Today was one of those ‘moments’ in teaching, the ones that turn something small into something big. It was a simple question, yet it opened a whole new world for children.
It happened like this…
Every day we have the ‘Question of the Day’ posted for children when they arrive in the classroom. The question is written on the easel, and there are two trays alongside- one for ‘yes’ and one for ‘no’. Children find their name on a big craft stick and place it on the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ tray. Today’s question was, “Do dinosaurs still live?”
After snack we tally the votes. This is terrific, because children watch as we mark the tally votes- four lines and a cross line. That’s five. They’re now able to recognize five without counting the lines. That’s subitizing.
We tallied the votes, 10 ‘no’ and 4 ‘yes’. That prompted a discussion, and we asked ‘Alexa’ if dinosaurs still lived. She told us they were extinct. A child asked, “What is extinct?”
Ah, the magic question that can open doors into many wonders.
I paused, because I know children learn by hands-on; they need to see, feel, and touch. Instead of Googling ‘extinct’ or asking ‘Alexa’, I did something far better. I pulled out the dictionary.
It’s large, it’s heavy. This was exciting. The first thing we did was look at the end pages. There were red marks all along. Once we opened the dictionary we learned the red marks were the alphabet. The dictionary is in alphabetical order! This was big news, and we spent time going through the pages, following the alphabet.
This is better than the latest and greatest video game. It is ‘real’. And we had just started.
We slowly went through the pages to find ‘E’. We found extinct. Yes, it means they are no longer living. Children wanted to see more and ask questions. Of course they did! This dictionary had some pictures, so that made it even more exciting. I gave each child an opportunity to tell us a word, and we could look it up. This was not easy, instead they wanted to discover words.
Discover words. Yes!
We played ‘The Stop Game’. I fan the pages of the dictionary until the children yell “Stop!” Then we open that page and discover the wonder of the words. This was so much fun! Yelling “Stop” and uncovering something new is very exciting. It’s learning on steroids.
We stopped at L and learned about a lighthouse. We stopped at U and learned about underwater vehicles. Then we stopped at M, and there was Mount Rushmore. Children remember this from our Big Book Atlas. Recently two children in our class visited Washington DC and saw statues of presidents, the same ones on Mount Rushmore. When I asked children if they knew the image of Mount Rushmore, they did… but nobody recalled the name. Finally one of the youngest children enthusiastically said, “Washington!”
Bravo! He made the connection. That’s learning. Today children felt the same excitement and discovery of going to Disney – and it was all in a dictionary.