Lincoln First Graders Learn More About Astronomy Through English Language Arts

“The Apollo I mission was met with issues. Isn’t mission one of our vocabulary words?” asked Erin Mank, Lincoln Elementary School first-grade teacher. “What does mission mean?”

“Meeting a goal,” said one student.

“That’s correct, so Apollo I’s mission was to get to the moon. But they didn’t complete their mission because they met with a disaster, which is another of our vocabulary words. Apollo I never made it to the moon because it caught on fire before it even took off!”

The class gasps as Mank shows a photo of Apollo I on fire.

“Would that be considered a disaster? Did Apollo I meet its mission? Mank worked with her first graders on an English Language Arts astronomy module in the listening and learning strand. In this lesson, Mank gave students information about the space program and stopped periodically to let students hold small group discussions about what they learned. Then, the class would gather as a large group to discuss their findings.

“This listening and learning unit is an excellent opportunity for students to engage in rich discussions about the world around them as well as significant historical events. Through this science-based unit students can work to improve their English Language Arts skills through vocabulary and speaking and listening skills. In this unit, students are exposed to new and varied vocabulary. Some of the vocabulary is considered ‘Tier 3’ vocabulary, which is content specific and other vocabulary words are ‘Tier 2,’ which can be applied to other content areas, such as mission and disaster. There is also great emphasis on working towards achieving the Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards, which focus on teaching students how to have discussions and give feedback to others.”

In the first-grade listening and learning strand lessons, teachers use read-alouds, class discussion, vocabulary work, and extension activities designed to help students build general oral and written language skills and background knowledge critical to listening and reading comprehension in later years. The astronomy module introduces, through literacy, the solar system. For example, students learn that Earth is just one of many different celestial bodies within the solar system. In early read-alouds, students discover that the sun is a giant star as well as a source of light, heat and energy for the Earth. This introduction to astronomy will be built upon in their third grade solar system studies.

“I didn’t know that when a meteor hits the atmosphere, it burns up,” said Madalyn Giorgenti, Lincoln Elementary School first grader. “I think it is more interesting to see photos and hear and read the stories about real stuff that happened like Apollo I. I’m learning new vocabulary words like orbit. I had never heard of that word before and didn’t know that the earth orbited around the sun every 365 days.”