Challenge Friday: Geometry 3D Shapes


The kids have been studying geometry in math. The kids have to know the names of solid figures, such as sphere, pyramid, cube, cylinder, cone, and rectangular prism. For each shape they have to know how many faces, edges, and vertices it has. So for Challenge Friday, our mission this week was to make one of the solid figures out of Legos and then write about it, describing it by its geometric properties. After making one, they could make another if they had time.

Although cubes, pyramids, and rectangular prisms were very popular, some kids found very creative ways to make cylinders, cones, and even spheres! We met in a share circle after every student had had a chance to make at least one shape. In the share circle, they described their shape by how many faces, vertices, and edges it had, and the other kids had to guess what shape it was. Once they guessed the correct shape, the student revealed the shape they made.

I took a picture of each shape that the kids made and then they glued the picture in their notebooks with their written descriptions.





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.


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.




Integrating Math and Literacy in Two Languages


After attending a conference in New Mexico about dual-language teaching, I returned to the classroom with a new understanding of what should be happening in elementary classrooms across the United States.  We should not be TEACHING SPANISH AND ENGLISH to kids.  We should be teaching IN Spanish and English, helping ALL students acquire two languages in elementary school.  There is a big difference between “teaching a second language” and “teaching in two languages.”  Some of the most important statements I have ever heard stuck with me from this conference:

  • “Monolingualism is the exception in the rest of the world, but it’s the norm in the United States.”
  • “If you can speak English and Spanish, you can communicate with 80% of people in the world.”
  • “Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century.”
  • “If standards are designed to make Americans more competitive in the 21st century, why is there no standard for biliteracy and bilingualism?”

This is exactly what our school is trying to do to help prepare our students for the ever-changing global community that they are growing up in.  It is amazing how fast children acquire understanding and vocabulary in a second language if they are given the opportunity.  We shouldn’t be teaching children a second language.  We should be allowing them to acquire the second language in the same way that they are acquiring the vocabulary and structure of their first language.

With all of this in mind, here’s an example of how that would look in a third grade classroom where about half of the students are first-language Spanish speakers.  When my students entered the room at the beginning of the day, they saw this graph hanging up on the board with directions to add a sticky dot to their favorite type of book before Morning Meeting.


(I allowed them to pick their top two favorites, if they couldn’t decide on just one favorite.)  During Morning Meeting, I explained that later today we would be finishing the graph, making observations about it, and then writing a paragraph to explain the graph to someone else.

During writing time later that morning, we made a list of observations about the graph.  I spoke in English and in Spanish during this time, but did not translate directly what I was saying in either language.  I fluidly moved between both and the students readily gave ideas for observations in both languages.  Whichever language they used for their ideas, I wrote on the board exactly what they said.


Students were then told to work together in pairs to write a topic sentence that tells what the whole graph is about and then add four detail sentences to complete the paragraph.  They had to write the topic sentence in red and the detail sentences in pencil.  This helps them show the separation between the main idea sentence and the sentences that support the main idea.  They were given a note pad to record the sentences for their paragraph.



When students had written a topic sentence and at least two detail sentences, we came together in a Share Circle to share ideas for the topic sentence.  I made a list of all topic sentences that students shared.  We then went through the list and talked about what makes a good main idea sentence.  The kids suggested that it should be a complete sentence.  We eliminated which ideas on the chart were NOT complete sentences.  One child suggested that those might be good as a title for the graph, but not as a topic sentence.  Another kid observed that one of the ideas wasn’t even about the graph, so we eliminated that one.  Finally, a student said that the topic sentence has to be about the WHOLE graph, not just one little part of it, so we eliminated that idea.  This left four possibilities.  I called on a student to pick one of the four options as our topic sentence for our class paragraph about the graph.

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I wrote the topic sentence in red, just as the students had done.  Next, I called on different partners to read one of their detail sentences.  I wrote those sentences in green.  When I had written four detail sentences on the board, I called on three different students to read the whole paragraph.  We discussed again how the main idea is in the first sentence in red and the detail sentences tell more about the main idea.

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The next step was for the kids to write a paragraph in their writing notebooks about the graph.  They could choose to use the paragraph that they had written with their partner, make up a completely new paragraph, or use a combination of some copied sentences and some new sentences.  As before, they had to write the topic sentence in red and the detail sentences in pencil.  We shared the paragraphs that the kids had written in a Share Circle after students were finished writing.

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The next day before Morning Meeting, the graph was hanging up on the board again with a new question: “What is missing from this graph?”  The students wrote ideas about what could be missing on sticky notes and stuck them to the graph.  During Morning Meeting, they shared the ideas they had about the missing parts on the graph.  We talked about which parts of a graph are essential and we added those to our graph.

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