Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Snowy Week: Integrated Thematic Unit for Big Kids!

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My homeschool teaching style is very similar to the way I taught at the beginning of my career (w a y back in the 1980's). Teaching thematically came naturally to me, and it's a good thing, as our district-wide focus was on interdisciplinary teaching and reading across the content areas.  Sadly, with the advent of No Child Left Behind and later CCSS, the district developed a tight scope and sequence which made it pretty hard to deviate from if you wanted a decent observation/evaluation.  Can you relate to that?

One of the beauties of teaching thematically is that you can capitalize on current events, seasonal studies, and student interests. Another advantage is that teaching thematically is time efficient in
that you can integrate subject areas and get "more bang for your buck" or "kill two birds with one stone".  {Can you tell that we  are studying idioms?} Plus, and perhaps most important of all, is that thematic learning tends to be more authentic learning especially in application of skills and strategies.

In my homeschool classroom I use a thematic approach to our studies as well as allow for student interests.  Although I have mapped out on paper my plans for the year, there is much wiggle room, and I have learned to be flexible and to relinquish some control over to my 3rd grader. For instance, at the start of the year, I planned to do a Civil War thematic unit since we had just visited the Gettysburg Battlefields.  However, my son thought it would be more interesting to begin with the chocolate unit I had developed. So, we placed the Civil War on the back burner and began the chocolate unit (no arguments from me!).

After the holidays, I had planned to start the Civil War unit.  But then I started hearing my sons complain that it is January and we still have not had any snow here in PA.  Not one little flake!  So that got me thinking... maybe I could whip together a little "snowy" mini-unit for a week or two.  It would be fun and definitely motivating!  Instantly, my son was on board, and our first day back to school on Monday was a great day, mostly because he was so interested in finding out what we would be doing.

We started off with a read-aloud of this fun and imaginative picture book.  I chose this book because #1, I knew my son could connect with the characters' wishing for snow, and #2 because I wanted him to review plot details and sequence of events.  I found this thorough and FREE resource set from Anita Bremer's store on Teachers Pay Teachers.  

From there, we will learn a little about how snow is formed during science.  I stumbled across this FREE and beautifully made PowerPoint on how snowflakes are formed from Susan Morrow's store.

How Snowflakes Are Formed  PowerPoint

This activity integrates reading and science and has my son applying his skills of reading, identifying important information and taking notes.  I quickly developed this note-taking graphic organizer for him to use during reading.

In writing, I am using, the "If I Lived in a Snow Globe" prompt from the above FREE The Snow Globe Family packet.  I added this graphic organizer for brainstorming and planning:

In art, we will do my spin on this snow globe craftivity that was featured on Primary Punch's blog and use as a topper for the writing.

When I create a thematic unit, I like to include as many different genre and reading purposes as possible.  So far, we have read a story and an informative article. Later we will read directions and a biography.  What's missing?  Poetry!  I selected this book of poems to use because I absolutely love Jack Prelutsky and kids love him too!

It is at my son's independent level, but since I am introducing figurative language and poetic elements, I wanted to use an easy level text.  This way he can enjoy these humorous poems as he concentrates on learning new concepts (simile, metaphor, etc.).  I'm currently working on poetry graphic organizers and figurative language mini-posters to be used with this book of poems. The mini-posters are placed inside his Reader's Notebook which is used as an interactive notebook and a reader response journal.

Looks like our "very snowy week" will be extended for another week, as I still have more art (we will make our own snow and snow paint!), math, more science, and a biography to read.  I'll be back later this month to share!

If you would like a copy of the resources I featured in this post, click here to download them from Google Drive.

Do you teach a winter/snowy thematic unit? Share your ideas and activities in comments!

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