Thursday night was our annual “Reading Restaurant.” If you are an educator in the primary grades, you should consider doing this in your classroom. This event is a ton of work, but also a ton of fun. The kids feel an incredible amount of pride through the process and I love watching each and every one of them shine.
We’ve been studying the night sky and the solar system. We started by naming our restaurant. The students in my classroom voted to name our restaurant “The Moondance Diner.” The other top name choices were Star Bar (which we agreed would be a fake salad and juice bar if that won the vote) and Constellation Station. I loved all of their top choices.
On my end, the prepping happens continuously throughout the year. The menu of our restaurant is made up of the student’s writing pieces. So at the end of each unit of study when the students pick their “best piece” to publish, I typed it. That is a personal preference. I want all of the writing pieces served the night of our restaurant to be in typed form with student illustrations, but one of the teachers on my team has served student writing in it’s original form some years. I don’t think either is better or worse, just a personal preference. We had 57 pieces on our menu: non-fiction teaching books, fiction stories, and opinion pieces. Additionally, passed in bins were personal narratives and space reports. We also created an electronic book which was our “daily special.” When that was ordered we delivered an ipad and families were able to read All About Our Authors. A teacher I used to work with used printed drink specials in picture frames on the tables one year to share all about the authors. I thought that was a good idea too.
After the writing pieces are organized (some pieces were being finished and illustrated right up until the very end), the next step is to assign jobs to your students. The class gets split into two shifts, for me this year I had 10 students in the first shift and 9 students in the second shift. Their jobs:
- Host(ess) and assistant (who counts out menus when families arrive). Each table is numbered and I know beforehand how many people will be in each family’s party. The host(ess) has a seating chart that includes last name and table number. Once all parties are seated these students become bus people. They collect “tips” which are little sheets of paper where families record the title of the writing they read, the author, and a comment for the author. They also bring around the bins of writing that aren’t on the menu to each table, as well as collect any pieces people are finished with and return them to the “kitchen”.
- In the kitchen, we have 2 chefs. The students are in charge of all 57 writing pieces, plus 19 scrapbooks-1 for each child in the class. Don’t think of fancy scrapbooks that adults make. They are binders with page protectors where we put photos from various events- kids record a title and date in permanent marker right on the printed out (from our school printer on regular paper, not photo paper) photo, special writing pieces…for example, “Things I Am Thankful For” or a prompt about the first day of school.
- This year, I had 5 servers in the first shift and 4 servers in the second shift. Most were responsible for 2 tables. The use an order form that has 2 columns- How many? What number? (The pieces on the menu are numbered and people order by number). Once the order is placed the server takes the order form to the kitchen and asks the chefs for their order, then delivers it to the tables. Servers were responsible for getting and returning ipads to a designated location in the classroom.
- I also had one student serving real snacks. This year, since our theme was space, we served moon and star cookies that were made by a couple parents. Last year, our theme was the ocean because we were studying animal habitats and we served Swedish fish and Goldfish.
Besides the typing and organization of the event overall, all of the work is done by the students. They painted and glittered moons, made everything you see hanging in the picture of the classroom above, the place mats, menu covers, moon rocks for the table decorations, covered cardboard moons with aluminum foil for centerpieces, made their jet packs inspired by this blog (I spray painted, they did the rest).
"Job training" starts the week of the event. At some point during the end of the week prior, I give out their jobs. Since I have my students for 2 years, my second graders already have a good understanding of the process and event. I ask second graders (first graders are absolutely unaware that this happens) to tell me a few jobs they’d really want to do and I try to give them one they want. Overall, I place kids in jobs based on how I think everyone will have an opportunity for success. I tell the class that if they go out to eat any time over the next week, to pay attention to what the employees of the restaurant they are at are doing. On Monday of the week of, I explain each job in detail, demonstrating things, have kids demonstrate things, talking about what ifs (what if someone orders something and the kitchen is all out - we keep five copies of each piece of writing in the kitchen- what will you say to your table?). On Tuesday and Wednesday we have practice with just our class. The first shift practices with the second shift pretending to be guests, and vice versa. On Thursday during the day, we have 2 classes (one for the first shift and one for the second), come in for a 20 minute practice. Then, the actual event happens in 2 seatings Thursday evening-6:00-6:45 and 7:00-7:45.
What has been absolutely exceptional over the past week has been watching the children work together. The amount of work the children did (and wanted to do) to get ready for this event was tremendous. Beyond all of the writing that was done, I had kids voluntarily give up recess to paint and glitter moons, morning choice time to color menu covers and place mats, glue together a big rocket ship bulletin board, and illustrate reports, and kids who attend our after school program gave up outdoor play time to drag chairs from another team so we’d have enough seating. Our mornings as of late have started something like this, “Today we need these people (name 4 kids here) to make their ebook page. We also need 5 more menu covers made, 8 more place mats made, and these stars need to be glued to yarn to hang from the ceiling. Who wants to do what? Oh, and if you haven’t finished illustrating your space research report, make sure you work on that too.” Everyone pitched in and there was not a mention of someone doing more or less of something than someone else. The flexibility demonstrated and support the children provided for each other was amazing. On Thursday night, both shifts went so smoothly. You’d never know there were some kids doing “job training” at the last minute because they were sick most of the week, others willing to step right up and switch positions if need be because we weren’t sure if others were going to be able to make it (everyone did!). They’ve absolutely grown as writers and that was a cause for celebration and joy, but the investment the children had in making sure everyone in the class was successful is what makes me, as their teacher, most proud.
I can’t take credit for this idea. I joined a team of teachers who had been doing this event (we all do it the same night). This was my fifth year being involved. In my first couple years, I thought we should do it every other year because it’s a big undertaking. That way every student would still have an opportunity to participate since they stay with us for two years. Having just finished my fifth one though, I’m glad we do this annually. Seeing the pride the children have in their job, their work, their classroom space, and the support they show for one another is all I need to know that the work is worth it. And now that I’ve been in this district for some time, I have former students that come back each year to this event. They come to read the writing of first and second graders that they don’t even know because it was such a memorable experience for them. Also, an indicator that all of the work is worth it.
Interested in reading more (beyond this ridiculously long post) here are links to my posts from previous years.