In an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!
3. Teach the word “hypothesis.”
It’s a common misconception that young students shouldn’t be taught big words. Who hasn’t met a five-year-old that can’t tell you the difference between a brontosaurus and a stegosaurus? Kids are drawn to big, complicated words, and they are often ready to handle the big, complicated concepts that come with. Early on in the year I teach my students the word “hypothesis,” defining it as something like “your best guess answer to a question, based on what you already know.” I then make an effort to pose lots of questions that allow them to form a hypothesis.
My favorite way to introduce new units is by posing a question or two, letting the students form hypotheses, and then giving them time to look in books to find the answer. For example, I kicked off my unit on turtles by writing the question “Why do turtles have shells?” on chart paper. I asked each student to draw or write a simple answer to the question, then gave them time to browse through lots of non-fiction books to look for evidence that proves them either right or wrong. I usually ask them to search with a partner, in order to stimulate dialogue on the topic.
It’s amazing to see kindergarteners scrutinizing photographs and captions to find evidence that turtles use their shells for protection. I hand out sticky notes to each pair, suggesting that they mark any evidence they find in the texts. After about ten minutes, we come back to the rug and share what we learned. I usually follow up by reading a simple non-fiction text that will give us a definite answer to the question posed. But sometimes I leave it open for debate!