Friday, October 24, 2014

Building Vocabulary: Flustered, upset, livid, ENRAGED!

Emily Kissner's blog entry, Teaching About Character Traits, reminded me that before diving into character traits, it is important that students understand the difference between character traits and emotions. Emotions change often over the course of a story. Traits may not change at all. When looking for a perfect list of character traits on the web, I seem to always find emotions mixed in to the lists. Confusing for me and confusing for the kids. I like this list not only because it does not have emotions, but it groups synonyms for traits together.

Using Emily's Character Trait and Emotions: Making Inferences resource, I was ready to teach the first lesson.

Today must have been the day that the planets were lined up perfect for me because right before I started the lesson, in walks our principal.

"Sorry for the interruption," he says, sitting down on the stool a the front of our classroom.

"Fourth graders," he says seriously. "I am frustrated. I am upset about Bloody Mary and I need your help."

Those of you who are not familiar with the Bloody Mary ghost legend, Bloody Mary in our school is a ghost that inhabits the bathrooms and scares children. The legend has been going on for years, each upper elementary class keeping it alive with ghastly tales told on the bus to wide-eyed innocent kindergarteners and first graders.

"This is the year that Bloody Mary is going to stop. I have a kindergarten student who will not come to school because of it. And you, fourth graders, are going to take the lead in making sure it stops."

So after our principal leaves, it is time for the emotion lesson. I start by saying, "Mr. Stevens was experiencing a strong emotion right now! What was he feeling? How did you know? Was it important to understand how he was feeling? Why? Well just like you were able to figure out how he was feeling, it is important that you also figure out how characters feel when you are reading."

"I am going to help you not only learn how to figure out how your characters are feeling during stories, but also teach you new vocabulary words for emotions. How cool is that? Let's start by seeing what emotion words you already know."

I follow Emily's lesson to the T. First, students silently brainstorm, with a partner, emotion words they already know. Then, we paste her emotion words lists into our reading notebooks, noticing if any of the words we already knew appear on the lists. I project the lists onto the Smartboard and explain how it works. Here is a snapshot of what it looks like. Isn't it wonderful?

As I explain, I go back to our principal example and act out him talking to the class, each time increasing the intensity of his anger.

"Boys and girls I am a bit flustered about Bloody Mary still happening in our school." I say with a rather pleasant expression. "Fourth graders," I say with a very angry look and tone of voice. "I am ENRAGED about Bloody Mary, and IT MUST STOP!"

I proceed to do this with a few more of the emotion categories- sad, happy, and scared. The students are practically rolling on the floor laughing at my dramatic representations.

Then, onto the skits! I explain the task. Students will have five minutes to plan their skit. They need to select one of the emotions from the chart that they will be acting and our job is to try to figure out the emotion. Again, I followed Emily's lesson plan.

When it was time to act out, we had our emotion lists open. After a pair of students performed their skit, they would call on people to guess the emotion.

What went well? 
  • Students were using the new vocabulary in a meaningful experience. They were truly thinking about the level within a emotion category that they felt was acted out in the skit. I saw high level thinking and discussion as students used the clues from the skit to figure out which emotion was being acted out.
  • Many students chose more than one emotion to act out, because in their skits, the emotion may have changed. For example, in the ice cream skit, the girl was happy when she got ice cream but sad when she dropped it. I will refer back to these when we talk about how emotions change over the course of a story.
  • Everyone was engaged, using multiple learning modalities, and having fun while learning. YIPEE!
  • We continued to use the vocabulary the rest of the day. I am going to make a poster out of these lists so that we can refer to them quickly.
  • Students were making inferences, describing characters, expanding vocabulary, speaking and listening and working cooperatively.

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