The children in Mrs. Silva’s class are working on a project about community helpers, guided by the question, “Who are the community helpers in our neighborhood?” During this project, the children are investigating the local post office. With guidance from Mrs. Silva, the children recognized that a mail carrier delivered mail to the school office each morning. The children wrote him a note and asked him if he would visit the classroom to talk about his work. The mail carrier, Jim, agreed. He came to the classroom one morning and told the children about his job, showed them his mailbag and uniform, and even let them look at his mail truck parked out front. The children are now very excited to learn more about postal workers.
Mrs. Silva started the students’ investigation of the post office by reading aloud a book called Delivering Your Mail: A Book About Mail Carriers by Ann Owen. She and the children also created a classroom mail center. In the mail center, children can write letters or make drawings for each other, place them in envelopes, and address the envelopes to classmates using their first names. Paper and envelopes in a variety of sizes are available. Children can place finished mail in the large blue mailbox they created; it resembles the public mailboxes they spotted during their walks around the neighborhood. Each student also has an individual mailbox, labeled with his or her first name. Mr. Chung used an old shelf of cubbies to create these mailboxes; they resemble the teacher mailboxes that students have seen in the school office.
Names and children’s photos are listed alphabetically by first name. Mrs. Silva plans to have children use pieces of mail during a small group activity focused on classifying materials by characteristics and attributes.
Throughout the school year, children have had several chances to explore and discuss the attributes (color, shape, size, weight) included in this benchmark. They also regularly work with letter identification activities and have started to work on concepts such as alphabetical order.
We will show how Mrs. Silva and Mr. Chung facilitate this activity while integrating the targeted benchmark.
About the Classroom
Mrs. Silva and her teaching assistant (TA), Mr. Chung, are responsible for developing learning activities that meet the needs of diverse learners and address the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards (IELDS). Mrs. Silva knows that the majority of 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.
Mrs. Silva is the state-licensed head teacher in a monolingual classroom of 20 children (all 4 years old) with diverse learning needs. There are 17 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. Of the 20 children in the class, five children speak a language other than English at home. Languages represented in the classroom include Spanish, Arabic, and Polish. These children are all dual-language learners who started school with a varied understanding of English. Mrs. Silva recently obtained her English as a second language (ESL) endorsement to teach young children who are learning English. Three children in the class have diagnosed special needs requiring an individual education program (IEP).
- Aiden has a diagnosis of hearing impairment and has a moderate hearing loss in both ears. He wears two hearing aids. His parents want him to receive speech-only instruction.
- Olivia, a child with Down syndrome, has a developmental delay. Most of her needs are related to cognitive skills and self-help skills.
- Reggie has a diagnosis of autism. He has advanced verbal skills but has trouble staying on task for even brief periods of time. He is very directive with peers in play situations and is resistant to changes in routines.
Because some children occasionally exhibit challenging behavior during small group lessons, Mrs. Silva would like to implement strategies to address those behaviors.
The children are working on a project about community helpers in their school’s downtown neighborhood. Their project’s guiding question is, “Who are the community helpers in our neighborhood?” So far, the children have walked through the neighborhood and discovered a post office, a fire station, and a small public library. The children voted to do a project about the post office. To prepare for the project, Mrs. Silva has gathered the materials needed to turn the dramatic play area into a post office. She plans to convert the dramatic play area as the project evolves over several months and the children focus more intently on specific community helpers.
Mr. Chung has visited the school library and the local public library and gathered a variety of books about community helpers; these will be placed in the classroom’s book center. Mrs. Silva and Mr. Chung also have set aside planning time each week to brainstorm ways that project-related materials can be incorporated into other classroom centers. To represent the post office, they will add packages to the math and science center to be measured and weighed.
Mrs. Silva’s district uses a state-approved developmentally appropriate curriculum. Mrs. Silva and Mr. Chung perform universal screenings three times per year (fall, winter, spring) for each of the 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.
Using mail that children have created and addressed to classmates, Mrs. Silva will facilitate children’s understanding of an object’s characteristics and attributes. In a small group activity, children will:
- Sort mail by attributes (color, shape)
- Order mail (alphabetically)
- Compare mail (by size, by weight)
- Describe mail (using adjectives for color, amount, shape, size)
This is a 10–12 minute activity.
- Mail (created by students)
- Blue community mailbox (created by students)
- Mailboxes for individual students, labeled with first names
- Balance scale
A small group of 4–5 children meet at the center. Mrs. Silva designates one child as the “mail carrier” and he or she goes to the large mailbox to pick up the mail, using the basket, and brings it to the large group.
Secondary BenchmarkSocial Studies
Mrs. Silva gives one child the role of “mail carrier,” and that child is able to take on an extra responsibility in the group.
Mrs. Silva distributes mail to the children, giving each child 4–5 pieces of mail. Preferably, each child’s mail has some variance in color, shape, size, weight, and name of recipient
Sorting mail by attribute (color): Mrs. Silva calls out requests for mail according to color (e.g., “Find mail that is blue. Put it in the basket in the center of the table.”). Children look at their mail, find all their blue envelopes, and put them in the basket. (Mrs. Silva repeats this process until all colors of mail are in the basket).
Describing mail (by color, amount, shape, size): Mrs. Silva redistributes mail, again aiming for variance. She goes around the group and asks each child simple questions about attributes. Some questions relate to only one piece of mail (e.g., “What color is your letter?”), while others relate to the entire stack of mail (e.g., “How many letters do you have?”). Children have the opportunity to describe their mail by answering these questions. Mrs. Silva provides each child with several turns, making sure to address all attributes with each child.
Comparing mail by size: Mrs. Silva asks each child to choose a letter and compare it with a peer’s letter. She asks: “Which letter is bigger?” Children hold their letters together and make a decision about which is bigger. Children can identify whether their letter is bigger, smaller, or the same size as a peer’s letter.
Comparing mail by weight: Mrs. Silva sends one child to the science center to retrieve the balance scale. She chooses two children and asks, “Whose stack of mail is heavier? Let’s use the scale to find out. The side that sinks lower is heavier.” One child places his stack of mail on one side of the scale; the second child places her stack of mail on the other side of the scale. (If there is an odd amount of children and one child needs a partner, Mrs. Silva provides a stack of letters for comparison.)
Secondary BenchmarkSocial Studies
The child who retrieves the balance scale takes on a “helper” role in the small group.
Ordering mail alphabetically: Mrs. Silva instructs children to choose one piece of mail from their stacks. She and children walk to the individual student mailboxes. Mrs. Silva slowly reads the names on each mailbox, going in alphabetical order. When a child realizes that the name on his or her letter matches the name and photograph on a mailbox, that child gets to “deliver” the mail. Mrs. Silva provides comments during this activity to help children learn the concept of alphabetical order (e.g., “Abe’s letter was delivered first because A is the first letter of the alphabet,” “Violet’s letter was delivered last; V is near the end of the alphabet”).
Mrs. Silva and children return to the table. Mrs. Silva asks a new child to be the mail carrier. That child returns the mail to the large mailbox so that the next small group can do the same activity.
Secondary BenchmarkSocial Studies
The child who is the mail carrier assumes a leadership role in the group.
Mrs. Silva has a checklist. She uses this to record each child’s ability to sort by color, size, shape, letter name, and weight.
Ideas to Extend Children's Learning
By asking intentional questions throughout the school day, Mrs. Silva provides opportunities for children to express their knowledge about objects’ attributes in a variety of learning contexts (e.g., children describe their coats at arrival time, answer questions about objects’ attributes during project work, and describe snack foods in terms of size and amount).
Individual Adaptations for Children in Your Classroom
This lesson was written in the context of Mrs. Silva’s preschool classroom. We now offer some general suggestions of adaptations you may use in your classroom.
Individual adaptations for a child with developmental delays
Child can identify attributes from a set of two choices (e.g., When the teacher instructs the child to find the red letter, he is able to locate it) but does not yet have skills in generating language to describe attributes (e.g., the child does not answer teacher’s request to “Describe this letter.”)
Teacher simplifies child’s task of describing colors by offering two choices (e.g., “Is the envelope red or green?” instead of “What color is the envelope?”). After the child correctly identifies the color, the teacher verbally models and encourages him to describe the letter to his peers, using a short sentence (e.g., “This letter is red!”).
Individual adaptations for an English-language learner
Child has receptive understanding of directions (e.g., child holds up a red envelope when asked in English), yet responds to questions in home language.
Teacher validates and encourages child’s response in home language (e.g., gives him a thumbs up and responds with “Si, roja” when he answers a question). She also models the correct response to the question in English (e. g., “The letter is red”).
Individual adaptations for a child with autism
Child has advanced verbal skills but has trouble staying on task.
Teacher uses visual support to keep the child on task during a small group activity. She provides a schedule card using key words and icons (color, shape, size, weight, ABCs) to outline the schedule for the small group activity. When the child seems distracted, the teacher points to the schedule to redirect child to the activity.
For a child with a hearing impairment
Child wears two hearing aids and is receiving speech-only instruction. The child also can read lips.
Teacher positions the child so that she faces him when giving instructions to the group or individually to this child. She encourages peers to do the same.
Individual adaptations for a child exhibiting challenging behavior
Throughout the activity, the child leans back in chair (danger to self) or kicks other children under the table (danger to others).
Teacher uses preventative strategies to address the behavior. Examples include:
- Providing a social story about how to participate during a small group.
- Placing “footprints” on the ground so that the child has a designated place for his feet.
- Providing a visual support—a card with the words “feet on floor” next to a photo of child’s own feet on the floor.
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.