Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Creating Sensory Images

Ezra Jack Keats:  Creating Sensory Images, Activating and Building Schema

We began our fiction unit with an author study and we chose Ezra Jack Keats for this year.  In the past I have only done the study for two weeks, which does not allow enough time to dive deep.  We (the team) decided he would be a great introduction to the Thinking Strategies by introducing Activating Schema and Creating Sensory Images, as well as a nice literature study for our year-long community focus.

This year I chose to get every EZK book I could find and study him for one month.  This is important to me because this year's theme has been to slow down, not be bound by the calendar (only hard and fast deadlines!) and really enjoy the process, not the product.

From the second read-aloud, the kids began making connections.  We did a reading response after each book, including drawing an illustration.  The benefits of a month-long author study was that kids began noticing, almost immediately, some of the same characters appearing in different books, that they all live in the same environment (although very different from ours, which we discovered toward the end of the unit), and yet they have the same problems as us (activating AND building schema).

That we were able to discover how New York City is very different from Denver provided many opportunities for talking about different communities.  That the kids were able to discover that EZK's characters have the same problems as us was eye-opening to them.  EZK does a beautiful job with realistic fiction.

At the end of the unit we read the book "Apt. 3."  I read it several times and never showed the kids the illustrations, instead asking them to create sensory images in their head, and then draw them as I read.  Then, we chose five characters from the book, and each student chose which character they wanted to further study.  Each student had to write what they already knew about the character, then I asked them to put their character in a different setting and imagine what their character might see, hear, feel, taste, and smell.  I suggested, if your character was at a ballgame, would she/he buy the same snacks as "X" character?  This was SO hard!  As expected, only a handful of kids truly understood and were able to use clues from the book to answer the questions, but those who did, wow!

Lastly, they had to sit separately from their group and draw their image of their character (I didn't want them copying each other).  On a bulletin board we created a classic NYC apartment building, with the different floors, and put the character drawings in their appropriate floors, w/ their door numbers.  THEN, I read the book to them and finally showed them the illustrations.

Next year I cannot wait to do this again, and do it better!  I had not created Essential Questions for this unit, but will have already created them for next year.


  1. Deb,

    Impressive work from your 1st graders! I am impressed with their understanding of what the character sees, hears etc. I hear you saying that it wasn't easy for all of your students, but you are opening the door for them just understanding that this is what they, the reader, can infer from the author.. or even that the author has these sort of things in mind when they are writing a book. This surely can be something they can tap in to when they begin to create pieces of fiction themselves.

    Slowing down and not being bound by the calendar? What a concept! You make it sound easy, even though I know it isn't. We continue to try to do the same in 3 and 4, but really feel the pressure this time of year when TCAP descends. Now that it is over, all I can do is count the weeks and worry about how little time is left!

    Great post... Thank you.


  2. I'm always so blown away by what 6 and 7 year old's are doing at our school. These guys not only made deep connections about their little Denver world's, but they're also learning about the world around them. Love that!
    And the connections that they come up with about the author is always so cute. They probably came up with similarities/differences within each book that you maybe didn't even catch!
    The idea of having them create their own setting for their character allows them to be creative and that is so important for students.
    Our 1st graders are so lucky to have you! Great post!

  3. I love this Deb! I think we often don't "slow down" and let the kids marinate in the work we are asking them to do. The fact that you intentionally stretched out this author study certainly helped the kids get deeper into the world of the characters. I love that the kids were asked to make connections to life that can be so different elsewhere, and that "we are all connected." Your activity with using sensory images takes me back to coloring with Mr Rogers! Seriously! I think we often ask our kids to be passive listeners when we read to them- you brought their sensory images to life and made their learning much more intentional! Love it!