December is a short month with lots of interruptions like choir practices and holiday parties, which lead to antsy students. Because of the time limitations, we will focus on shorter texts and writing pieces while still tackling many literacy skills in the December Contract. Picture books teach students symbolism, sensory details, figurative language, setting, and mood/tone in short exemplary stories. By using these mentor texts, our students can explore various forms of writing throughout the month. Our focus is on picture books that explore winter.
The perfect read-aloud this month is the spare memoir Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed. This is a small book of childhood memories centered around snow and ice. It’s a perfect follow-up to our November memoir unit, and can transport our students to what Kate Messner says is “a kind of story your grandmother told you over hot chocolate — a remembrance of wintry childhood memories that celebrate all that’s good and pure and wildly fun when it comes to being a kid.”
For this month, each week will be a cycle of lessons focused on the literacy skills we want to teach. The first week’s focus will be on mood and tone. Possible winter picture books that would work well with mood and tone are Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E. Pendziwol and Isabelle Arsenault, Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, Winter’s Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan, Snow by Cynthia Rylant, and The Mitten by Jan Brett.
The next week’s focus will be figurative language, sensory details, and setting. Possible winter picture books that would work well with these literacy skills are White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt, Snow School by Sandra Markle, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, illustrated Susan Jeffers, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Waiting for Ice by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Alan Marks, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian, Snow by Uri Shulevitz, The First Dog by Jan Brett, and A Book About The Four Seasons Caps, Hats, Socks, and Mittens by Louise Borden, illustrated by Lillian Hoban.
The third week’s focus will be on seasons as symbolism. Some books that fit with this topic are City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon J. Muth, The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree by David Rubel and Jim LaMarche, The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, illustrated by Mary Engelbreit, And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead, If You Hold a Seed by Elly MacKay, and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by W. E. Joyce.
The culminating project after reading and discussing the picture books is to create a seasonal poem using some of the skills in the mentor texts. We ask students to create a mood/tone using sensory details and figurative language, and to depict symbolic meaning through seasons.
In addition to sharing and investigating literacy skills through picture books, students will choose a nonfiction book about winter. In October, we focused on using technology to find literary examples of fear. This month students will create a product similar to what they had to look for last time — video clip, infographic, feature article, or blog post. Once students create their product, they will present their creations to a small group and self-evaluate.
Incorporating literacy skills with the use of technology along with investigating poetry and analyzing author’s craft packs a lot of learning into a short, busy month.