In the July 2012 Science & Children I wrote about establishing a “Teach and Tell” circle time at the beginning of the school year. This sharing circle has several purposes—to provide a focused time to learn about natural materials, to allow children to each have a turn as the circle leader by talking and taking questions, to learn how to make a question, and to practice group discussion skills. An early childhood questions-and-discussion session supports the goal from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas of developing student’s ability to ask questions:
The experience of learning science and engineering should therefore develop students’ ability to ask—and indeed, encourage them to ask—well-formulated questions that can be investigated empirically.
A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. 2012. By the Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards, National Academies Press. pg 55.
Observing and exploring the properties of natural materials, and asking questions about them, are also described in the Science and Engineering Practices supporting the May 2012 draft of the Next Generations Science Standards for K-grade 2.
I limit the object-to-share to only natural objects because when the sharing child brings a toy, the focus turns to each child wanting to tell about their own toys rather than ask questions. Drawings or a photograph of a natural object are also allowed. If a child brought in a wooden toy to share we could have a discussion about whether or not it should be permitted–a good way to help teach the difference between “natural” and “manufactured”.
I model how to ask a question at the beginning of the year and revisit the criteria for a question for several months—what we say should be a request for information of some kind about the natural object from the sharing child. Children can be asked to rephrase their statements into questions. “I think it’s a bird’s egg” can be turned into a question such as, “Do you know what bird it came from?” And, “It looks like the rock my grandmother gave me” can be rephrased as, “Did you get it from your grandmother?”
I prompt the sharing child to tell something about the object with as much support for comfort and vocabulary as needed, then pass it around (if it is durable), and say, “I’m ready for questions.” The other children raise their hands and are called on by the sharing child, who I may have to prompt again to ask, “Are there any more questions?”
By reading a simple nonfiction book as the first sharing of the year (of photos of natural materials), I set up the structure of one person sharing and others asking questions. I like to use nonfiction books with photographs, and may only read (or paraphrase) a few pages. Here is a short, incomplete, list which I hope you will add to by commenting at the end of this post!
- The Rookie Read-About Science books
- Large page identification books for plants, shells, birds, and minerals, such as the DK Children Eyewitness books, or the Smithsonian Handbooks, also published by Dorling Kindersley, Inc.
- Ask your local librarian to recommend a book, or search NSTA Recommends to find books such as How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids by Carol Pasternak (2012, Firefly Books Ltd.)
After reading a book, I model how to ask a question by wondering aloud or drawing the part I am wondering about on a large pad or board. Then I ask the children to ask or draw their questions. The first week or two, Teach and Tell circle time will go slowly as children learn what a “natural” object is, and how to ask a question. Building children’s understanding of how questions can be asked to get an answer will help them later be able to ask questions that can be investigated through science and engineering practices, including science inquiry.
Please share any suggestions or ideas you have for successful sharing circles, and for helping children learn to ask questions that can be investigated.