My students learned how to read a seed packet by writing titles or summaries for the parts of information on the packet. This ties into the sixth grade standard RC2.1 Identify the structural features of popular media (e.g., newspapers, magazines, online information) and use the features to obtain information. Now, it’s not the listed “for example” sources, but the same idea — How do I find meaning in the words in front of me? By using the titles and the arrangement of the graphics.
How I organized the materials: I copied fronts and backs of seed packets — flowers and vegetables — on my color printer at home. I precut them out using the table cutter at school. Kids flipped them over, and I came by and put a glue dot in each corner — faster than passing out glue sticks, listening to complaints about ones that are dried up, don’t work, out of glue, etc. They could arrange them on their own page, as long as there was room to write some information.
How I introduced the concept: First, I showed a web page that I had posted on my own FB page. This got attention because they couldn’t believe their teacher was hip enough to be on FB! That was my first laugh. Then I clicked over to http://www.veggiegardener.com/how-to-read-seed-packet/ I used this to introduce the idea that there is information, organized a certain way to help you find what you need to know. The red outlining of the pieces of the packet reads easily to little thinkers on the big screen. Then I reminded them they were learning a standard, and introduced the standard. Fourth-graders were impressed they were learning sixth-grade skills.
How I taught about their packet: I modeled, used “think alouds,” and asked students to share out they would guess based on what they saw.
None of them had read a seed packet before, but a few had seen them. I modeled what to write on on their papers using the digital overhead projector, while “thinking aloud” about how the info was organized. I also used the real seed packets under the camera, so they got the feel of the packet since they had only copies.
Examples of my think alouds: “These letters are all capital letters, and the type size is the largest, so that tells me this is the most general information about what seeds are in this packet.” “This picture shows me what the plant will look like full grown, not when it’s just sprouting, not when it’s half-grown, but when it’s done.” “This graphic on the back is a planting guide. It has categories on the top that are shown with little graphic icons — the sun is a symbol for how much sun it needs, the scissors are a symbol for when you can harvest.” “The words below tell the answer, so for Cilantro, I can harvest All Season.”
My lessons learned:
Use seed packets from the same company so that the information is organized in the same way. For a large group, it is too confusing to use different companies packets. I mostly used Cornucopia seeds bought at Target, partly because the graphics were easy to read. I also had some Renee’s Garden and Burpee Signature but should have stuck with just Cornucopia. At the time I put it together, I was thinking that I wanted them to see how much variety there is in what seed packets look like. But for teaching, they need to be more similar so the kids can follow more easily.
Add some odd plants into the mix, for your kids who might rather be doing something else. I picked plants students had eaten, for familiarity. Next time, I will pass out some weird-looking food seeds for students not into this, to raise their interest. Purple carrots, for example. That might mean using only Renee’s Garden seeds, which are more expensive!
The kids enjoyed this activity, even though I feared they might be bored. Why? Because they got to handle glue, and had materials in color. They felt like they were building something with their seed info posters, like they were cracking the code!