Children thrive when they belong to a community that is welcoming, full of new learning, and built around consistent structures and expectations. Classroom rituals and routines reassure each child entering your doorway; knowing what to expect can calm an anxious or upset child, and predictability can help a distracted learner get settled. A unified community sets positive expectations for a day of learning. When students anticipate Morning Meeting each day, they can begin their day with a sense of community and focus, allowing them to be at ease with what the day holds. Predictable routines remind students that learning opportunities exist throughout the day. Informational texts can be infused into your community’s Morning Meeting, and these rituals can build positive experiences for students while building a united learning community.
Morning Chores and Choices
My students begin each day with a universal set of routines found in any elementary classroom across the country. They have morning “chores” and time to socialize before Morning Meeting begins. As kids walk through the door, I greet each child, hugging and high-fiving kids, checking on moods, and celebrating finished books followed by my daily cheer: “Of course you can borrow another book!” Such scenarios unfold right in our doorway each day, and my greeting is an invitation to our classroom. Although the hallway of streaming children finding their way to homerooms may be chaotic and busy, entering our classroom creates first steps toward a focused mind-set for the day. Completing lunch count, checking the day’s schedule, sharpening a pencil and/or logging into a laptop are a few of the chores each child completes once they check the Morning Message. Morning chores are a timesaver once the learning day begins.
After kids complete their morning chores, you can observe them feeding classroom pets while chatting about last night’s soccer game. Others are watering our many houseplants and giggling as water seems to spatter no matter how carefully they pour. Several students cluster around our nature shelf looking at fossils while others sit by themselves looking at books around the room. Each child starts their day on their own terms. For some kids, it is the buzz of conversations. For others, it is a time of quiet. Children know what they need to start their day. Knowing they have chores and then choices gives students a chance to take ownership of a day of learning. When the 9:10 bell rings, we gather together to launch our day with Morning Meeting.
Blending Informational Texts and Morning Meeting
Morning Meeting is intentionally designed to fit a community’s needs. Beyond the housekeeping chores, reviewing our daily schedule and looking at future calendar events, our Morning Meeting provides a consistent routine for introducing informational texts and enriching the learning lives of students. Just as adults read the paper and check emails over their early morning coffee, I want my students to have their “morning” dose of informational reading in an authentic way. The community area of my classroom serves as my kitchen table, and our Morning Meeting provides the day’s first conversations and reading time, a gathering just like a family at the breakfast table. Infusing informational text-based routines and conversations into our Morning Meeting builds and reinforces the idea that information can be as interesting and engaging as fiction.
Two possible Morning Meeting routines intended to build students’ awareness of the world are called Fact of the Day and Daily News. Both routines can be completed daily or alternated. Consider the time allowed for Morning Meeting and the amount of conversation you want to include during this short gathering. The benefit of both routines is that they build positive experiences with informational texts and allow for conversations in a learning community.
Fact of the Day
Children love to discover unusual, uncomfortable, and unbelievable facts about their world. Fact of the Day (FOD) is a two-minute sharing routine that capitalizes on students’ infatuation with interesting facts. I incorporate Fact of the Day into our Morning Meeting routine for multiple reasons. First and foremost, FOD is fun, plain and simple. I launch the year with a daily fact and model how the facts revolve around my own personal interests, showcasing topics like plants, dogs, NHL Hockey, and famous musicians from all periods and genres. The second benefit of FOD is ownership; once I model the routine during the first few weeks, students inevitably ask to take over as they begin to feel comfortable in our classroom. The third and practical reason for FOD is that as kids prepare to share facts of interest, they start reading a variety of informational resources and begin paying attention to interesting topics. Once this ritual begins, kids look forward to finding new information to share with their peers. Having a time to share what they find interesting energizes kids’ attitudes about informational texts. Finally, and perhaps most vital, as kids share facts, we learn more about one another and the bonds of a learning community begin to grow. When a simple two-minute ritual can foster ownership, community, and learning, I believe this routine is worthy of our classroom time.
Connecting the Rituals to Learning
For me as a teacher, Fact of the Day is full of hidden motives and is more than a chance for morning fact-sharing. From the very first day, I am showcasing books and websites that I value. This ritual then creates opportunities and invitations for students to explore those same classroom books and websites we will use throughout the year. These book talks and website walks are embedded commercials designed to encourage students to use these resources for projects, reading workshop, and home learning.
FOD presents opportunities for students to build a sense of wonder about a new subject or revisit studies of beloved topics. When I begin sharing my Facts of the Day, students are startled as I reveal a variety of topics, things that interest me as well as topics that make me uncomfortable. I reveal many aspects of my learning and life outside of school, and this simple openness invites kids to join my community. As kids begin to share their facts, what they reveal helps me cultivate their literacy lives. Some kids share facts based on personal interests and I discover ways to help them deepen their learning. Other kids are drawn to topics initially by the wow factor of unusual facts. Once they have opportunities to explore beyond the “fab-fact” (a term coined by one of my students), the positive experiences with reading and sharing information builds new attitudes among reluctant nonfiction readers. The positive experience of FOD is my entry point into developing informational readers. As students develop a sense of purpose and enjoyment with their presentations, a positive attitude about informational resources grows.
Daily opportunities for short student presentations are an authentic way to cultivate active listening and speaking skills for learners. FOD requires active involvement for both the presenter and the audience. As students present, they share both a fact and a suggested resource. The audience is then able to ask questions or give feedback about the topic. Students quickly build confidence speaking in front of peers and gain the courage to ask questions and make comments in a very supportive experience.
Extending the Audience
Students are surprised to learn at the beginning of the year that their FOD audience extends beyond our class day. Once a child presents his or her fact and highlighted resource during Morning Meeting, he or she then publishes the shared fact and resource on our class blog. Facts can be shared, photos and video links can be included, and the blog gives students an opportunity to give and receive feedback about the shared post. Gaining a live audience from their Morning Meeting presentation, now connected to a digital audience, thanks to Kidblog.org, adds another level of enthusiasm and purpose to each child’s learning and presentation.
If a class blog is not possible, another possible digital sharing tool is Padlet. Padlet is a simple way to present text and videos. Each week, a new Padlet can be developed by students to archive presentations. Links to the Padlet can be posted on class websites and shared through newsletters. If your school uses Twitter, each presentation can be shared on Twitter and include links to either the classroom blog or the Padlet page archiving the week’s facts.
If digital resources are scarce, students can write and post short writing responses highlighting their Fact of the Day while sharing additional questions and resources.
Fact of the Day is not intended to replace the instruction of informational reading strategies. It is not the only experience that students have with informational texts in our classroom. Fact of the Day is a short ritual to launch our day that presents almost limitless possibilities of learning.
Locating a news source is easy in our digital world. We read to know what is going on in our immediate school community, in our field of teaching, and outside the walls of school. News helps us understand events in our local, state, national, and international communities. Informed citizens create, build, and sustain positive elements in our world. As teachers and parents, we want our children to develop a growing awareness of the world around them by reading about current events and how this news affects our lives. News feeds designed for adult readers, however, can be overwhelming and at times harsh for elementary children; it is only natural that teachers and parents hesitate to ask children to watch daily news programs or read local papers. Fortunately, many student-friendly news sites are now available with culturally relevant and developmentally appropriate subjects, bringing current events to many age groups while honoring the needs of developing learners.
The process is simple. Using a selected news source, either paper or digital, my students and I share a news article that can be read and discussed together on a regular basis. To establish the routine, I bring specific articles connected to timely and personal topics related to students’ interests. Using a Smartboard or document camera, we share, read, and discuss the article, capitalizing on technology that makes the text accessible to students. Do not let a lack of technology keep you from sharing Daily News; reading the article aloud and/or making the text available to students with copies is just as powerful because it is the shared reading and discussion, not the tech format, that truly matters. We begin with previewing the article’s headline and infographics, and then we read the article. It may happen as a shared read on our Smartboard or copies are distributed for partner reading. Then we discuss the article as it pertains to our lives with opportunities for debate, questions, and adding our own knowledge to the topic.
Connecting the Rituals to Learning: Developing a Daily Habit
Daily News is a routine students quickly expect and adopt as active members in a classroom. When students expect some kind of news to be shared, they look forward to hearing about interesting topics, connecting the news to their lives, and discovering new ideas. Just like Fact of the Day, I model this routine of sharing daily news during the first two weeks of school, and students quickly take ownership of the daily reporting. I make sure that students have time built into the first weeks of reading workshop to explore the various websites and sources that I showcase as my sources for news presented during Morning Meeting. I communicate these resources to parents on our class website and through newsletters, encouraging this kind of reading both independently and as a family for home reading time.
Connecting Students and the News
Daily News can be a learning catalyst for students. On our community board, students can sign their names next to topics of interest so I can help them locate resources for further studies. During workshop, I schedule one-on-one or group conferences with students based on their interests. An athlete interested in soccer is motivated to read more about current biomedical research for knee replacements. Animal lovers want to better understand how working dogs are saving the at-risk cheetah population in Africa. English language learners discover articles that they want to share with family members about their home countries.
Students with limited experience reading informational texts are often motivated by the introduction of Daily News. News articles are engaging, and students quickly realize that a great deal is happening in the world around them; when students discover that news can support their interests in events like preparing for soccer’s World Cup, extreme weather, or medical breakthroughs, their motivation grows. Learning about the here and now is very empowering to developing readers; as this Daily News habit develops over the course of the year, students begin making connections between themselves and their interconnected world.
Daily News provides rich opportunities for conversations in a learning community. Before we share the article, students identify the location of the story on a news map that we cultivate over the course of the year. While we read, students ask questions, voice concerns, form opinions, and listen to one another as we uncover the author’s message. Beyond identifying the main idea and details, students repeatedly see how the news affects different members of their classroom community. Are we fascinated, angry, or concerned? Does this article stand on its own or does it motivate us to read more about this topic? As a community we make this decision each day as we end our Daily News segment and make plans for the next time we gather. What will we read about next?
Beyond Morning Meeting
These Morning Meeting rituals remind my students and me of this important truth every day: informational reading should be both joyful and meaningful.
Infusing informational texts into Morning Meeting can initiate those first steps in joyful reading; shared information can be one of those authentic experiences that launches the day and fosters a mind-set of possibilities. And just like those conversations around the breakfast table, our classrooms can be a place to discuss, celebrate, and question the world around us.