Last year at the annual NCTE convention, I went to an amazing session by the teachers at Opal School. I left with pages of notes and thoughts from their brilliant thinking, but the one thing that really stayed with me was the idea of “cracking open a word” – seeing what’s inside of a word for all of us in the class. I immediately returned to our classroom and began the ritual of our “One Big Word”.
Over the past year, we’ve explored many words that spoke to our class community. We engage in an inquiry about what that word might mean and how the meaning of the word might be different for all of us. We read books about this word and discover books that connect to the word, make books about the word, find pieces of art that connects to the word for us, draw pictures of what the word means to us, find characters that connect to our word, have Hands-Down Conversations around the word, and record our thinking on a large chart. These charts serve as anchors to our classroom community and conversations we may have in times of celebration or times of difficulty. We refer back to them often. Many of our Friendship Workshops are focused around our current One Big Word, or revisiting past words.
The words are chosen by listening to the children and what seems to be important, interesting or something that might be beneficial to explore deeper. Sometimes the kids suggest a word, sometimes I propose a word, sometimes a word comes out of an experience or a book we read. Sometimes we spend a week with a word, sometimes it’s a month. All of this is done in a way responsive to the children in our community at the present time. Some of the words we’ve explored are: kind, friend, community, listen, love, empathy, compassion, hero & shero, persistence, joy and brave.
Here are a few of our One Big Words and some images that capture our thinking. Enjoy!