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Our Living Minute: Integrating Nonfiction Study into Morning Meetings

Andrea Smith

Last summer, Samantha Bennett's text That Workshop Book: New Systems and Structures for Classrooms That Read, Write, and Think helped me reconsider my work as a classroom teacher striving each day to live and learn with students. Bennett reminds us that a workshop classroom is founded on structures, systems, rituals, and routines no matter the age of the students or the subject at hand. 

When I began writing my learning community goals for this school year, I wanted to expand students' opportunities for reading, writing, and sharing nonfiction resources. I had noticed over time that students and teachers were always willing to share discoveries and recommendations for new fiction and poetry, but nonfiction seemed to be overlooked. In my home reading life I was excited to discover INK (http://www.inkrethink.blogspot.com/), a blog dedicated to showcasing the nonfiction work of so many talented writers. Other teaching and "kidlitosphere" blogs helped me discover new nonfiction resources. Reading these sites became a natural part of my reading routine with my coffee cup in hand, surrounded by the morning quiet. I welcomed this time, listening and learning from other interested readers. Happy with my reading life, I asked:

How could I create more nonfiction reading rituals and routines in my classroom?

What could I do day to day throughout the year to make a meaningful impact on my students' reading lives? How could our learning community benefit from shared rituals and routines as a means of nurturing students' awareness and interest in nonfiction resources? I was grateful for the summer days stretching ahead, time to consider big questions that needed to be faced in the fall.

One hot July day my daughter and I were driving from the river after a morning of swimming with our dog. I was listening to "The Writer's Almanac," Garrison Keillor's daily program broadcast on many public radio stations across the country. As expected, Keillor was sharing a poem, a story, and thoughtful ideas for readers and writers to consider. Keillor's soothing voice, wondering which writer or poet he would introduce to listeners, and finding both serious and funny moments were things I'd come to expect from his show. The Writer's Almanac has been a part of my listening life for years, but how could it affect my classroom?

Then it hit me. Listening to The Writer's Almanac, daily blog reading, and exchanging ideas with my favorite teacher friends could be translated into the classroom. That is how my idea for "Our Living Minute" was born. 

Children love to share news and celebrations from their lives each day during our Morning Meeting, a special ritual that launches our day - unifying our community with good news, important headlines, and friendly reminders about upcoming events. So why not include a spot for nonfiction? The idea of "Our Living Minute" began to take shape as a part of our daily gathering.

What It Looks Like

Each day two students share a nonfiction resource -- any kind of nonfiction text deemed important in their lives. Suggestions and shared items by students often include the following:

  • A nonfiction book

  • Nonfiction poetry

  • A map

  • An info-graphic: photo, diagram, table, graph, etc.

  • A website (students show the class the website using the computers in our room)

  • A magazine or newspaper article

  • Directions for a game, a product, or steps to building something

  • Recipes

  • Programs from special events like attending a play or a museum visit

  • Any other nonfiction item a student thinks would be of interest to others

Each student has one minute to share a nonfiction resource, explain why it was chosen, and describe how the resource is interesting, helpful, or puzzling. Three classmates then have a chance to ask questions about the item. I limit the number of questions to keep the session short and focused. The shared resources then remain in the classroom for a week or more so that others can read or use the selected "Living Minute" items during the day. 

As students share their resources, an information sheet is filled out by a peer and added to a binder for future reference. The binder is organized by types of nonfiction resources. Photos and copies of related information are added to the binder. Click here for an example of the letter I sent home to families.

Click here for a blank information sheet students use to record information.

Here is a sample of the range of nonfiction texts shared in a typical week.

And finally, here is the template for recording a week's worth of "living minutes."

Parents and students were informed about the ritual, and I also send home a monthly reminder letter with a presentation schedule so students can plan for their "Living Minute" presentations. Monthly reminders keep this ritual fresh in the minds of my students and their families.

"Our Living Minute" takes 5-10 minutes of our Morning Meeting, but its impact has strengthened our learning community and enriched the reading options of my students and their families. We learn so much about each other, getting glimpses into members' learning lives outside of the classroom. "Our Living Minute," is a purposeful time together, supporting authentic opportunities for sharing ideas, resources, and ourselves.


Andrea Smith

For the past 30 years, Andrea Smith has learned with children in Texas, Colorado, and Indiana before finally landing in Ohio. Her third and fourth graders spark a new energy for teaching, and she is grateful to spend each school day with so many fascinating learners.