Monday, May 5, 2014

Headlines for UbD Vowel Study

I have been lucky enough to begin planning a unit on Vowels with the first grade team.  As I have mentioned often, I struggle with designing a unit around a basic skill.  However, it was through the planning process with this team that I have realized that even something as simple as learning about vowels can be much more interesting to students when it is planned with intention and purpose:  Planned with the end in mind.

Although this plan is messy (as Andrea says, “Planning IS messy!), it is a snapshot of how this unit is beginning to evolve.

The enduring understandings we have established for this unit are:
·         Vowels are essential in every word in the English language
·         Vowels impact how other phonemes sound: “Vowels Drive the Word”
·         Vowel sounds change for a variety of reasons
·         Understanding vowels impacts your reading and writing

The essential question we have developed is:
How does and understanding of how vowels work help us in our reading and writing?

The key knowledge and skills students will acquire are:
·         Vowels are in every syllable
·         What is a syllable?
·         Vowels say short sounds unless something changes it
·         There are always rule-breakers!

We also thought that it is critical that teachers use common language in instruction (critical for transfer between intervention class and the classroom, and between grade levels).  Some of the common language we have identified so far is:
·         Syllable
·         Vowel
·         Consonant
·         Letter name vs. sound
·         Long sound
·         Short sound
·         Schwa
·         Different sounds (rule breakers) such as mud sounds, sounds from a different linguistic/cultural origin

One of the best tools used throughout this study has been the creation of an anchor chart.  The chart is a visual tool the kids can use to remind them of all the “funky” things that vowels can do in our language.  It was actually eye-opening to me to realize that there aren’t many exceptions to the rules, and that they can be categorized quite neatly on to one chart!

Although this UbD Plan is still “under design” for next year, I have been able to begin to shift some of my instruction this year by incorporating common language and more direct instruction surrounding vowels.  I was curious to see what my kids have learned about vowels, and what they know about the job vowels do.  We first brainstormed all of the things we know about vowels and I wrote these ideas down on a chart.  I was actually really excited that the girls were so able to recall and quickly articulate the rules they know about vowels (enduring understandings?).  
We talked about how these characteristics make vowels very important letters in the English language, and the impact they have upon our ability to read and pronounce words correctly.  I then modeled a headline for them, and then asked the girls to come up with their own…  I asked them to imagine they had to sell a magazine article about vowels, and that they needed to come up with a catchy way to title that article.  And here is what they came up with:


  1. Lynn,
    Wow! To see all our scrambled thoughts end up in black and white in a cohesive manner is EXCITING! I, too, am very inspired by this unit. In our team we have often wondered how to bring inquiry down to the word level, and I think we found it. I love your headlines activity, and though grossly out of curriculum order, I think I'll try it with my kids before the end of the year. Thank you for helping guide us through this mess, on our way to deeper understanding of the vowels!

  2. What an amazing way to synthesize learning about vowels! I've spend a bit of time working with inquiry about vocabulary in 4th grade this year, but it always seemed just out of their reach. Your post has brought to light that they may be missing some of the essentials about the ways words work. I am already thinking about how I can pull something like this into my science and math and social studies curriculum next year, and now I will remember to make sure that my literacy counter part does this type of thinking with them at the same time!