Thursday, March 14, 2013

Peregrine Falcons, Chronological Order, and More!

Over the last two weeks, we've been looking at chronological order text. I like to start with this text structure for several reasons:

-Chronological order text is similar to narrative structure.
-Chronological order matches what students experience in their lives.
-Chronological order is easy to understand and analyze.

This year, I went carefully through my collection of texts to try to find the texts that my students would find the most interesting and engaging. One of my favorite kinds of chronological order text is the animal life cycle text. Last fall, I wrote a new set of texts that includes a text about how peregrine falcons raise their young. This text was a good starting point for students, as it follows a fairly short span of time. (And peregrine falcons are awesome!) 

After reading the text, we went online to check out the peregrine falcon cams. Our local peregrine, up the road in Harrisburg, was at the nest when we checked. And she laid her first egg between Tuesday and Wednesday! This was so amazing. Kids started going back to the text to see when the eggs might hatch.

After we worked through the animal life cycle texts, I wanted students to experience a procedural text. Procedural texts exist in kind of hypothetical time. They do not explore events that have actually happened, but look at steps in a process. We talked about the organization of procedural texts as I displayed a few examples of recipes and crafts projects. Then, students read the "Fabric Scrap Easter Eggs" text from Chronological Order Texts

Reading procedural texts with the goal of answering questions is much different from reading procedural texts with the goal of completing the task. Today's tests, of course, value answering questions over performing tasks. (Anyone else remember the MSPAP tests of the 90s? Kids actually had to perform the tasks on those tests...which probably led to its own set of challenges.) 

I love the Easter eggs text because it is about the way that we always dyed eggs when I was little. My students had little patience for the process. When they got to Step 5, some of them were downright annoyed. "You mean you could go through all of those steps, get all that fabric and cut it up, and then have it not even work? Why would anyone want to do this?" Ah well, these are the questions that we ask of procedural text.

I was tempted to give the assessment at this point. I am trying to be more efficient this year, and compact topics into more manageable chunks. But I just couldn't do it. I wanted students to have some experience with a chronological order text about a historical event. 

To make the task a little more interesting, I didn't give students the texts right away. Instead, they had some pictures and a map. "What will this text be about?" I asked them. "What clues do you have?" They pieced together the evidence and tried to make some guesses. There was a building on fire,horses pulling an old-fashioned fire truck, and an untitled map of a city along Lake Michigan. The map did have some labels of locations.

"This is a fire truck, because I've seen it in a museum," one girl told her partner. In another group, a student found the 10-point font "Chicago Railroad" on the map and said, "I bet this is about Chicago." Another student looked up at my Student Learning Map, which I had posted two weeks before, and said, "Look, that text says 'Great Chicago Fire' and we have some pictures of buildings on fire. So I bet that's the text that we're going to read." (Honestly, I'd forgotten that I'd put it up there!)

This fifteen-minute activity helped to get the students much more engaged in the text, which they read with their partners. Our next step will be to use the figures to act out the action and to create our own graphic organizers. Will students be able to merge content and structure to make a creative organizer? I hope so.

Every year I wonder if I should come up with one theme to unite all of my text structure readings...and every year I enjoy putting together a patchwork of different texts. In the weeks to come, as we look at other structures, we'll revisit the peregrine falcon and the Great Chicago Fire, as well as look at some other topics. 


  1. I read the article you wrote about Peregrine babies with my class today and we checked out the webcam. They were so excited! Connecting technology and real life with the text was more engaging than anything I could have done on my own. They can't wait until the eggs hatch! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks so much for writing! We've been checking the falcon cam every day...I even leave it running in the background so that we can hear if there is any action. :) I'm glad that your kids are enjoying it too!