My students come from diverse Hispanic countries and have only been in this country a year or more. Often, some of the lessons that most general program classroom teachers would present are out of reach for my students, as they have not lived the experiences that many native-born American children have enjoyed.
A writing activity that I love to do this time of year takes me a few extra periods than it would in the classrooms of my colleagues. I call the activity “My autumn eyes behold”. It can be done at any time of year, but I like to do it in the fall when the changes outside invite so much discussion and inspiration.
However, I work in an inner city school where most of my students live in apartment buildings or 2- and 3- family homes. Most of the trees near my school are scraggly and skinny, held up by string and stakes. The few leaves that manage to hold on, change colors, and fall to the ground are ignored, I think, and become just part of the litter that blows through the street. So, before I ask my students to “describe what you see on an autumn day,” I invite them to join me for a “walk”.
Imagine my students’ amusement when this morning, as it poured rain and thundered furiously outside our window, I announced we would go for a walk. “But we’ll get wet!” and “It’s too cold!” they complained. “We’re going to pretend” I said, as I turned on the LCD projector and shared a slide show (on Power Point) of the most beautiful fall images I could find on Google. I played Aaron Copland’s Rodeo – Four Dance Episodes while we toured golden mountains, trudged through leafy yellow forests, sailed on a crystalline blue river that wove through a toffee-colored canyon, and picked orange and (surprise!) white pumpkins in a field where a scare-crow stood guard.
Accessing prior knowledge is an important part of good teaching. In my case, I often have to create and simulate experiences so that my students may have a bank from which to retrieve information. I cannot assume that they’ve seen the glorious colors of autumn, that they’ve sipped a cup of hot chocolate after raking leaves, or that they’ve jumped in to a pile of leaves and stared up at the sky.
After our “walk”, I asked the students to make a list of all of the things they saw. After a few minutes, we brainstormed a list of the colors we saw. I expected they would say “red, orange, yellow, etc.” as other color words are not yet part of their vocabulary. Next, I provided a list of color words that would broaden their personal word banks, as well as more closely describe what they saw.
Then, I did one of my famous “mini-lessons”; I read Under, Over, by the Clover by Brian P. Cleary. This fun book is about prepositions, which my fourth grade students need exposure to in order to develop proficiency in English. After a shared reading, we created a list of prepositions, and posted those at the board as well.
Finally, I posted the following pattern:
(color) (object) (where you saw it)
I asked my students to develop several of these phrases, using the lists we created. Tomorrow we'll revise, rewrite, and edit as needed. I'll also conference individually with several of the students, and have them tell me about their writing.
This poetry-writing activity is a painless way to facilitate vocabulary and word-order skills.