What do you do when you have experienced a weather-related school shutdown (like “Southern Snow Storm Leon AKA “Smowmageddon 2014”?)
Sleep late and wear your PJs all day, of course!
No- I mean when you get back to school. Do you just jump back in right where you left off? Or should you stop and spend some time processing what happened with your students? After all, if school was canceled, you probably experienced a significant and/or unusual local event. The children will have a lot of schema and story to share along with interest and excitement for writing about an event they personally experienced.
But what should you have them do? Talking about it in a morning meeting is nice, but with all that “real life” experience, you could take it a lot further.
Please do not lame out with something like this: Write a paragraph telling what you did over the snow days. So boring! My eyelids are getting heavy just thinking about it.
Let’s take that idea 5 steps further. How could you engage your students in thinking, writing, and creating in an authentic manner that will be fun and motivating?
Here’s an idea! Publish a “special issue” magazine!
A special issue magazine is published to focus on a significant story or event that interests a large group of people. (Think Kate Middleton’s wedding to Prince William or the Sochi Olympics.)
1) Look at “real” magazines. Pull out a few examples of appropriate magazines for students to see. What is in a magazine? (Kid mags like American Girl, Ranger Rick, and Sports Illustrated KIDS are good examples.) You might even be able to find a special issue magazine for sale in the newsstand. What kinds of information is given? How is it displayed/ organized? How do they hook the reader? (Smart teacher bonus points: put out a basket of these for kids to read during Independent Reading. They will be a hot item!)
2) Brainstorm with the students all the possible “stories” that could be written as a result of the weather event. Topics could include:
Interviews– maybe with the principal to find out how school leaders decide when to cancel school, or perhaps with a student who had an interesting story (such as loss of power, leaky roof, etc.)
Survey analysis story: How do kids spend their “days off?” How did people feel about the weather event? What were the best/ worst parts?
“How to” article – how to prepare for winter storms, how to prepare your house for snow, etc.
Funny or interesting stories that capture events or “remarkable moments” from the storm: the local man who climbed a ladder during an ice storm to save his cat, the terrible traffic jam caused by snow, etc.
Stories that tug at the reader’s emotion– perhaps about pets facing cold weather or people surviving without electrical power.
Informational stories that answer “curiosity” or scientific questions. i.e.- How do wild animals survive severe weather? Why do bridges ice over before roads?
3) Assign articles: Once your students understand the format of a magazine and have brainstormed possible “stories,” you can let them sign up (or be assigned) to a specific story. Want them to work in pairs? That’s fine, but I would hold each child accountable for making their own “magazine” page. (To be clear- Johnny and Billy can work together on researching a story about wild animal survival but they will each be required to design a page and write the content on their own. Each boy’s final page goes into a separate magazine.) The class would then end up with 2 “published” magazines. I firmly believe that cooperative learning works best with a strong element of individual accountability.
4) Create magazine “pages”: Let each child design their own page layout, deciding where titles, photos, captions, graphs, and text should be placed. (What an authentic reason to learn about text features!) All they need is a ruler and a pencil. Tell them to make light pencil marks in case they need to erase. Markers will help in making the headline and images “pop.”
Warning: Do not get overly fixated on beautiful page design, or making it “perfect.” The thought process is far more important than a glossy and perfect final product.
Use this experience as an opportunity to move your students through the writing process- writing/ revision/ editing/ revision/ “publication” (final copy to be pasted to magazine page.) However, don’t get bogged down and drag it out for weeks. This entire project could easily be accomplished in 6 or 7 days if you keep it moving.
5) Publish! This could be something as simple as stapling the pages together and running a piece of duct tape down the edge to cover the staples. See my post about binding class books.
Does it have to be typed? Not if it’s up to me! Have them draw a “text box” and then trim a piece of lined paper to glue inside it (after their writing is ready for a “final copy.”)
Will everything fit on an 8×11 sheet of copy paper? Probably not! Try to find some larger paper for the kids to use. 9×12 would probably do it.
What about a cover and table of contents? You can do that yourself, or assign it to a child. Like I said, don’t make it difficult. Keep it simple and authentic.
By the end, your students will have engaged in worthwhile thinking covering a wide range of writing styles. There may even be a little math and science sprinkled in if you are intentional! Speaking, listening, collecting data, research skills, etc. It’s all there! They will also have a fantastic “class book” to be read and reread for the rest of the year. (If you have 2 copies, one can circulate among the families! The parents will love it!)
6) What about assessment? If it were me and I needed a numerical grade, I would come up with a simple check-list for each child’s page.
10 points each for: Title, subtitle, main image, caption, secondary smaller image that might be a graph or infograph
50 points for the writing. You can conference with the children ahead of time to let them know how those points will be assessed. Ask yourself- what would make this kind of story “good?” Then assign the points. For example, in a survey-based story, I would assign 10 points for a strong lead/introduction, 10 points for well-selected quotes, 20 points for a clear beginning, middle and end, 10 points for a clear summary of survey results, and 10 points for writing conventions (spelling, punctuation, etc.)
Note: I realize that I haven’t given you a “step by step” project with printables and SmartBoard slides. Maybe one day I’ll get around to that. However, trust me when I say you don’t need that to accomplish this project with your children. Take the idea and make it yours! Modify it to fit the needs of your students. It will be great!