Posts Tagged ‘open court’

Unit Opener Planning Week is Back

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Back in October, I hosted a Unit Opener planning week for Open Court units #2.

It resulted in some terrific ideas being posted by web site visitors and fellow bloggers and those ideas are now linked to from the unit opener pages of those units.

As teachers at different schools have different pacing, editions, and schedules, this might never come at the exact perfect time for you. However, it’s never too late to reinvigorate your unit and by the end of the planning time we’ll have another collection of great ideas for next time…but only if you contribute your own thoughts.

Options for Contributing

Start sending in your ideas now.

Bill Pinkney’s Back

Thursday, December 13th, 2007


The Incredible Voyage of Bill Pinkney is now available on DVD.


This is a fantastic film which brings the story to life. It’s long.  I would not play it in its entirety in one sitting but would play a piece every day as you read the story.

Some teachers find it objectionable that Bill Pinkney drinks alcohol in celebration on his journey and says the d word at a point in the story when his life is in danger. Use your best judgement and do preview the film ahead of time. Although I played only 5-10 minutes at a time, I did not edit any of it out in my classroom. Instead, we used the mild bad language as a an opportunity to talk about the dangers Bill Pinkney was facing (and the importance of not swearing).

I encourage you to acquire this movie as well as a DVD player if you do not yet have one in your classroom. They’re cheaper than you think these days.

Trace Lewis and Clark's Expedition

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Lewis and Clark's Expedition

Thanks to Francie Kugelman for sending this link which may come in handy for the Going West/New Frontiers units in 5th grade. This shows Lewis and Clark’s Expedition in Google Earth.

Third Grade – City Wildlife Unit Openers

Friday, October 19th, 2007

My favorite one-stop shop for opening this unit is Cornell University’s Urban Bird Studies web site.  All resources are free though they request a donation if they send you materials.

This site has films you can watch with your students and asks students to be urban bird watchers in their own community and submit data online about what they find. Imagine how much more meaningful this unit would be if students are actively involved in the scientific community as data collectors on the topic you are studying.

I would inform them of this role as part of the unit opener and ask them to get started by taking careful notes on one of the films from their web site.

Here are some other unit opener ideas for the City Wildlife Unit.

How to Plan a Unit Opener

Monday, October 15th, 2007

by Mathew Needleman

Let’s begin our week of unit opener planning by making sure we’re all on the same page and share a common rationale and understanding of what an effective unit opener is.

What is a Unit Opener?

A unit opener is the Open Court Reading name for what is commonly known as an anticipatory set.

An effective unit opener should:

  • Engage students and raise interest in the coming unit.
  • Activate prior knowledge by building a bridge from previous knowledge to new information…the teacher shows how it’s relevant.
  • Provide necessary background knowledge for students of limited experience and English language levels.
  • Provide an experience that students of multiple learning modalities can draw from as they proceed through the unit.
  • Unit Opener Diagram

    Make Your Unit About Something

    When you are using a basal reader, like Open Court, you need to make sure that your unit is about something and not just a collection of stories. It is not necessarily about what it says it’s about in the teacher’s manual (although the investigation and inquiry goals are a good place to start). If the unit is not meaningful to the teacher, it will not be meaningful for your students. So think creatively and find a way to connect meaningfully to your unit before you ask students to.

    If your unit is Astronomy, then your purpose is probably more obvious than if your unit is a universal theme like Kindness. With Kindness, you probably want to have some examples of real life kindness (like service learning projects or connections with people outside of your classroom) to illustrate the unit in a real way.

    I might take the Cooperation and Competition unit and use it as an excuse to teach the rules of games and sports. I might use Sharing Stories as a chance to teach about family histories. I use Let’s Read to raise students’ awareness of environmental print. More about our current units will follow this week.

    Have an objective

    Now that you have a reason for teaching the unit (and don’t copy mine, remember the point is for you to connect to your units in a way that’s meaningful to you), you need to have an objective for student learning. If you have a mandated assessment which follows the unit, then you also have to work backwards from that assessment and align it with your objective. If you’re teaching about astronomy and your objective is for students to name the planets and describe each of them, you would teach the stories from a different angle than you would if your goal was to teach about the determination of scientists in exploring the solar system. The unit is a loose theme which gives you an excuse to teach something that is meaningful to you. Again, make sure your objective aligns well with your assessment that’s coming at the end of the unit.

    Don’t Talk So Much

    Start by asking yourself how am I going to get to higher level thinking with this unit opener?

    Next, ask yourself how am I going to appeal to students of different learning modalities who may or may not understand the vocabulary I am using?

    If your unit opener involves you talking to your students the whole time or asking them questions that you already know the answer to, you’re not getting to higher level thinking and you’re not appealing to anyone but auditory learners who are fluent in English.

    Cue Tape or Enter Stage Left!

    I strongly recommend having a short film, powerpoint, photos, children’s literature, or a guest speaker, or realia available to help open your unit.

    Lead with your multimedia/realia.

    If your unit is Risks and Consequences, for example, instead of starting a conversation about risks and consequences when students may not know what risks or consequences are, show the movie first. Then discuss the risk taken in the story. Then connect this to students’ lives and ask them to discuss their examples of risks in small groups.

    Even with a unit like Fossils where students have lots of background knowledge, if you begin by showing a clip from Walking with Dinosaurs rather than simply droning on about dinosaurs you will surely have more complex, richer conversation and higher level questions for your concept/question board. If you can bring in a guest speaker about astronomy who brings some photos your students will have an experience to draw on throughout the unit.

    Link this to a Graphic Organizer

    For Open Court Reading teachers, we use a Concept/Question Board (close cousin to the KWL Chart). The C/Q board is a living, breathing graphic organizer which helps students to construct their knowledge about the unit. You may also wish to use other graphic organizers to begin to record knowledge of the unit theme.

    Other Strategies to Employ

    Pair sharing, quick writing, journaling, drawing pictures, skits, play-doh models, interpretive dances, etc…Participating in any of these will make your unit more meaningful than you lecturing students about the theme and it will involve more students on task for more of the time.

    You’re already an expert on the theme so give the students a chance to begin to construct their own knowledge even if their knowledge may contain some misinformation about the unit. If you want to model asking good questions ask questions that you really want to know the answer to rather than questions that have a specific answer you’re looking for.

    We’ll continue to talk about Unit Openers as we go through the week.

    Also see: Unit Opener Planning Sheet

    © 2007 by Mathew Needleman. All rights reserved.