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NumberFix: Exploring Money Calculations & Letter Writing with a Shel Silverstein Poem--"Smart"

A Writing Across the Curriculum Lesson from NumberFix
Math Topic: money values Students Write: a letter to a character who made math mistakes

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Smart Math & Writing
writing a kind letter to a character from a Shel Silverstein poem who doesn't quite understand math or the value of money

This writing across the curriculum lesson was written by NNWP Teacher Consultant, Karen McGee, who believes it would work well with students in grades 2-4. Karen used it with her second grade class.

This lesson was proposed to NumberFix using this template. If you have a math/mentor text lesson you'd like to have published, fill out the template and send it to Holly Young, our NumberFix Coordinator: We'll send you an NNWP Print Publication if we post your lesson here!

Lesson Overview & Trait Focus:

After hearing the poem “Smart” by Shel Silverstein, students will map the poem to discover what actually happened when Boy began trading his money. As they draw the coins and mark their values, they learn that Boy isn’t smart like he thought he was. They will then write a letter to Boy to explain why his trades were poor decisions.

The focus trait in this writing assignment is idea development: the writer’s goal is to clearly explain to Boy how his thinking went awry. The support trait is organization: the student will use correct friendly letter form starting with the frame, “I’m sorry to tell you that… ”

Teacher Instructions:

Step One (sharing a published model): Read aloud Shel Silverstein’s poem “Smart”, asking students to simply listen and enjoy it the first time. This poem is found in Shel Silverstein's collection of poetry, Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Tell the students that you are going to read the poem aloud again, but this time, they will map the poem as you read. Pass out blank paper to the students and have them fold their papers into eight rectangles (hamburger fold, hot dog fold, and then fold the hot dog in half). When all the papers are folded, ask the students to number each of the eight boxes with small numbers in the corner. In Box 1, write the name of the poem and the author. Begin reading the poem and after reading the first two lines, draw a dollar bill in Box 2. Ask the students to tell you the value of a dollar, and then write that value in cents under the dollar. Continue reading the poem, stopping to draw the coins Boy traded for with their value until Box 7. In Box 7, the students will draw a picture of Boy’s face when he tells his father what he’s done. In Box 8, they will draw a picture of Dad’s face. Both Boxes 7 and 8 ask for inference skills on the part of the students based on their understanding of the text. Click the image above to see a completed sample.

Because this was the first mapping exercise for these students, the teacher mapped on the Smart Board with them while I read the poem:

Step Two (practicing math):

On the backs of their maps, ask the students to practice at least three more coin exercises, drawing the coins and computing their values exactly like we had done with the poem. (We also worked with the concepts of less than, more than, and equal to which were review concepts for this group of students.) The problems we chose to illustrate were as follows:

  • 2 quarters are______5 dimes
  • 4 nickels are ______15 pennies
  • 1 quarter is _______3 dimes

Step Three (student models): Have students look over any/all of the student models that come with this lesson. Ask, "Which letter-writer was the most convincing with his explanation? Which letter-writer explained mathematical thinking with his writing the best?"

(Click here to open/print these second grade samples.)

Do you have student samples to share?

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Step Four (thinking and drafting): On the board, write a beginning frame for the letter:

Dear Boy,

I am sorry to tell you that...

As you write this opening frame, remind students about some of the conventions of a friendly letter--capitals, commas, and indenting the first line. After all students have these beginning words carefully completed, tell the students that they need to write to "Boy," in a kind way, explaining what went wrong with his trading.

Older students, or high-functioning second-graders, might benefit from this friendly letter template to encourage them to craft longer, more detailed letters with more structural features.

At this point in the lesson, the classroom teacher took her three lowest functioning students to a table to use Language Experience writing on a chart; then each student copied the chart onto his own piece of paper.

Step Five (revising and then editing): The only revision I expected from these second graders was that which I got at point of need as I circulated around the room using such probing questions as: Have you explained to Boy some of his math mistakes? Have you explained to Boy that his Dad was not proud of him?

The only editing we required of the students was to use the Word Wall to correct the spelling of those High Frequency words and to use the model on the board to focus on the organization of a friendly letter. I become the final editor when I typed the papers.

Step Six (publishing and reflecting): Students shared their papers by reading them aloud the group using Author’s Chair. Some papers will be published on the common bulletin boards shared by the entire school.

At the end of the lesson when the students were asked to reflect on what they thought the most important part of the lesson was, most students answered, “Learning about the value of money.”



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