Often when we start a new unit study I give the kids a homemade booklet that accompanies the unit. A unit study book is a place for them to write down their discoveries, record interesting things we read, answer questions I have for them, and draw or color pictures that go along with the unit. When they’re done we have books to add to our classroom library that not only document what we’ve learned, but also give my kids the sense that they are not just students, but authentic writers as well.
Sometimes we use lapbooks or ready-made kits, but most often their books are blank or just interspersed with a few pictures, leaving them room to think and write their own work instead of just cutting and pasting what others have already put together.
I keep the books pretty simple. Yesterday we started a unit on important world landmarks. I created this very simple book for them and took it to our copy center where I paid one dollar to have it coil bound:
Inside are pictures of each of the landmarks we’ll be studying. I printed these coloring sheets from various sites online. I also added a place for them to write the name of each landmark as we study it. There are also question pages interspersed that cause them to have to go and find out information about the various landmarks to record. I left the pages adjacent to the coloring sheets blank. They will write a few interesting facts about each landmark there. The back page of this book is a world map where they get to put a sticker on each location that has one of the landmarks we study.
This is my son’s Eiffel Tower page. I tell them to do a neat job and work carefully since this is a book we’ll be keeping in our library forever. It motivates them to spend a little more time instead of just scribbling things down. We usually spend several weeks on a unit, and they continually work on their books a little each day. They review what they’ve written before with me, then we add bits of new knowledge.
I do other book styles too. Sometimes I just make blank books and sew up the center with a quick stitch on my sewing machine. Sometimes the books are full of my questions, input, illustrations, and maps. Sometimes the books are totally blank until they fill them up. Here is a book from a sea star unit we did. I cut out pages in a star shape, hole punched the top, and tied a piece of yarn to fasten the pages. I added the title and let them stamp the front however they wished. Then they put one interesting fact about sea stars on each page and drew little pictures to go with it. Now we have books they created that we can read over and over again…talk about cementing that knowledge into their brains!
Often our focus in school is reading and discussion, but writing shouldn’t be discounted as a powerful tool also. When kids write they are forced to think creatively, analyze, recite knowledge, and articulate what they know. Blank pages can feel hard to fill, but cut out a shape book or bind a book together for them and they automatically feel like authors instead of just kids with another assignment.