Some notes about our Wonderopolis year

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Three weeks from now I will be back in school, and today would be Wonder Wednesday.  My classroom will be abuzz with sixth graders sharing their Wonders with their table groups, asking questions, and marveling at new facts and ideas they have discovered.  All thanks to the incredible website Wonderopolis.

As Donalyn Miller so succinctly put it, when kids think about reading non-fiction, they think about dead Presidents and whales – dry and boring stuff they have to read in order to write dry and boring reports.  My sixth graders’ eyes generally glaze over when I mention non-fiction, and yet this kind of reading is critical to their lives, inside and outside the classroom, for years to come.   Introducing non fiction via Wonderopolis is such an engaging way to begin our year long work with this genre, one in which they learn digital literacy (navigating their way through the site and searching for further information through links provided) and well as features on non fiction which we will explore in greater detail through out the year (domain specific vocabulary, formulating questions, etc.).

In our classroom, we begin with a whole class investigation of how the site works.  I use the overhead projector to navigate the site, exploring the features as well as answering questions.  We learn how to “read” the site, explore “fun” options, and search for topics of interest.  By the time this session ends, my kids are excited and ready to begin exploring the site themselves.

For the first quarter or so of the year, my kids choose a Wonder based on their own curiosity about a topic, and come to their language arts class ready for Wonder Wednesdays, where we share with our table groups, and then have a quick round of “woah!” where students share what they found most interesting or surprising and why:

Then we move on to a different type of approach, where my students read two different Wonders on the same topic and compose Venn diagrams to show what they’ve learned and conclusions they have reached.  What core information needed to be presented for a reader to understand the larger topic?  What was more specific information and vocabulary for each topic?  What were some burning questions that you were left with or new ideas you have now learned?  Are their new Wonder topics you would like to research?

Finally, we end with Wonder Circles, where groups create new Wonders based on research both from the Wonderopolis site as well as other sources.  By this time, we have focused on non fiction as a genre and have experienced  two book group cycles focused on non fiction, and we’ve become very familiar with the site itself.  So, we’ve laid the groundwork for a tricky collaborative venture like this, where the focus is navigating through digital sites, gathering and then synthesizing information, and finally creating something new.  In the final stretch of the school year, my kids are usually ready for an adventure like this, where the goal is not perfection but collaboration and challenging themselves.

I am so looking forward to another Wonderopolis year!