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First Graders Learn About Cotton

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Sarah of House that Ag Built @houseagbuiltToday’s blog post is written by Sarah who I met through Twitter where she uses the handle @houseagbuilt. Sarah teaches elementary school in the Sacramento, California area. She came from a farming background and remains passionate about food and farm. She always knew she wanted to teach too so it seems only natural that she’d combine the two. When she was looking for some materials, we connected and I sent her a box from Cotton’s Journey I had as well as getting her in touch with a California cotton farmer. She learned alot in the process of teaching her kids about cotton too! She got in touch interested about cotton and that gets you all you need to know to read her post.

My first graders recently got the opportunity to learn about cotton.  We did a four week agriculture unit and our focus was cotton.  We learned the structure of a cotton plant, what a cotton plant needs to grow, where cotton grows in the US, what we use cotton for, and even got to see real cotton!  It may be hard to image that a beginning first grader (a 6 year old) can understand so many things about cotton, so I will explain how I broke it down for them using Cotton’s Journey and some patience.   

First, we drew a picture of a cotton plant and labeled it.  I put the cotton plant picture on page 26 of Cotton’s Journey – Curriculum and Activities for the Classroom under a document camera (can also be done on an overhead) to enlarge it and traced it with pencil.  During class, I traced it in marker as the kids watched and we talked about the parts of a cotton plant and wrote them. (As you can see from the picture, a few weeks later we attached a real part of the cotton plant onto our pictorial.)

drawing of a cotton plant

 A few weeks later, they drew and labeled their own cotton pictorial.

 child's drawing of a cotton plant

Our next step was to make a mind map.  A mind map is a graphic organizer that helps kids (and adults) to organize what they are learning.  I printed all of the pictures from google images and laminated them so I can use them again next year.  We started with the mind map blank and added one picture at a time and talked about each as we added it.  This took us two days.  The first box we filled in was the description, during this time I passed out each part of the plant and they got to see it and feel it (some even smelled it).  My class loved looking at the real cotton – they had never seen cotton before and probably never would have if a farmer hadn’t have sent us some! 


The completed mind map:

mindmap about cottonThat evening their homework was to talk with their family about cotton. Which they shared with the class the next day. 

homework about cotton

A few weeks later the students completed their own mind map all by themselves.  The reason I did it a few weeks later is because I wanted to kids to be very familiar with cotton and the mind map we completed so they would have no problem completing it themselves. 

mindmap about cotton by kids

We also made a map (I enlarged and traced the inserted Cotton Belt map – to replace page 24 – the same way I did the cotton plant pictorial).  I should have done this over two days but we finished it in 1 day – I just had to keep them engaged by having them repeat the names of the states to me then when they would start talking about visiting a certain state I would challenge them to “read” me the names of all of the states I had written – they loved that!

I added a compass to the map and our city.  A week later they drew their own cotton belt map.  I have to admit this WAS HARD for them – I had two students cry (and this was after they had drawn the cotton plant AND done the mind map).  I still made them “try their best” but it was frustrating for them and I wouldn’t make them do this again so early in the year.  The week after they drew it using a blank piece of paper, I gave them the blank map so all they had to do was label each state and that worked much better.

Using the mind map from above (that was still displayed in our classroom) to write sentences about each picture.

The students told me the sentence about each picture and I wrote what they said.  This took two days.

Next, we took the sentences and made an All About Cotton Book.

book - all about cotton We wrote one sentence on each page and had to use a sentence from each box and make up a closing sentence for the last page.  This took us two days and we did one page at a time.  

Overall, our unit went very well!  My students still talk about cotton (at recess) – it is pretty cute.  They still write about cotton during writer’s workshop and on their writing homework.  They ask me to read their clothing labels to see if they are wearing cotton (and are so excited when it is cotton).  I even had a parent tell me that her daughter sits her grandpa down every day after school and teaches him about cotton.  How cute is that!

If you want to read in more detail about our ag unit, please visit my blog The House That Ag Built and don’t miss the adventures of Flat Aggie

Thanks for having me Janice and THANK YOU for the kit!  You rock!

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