Bringing It All Together with Hot Cross Buns

“What does lukewarm mean?” asks Alex.

“Something that is between hot and cold,” replies Ms. Cane.

“That’s just plain warm. I want to know about lukewarm.”

“Well, it’s a special kind of warm …”

“Where is it on the thermometer?”

“Umm, well, really, you feel it on your skin and …”

“Why? and why not just say warm?”

Today is hot cross buns day in Ms. Cane’s first grade class, and Ms. Cane loves it. She loves the controversy over the word “lukewarm.” She loves the enthusiasm that the project stirs. And she loves the fact that in this single activity she can integrate so many of her first-grade reading goals. The recipe forces the children to explore syntax. It helps them build their vocabularies. It requires word attack strategies. It demands their comprehension. And finally, hot cross buns give the class a chance to work as a team on creating something wonderful together—all thanks to their reading skills.

Soon, the classroom looks something like a bakery. Ms. Cane has brought in a stack of cookbooks, measuring spoons and measuring cups, mixing bowls, flour, sugar, and other ingredients. The children are gathered around in a circle and each has a copy of the recipe. Some children have volunteered to read the ingredients, while others get to hold the cooking equipment, showing how they would carry out the recipe’s instructions.

Not long after the class is resolved on the issue of “lukewarm” comes a spirited discussion about “flour” versus “flower.” In both instances, Ms. Cane settles the issue to her satisfaction, but makes a note to herself that she must casually bring these words up again later to be sure that the children have understood.

Now it is Julie’s turn to read a sentence of the recipe. “Beat throughly,” she says.

Ms. Cane congratulates her on reading the word “beat” correctly. At her prompting, the class chants,

“When two vowels go a walking,

the first one does the talking.”

“But Julie, let’s take a look at the second word of that sentence,” says Ms. Cane. “It’s not ’thr’ like in ’three.’ Look more closely. There’s a vowel between ’th’ and ’r.’ Ms. Cane reads the word “thoroughly” in the conventional way, exaggerating and slowing down the sounds. The class repeats it after her.

“Any idea what it means?”

The class offers a lot of guesses about beating speed, but finally, Julie says,“All the way through.”

“Exactly!” praises Ms. Cane. “Now let’s figure out what it means to beat something all the way through.” The class now talks about mixing something so well that you can’t see the separate ingredients.

One person misses this part of the discussion. It’s Julie, who is looking away with a pout, quietly muttering “Throughly. Like I said. All the way through.” She says it over and over, unwilling to let go of her original word.

A few minutes later, the class reads the recipe once again. This time, Julie says the word correctly.

About two hours later, Julie encounters the word again. This time she reads the word correctly, confiding to Ms. Cane,“The first time I saw this word, I thought it was like ‘three.’ But there’s an ‘o’ before the ‘r’. See?”

“Oh, very good, Julie,” replies Ms. Cane, who graciously treats this as a new and valuable revelation.

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