved this!
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Everyone loves receiving mail.  Writing letters gives students a positive, authentic experience, and they love when they receive a reply!  I want to continue letter writing in the future, possibly virtually or with pen pals.  What are other ways you have used letter writing?

What’s for lunch Frosty?

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Even though it is March, the snow and cold make it feel like it’s still winter.  We took a break from our normal routine between reading units to complete a fun, creative writing craft.  Besides being a break, students were able to practice and apply the writing process from brainstorming to creating a final product.

The project we created was titled “What’s in Frosty’s lunchbox?”.  Students got to write, design, and create what he ate for lunch.  They were given the topic and concluding sentences.  First, students completed a brainstorming sheet with food items-a sandwich, fruit, drink, and dessert.  They also needed to use a descriptive word with each item and draw a picture.

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Then, they turned their brainstorms into a written paragraph.  These paragraphs were edited to check sentence structure and help with spelling.  Then, they wrote their final version in their best handwriting.

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Students decorated the lunchbox and drew each piece of Frosty’s lunch before cutting it out, so we could make them pop up.

This project took 3 days to complete because of all the steps, but they turned out super cute.  It is important for students to practice the writing process and create an authentic product.

This project could definitely be extended for other characters besides Frosty.  What about Father’s Day-what’s in my dad’s lunch?, Nutrition month-what’s in my healthy lunch?, even a literary character’s lunch-the possibilities are endless!!



Using Story Cubes and Creatively Writing Stories

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During Work on Writing time a few weeks ago, we introduced the Story Cubes app.  The students loved it!  It was great seeing them so excited about writing, and they came up with some creative sentences and stories!

To introduce the activity to each group, I showed them how to use the cubes and we wrote a story together.  After shaking the cubes and seeing our picture choices, we went around the table and everyone thought of one sentence.  Each person wrote the sentence in his journal, so the group had the same story.  After everyone had shared an idea and we made sure the story had a good conclusion, each person illustrated his story.  Once center time was complete, students shared their stories with the class.


Since students were so excited about writing these stories, we decided to start a traveling journal.  There were 2 copies of story cube dice, so we put 1 set and a journal in a bag to go home with 2 children each night.  They have to write a story and return the set the following day; the child shares his story with the class and then a new student takes the journal home.


I love this idea of students creatively writing a complete story and sharing it with their classmates.  They’re going to be writing the rest of their lives, so it’s important they develop a solid foundation.  Also, it’s a chance for them to be creative, which I think sometimes get lost with other demands of school and life.  I will never tell a child he cannot write a story or that there is a limit how much to write.  I cannot wait to continue reading their stories!

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Being Creative While Learning to Work in Groups

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One part of the first grade social studies curriculum is called Skills for Growing, which incorporates concepts related to social-emotional learning.  Lessons teach students about being themselves, working with others, and friendship.  While looking over the lesson I would teach about working in groups and different roles of group members, I noticed the suggested activities were somewhat boring.  I decided to adapt the activities and combine the lesson’s theme with our writing skill.  We had just discussed descriptive writing, and sometimes it’s hard for first graders to write more detailed sentences.

First, we discussed what it’s like working in a group and why students may or may not enjoy group work.  We discussed the different possible roles of group members: collector, reporter, and a member.  Then, I explained the project: each group needed to pick an animal and create a web with different descriptions of the animals, such as color, size, where they lived, and what they ate.  I randomly picked the groups, so students could work with different students in the class.  I also modeled how to create a web and we did an example together, so students knew exactly what to do.

I was impressed how well the students worked together and were enthusiastic about the project.  Each group chose an animal, and each person wrote at least one description of the animal.  Sometimes they needed prompting for more descriptions to write, but overall they came up with great ideas.  The best part was that students were completely engaged, and they didn’t want to stop working!

When students are that motivated and engaged in an activity, you know as a teacher that you’ve created a successful learning experience.  The students successfully accomplished the lesson goal of working together in a group.  Sometimes as a teacher you need to take the initiative and make the executive decision to be creative and encourage students to think out of the box!  As a result they’ll have a meaningful learning experience!

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New Year’s Resolutions in the Classroom

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Coming back to school from Winter Break was a bit adventurous since we had an extra two days off due to extremely cold temperatures.  We decided to start the New Year off on the right foot and have the students write resolutions.  Not only are resolutions important for students to think about, but this also gave them the chance to write complete sentences using details.

First we read Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution and a New Year’s poem to discuss what is a resolution and brainstorm some ideas.  Resolutions are a hard concept to understand, and we emphasized that they are something you want to do better, not something you do already.

Then, students were given 4 Post-it notes to write 4 resolutions.  I helped some students brainstorm ideas if they were having trouble; knowing about the students academically and their personal interests helped me think of ideas that targeted their needs.  When they finished, we edited the resolutions for grammar and spelling, so students could neatly rewrite and create their final product.  They loved adding glitter as a finishing touch!

The students did a great job creating resolutions.  Some were school-related: I resolve to read chapter books better, I promise to turn in my homework, I want to always try my best.  Others were related to home: I want to eat healthy food, I resolve to clean my room, I promise to help my mom and dad.  I was proud of the students’ work, and we have a great bulletin board to start off the year.  Hopefully the students will be reminded and encouraged to work on their resolutions the rest of the school year!

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Disguising a Gingerbread Man

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In my quest to try some new things with technology and do a fun winter-holiday themed activity, I came across a Disguise a Gingerbread Man activity.  I love all the versions of the Gingerbread Man story, and thought it would be fun and creative for the students to think of a way to disguise the gingerbread man so he wouldn’t be eaten by the fox!

I met with the technology coach at my school to think of a way to do this.  Finally, we created a gingerbread man template in Notebook that the students could use to draw with the fun pens, add shapes, and write text describing the disguise they created.  We also found a Gingerbread story on Starfall as an introductory activity to review the story and think about how to design the Gingerbread Man.

The Gingerbread Man story  on the computer

The Gingerbread Man story on the computer

In the computer lab, both activities were explained and modeled, so students could work at their own pace.  It was a crazy hour in the lab (and I had to do it twice with both first grade classes!) helping students use the different tools, trouble shooting problems, showing them how to type, and printing their creations.  Even though it was crazy, it was fun to watch the students be excited and creative.  They loved just drawing and exploring the tools, especially the creative pen with the fun designs.  Most created gingerbread boys and girls, but some thought more outside the box creating ninjas, a Gremlin, a police officer, and a football player.  They were excited to take them home!










This was a fun winter project, and a great way for students to be creative and explore some new programs on the computer.  In the future, I would definitely repeat this project, but also extend the activity.  I liked that the students used the computer to draw, but I also could have them break the template home and disguise him as part of a family activity.  I would also have the students try to write a story, rather than one sentence “My Gingerbread Man is disguised as a …”.  They could tell where the Gingerbread man is, what he’s doing, how he escaped, etc.  Then, it would be more of a writing extension activity, in addition to technology and art; writing a complete story is a difficult task for first graders, but important for them to practice.  I’m glad we gave this activity a try, and it was a successful first attempt!

Here are examples of the Disguised Gingerbread Men!

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A Cornucopia of Thanks

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Last week at our first grade team meeting, we decided we wanted to do a writing activity for the students to write what they are thankful for.  We wanted to do something different than the standard turkey and writing in his feathers.  We thought of other Thanksgiving symbols and decided to use fruit in a cornucopia.  The teachers looked through books and templates they had, and I was ready to search for ideas on the computer.  It was a complete group effort to create and design this project.

We took the students throughout the entire writing process.  First we discussed what it means to be thankful and brainstormed a list of ideas; we emphasized being thankful for nonmaterial things.  Then, the students wrote a rough draft that was scaffolded since it’s still the beginning of the year and we’re working on writing complete sentences and ideas.  After their piece was edited, the students rewrote each sentence on a piece of fruit.  The students then colored and cut out the fruit and cornucopias.  They received help attached the fruit to the writing to make it flip up, and then they finished assembling their work.

Brainstormed list of things we are thankful for

Brainstormed list of things we are thankful for

Rough Draft of a Student's Writing

Rough Draft of a Student’s Writing

Templates Used to Create the Project

Templates Used to Create the Project

These projects turned out very well and it was a nice change of pace from the regular curriculum.  There were a lot of steps and the cornucopias took a long time to create, but the students were engaged, thoughtful, and hard workers.  Sometimes everyone needs a break and to do something different and fun.

Giving thanks is an important skill to have, and this project was a meaningful way for students to apply and incorporate their knowledge and ideas into different subjects-writing, social studies, and art.  This is an activity I would definitely repeat and is something that could be adapted for different grade levels.


Happy Thanksgiving!