Inspiring young authors: Secret Surprise Eggs!

Riddle writing is always a popular activity in my class from year to year. I first introduce riddles to my students through a “secret in a bag” show and tell project (I try and provide different ideas for “sharing/show and tell” throughout the year, and “secret in a bag” is one of them). Each day, one student takes home our “secret in a bag” bag, selects a special object from their home to put inside, and writes three clues about it to share with the class. The next day, the student brings the bag to school, reads their clues, and our class tries to guess what the secret item is. My students LOVE this learning opportunity.


Since “secret in a bag” is so popular, I thought the children would be interested in another opportunity to write riddles. Last week at the playdough table, one of my students, B.B., kept making eggs with his playdough and burying objects inside. He would bring his “egg” to me and gleefully laugh as I broke it open to reveal his “surprise.” On one occasion, I asked him to give me a clue about what I might find inside and that’s when I had my “aha” moment about what our next riddle-writing provocation would be!

On the weekend, I picked up some large plastic eggs from the craft store. I wanted the jumbo sized eggs so that the children would be able to choose different sized items from the class (my eggs could easily hold an object as large as a marker or pair of scissors). I could only find jumbo eggs that were clear on one side, so I painted them with acrylic paint to make them opaque and keep the secret items hidden from view. I purchased 5 eggs, each with a different colour so that we would be able to know which egg belonged to which student.


When I introduced the centre to the children, I called it “secret in an egg” so that they would immediately know exactly what they were supposed to do (“I know! It’s just like secret in a bag!”). I also credited B.B.’s playdough egg surprises as the “inspiration” for this new idea. We often talk of being inspired by each other’s learning or creations in our class, and it always makes the children so proud to know their “good thinking” is helping their classmates.


I created a recording sheet for the children to write their clues on with the title “What’s in my egg?” and an egg outline for them to draw their answer in. I stapled the clue sheet on top of the egg drawing so that after we emptied the plastic egg, we could still put up the riddles with the answer sheet underneath. You can download a copy of the recording sheet here: Secret Surprise Egg

E.L.: “It is pink. It comes from a bird. You can find it in a nest.” Answer: an egg!

We share our secret surprise eggs every day during reflection time (in the morning and again in the afternoon). I hope you’ll give it a try! It’s been a wonderful motivator for even my most reluctant writers/speakers.

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Nests, revisited…

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One of the things I’ve noticed about inquiry projects is how everlasting the learning is. Our projects never really end; though we may “shelve” our thinking and ideas for a time, we often revisit our projects throughout the year – or even in the following year. Earlier in the fall I wrote about a nest inquiry we embarked on after one of my students brought in a nest she found on her way to school (you can read about it here: “Whose Nest is This?”). This Spring, students started thinking about an inquiry from last year where we studied the birds in our yard. As the weather warmed up, the children started noticing our sparrows territorially guarding the bird houses in the courtyard and began speculating that the birds might be preparing nests for their babies, as they had done last year. This created some interesting discussion and wondering about nests. Some of the questions that came up were:

Why do birds (and other animals) build nests?

How do they build nests? What materials do they use? How long does it take?

We really wished we could see inside our bird houses so we could see what the birds were up to! To that end, I found a clip on YouTube that showed a time lapse of a bird building a nest inside a birdhouse (some clever person had set up a video camera in the roof of the house to capture the whole process – boy, did my students think THAT was a genius idea!).

To capitalize on the students’ interest in nests, I created a provocation at the Art Studio. We had been working with clay over the last few weeks and I wanted to give the students a new experience with this popular material. Here is the provocation:

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Students were asked to sculpt a nest out of clay and make sure that it could safely hold at least one egg. Students were also asked to add “texture” to their nests using a variety of materials. Fitting an egg proved to be a wonderful challenge that encouraged the children to problem solve as they worked  – making their nests deeper, wider, or taller as necessary to safely hold the egg. When it came to adding texture, we spent some time holding real bird nests and describing how they felt – “rough,” “prickly,” “scratchy.” “soft,” “smooth,” etc. Children were given simple tools (popsicle sticks, toothpicks, forks, etc.) to add the texture they felt was appropriate. This was a new experience for my students, as our previous work with clay had required them to make their pieces as smooth as possible. Some children had a hard time scratching up their work – in their minds, the nests needed to be smooth because “that’s what clay should feel like.” I was fascinated by this line of thinking. It just goes to show that we often misinterpret the messages that children receive from us from our teaching.

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S.M: The inside of my nest is very big so all the eggs can fit and won’t fly out because of the wind!

Y.T: I made my nest with clay. First, I made a circle and then I put my thumb in and pushed. First the egg didn’t fit and then I pinched it more and tested it but it still didn’t fit, then I tested it again and it fit!

G.M: Nests are for baby birds. The nest keeps the eggs from falling out on the ground where someone might eat them.

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J.M.: Nests are very scratchy. I’m going to pinch it to make it rough. I really enjoyed making this!

J.K.: Nests have a bumpy texture.

S.M.: My nest has a rough texture on the outside and a smooth texture on the inside. It’s smooth in the inside because we don’t want to hurt the birds.

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After completing our nests, the children were given the opportunity to paint an egg to put inside. We read An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston and Silvia Long (one book of many in a wonderful series – definitely worth checking out!) where we learned about the different sizes, shapes, designs, and textures eggs can have. We also discovered that eggs can be laid by a wide variety of animals! While working on their eggs, the children were asked to imagine what creature might hatch from their egg – a wonderful, creative exercise that greatly influenced how the children designed and painted their eggs.

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M: That’s a crab egg. It’s red with black spots!

M.B. I knew he was making a crab egg. I knew it because he made it so red!

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M.C: I’m painting my egg black because there’s a black snake inside!

R.K.: Mine is a blue jay egg. It’s just blue because a blue jay is blue. Oh, I love my egg!

J.M.: I made my egg green with white, yellow, and blue. I put on black speckles and blue lines. There’s a little robin inside.

Our display of nests and eggs is in the centre of our classroom, at the children’s level. Our students can be found admiring their work daily (and they can’t wait to take them home!).

Are you working on a bird or nest inquiry at the moment? What kind of thinking is happening in your class? I’d love to hear what you are up to!