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Snowflake Bentley is a wonderful book because there are so many ways to approach it. It is a science-related biography that tells the story of a farm boy who becomes an uncommon scientist. The portrait of this man as he pursues his exploration of the world around him is an inspiring model for students. It shows the "everyday" nature of science in the real world and provides a different image of a scientist than the "old, white-haired man in the lab coat". I chose to focus on this aspect of the book with a class of fourth graders and I built my "talking points" around the focus question: "What is a scientist?"
I began the read-aloud by introducing the question, "What is a scientist?" to activate prior knowledge and elicit pre-conceived notions of scientists. Students shared reflections about what a scientist does and what she/he looks like. We talked about characteristics of people they thought would make good scientists. Then I introduced the book and told students we were going to read about a unique scientist. I asked students to think about the focus question, "What is a scientist" as we read the story.
This occurred as an interactive conversation. Students made comments and asked questions about things they noticed and I would ask questions and think aloud about things I noticed. The following are a list of stopping points in the text where we discussed characteristics of a scientist. The page number is followed by the characteristic discussed.
Then we discussed the quote from Mr. Bentley on page 30. We talked about what scientists give to others through their work and dedication. We also reviewed some of the characteristics of a scientist Mr. Bentley demonstrated in his life and talked about why they are so important to the work that scientists do.
After reading the book, we thought about ourselves as scientists. I asked students to reflect in their science journals on characteristics they have that they think helps them to be good scientists. I put a camera in our science center and encouraged students to take pictures of scientists-in-action in our classroom. Eventually we used those pictures and captions the students wrote to make a display of "What is a scientist?" to share with our school community.
I love Snowflake Bentley because it inspires intellectual curiosity and wonder about something almost all children love--snow. As part of a first grade science unit on weather, I used Snowflake Bentley to launch into our hands-on investigation of snow. To prepare for the read aloud I brought in a microscope and camera so that I could reference them in the story. I also gathered real photographs Mr. Bentley had taken of snowflakes to share with my students. I collected a variety of books related to winter to add to our literature center so that the children would have plenty of books to read and enjoy during this part of the unit. I also watched the weather intently so that I could plan this activity on a day when real snowflakes might fall. I planned to take the children outside to "capture" some snowflakes so that we could observe them closely, if only for the second the snowflake lasted.
I began the read aloud by showing the cover and eliciting predictions about the book from the illustration and title. There was a lot of discussion about what the large black instrument was in the picture. We talked about our own enjoyable experiences in the snow as we settled in to begin the story of a man who loved snowflakes more than anything else.
The following are a list of "talking points" in the text where we discussed key ideas and questions. The page number is followed by the point being discussed.
Since I had planned this for a snowy day, after completing the read aloud, we went outside to try to capture some snowflakes of our own to look at through hand lenses. Just like Snowflake Bentley had used black background to highlight the snow crystals, we used black construction paper to capture snowflakes. We looked at the snowflakes outside as they lasted only a second. When we came back in we wrote in our science journals about our experience and talked about how difficult it was to try to look at a single snowflake.
Many students commented on how difficult it must have been for Snowflake Bentley and how great it was that he worked so hard to take the pictures of snowflakes for everyone to enjoy.