5. House of Sticks: Connecting the BUILDING to the learning of WRITING

Copied below are skills, understandings and snippets of knowledge that we explored throughout the year with the first graders in Punta Chica, but more in depth during our weeks working on our House Of Sticks. A great deal of our work was experiential, a lot of it was oral and some of it inevitably overflowed with the children’s enthusiasm into Spanish. We tried at all times to bring the focal point back to our teaching goals for the year of the second language.  Following the curricular items are the specific writing tasks we worked on. It should be noted that though the problem of building a “real” house was tackled by both classes, each class reacted to suggestions in their own way which resulted in a complementary approach to solving the initial problem. For example, while 1B came up with the solution for the covering of the roof, and executed most of it, the “User´s Manual” was mostly an effort by the girls in 1A who were totally engaged by the task.

YEAR 1  – English Language Curriculum


Print Concepts

  •    Demonstrate understanding of the organization and basic features of print.
  • Recognize the distinguishing features of a sentence (e.g., first word, capitalization, ending punctuation).


Comprehension and Collaboration

  • * Participate in collaborative and guided conversations with diverse partners about topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
  • Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., listening to others with care, speaking one at a time about the topics and texts under discussion).
  • Build on others’ talk in conversations by responding to the comments of others in different situations.
  • Ask questions to clear up any confusion about the topics and texts under discussion.
  • * Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
  • * Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to gather additional information or clarify something that is not understood.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

  • * Describe people, places, things, and events with relevant details, expressing ideas and feelings clearly.
  •  *Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.


Text Types and Purposes

* Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or name the book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion, and provide some sense of closure.

* Write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

*With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.


  • Expressing opinion. Independent. Copybook.

Our curriculum dictates we work with students beginning to express their opinions in written from. For this activity we dropped them at the deep end of the pool  so to speak and watched carefully to see who needed  immediate assistance. It went better than we thought. The students were invested in the actual opinion giving and they were interested in having their voices heard that the mechanics of getting that done did not get in their way. Each wrote, at their own comfort level,  fluidly for the first time. They expressed their opinion and justified what they felt.

  • Whatsapp message to Moira. Two step: Independent / Collaborative.

We discussed what we needed from this particular message and made sure we understood Moira was busy and didn’t have much free time to read or write back. Our message had to be short and to the point … yet polite. The format suited us well since the children were just getting started with writing short sentences at the time, so short and sweet worked well for us all. Each child wrote their own message. Then we composed one as a class and sent that one to Moira from a teacher’s  phone. For the next few hours we were all very alert to notifications….

  • Note to parents. Collaborative.

At a certain point, we realized we needed help. So, we decided we had to ask for it: we needed experts at building houses. Some of the children told us that their parents were architects, engineers or had built a treehouse at home. We decided to invite them to share their knowledge with us. In order to do this, we wrote a note asking them to come to school one afternoon. We did this as a whole class activity. As the students thought what to include on the note, one of the teachers wrote it and projected it so that we could all see what the note looked like. The format of dictating to the teacher helps us to point out elements of the text that we cannot leave out, that must be in the text for it to fulfill its purpose. We listed these on the board before starting: where, when, why, who. As the class dictated the text, we checked off the “must haves” that we had included. When something was left out, we simply edited and reread to make sure our final draft was complete.Once the note was ready, we sent it and waited for their answers! Luckily they could all come and gave us fantastic ideas!



  • Reflection on the visit from experts. Independent.experts-came-to-help
  • Brainstorm: list of questions for Tadeo and Felipe. Collaborative. Dictated to teacher.

  • Sequence. Independent. Written in copybooks.

Teaching the correct use of time markers in writing a sequence has been a fixed item in our plans. The experience of building the house gave us the perfect excuse for the children to remember the process, choosing to highlight only 4 events.


  • User`s Manual to attach to the house. Collaborative. Dictated to teacher.

Our goal was to come up with a User`s Manual or a Set of Instructions as to how the house of sticks should be used. We felt it would be a real task, the end purpose would serve a real use in the real world and we could allow the children to explore a type of writing they had not experienced so far in the year. Our contents called for exposure to different types of writing? and we felt it We first held a class discussion where the children uncovered what a user´s manual is. We elicited and listed familiar household items and appliances that had leaflets, user manuals or instructions. The list we came up with was quite eclectic. After discussing the options for OUR users manual we used the “Dictado al maestro” strategy to record the children’s ideas.


Categories: Professional Development Contest 2016

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