Throughout the year, during typical classroom interactions, Ms. Jones has exposed children to vocabulary for describing and comparing attributes (e.g., “It’s cold today, so I wore my heavy coat”). Ms. Jones decides to plan a lesson targeting a benchmark about attributes. She and Ms. Hernández plan to use materials in the classroom shoe store to facilitate children’s use of words to describe and compare attributes such as length, height, weight, capacity, and size.
We will show how Ms. Jones and Ms. Hernández walk through the process of designing this activity while integrating the targeted benchmark.
About the Classroom
Ms. Jones and her teaching assistant (TA), Ms. Hernández, are responsible for developing learning activities that meet the needs of diverse learners and address the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards (IELDS). Ms. Jones knows most children in her class will meet the standards and benchmarks. However, she will have to make adaptations for those children who need more individualized instruction.
Ms. Jones is the state-licensed head teacher in a monolingual classroom of 15 children with diverse ages (3–5 years old) and learning needs. There are 10 typically developing children with age-appropriate skills and behaviors in the class. These children act as peer models for the remaining children in the class. Three children, Raúl, Luis, and Esther, are dual language learners whose home language is Spanish. They started school with little understanding of English. Ms. Jones’ TA, Ms. Hernández, is bilingual and uses both Spanish and English in the classroom. Two children, Joey and Hailey, have special needs requiring an individual education program (IEP). Joey has significant speech delays and is learning to use an adaptive and augmentative communication (AAC) device. Hailey has cerebral palsy (CP) resulting in significant motor delays, especially on the left side of her body. She uses a wheelchair for mobility. On occasion, some children exhibit challenging behavior during small group lessons. Ms. Jones would like to implement strategies to address challenging behavior in the classroom.
In Ms. Jones’ classroom, the children are working on an ongoing project about shoe stores. They have the dramatic play areas of the classroom set up as the Shoe Store, with a cash register, money, bench, shoes, shoe boxes, and shopping bags. Children often use pennies in the Shoe Store to “buy” shoes, which have been labeled with prices such as “2.”
Ms. Jones’ district uses a state-approved developmentally appropriate curriculum. Ms. Jones and Ms. Hernández perform universal screenings three times per school year (fall, winter, spring) for preschool children.
This lesson addresses a primary benchmark. A secondary benchmark is included to offer ideas for addressing an additional benchmark within one lesson. Teachers are encouraged to be creative in thinking of ways to address multiple benchmarks within one lesson.
Facilitating discussion in classroom shoe store to help children describe and contrast attributes. Children work with objects that naturally highlight particular attributes. Some examples of objects include:
- A shoe measuring device to facilitate a discussion of length and width
- High-heeled shoes to facilitate a discussion of height
- Balance scale to facilitate comparison of weights (e.g., a steel-toed boot compared with a ballet slipper)
- A shoe rack to facilitate a discussion of capacity (e.g. number of shoes that fit on the rack)
- A variety of shoes to facilitate discussion of shoe size (e.g., this shoe is tiny, this shoe is huge)
- Variety of shoes
- Chart paper
- Nonstandard measuring items (e.g., Legos, Unifix cubes)
- Items relevant to the classroom shoe store, such as a foot-measuring device, a balance scale, and a shoe rack
To introduce children to the idea of discussing attributes in the classroom shoe store, Ms. Jones presents a variety of objects relevant to the shoe store over several days during large-group time.
- To model vocabulary that describes and compares length, Ms. Jones presents the foot-measuring device to measure her foot and children’s feet. Ms. Jones also introduces the concept of measuring feet using some nonstandard measuring devices (e. g., “My shoe is 10 Unifix cubes long”).
- To model vocabulary that describes and compares height, Ms. Jones presents and wears various low- and high-heeled shoes to demonstrate her change in height. She visually represents this change by taping a piece of chart paper to the wall and asking Ms. Hernández to indicate her height with a mark on the paper for each pair of shoes worn. (Ms. Jones also tapes paper to the wall of the shoe store area and provides markers for children so they can replicate this activity during center time.)
- To model vocabulary that describes and compares weight, Ms. Jones uses the balance scale to measure and describe the weights of various shoes. Ms. Jones weighs some shoes against each other (e.g., “This boot is heavier than this slipper”) and some shoes against other objects (e.g., “This sandal weighs more than 10 Unifix cubes”).
- To model vocabulary that describes and compares capacity, Ms. Jones sets up a shoe rack and fills it with shoes as she describes capacity (e.g., “This row holds three pairs of boots” and “This row holds five pairs of slippers”).
- To model vocabulary that describes and compares size, Ms. Jones presents a variety of shoes and describes them with adjectives that indicate size (e.g., “This shoe is very small. It is for a baby.”).
As Ms. Jones introduces vocabulary to describe attributes over several days, she incorporates questions and comments that help children compare, order, and describe objects according to a single attribute. Here are some example questions and comments for different attributes:
- Length: “Who has the longest foot?” “Who has the shortest foot?”
- Height: “Which shoes make me the tallest?”
- Weight: “I can tell from using the balance scale that the boot is the heaviest shoe.”
- Capacity: “This shoe rack holds 10 pairs of shoes, but that shoe box only holds one pair. The rack can hold more shoes than the box.”
- Size: “Can you help me line up these shoes on the shelf? I want to put them in order from smallest to largest.”
Ms. Jones and Ms. Hernández spend time in the shoe store center during the days and weeks that it is available for children. They help children acquire this benchmark skill by
- modeling descriptive language (e.g., “This shoe rack is full! We need to get another one to hold more shoes!”).
- asking questions to facilitate children’s comprehension of attribute words (e.g., “Can you find me a heavy shoe?”).
- asking questions to facilitate children’s expression of attribute words (e.g., “Can you describe these shoes for me?”).
Children continually have opportunities to comprehend and express adjectives that describe shoes and other objects in the classroom shoe store.
When Ms. Jones and Ms. Hernández visit the classroom shoe store, they ask questions and make comments that encourage children to compare, order, and describe objects according to a single attribute. Here are some examples:
- “Can you separate the black shoes from the other shoes?”
- “This shoe is not big enough for my foot! Can you find me a bigger shoe?”
Ms. Jones uses anecdotal records to record relevant vocabulary words (those describing attributes) as children use them. Ms. Jones and Ms. Hernández also use photographs to document children’s understanding of shoes’ attributes (e.g., a picture of a child identifying the largest shoe in the store).
Ideas to Extend Children's Learning
Ms. Jones facilitates children’s use of descriptive and comparative words during other parts of the day. She creates multiple opportunities for children to practice using new words (e.g., “What is the largest animal on our poster?” or “What’s the heaviest rock we have in the science center?” or “Describe your shoes. Are they heavy or light? Are they big or small?”).
Individual Adaptations for Children in Your Classroom
This lesson was written in the context of Ms. Jones’ preschool classroom. We now offer some general suggestions for adaptations that you can use in your own classroom.
Individual adaptations for a young 3-year-old
Child can compare extreme differences in size (e.g., recognizes that a size 10 shoe is larger than a size 1 shoe) but has difficulty comparing more subtle differences in size.
When working on attribute vocabulary, the teacher limits this child’s choices to two or three shoes with obvious differences (e.g., a very large and a very small shoe, a very heavy shoe and a very light shoe). The teacher asks the child questions that he can answer successfully (e.g., “Which is the largest shoe?” or “Hand me the heaviest shoe”). As the school year continues, the teacher gradually introduces materials with more subtle differences in attributes.
Individual adaptations for an English-language learner
Child speaks Spanish at home and can describe and compare attributes of objects in Spanish but knows only basic adjectives such as “big” or “small” in English. When presented with several objects, the child does not yet use English vocabulary to compare them.
In the classroom shoe store, the teacher encourages the child to use Spanish to describe shoes. The teacher also uses English to model comparative adjectives to this child (e.g. “This shoe is the biggest. It is really big! It is bigger than all the other shoes, so it is the biggest.”).
Individual adaptations for a child requiring mobility supports
Child uses a wheelchair and has no use of her left hand but some use of her right hand.
Teacher ensures that the shoe store is accessible to this child when she is in her wheelchair. The teacher clears the floor of materials so the child can enter the dramatic play area, places shoes on shelves at an ideal height for the child to reach them with her right hand, and designs the center with ample room for multiple children to play and interact together, realizing that this child may need extra space to maneuver her wheelchair.
Individual adaptations for a child requiring communication supports
Child has significant language delays and uses an AAC device to communicate. This can be programmed with up to four words and images at a time.
- AAC device option: Teacher programs the child’s AAC device with pairs of opposite adjectives (e.g., big/small, heavy/light) so the child can respond to teacher prompts such as “Describe this shoe.” Teacher encourages the child to participate in group discussion using his AAC device.
- Low-tech option: Teacher creates a laminated card with 10 icons and words. It contains five pairs of opposite adjectives—two contrasting words for each attribute (long/short, tall/short, heavy/light, many/few, big/small). The child requiring communication support can point to the icons on the card to participate in the conversation. Other children in the group can use the card as a visual prompt as they learn to describe objects according to attributes.
Individual adaptations for a child exhibiting challenging behavior
Child very much enjoys playing with the cash register in the classroom shoe store, to the point that he has difficulty ending this activity. He does not respond to the teacher’s request for him to use different materials in the shoe store or to leave the shoe store when center time ends.
Teacher employs several strategies to help this child regulate time playing with the cash register:
- Before the child enters the shoe store, the teacher provides reminders about expected behavior for the center (e.g., “When we are at the shoe store center, we can use the cash register for a few minutes, but we also have to work with the teacher while we let others have a turn playing with the cash register.”)
- The teacher creates a social story of the child playing appropriately and taking turns with the cash register in the shoe store and reads this story to the child before center time begins.
- The teacher places a timer near the cash register. When child begins to play with the cash register, she sets it for five minutes. With one minute remaining, the teacher uses a visual choice card to help the child choose which item in the shoe store he will use next.
This lesson plan was supported, in part, by a leadership grant from the Office of Special Education Programs (Project BLEND, H325D110037) and a grant from the Illinois State Board of Education for the Illinois Early Learning Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (D6548). Opinions reflect those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the granting agencies.