October is all about pumpkins, harvest and Halloween. Use fifth-graders' excitement about their upcoming trick-or-treating adventures to teach them new things. Pumpkins are a learning tool you might not have considered, but they hold enormous value when it comes to teaching mathematical, literacy and art concepts.
Place a large pumpkin in your center, along with worksheets that you've prepared. The worksheets should have a place for students to record their estimates about the size of the pumpkin, as well as how many seeds are inside. There should also be space to record the exact measurements and counts. Making observations and estimating are part of most fifth-grade science curriculums and state standard objectives.
Ask children to estimate how many inches around the pumpkin is and record it on a worksheet. Also ask the students to estimate how many seeds they think are inside the pumpkin. Students can complete their estimations as they finish other work so your estimation station doesn't get congested with too many children at one time.
Work together as a class to discover the actual measurement of the pumpkin. Use a measuring tape to wrap around the fattest part of the pumpkin to determine how many inches around it is. Ask students to compare the actual measurement with their estimations.
Cut an opening in the top of the pumpkin with a sharp knife. Of course, this should always be an adult's job. Give each child a handful of the seeds and ask them to put them in piles of 10. Once everyone has separated their seeds, count the piles of 10 by 10s and record your answer. Count any leftover piles that don't contain 10 seeds and add that number to the count the class got when they counted by 10s. Ask students to compare the actual number of seeds to their estimates.
Ask the students to close their eyes and visualize the most amazing pumpkin they can think of. Remind students to consider the size, shape and color of their pumpkins when coming up with the best pumpkins ever.
Have each student turn their most amazing pumpkin into a character, complete with a name and history, such as the pumpkin's birthday, favorite color and family members.
Ask the students to write a story about their pumpkin character. Tell the children to be creative and to keep in mind that since their pumpkin has human characteristics, the story will be fictional and make-believe. Creative writing techniques are included in most fifth-grade literacy curriculums and this activity will help meet those standards.
Give each student a small pumpkin and craft paint. Allow the children to turn the pumpkin into the character from their story. Invite each child to share his pumpkin with the class and read the story that goes with it.
Cut out a large pumpkin from orange butcher paper. Add a stem and leaf by cutting the shapes from green construction paper. Draw a line down the middle of the pumpkin with a black marker.
Show the children a pumpkin and have them give you examples of words that describe the outside of the pumpkin. Encourage the children to include words that describe how the pumpkin looks, such as orange, shiny, round and lined, as well as words that tell how it feels, such as bumpy, smooth or cold. Write the words on one half of your large paper pumpkin.
Cut the top off the pumpkin and show the students what it looks like on the inside. Ask the students to come up with describing words, such as gooey, stringy, messy and yucky, and write the words on the second half of your large paper pumpkin.
Read several poems to the children, which will meet a literacy standard in most fifth-grade curriculums. Ask the children to write their own poems using as many of the words you've written on the pumpkin as they can. Have the children write fall-themed poems, even if it isn't all about pumpkins. Perhaps the students would like to write about fall leaves, Halloween costumes or harvest instead of just pumpkins. Invite the children to read their poems to the rest of the class.
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.