Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher: My Upper Elementary Morning Meeting Routine
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My Upper Elementary Morning Meeting Routine

What does my morning meeting routine look like? Need some ideas and activities for implementing morning meetings into your classroom?

This post is a long one. I thought about breaking it into two parts, but I didn't want to make you wait two weeks to see a whole morning meeting theme unit sequence. Read on to see the day-by-day in action!

Other Posts in this Series:
Introduction to the Series
Series Post # 1: Why I Devote Time to Community Meetings
Series Post # 2: The Design: An Overview
Series Post # 3: Why a Theme-Based Community Meeting?
Series Post # 4: Preparing for Community Meeting: Materials and Resources
Series Post # 5: Launching Community Meeting at the Beginning of the Year

At the start of each week (or new theme), I post the community meeting theme, quotation, and key words in an area that is close to my meeting space. Prior to the launch of this unit, I have printed journal pages for students.

On day one, my goal is to introduce the theme for the week. I have a number of ways that I may choose to introduce the theme with students depending on my goals, the theme itself, and the resources I have access to. I can keep it simple sometimes and be more creative at other times.

My very first theme of the year is always Belonging. I launch this theme by reading aloud Big Al by Andrew Clements. Big Al is the ugliest fish in the sea but he is also one of the nicest. He tries many things to fit in, but his size and look just scares other fish away. When a fisherman's net captures many of the fish, Big Al proves what a great friend he can be. After the read aloud, I introduce the theme by going through the key vocabulary and wrap it up for the day with a student self-assessment.

Another way I may choose to launch my Belonging theme is by having students respond to my key quotation first to get their minds brimming with ideas before I read Big Al. My favorite quotation for this theme is “By building relations, we create a source of love and personal pride and belonging that makes living in a chaotic world easier,” Susan Lieberman.

If I am launching my Kindness theme, I will most likely start by reading aloud Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. Each Kindness shows us that while it may seem that we always have the opportunity to apologize for being unkind, sometimes we don’t have that luxury. In the story, Chloe and her friends are very unwelcoming to a new girl who continues to try to reach out to them. When the new girl moves away, Chloe realizes what she has done but has no way to say she is sorry. We see Chloe feeling remorseful and can only hope that Chloe learned an important lesson and will extend kindness to everyone she meets in the future. Each Kindness is the kind of story that makes an impact. Sometimes I’ll choose to introduce a theme with a resource like this that gets the message across immediately. A teaching move like this also sets students up to reflect inward. All children are capable of pushing someone away as we see Chloe doing in the story and they can learn from her rather than make a similar mistake.

Showing videos is another option I like to use for launching themes. When I launch my Goal Setting/Achievement theme, my favorite videos are the Finish Strong video or the Death Scene Crawl from Facing the Giants. These videos help me inspire students to believe in themselves and motivate them as we set personal goals.

Although I am mentioning books and videos as “Day 1 Introducing the Theme” strategies, you can, of course, use these resources later in your theme’s sequence as well. I use at least two picturebooks and at least one video {or song} during each theme. The journey is really yours to plan out and even when you plan it out, you may decide to move something around at the last minute. If it’s a Monday and my students come in all jazzed, I may do a read aloud to set a more quiet tone for the day. But, if it’s a dreary, rainy day and they come in with low energy, I may choose to show a video or song to pump them up. My “teacher suggestions” pages offer lots of variety and with a little previewing of the suggested resources (pull some of the picturebooks and watch some of the videos prior to launching the theme), you can be ready to make decisions 5 minutes before your meeting begins. {It’s also great to have the picturebook options readily available in case technology fails you!}

At some point in Day 1 or Day 2, I give students the coverpage for our theme that contains the related quotations and lists and defines our key vocabulary. Students place these in their community meeting notebooks.

It’s also important for students to pre-assess themselves early on in the launch of your theme. Sometimes I have them do it on the first day before I start talking about our theme and other times I have them complete the reflection form and set a goal after an engagement activity.

I have found that having students reflect without any other introduction to the theme works best after students have some experience with our community meeting routines. During the first few self-assessment and reflection sessions, I do a lot of guiding and talking over students as they work. I encourage them to be really thoughtful and most likely have to ask them to be a little harder on themselves. (“Of course we have all done something unkind to another person! Don’t feel like you can’t tell the truth on your self-assessment!”) You will also want to take the time to have students set a goal related to the theme and share those goals with one another. When you initially start your morning meeting routines, you might allow volunteers to share their ideas and goals. Later in the year when students’ comfort levels increase, I like to go around the circle and have everyone share their goal. (The option to pass always exists as students may feel their goal is too personal, but you want to encourage everyone to feel comfortable sharing with the group.)

It’s a GREAT idea to make a t-chart to keep track of general goals and strategies related to your theme. For example, for “belonging” you might write “Goals for Belonging” and “Strategies for Extending a Sense of Belonging to Others.” You can keep track of your goals and ideas throughout the mini-unit and refer back to them throughout the year. Student journals have a 4 sectioned page where they respond to questions independently before you discuss them as a group. For belonging, these questions include “What are some times/places where you feel that you belong? What are some times/places where someone may feel they don’t belong? What are some ways you can make sure others feel included?” The 4-sectioned page also includes a place for students to create an illustration of the theme.

At this point, it is day 3 or day 4. You have introduced the theme, went over key vocabulary, probably mentioned or analyzed 1-2 of the related quotations, read aloud a picturebook, and perhaps shown a video. (If you show a video on the first day, make sure that on the following day, you read aloud a picturebook. You really want to have a key picturebook connected to each theme. Students will refer back to them all year as they read other stories and see connections between the characters and events.)

Your job during this phase is to continue building the theme through read alouds, additional videos, and by using your community meeting time to discuss the big ideas you want to impart to students. You and your students will begin making connections between the different stories you have shared. Let’s continue following my Belonging theme unit. This year, I read aloud Big Al, Each Kindness, and Babushka Baba Yaga. I used Babushka Baba Yaga as a community meeting book but added a second layer by using our read aloud time to teach students to track their thinking while reading in their reading journals! In last week's post, I shared how I'm using my belonging theme in readers workshop this year and this is the perfect example of how community meeting themes and my reader's workshop goals can complement one another.





Quotation Analysis. I’m a big believer in quotations. Over the years, different quotations have become my mantras. I love to make “quotation lovers” out of my students and community meeting is the perfect time to expose them to great quotations. Each of my themes has a journal page for students to respond to one of the related quotations. For many of the themes, I have provided more than one quotation. In this case, I allow students to choose the quote they want to respond to. This is a way to get students thinking independently about the theme and what it means to them. Their written response is also a way for you to see what ideas from your community meetings are sinking in. You may have students who do not speak up or share too often during your meetings, but you can see what they are getting out of the lessons through their written responses. If you are short on time, quotation analysis is also a great partner (or triad) activity. Allow students to discuss the quotations together for a few minutes then come back to whole group to share.

The final phase of your community meeting theme sequence is consolidation and reflection. This may take multiple days. For my belonging unit, my favorite way to consolidate and reflect on what we have learned is to compare and contrast the stories (and one video short called “The Lost Thing”) that we have read. We chart the main character, what the character did to try to belong, and how the character finally gained (or perhaps did not gain) a sense of belonging in the story. Finally, we discuss and come up with generalizations and trends we have noticed about belonging. For example, 1) most characters try to change themselves to be like the others in order to fit in, 2) this almost never works, and 3) many stories end with the character who wanted to belong “saving the day” to gain friendship.

For additional reflection, I have also left space on the initial self-assessment page for students to go back and reflect on how they did with the goal they set at the beginning of the unit.

Through my dedication to a community meeting routine, I have exposed students to lots of stories, brought out common themes in literature, imparted life lessons, examined author’s messages, encouraged whole group and small group discussions, engaged students in personal reflection and goal setting, and most importantly, strengthened my classroom community. Can you say, "Worth It!"? {See the post on Why I Devote Time to Community Meetings to refresh yourself on more reasons why I think it is WORTH it!}

If you are starting to fall in love with theme-based community meetings as I have over the past few years, but are thinking “I can’t possibly do all of this,” I encourage you to continue reading! Remember, community meeting keeps my passion for teaching alive and I started small years ago! You can start small this year! Grab my Free Growth Mindset Morning Meeting theme and start implementing right away!
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