I love words. I love writing them, reading them and (according to everyone around me) speaking them. Constantly. All day long. My brain is a slightly chaotic mixture of teaching ideas, song lyrics, quotations and things I’ve read. If I’m honest, Literacy, Languages and anything remotely creative are my favourite subjects to teach. We have a song, a rap or a dance for most things in my classroom and the children thrive on it. Well, I assume they do, if the praise from one child last week ‘You’re the funn-est teacher ever’ is anything to go by. We learn our tables through song, we practise our doubling to the Addams Family theme (“1 and 1 is 2, 2 and 2 are four, etc…”) and I use the classic Chaka Khan song to encourage them to check their answers during formal testing ‘Check again, everybody, everybody, check again!’ (May be showing my age with that one!)
Anyway, my colleagues in our Year One and Two team have noticed lately that, although our children have fantastic vocabularies, it is taking the majority of teaching time to remind of the basics – capital letters; full stops; this elusive ‘expression punctuation’ which features in our assessment criteria, but it’s really anybody’s guess as to what it actually entails. Not to mention speech marks and speech layout, paragraphing, etc. We needed an engaging and interesting way to deliver the ‘boring stuff’. The first two weeks of every term is, for us, a ‘Learn to Learn’ fortnight – a chance to review the basics, to consolidate the key points, to address the issues which are most important. So I’m ashamed to say, I did it. I bowed to peer pressure. I capitalised on the inevitable. I took hold of my initial reservation and ‘Let it go’. Sorry. Truly.
We have an idea!
We decided to use the ‘Frozen‘ films as a stimulus for our ‘Learn to Learn’ fortnight. I am not a Disney fan; I never have been. Misspent youth, maybe. I never embraced the Disney way of life. But my children’s needs will always come first. I have to be honest, we could have come up with a whole term’s learning based around ‘Frozen’. The children adored it. They have learned without realising they were learning, which is always the best way, in my book. So here are some of the things we’ve done. Maybe they can be of some use to you!
Where to begin…
We came back to a four day week and wanted the children to have some ‘Circle Time’ to discuss their Christmases and share what they’d been up to before we began with the learning side of things. We began by watching ‘Some Things Never Change’ on YouTube focusing on the lyrics as a way of introducing of the two week mini ‘Frozen’ project.
This led to a lot of excitement and even more singing along, which was actually a lovely way to bring us all back together after a two week, family-fun and chocolate-fuelled break. From there we played ‘Frozen Fruit Salad’, with the children in a circle, assigning them ‘Anna’, ‘Elsa’, ‘Olaf’ and ‘Sven’. When I called a name the children changed seats, but they had to do so silently using visual and non-verbal cues (eye contact, raising a hand to the child they were swapping with, etc). When I said ‘Let it go’, they all had to change spaces. This proved to be a simple, yet effective way of introducing change.
From there, we had a group discussion about things that will change in life, those that won’t, and those which might. We then moved around the circle and children completed the sentence ‘If I wanted to, I could change…’ and then ‘Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t change…’ My children actually came out with gems such as ‘We can’t change the weather; we can’t change the time’ although the most heart-warming was probably ‘Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t change the fires in Australia, although my family gave some money to help the koala bears’, which led on to a fantastic and ethically informed discussion about current events in the world.
Moving into the cross curriculum
Our Literacy lessons for the first week back focused on recapping basic punctuation for the first two lessons, then speech marks for the second two. A quick internet search revealed that the resources I wanted didn’t exist, so I needed to make what I needed. Downside: a lengthy search for the perfect ‘Frozen-themed’ backdrop for my PowerPoint; upside: free rein to include eye-roll-inducing puns just for my colleagues (hey, why do the children get to have all the fun?!)
I included the Frozen 2 Trailer for a visual stimulus for the children, but this lesson really allowed for us to drill down on getting our punctuation right. A reminder of MINTS for capital letters:
The opportunity to correct poorly punctuated examples of sentences about the Frozen characters meant that the children were really engaged by the time we came to the writing element.
Day two – Science
Day Two and we decided to tackle some exploratory Science learning. My colleague had previously delivered a lesson during which ‘hands’ were frozen by filling latex gloves with water and leaving them in the freezer overnight. We put a little twist on this and filled the gloves with water, as well as combinations of blue and purple paints, glitters, jewels and pretty shiny things, (technical term) and told the children that Elsa had visited and left these for us to investigate. We set up stations around the classroom for children to explore ways of ‘melting’ the hands. Resources included: cold water, lukewarm water, boiling water, rock salt and a hairdryer. TA and Teacher were stationed with the boiling water and hairdryer, but the children rotated so they could see each resource at work. Amazing discussions followed regarding predictions and explanations and I won’t spoil it, but certain discussions surrounding the ‘friction’ formed on the ice with the rock salt were really fantastic.
P:E can be frozen too!
Other activities for week one included a P.E. game of ‘Freeze Tag’, mindfulness early morning Frozen Yoga and a temperature investigation, trying to find the coldest and warmest areas of the school using thermometers and discussing the temperatures at which water freezes and boils.
When it came to speech marks, using direct quotes from the movie (thank you IMDB) really helped the children to engage with the activity. We all practised our ‘Olaf’ voices as we discussed where the speech marks and punctuation should go for:
“Anna? Elsa? Sven? Samantha?” Olaf giggled. “I don’t even know a Samantha!”
The children decided it was ‘really really’ funny and, in our room, ‘really really’ anything needs an exclamation mark!
The second week, we followed a similar theme and decided to concentrate on connectives; those pesky little linking words which seem to give us an awful lot of trouble in year one and two. For our main activity, we decided to have the children use a blank jigsaw puzzle to write a connective on each piece, showing that they are ‘joining’ or ‘connecting’ words. But, how to introduce it in a way that was interesting enough to hold their attention? Cue me sat in the PPA room listening to ‘Into the Unknown’ on loop and noting down which connectives I could hear. When I played it in class, the children had to write any connectives they heard on their whiteboards so we could discuss. We then played the song again and they were only allowed to sing the connectives, which focused their attention. It also provided an interesting talking point about the word ‘ ‘ cause’ as a shortening of ‘because’ and inadvertently introduced the concept of ‘slang’ and ‘informal language’ to six year olds.
The final literacy activity of the week was, for us, intended to bring together the skills practised over the previous fortnight. The children were to write a description of a ‘Frozen’ scene. My colleague had the inspired idea of sending home the image for Home Learning, with a bank of questions which encouraged the parents to talk and share ideas with their children. Combined with the skills practice, a clearly modelled example and continued reinforcement of expectations, the resultant writing was incredible and the children were so proud of what they had accomplished. We recapped similes with them, and revisited the idea of our ‘sparkle vocab’ (what we call choosing better words i.e. ‘gigantic’ instead of ‘big’) and the results were fantastic. A notable example came from one of my (usually) reluctant writers: “The purple, finger-like branches are dancing in the breeze like poppies in a war field.”
Ending the project
We finished the week, and our mini-project, with a Discover and Do Day, during which we teach the same lesson (often creative) to three different classes within our team and rotate the children between classrooms and activities. My colleague (Miss G) chose to undertake ‘wax resist paintings’ – using a white crayon and painting a watercolour wash over the top to create ‘Frozen’ images, while my other colleague (Miss F) made use of an Elsa silhouette to create ‘Let it blow’ paintings, during which the children gently blew paint across white paper.
I decided (and ducked when I told my TA) that we would use ‘Frozen’ colours to undertake some tie-dyeing! We asked the parents to send in an old white top, shared tie-dye techniques with the children and used white vinegar and blue/purple food colouring (and later tie dye inks) to create Frozen patterns.
So, in summary, we’ve had a brilliant first two weeks back. In just nine days, we’ve managed to undertake outdoor learning, practise our Welsh language (talking about the weather), produced three art pieces, including a t-shirt the children keep as a souvenir, shared some circle time, sung some Frozen songs, learned about tally charts, pictograms and block graphs using our favourite Frozen characters, practised punctuation, speech marks and connectives, written a high quality description of a Frozen scene, predicted and explored using scientific vocabulary about states of matter and change (ice, water, steam), addressed our wellbeing through mindfulness and yoga, and discussed philosophical questions through our early morning activities such as ‘Are villains always bad?’ and ‘Were Elsa’s powers a good thing or a bad thing?’ Not bad for just under two weeks. And I have a new class signal for attention. When I sing ‘Do you wanna build a snowman?’ I get the response ‘Come on, let’s go and play’.
The children have loved learning through the medium of Anna and Elsa. They’ve been creative, used their brains, worked their bodies and done it all through their favourite movies. And, if I can share a secret with you all, my cold, non-Disney-fied heart has loved it too, but shush….