In mid-January, amidst gasps and high fives, the students in Amy Soupiset's fourth grade class at Woodridge Elementary walked into their regular classroom, but into a completely different setting than the one they had known all year. Gone were the tables and desks, replaced instead with a full-size, six-man tent and campfires. A floor-to-ceiling Mount Everest dominated the back wall, colorful Tibetan pennants were strung across the room, and professional climbing ropes were strategically placed around the room.
The room had been transformed into a writing base camp, and Soupiset and student teacher Mike Ventresca, had donned touques, winter coats, and climbing sunglasses. Each student received a spiral-bound expedition journal, and after the class calmed down, the reason for the room transformation was revealed to the kids.
Soupiset explained, "The whole idea for the room transformation was inspired by my desire to make writing an expository essay a less daunting task. Fourth grade is the first year that students have to take the STAAR test and many of them are afraid of the unknown—it feels like an overwhelming task. I used the analogy of climbing Mount Everest and the preparation that climbers go through in order to successfully make the trip to the top."
"There are five base camps that climbers have to reach before the final ascent," she continued. "In my classroom, I imagined the five steps of the writing process—brainstorming, mind-mapping, outlining, rough-drafting, and revision—as base camps, with the final draft being similar to reaching the summit. I told them that I would be their Sherpa who would guide them safely to the top. I wanted them to slow down the process and realize that it isn't a race but that good preparation and being intentional will take them a long way."