I’m exploring how we can help young students “identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic” (Common Core standard RI K.9). In two lessons I gave with kindergarten this week, I focused on the language “we can use to describe sea turtles.” I chose this topic because these students are in the midst of a unit on ocean animals and who doesn’t love a sea turtle? Also, what I’ve found over and over again, in grades k-8, is that our students don’t have the language, the vocabulary to describe what they are noticing in texts -photos, written text, primary sources, etc.
My “texts” for comparing were photos from a calendar–I just tore it apart. Old calendars are a cheap source of photos to compare — chickens, race cars, horses, landscapes, etc.
On Day One, I posted one of the calendar photos for students to view and asked them, “What do you notice?” As they contributed to the discussion, I started a chart of the words they were using, categorizing the words into groups like color, body parts, environment.
We engaged in a shared reading of the list at multiple points. This took about 5 minutes. With kindergarten in late May—that seemed like a lot 🙂
Then I handed out a single calendar photo to pairs of students and asked them to describe what they noticed. I leaned into conversations and reinforced what they were saying with comments like, “Oh, you are noticing the different body parts, huh?” or “Oh, yes, I see the other fish in the sea turtle’s environment.” I also offered more vocabulary or language for consideration. For example, “Those scales on the turtle’s back that you noticed are called scutes” and “So you said the sea turtle is ‘big.’ Do you mean bigger than the fish in the picture?”
I asked the pairs to trade pictures a couple of times and to talk about what they noticed. I gave one pencil to each pair of students and they wrote words they could use to describe what they noticed.
To close, we regrouped and students offered additional words they’d used during their conversations for me to write on our chart.
On Day 2, we engaged in a shared reading of the words on the chart to review and then I posted two photos for the students to compare and contrast.
I led a shared writing of two sentences the students helped to generate. I wish I’d had a little more control over what we decided to write – the sentences seemed a tad long and complex for shared reading, but the students stuck with me as we engaged in shared reading of what we’d composed.
Then I asked small groups of four (so two pairs) to engage in discussion, noticing the similarities and differences between two photos. Again, I leaned in and reinforced and prompted as needed. I asked groups to switch photos once so they contrast another pair of photos.
I closed by asking for a thumbs up or down—“Do you think you could describe a sea turtle or another ocean animal to a friend?” There was an enthusiastic thumbs up.
I can’t say conclusively that learning happened. What I can say is that this was a simple opportunity for students to engage in conversation using the kind of language we want them to use in their writing. This was an opportunity for students to engage in noticing the kinds of details we want them to notice in written text. And this was an opportunity for them to read across “texts.” I think experiences like these – on a regular basis – could serve to build important skills (and content knowledge) that students can use as they move towards close reading of multiple informational texts on the same topic.
I’ve attached the lesson plan below if you’re interested. I wish I’d had three days so we could have done more independent writing. Our second day was cut short, too, by an assembly so the students did not have a chance to write as I’d planned. That happens!
In my next blog…I’m going to contemplate how we can move forward from comparing photos to comparing written texts. Does anyone have experience with this???? I’d love to hear about your endeavors!
Hope this helps.