I met with all of the first grade reading groups this week. Membership in these groups is based on DRA levels from last spring. This trimester I am seeing first graders with DRA levels of 20 and above. If your first grader is in an enrichment reading group, s/he came home yesterday with a letter from me.
We didn’t waste a moment and started right in on our first unit — mysteries. To begin, I presented the students with a mystery: Someone stole all of the Smarties from Mrs. Green’s Smarty Pants. Who could it be? Billy has a lot of candy wrappers under his chair, so Mrs. Green thinks it might be him. But Billy was in library at the time of the crime. It can’t be him! Riley says she saw someone still the Smarties and it wasn’t Billy; it was Mrs. Halayko!***
***Please note that we eventually discovered that Mrs. Halayko had indeed stolen the Smarties, but only to borrow them for a specific purpose and with the intent to replace them immediately.
We discussed our Smarties mystery while I introduced some mystery vocabulary we will need during this unit. Most of the words were familiar to the students. The only one most* of them had never heard before was “red herring.” A couple students insisted that a red herring is a bird. A red herring is actually a fish that has been strongly cured or heavily smoked, turning it red. In the context of mysteries, a red herring is a false clue, something that leads the detective to an incorrect conclusion (like the candy wrappers under Billy’s desk in our mystery).
*One first grader knew what a red herring was — you go, Stella!
Why is a pickled fish used to embody this concept? According to wikipedia, “Conventional wisdom has long supposed it to be the use of a kipper (a strong-smelling smoked fish) to train hounds to follow a scent, or to divert them from the correct route when hunting; however, modern linguistic research suggests that the term was probably invented in 1807 by English polemicist William Cobbett, referring to one occasion on which he had supposedly used a kipper to divert hounds from chasing a hare, and was never an actual practice of hunters. The phrase was later borrowed to provide a formal name for the logical fallacy and literary device.”
I confess that I never truly understood this term until I looked it up last year when a first grader asked about it. Just one of the reasons why working with kids is the best job there is. I never know what I don’t know until I’m in a room with ten first graders who are full of questions. (You realize that that last part was redundant, right? All first graders are full of questions. The challenge is to make sure you’re full of answers, or that you know where to help find them.)
The kids each took home a mystery vocabulary sheet, Case Report homework sheet, and a mystery book (I know they are reading books that are longer and more difficult than this, but I wanted it to be simple and straightforward for purposes of filling out the Case Report). Books and homework are due back next Wednesday, September 30th.