This past winter, I created a program for an elementary school in my town, Rancho Santa Margarita, California, as a workshop for kindergarten teachers on incorporating creative activity. Using Keats’s The Snowy Day as the theme, I designed the lesson plan as a rotation of six activity centers. Some activities are related to the book, while others are for improvised play. With four teachers and 150 students participating, we covered two centers a week. The entire lesson takes three 45-minute sessions to complete.
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Lesson Plan: “A Flurry of Snowy Day Activities”
Why I Like It
The centers format is a creative way to introduce children to a book. Each session starts with a reading of the book, so that the children listen to and discuss the story three separate times followed by discussion questions. (See Scholastic’s “Ezra Jack Keats Author Study” for a discussion guide.) The story begins to feel familiar as the children become involved in class discussions and the activities that follow. When they come to know and understand a story, they can transfer what they have learned into other parts of their lives, in or out of school.
The activities personalize the learning process. The children I worked with on The Snowy Day painted their own “Snowy Day” pictures at the Easel Center without prompting. They built cities with snow at the Block Center and even took on different family roles at the Playhouse Center, based on Peter’s relationship with his mother. While this format is perfect for teaching The Snowy Day, it can be adapted to most any book in the library. I have also used it for teaching Keats’s A Letter to Amy.
The lesson begins with a reading of the story to the class, followed by basic comprehension questions, such as, What did Peter want to do when he saw the snow? What did Peter use to make a track in the snow? Then the children come up with words that describe snow, which the teacher records on a large whiteboard. Once the centers are explained, the students are organized into groups of four and spend 20 minutes at each center. A bell rings to announce clean-up time, and two minutes later, a second bell sends the children to the next center. The centers in this lesson plan are geared to kindergarten, but can also be used in first and second grade by making the tasks more challenging.
1. Art Center (adapted from Scholastic’s “Ezra Jack Keats Author Study,” in the section “The Snowy Day Extension Activities”). Using the EJK Foundation home page as a guide, the students paint a white, snowy hill on blue construction paper. I asked parent volunteers to make cutouts of Peter prior to the lesson, and supplied doll shoes, toothpicks, a rubber stamp and cotton swabs for Peter’s footprints, the track he makes with a stick, and snowflakes.
2. Writing Center. The students are given a page with the phrase, “Snow is…,” and directed to complete the sentence with a word from the board, for example, “Snow is cold” or “Snow is soft.” The teacher can also write a child’s chosen word on an index card for the child to copy. The children draw a picture that illustrates their sentence with color pencils or crayons. The completed pages can be compiled into a class book titled, “Snow is….” First- and second-graders can write their own sentence and make a book themselves.
3. Easel Painting Center. At this free-choice center, children may paint whatever they like. Younger children can dictate a sentence about their painting to the teacher, who attaches it, while older children can write their own. I like to leave this center open-ended. Some children will paint a favorite scene from the story without any prompting!
4. Playhouse Center. This area has play kitchen appliances and furniture. The children can play-act situations based on the story or improvise a scene of their choice. Mittens, hats and scarves can be added to the center to continue the “Snowy Day” theme.
5. Blocks Center. With many types of blocks, along with wooden people and signs, the children can build a snowy city based on the book, or imagine a different one. Cut-up paper can be used to make snow.
6. Math Game Center. Math Game Center. Teachers can use board games and other math games, or stick to our theme and provide activities related to snow! I have found fun ideas on the website Gather.com, where member Kelly M. has shared a few math activities for The Snowy Day that work well in this center.
The independent activity provided by the centers approach met with enthusiasm from students and teachers. Initially the teachers were not confident that the children could work independently at each center, but they observed that the children adapted quickly and thrived in the new environment. Teachers told me that the students were eager to return each week, and used The Snowy Day Game in their classroom to keep the story alive until the next session. The children told me that they remembered which centers they had completed and which they still needed to do. One of the teachers began using the center approach for other activities, with successful results.
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