When I was little, Groundhog Day was one of my favorite holidays because I loved the idea of a woodland creature predicting the weather! (February 2nd was also my Mammaw’s birthday, which made the day extra special.)

We don’t have many snow days here in Georgia, so I always crossed my fingers that the emerging woodchuck  would see his shadow and hibernate for six more weeks. (And, historically, it almost always seems like if we do end up enjoying any snow, it arrives in February or even March!)

To celebrate Groundhog Day in the library last week, our PreK through 3rd grade students enjoyed some holiday fun integrated with narrative, informational, and persuasive reading and writing activities.

Our kindergarten students are currently learning all about nonfiction texts and informational writing, so PreK and kindergarten spent the first part of their lessons reading an informational text about groundhogs.

I used short excerpts and photos from an article about groundhogs in Britannica Elementary to show kindergartners what groundhogs look like, where they live, how they take care of their babies, and what happens on Groundhog Day.

Image: ‘Groundhog Day’ http://www.flickr.com/photos/34782207@N03/4073373487 Found on flickrcc.net

I had students help me read familiar words on the board and decode new ones, and we also learned a lot of information by looking at different photographs of groundhogs. (“Read the pictures” is a strategy that all of us practice!)

Here’s one fun fact that fascinated all of us: groundhogs become adults when they are only two months old. Wow!

(We also learned what an encyclopedia is–a huge collection of facts about many different topics–and we talked about how most of the 100 things we would LOVE to learn about could be found in an encyclopedia!)

Once we had learned all about groundhogs, we transitioned from informational texts to fiction and read the book Ten Grouchy Groundhogs by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook:

image from http://www.indiebound.org

The kids were super excited to act out what the groundhogs did on each page, from normal groundhog activities like sleeping and digging to more far-fetched pursuits such as singing, dancing, giggling, and primping. The book also includes a one-page explanation of Groundhog Day at the end, which makes it perfect for teaching younger kids about this fun holiday.

Our 1st and 2nd graders have been learning about opinion and persuasive writing, and 3rd grade will be moving on from informational to opinion writing in the next couple of weeks–so, for their Groundhog Day activities, we practiced expressing our opinions and supporting them with clear, specific reasons.

Groundhog Day is perfect for this mode of writing because there are two possible predictions a groundhog can make. Seeing his shadow  (like General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta did) means we should get ready for six more weeks of winter weather; no shadow means an early spring (as has been predicted this year by the famous Punxsutawney Phil). And many people have very strong opinions about which they would prefer!

So, for our library lessons last week, our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders practiced sharing their feelings on this issue and justifying those opinions with specific support. After students had the chance to argue for both sides and consider each others’ points of view, we took a class vote to see whose reasons persuaded us more.

Here’s what one group came up with:

Most of the students in this class were ready for spring to arrive!
Three students were undecided–but most of the kids in this class were ready for spring to arrive!

In all of my classes, students were eager to share their opinions–and to persuade their classmates to agree with them!

Some students even came up with counter-arguments; for example, when one student suggested that fewer people get colds and the flu in springtime, another student countered that allergies are usually worse in the spring. 🙂

I also tried an experiment with a few classes in which the students stood on different sides of the rug depending on what their opinion was, and they were allowed to switch sides if a classmate suggested a reason that convinced them to change their mind.

…I’ll admit, that activity got a little bit crazy!

Some students did a great job of following my directions to move quietly from one side to the other (or to the middle if they became undecided)….but other students got a little too wacky, to the point that they were chattering loudly when they were supposed to be listening to their classmates!

On the other hand, the kids loved being up and moving around, and it was really neat to see what reasons they found most convincing and which reasons were less persuasive.

I would love to try an activity like this again, but I know now that I’ll need to plan ahead for keeping students focused on listening and thinking about the persuasive elements of the game without getting too distracted by the physical activity. 🙂

After we established our own opinions about the groundhog’s possible predictions, each class enjoyed a Groundhog Day read-aloud.

In 1st grade, we read Go to Sleep, Groundhog! by Judy Cox:

image from http://www.indiebound.org

The groundhog in this story tosses and turns but cannot sleep, so he emerges from his den during the time when he would normally be hibernating. Imagine his surprise when he ends up wandering through a neighborhood of trick-or-treaters at Halloween, a barnyard of corn and turkeys at Thanksgiving, and a decorated street full of lights and wreaths at Christmas! Students loved seeing some of their favorite holidays out of season, and of course they were on the edge of their seats wondering whether the groundhog in the story would see his shadow or not.

In 2nd and 3rd grades, we talked a little bit about groundhog celebrities like General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta and Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania, and then we read the book Geoffrey Groundhog Predicts the Weather by Bruce Koscielniak:

image from http://www.indiebound.org

This is a great story for Groundhog Day, but it’s a also a fun book for exploring the idea of celebrity and media saturation as Geoffrey’s town goes just a little crazy with groundhog hype–and Geoffrey’s prediction gets lost in the bustle!

For “homework”–I use this term loosely since it was totally optional!–I encouraged students to watch the news on Saturday to see whether the groundhog saw his shadow or not, and this week they have been very excited to share what they learned.

So, now that you’ve read about our Groundhog Day festivities, which would you prefer: six more weeks of winter weather, or an early spring? I’d love to hear your opinion–and reasons–in the comments! 🙂