Teach and Tell Circle Time

Cover of July 2012 Science & ChildrenIn the July 2012 Science & Children I wrote about establishing a “Teach and Tell” circle time at the beginning of the school year. This sharing circle has several purposes—to provide a focused time to learn about natural materials, to allow children to each have a turn as the circle leader by talking and taking questions, to learn how to make a question, and to practice group discussion skills. An early childhood questions-and-discussion session supports the goal from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas of developing student’s ability to ask questions:
The experience of learning science and engineering should therefore develop students’ ability to ask—and indeed, encourage them to ask—well-formulated questions that can be investigated empirically.
A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. 2012. By the Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards, National Academies Press. pg 55.
Two maple leaves.Observing and exploring the properties of natural materials, and asking questions about them, are also described in the Science and Engineering Practices supporting the May 2012 draft of the Next Generations Science Standards for K-grade 2.
A blooming daffodilI limit the object-to-share to only natural objects because when the sharing child brings a toy, the focus turns to each child wanting to tell about their own toys rather than ask questions. Drawings or a photograph of a natural object are also allowed. If a child brought in a wooden toy to share we could have a discussion about whether or not it should be permitted–a good way to help teach the difference between “natural” and “manufactured”.
I model how to ask a question at the beginning of the year and revisit the criteria for a question for several months—what we say should be a request for information of some kind about the natural object from the sharing child. Children can be asked to rephrase their statements into questions. “I think it’s a bird’s egg” can be turned into a question such as, “Do you know what bird it came from?” And, “It looks like the rock my grandmother gave me” can be rephrased as, “Did you get it from your grandmother?”
I prompt the sharing child to tell something about the object with as much support for comfort and vocabulary as needed, then pass it around (if it is durable), and say, “I’m ready for questions.” The other children raise their hands and are called on by the sharing child, who I may have to prompt again to ask, “Are there any more questions?”
By reading a simple nonfiction book as the first sharing of the year (of photos of natural materials), I set up the structure of one person sharing and others asking questions. I like to use nonfiction books with photographs, and may only read (or paraphrase) a few pages. Here is a short, incomplete, list which I hope you will add to by commenting at the end of this post!

After reading a book, I model how to ask a question by wondering aloud or drawing the part I am wondering about on a large pad or board. Then I ask the children to ask or draw their questions. The first week or two, Teach and Tell circle time will go slowly as children learn what a “natural” object is, and how to ask a question. Building children’s understanding of how questions can be asked to get an answer will help them later be able to ask questions that can be investigated through science and engineering practices, including science inquiry.
Please share any suggestions or ideas you have for successful sharing circles, and for helping children learn to ask questions that can be investigated.

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4 Responses to Teach and Tell Circle Time

  1. Marie Faust Evitt says:

    I like that name– “Teach and Tell”– instead of “Show and Tell.” I do something similar which I call “Sharing” in my preschool class. Thank you for your suggestions on how to turn a statement into a question. That’s a challenge I often have with my students.
    Here’s an idea to help ensure that all children get practice asking questions because some children can easily dominate discussions while others never participate. We rotate who gets a turn. I print each child’s name on a tongue depressor and the child who has brought something to share chooses two names at the start of Sharing. If additional children have questions I ask the child sharing if he/she is willing answer more questions after circle time.
    Choosing two children to ask questions not only spreads the questioning, it makes Sharing less intimidating. Children don’t have to choose who to call on or face seemingly endless questions. After children have had a turn asking a question their name goes in the “Done” group until everyone else has had a turn. Depending on the age of your class you could of course increase the number of questions. If a child whose turn it is to ask a question can’t think of one, classmates can suggest one or you can offer the option of asking a question after circle time.

  2. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    Marie, I like your names-on-tongue depressor idea for limiting the number of questions. In my Teach and Tell circles, some children repeat the last question asked. I wonder if they want to know if a different answer might be given or if they just want to be called on even though they can’t think of a new question. Sometimes I say, “Scientists often repeat the work of other scientists to make sure they understand something” but that can get old. So I’m going to try your idea with the understanding that if the sharing child is willing, we can ask more questions.

  3. mary says:

    Thank you Peggy for this great idea ! I think I will find it very useful!

  4. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    Thank you Mary. Let us know how it works in your program.

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