Thursday, May 15, 2014

Organizing Written and Oral Reports in Elementary School: The Iceland Project

My kids write reports and essays fairly often, but our homeschool group's frequent academic fairs are great opportunities for them to really dig in and up their skills--and show them off!

I tried a new organizational strategy this time, borrowed from Third Grade Thinkers, that worked out so perfectly that we're going to keep it for all time. Heck, I may start using this method!

After the kids had each read a couple of general resources on Iceland (Culture Grams and Britannica School gave the best results for this particular subject), they chose some narrower subjects on which to focus: Will wanted to write about Iceland's volcanoes, geysers, and glaciers, while Syd was most interested in Iceland's language, food, and horses.

I cut off a long section of butcher paper for each kid, then wrote their focus subjects, plus a section for the introduction and conclusion, as column heads across it. As the kids read and re-read all the print and online resources they collected, I asked them to find at least one general fact to help them write their introductions, at least one fact with "meaning" that would help them write their conclusions, and at least three facts relating to each focus subject:

I LOVED Third Grade Thinkers' use of sticky notes to write facts on, and for the exact same reasons: they're easily manipulated to reorganize the flow of logic, and their small size encouraged the kids to summarize instead of copying. Intellectual honesty begins young, folks--NO PLAGIARIZING!

The next challenge, of course, is to not let the kid just string the facts together to make each paragraph, but instead to contextualize, be it with example, personal observation, or a sense of meaningfulness. As you'll see in the reports, Syd had an easier time doing this in her oral presentation, simply because of the subjects that she chose to cover; she was able to do an audience participation activity when reporting on Iceland's language, and we made and brought in laufabraud (more on that another time, but yum!) to enrich her reporting of Icelandic food.

For the International Fair, the kids had the final challenge of translating their written reports into engaging oral presentations. We did this in a couple of different ways. When the kids wanted to insert something unscripted--such as the Icelandic greetings that they memorized, or Syd's Icelandic naming activity--into their report for the oral presentation, I had them write what they wanted to do centered and in caps in the appropriate spot of their report, so that they would see it as they were reading and remember to pause their report and complete the unscripted portion. This worked okay, although I had to help Syd get her Icelandic naming activity both started and stopped; I'll have to think more on how to help her work through that independently next time. I also wanted Will to look at her report less and at the audience more, so I narrowed the margins on her written report way down, printed it, and then had her cut the paragraphs apart and glue them to index cards. In rehearsals, she did an excellent job referring to the cards but speaking to the audience, but during her actual presentation, I don't think she looked up from those index cards once! At least she remembered to speak loudly and clearly.

Don't feel as if you have to watch this video of their presentations; for one, I'm ashamed of how shaky my camera work is (I don't think I was actually looking at it as I filmed, because I was so focused on the kids), and there's also an embarrassing part in which both Matt and I rush to chastise Will as she's interrupting/correcting Syd mid-presentation, because we're both super traumatized by the time the kids fought on TV and I, at least, wouldn't have been surprised if Syd had leaped onto Will pro wrestler-style and began to roll around with her in a cloud of dust.

Fortunately, everyone emerged from their presentations unscathed, and the little hellions were able to later pose in triumph:

After the presentations, as everyone's milling around and looking at displays and eating geographically-themed snacks, these two totally random people literally just wandered into our conference room and began to look at all the displays. And it wasn't just walk around, glance at stuff, and wander out again--these people were INVESTED! They stopped at one particular kid's Ancient Egypt display, and admittedly, this kid had done a seriously tremendous job--she's too young to be a fully literate reader, I *think*, but she stood there and recited, from memory, just a giant amount of information about Ancient Egypt--but this couple stood there for something like forever, reading all the captions and actually translating the title of her presentation and her name from the Egyptian hieroglyphics in which she'd written them. Matt was pretty sure that they were going to kidnap the kid to be their language officer at the Stargate, but I sort of imagined them as very clueless and naive tourists from some random country, coming to the United States to see all the sights, and then seeing on the library calendar that, "Oh, Guthrun, look! An International Fair! I remember reading about World Fairs in our history books as a child! We MUST attend!"

And since this kid is definitely still in town and hasn't been indentured to the Stargate, clearly my theory is the correct one.

Here's a partial list of the resources that the kids used to study Iceland:

Of course, there are many more than these, and we didn't even begin to cover Norse myths or the sagas or do any of the activities collected in my Iceland pinboard (and how I dearly wanted to help the kids make a set of runes!). Ah, well...

Gotta save something for next time!


Tina said...

I think I will have to watch the video later when I have time, but wow, your girls are awesome!

It sounds like everyone involved had a good time :0)

julie said...

If you just skip to around 3:00, you can hear Syd attempt an Arkansas accent--my camera work was particularly shaky when I was laughing!