Challenge Friday: Designing Yeti Houses


When Lego released the series 11 minifigures, there was a yeti included as one of the 16 in the series. I knew the kids would love that one, so I collected 11 yetis (one for each pair of students) and had them participate in a Challenge Friday activity centered around the yeti. First we read about the yeti to find out what the creature is. We talked about mythical creatures and I showed the children where they could find books about the yeti and other mythical creatures if they wanted to learn more about them (which they very much did in the days to follow). Then I announced the challenge.

We talked about architects and what they do. I emphasized how architects make plans and think through what they’re going to build BEFORE the building actually happens. I explained to the kids that the yeti was hiring them as the architects and he had certain specifications that he wanted them to include. Beyond those criteria, however, they could be as creative as they wanted. They could also be creative in how they chose to include the specifications. This discussion was done in Spanish and the ideas that we we’re discussing we’re written on the board in Spanish. We’ve been talking a lot about cognates and the kids have gotten very good at identifying cognates. They immediately noticed that “arquitectos” and “plan” looked and sounded like the corresponding English words. I kept the chart paper with the specifications written in English up on the board as well so that students could refer to either language while they were making the yeti houses.

The kids set off right away, working on first a plan and then building the actual houses.

While they were building the houses, I wrote a question on the board that we would discuss during our Share Circle that would happen next.

After 20 minutes of building, the kids brought their completed houses over to the Share Circle. They thought about the answer to the question I had written on the board: “How do you know the yeti is happy with his home?” Then they shared with the partner sitting next to them. I called on several partners to share with the whole group. Some students said that they knew the yeti was happy because they “included all of the specifications” in the house, while others said it was because they had provided various forms of entertainment and comfort for the yeti, including flat screen TVs, laptops and video games, hot tubs, and heated chairs.

Finally, we went around and took a picture of each yeti house from directly above to get a bird’s-eye view. The kids went back to their tables and revised their floorplans to make sure they were accurate maps of the houses that they had created.

They really loved doing this challenge and requested to do it again the following week!


Integrating Math in Morning Meeting

To help connect math with our daily Morning Meeting, I often put a math response question or chart on the board with directions for the children as they enter the classroom. We then discuss the results during our Morning Meeting.

Here’s an example where the students had to solve a word problem. I had given directions for them to take a blank piece of paper that I had set out for them and draw a picture that represents what is happening to the bones in the problem. After students shared their pictures/strategies during Morning Meeting, I glued the papers to the chart paper and hung it in the hallway.


Here’s another example, this time with a chart that they had to help fill in.


Another example with a chart about the different measurement tools with what they measure.

And the chart completed after our share where students told what they had written on the chart and why they thought it was correct or incorrect.


Challenge Friday: Winter Vacation

The last day of school before winter vacation is always an exciting one! The children are bouncing up and down, energy just seeping out of them. We teamed up with the class next door to create a winter holiday-themed day. While the teacher next to me had the children make gingerbread man glyphs and marshmallow towers (who could make the tallest tower out of marshmallows and toothpicks), the children in my room did Challenge Friday. The kids participated in each class’s activities and then we switched classes so that everyone could do both sets of activities.

The challenge for Challenge Friday was simple, yet meaningful, and provided the kids an opportunity to share and express their excitement for the upcoming holidays in a creative way. The challenge was to make something out of Legos that showed what they were going to do over winter break.

They had 15 minutes to build and then we made a Share Circle to show what they had made. First they shared in detail with a partner next to them, where they could show off the specific details that they included in their creation. Then we went around the circle and each child had the option to share one sentence about what they were going to do over winter break. They could also pass if they didn’t want to share.

The total amount of time for this activity was about 45 minutes – 10 min for directions and idea examples, 15 min build, 15 min Share Circle, 5 min transition time from building to coming to Share Circle.

This challenge could easily be done AFTER winter break by having kids make something they DID over the holiday vacation.)

Integrating Writing and Art: Authenticity in Descriptive Writing

We are always looking for ways to make writing more authentic for kids, and another teacher and I found just the way to do that while combining the fun and excitement of the October and November holidays. My third grade class teamed up with a second grade class down the hall. It started with the second graders creating a monster out of colored construction paper. They used a method that their teacher had taught them called “drawing with scissors.” Their teacher had taught them about a French artist named Henri Matisse who used this technique in his old age after he became ill.

The second graders had a list of criteria that they had to follow to design their monsters. For example the monsters had to have a height between eight and 12 inches and a width between four and 8 inches. They also had to include an odd number of facial features and an even number of appendages. After designing their monsters, they wrote about them, describing them in as much detail as possible. Their teacher made sure to focus on beginning each sentence with a different word so that the students would learn sentence variety.

Next, we gave the descriptions to my third graders who had to re-create the monsters using the “drawing with scissors” technique. We read about Henri Matisse together before reading the descriptions that the kids had written. They glued information sheets about Henri Matisse into their notebooks and we discussed the text features that were on those pages including captions, titles, and subtitles. I explained to the children that the second graders had had a list of criteria that they had to follow. They were to try to make the creatures based only on the descriptions that the second graders had written.

I passed the descriptions to each child and I gave them a choice whether they wanted to work alone or with a partner. It was very interesting to listen to the conversation that the children had as they were trying to build the monsters based on the descriptions. There was much commentary on which kinds of details were helpful and which kind of details left you more confused. One student said, “This kid wrote that the monster has three eyes, but he didn’t say what color. So what color am I supposed to use?”

After making their versions of the second graders’ monsters, we discussed the details that are most helpful in descriptions. We wrote a list of ideas on chart paper. Then with partners, kids had to go back to their seats and write an idea for a topic sentence that would include the main idea of a paragraph about the most helpful details in descriptions. I gave each set of partners a small pad of paper on which to write their idea for a topic sentence. After several minutes, we met back together to share ideas for topic sentences. We picked one topic sentence and I wrote it on the board in red. Then I told the students that they were going to finish the paragraph by adding four detail sentences to it. They could use the ideas that we had already written on chart paper or they could use their own. They could also choose to work with a partner on their paragraph or they could work by themselves. They had to write the topic sentence in red and then the detail sentences in pencil. As we are just starting to learn about how to write paragraphs we are doing a lot of shared writing and paired writing before I expect the students to do it completely independently. Students who feel ready, however, can work independently if they would like to.

The next day I hung the third graders’ versions of the monsters in the hallway next to the second graders’ versions of the monsters. I also hung up the chart paper with ideas for the most helpful kinds of details that are in descriptions. The second grade class came out and compared their versions with the third grade students’ versions and also talked about the most helpful details that are in descriptions. The teacher later told me that the students were so excited to see what versions of the monsters were created based on their descriptions. One student said, “Oh I see where I could’ve explained that better.” Another student made a comment about how he realized that he didn’t describe something well enough and another one said how she had completely left a body part out altogether.

The next week, I told my students that we were going to do the exact same thing but in reverse. This time we were going to be the ones to create something, write a description about it, and then give it to the second graders to try to make. The kids were very excited! They kept asking me, “What are we going to make? What are we going to make?” Finally, I revealed to them that we were going to make turkeys using the same “drawing with scissors” technique and using criteria just like the second graders had done with their monsters. The height and width requirements were the same as the ones for the second graders. I added that the feathers had to be in a pattern and that the turkey had to have several specific body parts. As before, the students could choose to work separately or with a partner. They excitedly got to work creating their turkeys.

The next day I handed them back their turkeys and gave them paper to write their descriptions for the second graders. We re-read the paragraphs that we had written a week before about the most helpful kinds of details to add into descriptions. I also reminded them of the ease or difficulty that they had had with re-creating the monsters based on a description. I told them to keep this in mind when they were writing their descriptions for the turkeys.

When the descriptions were ready, we traded them with the second graders. The second graders went to work the next day on making turkeys based only on the third graders’ descriptions. The second grade teacher and I were both very happy with the results of this project. We loved that it involved building cross-grade relationships, capturing the enthusiasm of the holidays through art, fostering the four C’s (connectivity, communication, creativity, and critical thinking), adding elements of measurement into art, and making connections between art and literacy through paragraph and descriptive writing. This activity could easily be replicated with nearly any unit or time of year with any grade.