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Learning Experience/Unit

Pass It Down by NYSATL


English Language Arts (NYS P-12 Common Core)

Grade Levels

Elementary, Intermediate, 1st Grade, 5th Grade


Assessment of student learning in this learning experience varied by grade level of the students. In the school district in which this experience took place, elementary students do not receive grades, so assessment is highly performance based. Assessment of student learning and growth by teachers is based largely on observations of students in discussion and at work and on observations of students’ performance on specific tasks, such as reading, writing and oral presentations. Assessment rubrics for this learning experience are available below.

First Grade
In first grade, expectations and assessments of students are highly individually based. First graders are at vastly different developmental levels with regard to reading, writing, listening and speaking. In many language arts lessons, therefore, goals for students are varied. In a writing activity for example, the goal for some students might be simply to add print to their pictures using sound spelling, while the goal for others might be to focus on leaving spaces between their words. For still others, the goal might be to expand their piece by adding detail and creative language.

The first grade activities in this learning experience were no exception. Because this learning experience took place at the beginning of the year, the teacher tried to keep goals and expectations as simple as possible so all students could be successful and leave the experience with a good feeling about their abilities, their buddies, and the project itself. Because many first graders at this time of the year are not yet able to read, these simple goals and expectations were shared with students orally and in written form on large chart paper at the outset of each part of the learning experience. Also, because it was so early in the year, "rubrics" for the first graders took the form of checklists for the teacher to fill out. These checklists included the same goals and expectations shared orally with students at the outset of each part of the activity and matched the lists written for students on the chart papers.

Specifically, two checklists were used by the first grade teacher to assess student performance during this learning experience. For Part One of the activity (read aloud and book talk), expectations on the checklist focused on listening attentively to the stories and participating in the book talk (see Listening/Book Talk Checklist below.) As noted above, these expectations were shared with students orally and in chart form prior to Part One of the experience. Then, as the Part One activities were taking place and/or immediately after, the teacher completed a checklist for each child in the class based on her observations of students.

Participation in the Part Two activities (home research) was assessed by checklist along with Part Three of the experience (oral presentation). The Research and Oral Presentation Checklist is available below. Expectations for Parts Two and Three were shared with students at the beginning of Part Two. They were again shared orally and on chart paper. In addition, these expectations were sent home to parents in the form of an informational letter so that parents would be able to help their children do the research at home and prepare for the oral presentation. As the first grade teacher observed students completing their oral presentation in Part Three of the experience, she filled out a checklist for each child. Immediately afterward, the teacher met with each student very briefly to a share her observations with students.

Fifth Grade
In fifth grade, much assessment still occurs through direct observation of students at work and through reflection on the work itself. Individual conferences with students are also an important assessment tool. Dialogue with students in conferences helps the teacher develop a greater understanding of the thought processes of students and helps the students be active in reflecting on their own progress and areas for improvement.

Assessment in fifth grade, however, becomes slightly more formal than in first grade. While students are still not given grades, there is a heavier reliance on the use of rubrics, rather than simpler checklists. Because students come into fifth grade able to read and write, expectations, goals, and criteria for success for each assignment are more often shared with students in writing.

The assessments in this learning experience fit this profile. Two rubrics were used to assess fifth graders. One rubric was developed for the Part One activities. This rubric focused heavily on listening to the stories and participating in the book talk (see Student Listening and Participation Rubric below.) The rubric was shared with students prior to the Part One activities so that they knew what their expectations were. Immediately following the Part One activities, the teacher filled out a rubric for each student.

A second rubric was developed to assess Parts Two and Three of the activity (home research, written piece, and oral presentation). After the oral presentations, the teacher took time to reflect on students’ written pieces and oral presentations and to complete a rubric for each student (see Student Writing Rubric below.) In the next few days, the teacher met with each student to share the completed rubric and to listen to students reflect on their own work.

  • Research and Oral Presentation Checklist
  • Listening and Participation Rubric
  • Student Writing Rubric
  • Listening and Book Talk Checklist
  • Learning Context/ Introduction

    In this Learning Experience, students in grades 1, 5, and 11 learn about immigration by creating a living museum, stressing the significance of items that have been "passed down" through generations.

    Purpose and Curricular Connections
    After working together over the course of seven months to study numerous facets of the topic of immigration, student learning culminated in a living museum in which students from across the grade levels portrayed immigrant family groups through speeches, dress, and props. The learning experience described here finds its place within the context of a much larger project. Its purpose was really to "kick-off" the larger inter-age project. Before this activity was conducted, the first and fifth graders involved had met a couple of times to get to know each other and to participate in some cooperative, team building activities. In their individual classrooms, the first and fifth graders had been reading about the topic of immigration, had participated in some geography activities to better understand the "setting" of immigration, and had spent some time discussing some very basic historical information about immigration. This learning experience, however, represented the first time students came together across the grade levels to learn about the topic.

    While this learning experience outline details one specific activity, the activity itself was part of a much larger series of integrated, inter-age, inquiry-based learning experiences in which students in first, fifth, eighth and eleventh grades learned about immigration in an in-depth way.

    In this learning experience, students in first and fifth grades learned about immigration and their own family's history in an integrated, literature-centered, and inquiry-based way. The experience itself had several parts. First, students listened to two books about immigration. In both of these books, families passed down specific objects from one generation to the next in an attempt to retain a sense of tradition and family cohesiveness throughout the immigrant experience. The focus of this part of the learning experience was on listening to and learning from literature and participating in a book talk.

    Second, students followed up their book talk by doing some research to find an object in their own family that had been "passed down."

    At this point, the purpose was to have students practice listening, speaking, and note taking skills as they conducted oral interviews with family members to gain information.

    Finally, students presented their objects and related stories to the inter-age group in writing and/or in an oral presentation, depending on their grade level. The purpose here varied by grade level. For fifth graders, the purpose was to practice writing skills such as using conventions, organizing thoughts, and expressing feeling. For first graders, the purpose was to practice communicating information to a large group using a loud, clear speaking voice and staying focused on the topic.

    While the activity can certainly be completed in an independent manner, it was designed as part of a much larger series of activities to help students learn about immigrations through an inter-age, interdisciplinary study.

    This learning experience involved three different parts: listening to and discussing two stories, conducting oral research, and presenting information through speaking and writing. Therefore, several of the New York State English Language Arts Standards and many of their performance indicators were addressed. Because the experience involved students from two different grade levels, it provided a unique opportunity to truly view in practice how the English Language Arts Standards build on each other over time.

    This learning experience fits nicely into district curriculum expectations for both grade levels involved. In first grade, for example, the activities found their place in social studies and language arts curricula. In social studies, district goals for first graders include developing an understanding and appreciation of one’s family and developing an early sense of history. In language arts, district goals for first graders include reading and responding to literature, understanding literary elements (character, setting, plot, point of view, author’s style, illustration), reading and listening to texts for information, and learning to present information clearly both orally and in writing. This learning experience helped students to begin to accomplish these goals.

    In fifth grade, too, this learning experience met a variety of district curriculum goals and expectations. Again, the activity found its place in district language arts and social studies curricula. In the area of language arts, district expectations met by this experience include instruction in particular reading skills (including author’s message, author’s style, vivid and specific language, point of view, expansion of vocabulary, characterization, and setting), reading works in particular content areas, and writing using basic conventions and organization. In the area of social studies, district expectations met include developing an understanding of specific social studies concepts such as change, empathy, environment, and identity.

    Prior Knowledge
    While the living museum was certainly an important culminating project, the learning that preceded it was equally important. In the months prior to the museum production, students at the various grade levels worked individually, in same-grade groups and in inter-age groups to investigate various aspects of the immigrant experience through learning activities in the areas of language arts, social studies, the arts, and technology. Major themes of this study included family history, labor, and the immigrant experience (from life in the old country to settlement in America’s cities and towns).

    In order to succeed in this learning experience, students needed to be able to:

    • Listen attentively to two stories as they read aloud.
    • Listen carefully, think critically, and take turns while participating in a book talk.
    • Make a personal connection to their learning by investigating their own family.
    • Use the inquiry process to learn about their own family’s history and tradition.
    • Draw or write (depending on grade level) about an object that had been "passed down".
    • Use oral skills to present information to a large group (including students at a different grade level) in an interesting and engaging manner.

    Authors / Credits

    Davia Dymond, Guilderland Central School District
    Barbara J. Westcott, Guilderland Central School District
    Elizabeth Whiteman, Guilderland Central School District (retired)
    Kim E. Harmon, Guilderland Central School District
    William Vititow, Guilderland Central School District


    Part One - Read Aloud and Book Talk:
    The first part of this learning experience was teacher-directed. First and fifth graders came together in a common area. The teachers took turns asking students to share what they had already learned about immigration. The teachers then set the stage for two books about immigration to be read aloud. They explained to students that both books dealt with immigrants who had left their homeland to come to America and who brought with them some object to remember their homeland. In both stories, that object was then passed down from generation to generation as a means to remember the family’s homeland and to keep the family’s history and tradition alive. As the teachers prepared to read the books, they asked students to listen carefully and to identify the objects that were passed down and their importance to the families in the stories. They also asked students to look for similarities and differences among the stories and the experiences of the characters.

    The teachers then read the stories aloud to students. Each teacher read one story. Students were expected to listen attentively, though they were also asked to take turns contributing to questions based on the story, including questions about characters, setting, time period, conflict, and theme. Students were also asked to think beyond the literal level and to explore their prior knowledge about immigration to answer questions about the possible experiences and emotions of the families involved.

    After the second story was read aloud, the teachers led students in a discussion of the books, which focused on comparing and contrasting the two texts. Students were encouraged to focus attention on the "pass it down" objects in each of the families and to describe their cultural, historical, and personal significance to each family. (See Listening/Book Talk Checklist in Assessment section.)

    Next, the teachers asked students to think about what they had learned from the stories and to reflect on objects in their own families which had been passed down from generation to generation. As an example, each teacher shared an item from their family which had been passed down. They each showed their item and described its history and significance (see A Special Family Assignment below.)

    Finally, the teachers gave students directions on how to complete an oral research project. They asked students to find one object that had been passed down within their own family and learn about its historical and personal significance. Students were told to interview immediate and extended family members to find an object and to ask clear questions of these family members to find out as much information about the object as possible. Students in first grade were asked to take notes on what they had learned by drawing a picture of the object and having a family member write down some important information about it. Fifth grade students were asked to take notes on their own and then to complete a short written piece describing their object.

    When the classes separated and went back to their regular classrooms, the individual teachers followed up the conversation with their own classes. The fifth grade teacher provided students with a copy of the rubric for the written portion of the research project and explained the expectations (see Student Writing Rubric in the Assessment section.) The first grade teacher reviewed the directions, making a chart of student expectations for home research and the oral presentation. The first grade teacher also distributed a letter to students to take home to their parents so they, too, would understand what was expected and could help their children.

    Part Two - Research:
    The second part of this learning experience was highly student-directed and involved students completing their oral research project at home. Students interviewed family members to find and learn about an object in their family that has been passed down from generation to generation. Asking clarifying questions, students learned the history of the object and the significance of the object to the family. Fifth grade students took notes on their interviews with family members in written form. First grade students "took notes" by drawing a picture of their object and by dictating to their parents the most important things they had learned about their object.

    Next, students prepared to present the information they had learned. Fifth graders wrote a narrative description of their object, using appropriate conventions and following guidelines for quality writing (variety of sentence types, topics fully developed, stays on topic). In their written piece, fifth graders also worked hard to clearly convey the importance of the object to the family and to demonstrate some emotional attachment to the object. In addition to completing the written piece, fifth graders also prepared to summarize their writing in a brief oral presentation, which they would present to the entire group later.

    First graders prepared to present what they had learned about their object by practicing speaking about the object using their object as a prop and using their "notes" (the picture they drew and the notes they or their parents had written) to aid them. Students practiced describing their object and its significance to the family using a loud, clear voice and staying focused on the topic.

    Part Three - Oral/Written Presentations:
    The last part of the learning experience was also highly student-centered. First and fifth graders came back together in a common area and sat in a large circle. Taking turns, each student stood in front of the group and gave a brief oral presentation showing their object (or a picture of it) and describing its history and significance. (See Research and Oral Presentation Checklist in Assessment section.)
  • A Special Family Assignment
  • Student Work

    Samples of first and fifth grade student work includes completed checklists/rubrics and teacher’s reflections on their work.

  • Completed Listening Rubric
  • Student Web
  • Rough Draft
  • Final Draft
  • Illustration
  • Completed Writing Rubric
  • Student Work - First Grade
  • Resources

    For Students

  • Copies of Write Source 2000 (for fifth grade students to refer to during the writing exercise).
  • Copies of parent letter relating expectations to first grade parents.

  • For Teachers
  • Copies of The Always Prayer Shawl by Sheldon Oberman and The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco.
  • Pass it down objects to share with students as examples.
  • Copies of rubrics (fifth grade) and checklists (first grade).
  • Chart paper to list expectations for first grade home research and oral presentation.

  • Instructional/Environmental Modifications

    Students participating in this learning experience varied in terms of individual needs. The first and fifth grade classes involved were heterogeneously mixed. Some students, therefore, did have special learning needs. While none of the parts of this activity were modified completely for these students, small modifications were made to assist them. Both classes had the support of a teaching assistant in the room (1 hour per day for fifth grade, 3 hours per day for first grade). These assistants helped students as needed as they listened to the books, completed their written work (fifth grade only), and gave their oral presentations.

    One 5th grade student required a different set of instructional modifications. This student had moved from Russia to America the previous year and still had relatively limited English speaking ability. This student worked with an English as a Second Language teacher and was given a great deal of peer support. This student also needed some assistance with academic tasks, which was provided by the support teachers working with the class.


    About two hours were required to plan for this learning experience. The two teachers spent this time discussing the two books, planning the order of presentation, and listing and discussing expectations for students. As individuals, the teachers also spent about one hour each developing rubrics (fifth grade), checklists (first grade), and a parent letter (first grade).

    Part One of the learning experience took one hour to implement. For Part Two, students were given one week to complete the assignment. Part Three of the learning experience took approximately one and a half hours.

    Assessment of the learning experience took place during the implementation phase. Students were assessed on their participation in the book talk (Part One) and on their oral presentations (Part Three). In these cases, no additional time was needed for assessment.

    Following the oral presentation, teachers did spend some additional time on assessment. The fifth grade teacher reviewed and assessed fifth graders' written pieces and met with each fifth grade student for a conference about their completed rubric. The first grade teacher also met briefly with each student to review the completed oral presentation checklist.


    Helping all students achieve higher standards is a challenge facing all of us. Without careful planning, adding more into the same amount of time has the potential to sacrifice depth of understanding for "coverage" of more material. For all students to achieve high standards and at the same time truly understand what they have learned, they must have opportunities to engage in multi-faceted, in-depth, interdisciplinary learning experiences. This learning experience was developed for just that reason. It integrates language arts learning with social studies learning and, at the same time, encourages students to make personal connections to their learning by making the learning relevant to students themselves and by involving students' families in the process.

    The topics of immigration and family history were chosen in light of the celebration of the year 2000. As this historic event came to pass, students were asked to reflect on their own futures and on the future of America. At this time, it was also important for students to understand our nation's past and its diverse heritage. By studying the past, students can learn a great deal about diversity, adversity, perseverance, and change.

    Finally, current brain research has provided us with a wealth of information about the diverse learning styles and multiple intelligences of students. This learning experience was designed with that research in mind. The learning experience provides for many modes of learning and sharing. Students with varying styles and intelligences have opportunities to shine, as well as opportunities to be "stretched" a bit. Current brain research also points to the fact that the most important "intelligence" for future success is interpersonal intelligence (Howard Gardner). In the twenty-first century, students need to be able to work with others of different backgrounds and experiences. They must be able to respect diversity, communicate effectively, contribute to a group, and adapt to changing circumstances. Only by learning about and practicing these skills will students be able to acquire and then use them as they become contributing members of their communities. The inter-age aspect of this experience allows students many opportunities to develop these skills.

    In implementing this learning experience, we have learned much about the power of inter-age learning. Younger students become extremely motivated by the examples of older students and older students always seem to muster up every ounce of skill and bit of knowledge they have in working with younger students. The different perspectives offered by students at different grades levels are eye opening for both students and teachers.

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