Take a minute and think about what your students do during their first ten or fifteen minutes of class. Are they getting started on their morning work?
If we took a time machine back to my first two years of teaching, my first graders worked on what we called “Math Boxes” from the Everyday Math program. When I moved to second grade a few years later, my students completed a daily “fix it” page. If we go back just a couple years ago, my first graders worked on a math or word work page.
My kids were working on what I would call “practice work.” They were answering questions. They were working on surface level activities. They were bored.Some struggled. Others finished so quickly that I spent more time working on “fast finisher” activities than I wanted to admit to anyone.
Hear me out. There is absolutely, positively, nothing wrong with printable practice pages for morning work. I have used them and I will use them again in my classroom. Sometimes our kids need additional practice. But this past year, I found myself wondering if there was something they could do in the morning that would work for ALL levels of learners AND foster pure, genuine thinking skills. What would integrate writing, science and social studies content, discussion, and critical thinking within those first 10 minutes of class?
What would make them THINK?
I started to dive into brain research. I discovered the power of pre-exposure for our students. Students will make more connections and retain more information if they are pre-exposed to content BEFORE we directly teach it.
A week later, I had a plan in place. I threw away the printables sitting in our Morning Work basket. I looked at my lesson plans and saw that we were going to use the old strategy of “seeing, thinking, and wondering” in social studies. We were suppose to talk about the past and the present. I threw this photograph onto my smart board:
“What ARE those buckets used for?” my students asked. “What do YOU think they are used for?” I asked them right back. 😉
First, they wrote down what they could see in the photograph. I encouraged them to use describing words and paint a “vivid” picture in their readers’ minds. It didn’t matter if they didn’t know what the item was in the photograph, I just simply wanted them to write what they could see.
Then, they wrote about what they thought the item in the photograph was used for. They wrote about what they thought they knew about the topic. They wrote about what they thought it did, or who used it. The verb to pay attention to?? They thought about what they were seeing and looking at. They were thinking. I was immediately hooked. Now THIS is what I wanted morning work to look like for my students. I wanted it to say, “Wake up! Good morning! Today we are going to THINK!” In the final section, they jotted down questions they had about the photograph. Yes, yes yes! Genuine curiosity! (Remember, I had not told them anything about the photograph!)
The final part of this quick but effective morning work activity is the 2-3 minutes of discussion time that I provided my students with. This is where the real magic happened. As the students had a discussion and shared their ideas, they figured out A LOT of information about the photograph!
By the time our 10-12 minutes was up, my students had figured out that the buckets were old, they were used for carrying things, and that people long ago must have used them. I filled them in with some accurate, short information on lunch pails and how they were used long ago by children. Guess what?! When we got to our “long ago” unit later in the day, my students had been pre-exposed to a small detail about life long ago, which later helped them make connections to other areas and topics within the unit.
And so it began. Tuesday-Thursday, I threw a photograph up on the board. (Monday and Friday were journal prompt days.) Often the photographs were connected to a concept or topic we were studying in math, social studies, or science. Sometimes they were random antique objects that I knew my kids wouldn’t truly “know.” I waited for them to think, discuss, ponder, and draw conclusions about what the object was used for and what it was. They were developing problem solving skills and critical thinking abilities faster than I anticipated!
This new morning work routine (what I now call, “Wake Up Work”), led to the creation of my See, Think, Wonder, Write pack!
So why did I do away with our “practice pages” in the morning for this new, integrated writing experience? Here are five reasons why I gave my morning work a “makeover.”
I want to CAPTURE my students during those first ten minutes of school. I want to ignite their excitement and their thirst for learning. Providing open-ended discussions and writing opportunities was much more engaging and thought-provoking than the practice pages we were using the prior year. (Again, there’s nothing wrong with using practice pages! But for this group of kids, and my teaching style – this “makeover” was what they needed. It worked and we LOVED it!)
Our students are not born knowing how to think critically. The ability to think critically is a life-long skill that needs to be developed and fostered on a daily basis by teachers, families, and the community. I want even those first 10 minutes of the day to be a time when my kids are deeply engaged in thinking critically about a real-world topic.
It was really difficult for me to differentiate my morning work when I used practice pages. Yes, I often tried to run other skill levels off for my kids who were high achievers. But this turned out to be exhausting! Even if I was organized, I found it difficult to manage each morning. By having my kids participate in a writing-based morning work activity, each child was able to work at his or her level. No matter where they were in their writing skills, 100% of my students were capable of coming up with ideas and getting them onto the paper in some way. For kinders, that could mean drawing pictures. For emerging writers, it may mean labeling. My capable writers took off with pencils flying! Here are two pictures. One is a struggling writer and one is a proficient writer. Regardless of the length of writing, the important thing to note is that within the same ten minutes, both students were fostering thinking and writing skills:
Our time at school is limited. We have so much to do. So much to teach. So much content to make sure our lesson are covering. Pre-exposing my kids to what we were going to learn about later on in the day not only maximized my afternoon lessons, but they allowed my students to make deep connections between the facts we briefly discussed in the morning to the information we learned in the afternoon. Our subjects (math, writing, social studies, science) were blurring together. I showed an abacus one morning. The students wrote about it and later connected what they knew to the addition practice we were completing at the small group table later in the day. Integrating our content whenever possible – even in short, small doses – leads to amazing results!
Children are naturally curious! Make morning work fun by putting the creativity back into it! One morning I showed an antique mixer on the screen. My students, who did not know what it was, came up with ideas on everything from a pencil sharpener to a machine that cleaned dishes (far-fetched, but creative, nonetheless). (Later, as they discussed the photograph together, they came to the conclusion that the item was a “cake mixer.” The cool part? They came to that conclusion entirely on their own! When they do not accurately draw the correct conclusion, they have fun listening to me share facts and details about the photograph. At that point, they are so involved and “into” the photograph that they are captivated by the information!) When I was using practice review pages as my morning work, my kids were not given creativity in their work. Now, they have the opportunity to put their own voice, flair, creativity, and sense of self into their morning work time!
I hope you enjoyed reading about our morning work routine. My See, Think, Wonder, Write pack contains 75 photographs that you can use as you implement this into your classroom! Please note, this pack is not only intended for morning work time – you can use it whenever and however you wish!
Fast Fact pages take the guesswork out for the teachers! Each photograph contains a Fast Fact sheet that you can use to guide your discussion of the photograph and teach your students some basic facts after they have completed their see, think, wonder, write activity.
Guiding questions for each step of the activity are included. Signs and posters can be printed out and used as visual reminders to help students stay on task.
Even kinders can use this pack! A blank template has been provided for children to draw their thinking. Beginning and intermediate templates have been included, as well.
Are you looking for more engaging curriculum products for your students?
You can click on the video below to get a glimpse of some of my other creations!