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Rigor in the Classroom for Grades K-2: What It Looks Like

January 29, 2023

Rigor in the Classroom for Grades K-2: What It Looks Like

Note: This is the first in a series of four grade-level articles on rigor.


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Are you trying to increase rigor in your grades K-2 classroom? Perhaps you aren’t sure what rigor is or what it looks like. It isn’t doing more work; it’s about incorporating challenging, appropriate instruction in your classroom.

Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels; each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels; and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2018).

Let’s take a look at several examples.

Close Reading, Research and Writing with K-1

After reading our book about ants, let’s read The Queen Ant’s Birthday and look for evidence of the different types of ant characters. Who are the worker bees and guard bees, and what do they do for Queen Aunt? How does the queen function like the queen bee in our nonfiction book? How do these bees live in community? What can we learn about living in community with one another from these two texts? In addition to using evidence from the texts, provide real-life examples to support your responses.

Note: This idea was adapted from

In this example, two accessible texts are being paired, requiring a more complex level of analysis and evaluation. Not only do students need to acquire information in the first piece, they must also establish connections between the two different genres and make extended connections to how the same societal roles play out on our communities. This type of assignment could easily apply to any science or social studies reading as well.

Varying Perspectives

We have been reading and talking about the adventures of Tum Tum and Nutmeg. Living in a world where everything is considerably larger than them, we see their unique perspective on places and events that are ordinary to us. Being “small” in your own world, how can you connect with these mice? Are there times when you wish you were bigger or older or that your voice was heard more clearly? Are there times when you “see” things differently than the adults around you? What would you say to the adults in your life about the way you see things?

Now let’s read Clifford, the Big Red Dog. How is Clifford’s view of the world very different from Emily Elizabeth’s view? What’s different about seeing things from a much larger point of view? Imagine that you have been sent to a deserted island where everything is very, very small. Your view of the world would be quite different from the view of the little people who live there. Using pictures and or/words, describe how you might see things from a different perspective.

In this particular example, Aldyn Keefer, a first-grade teacher in Charlotte, N.C., reads various Tum Tum and Nutmeg books with her students. To enrich their understanding and help students move to deeper levels of thinking, she first has them think about how the mice see things from a different perspective. She then asks them to connect this to their lives by asking them to think about times when they see things differently than the adults around them, and to consider telling them how they view the world around them. Finally, she asks them to change perspectives and imagine being larger than their surroundings (much like Clifford, the Big Red Dog). Students must put themselves in another character’s shoes to consider life from a different angle.

Finally, in the science example below, students are provided the opportunity to make a simple hypothesis, make observations and collect data. In addition to comparing and contrasting, students hypothesize how to improve a plant’s growth, as well as making connections beyond the lesson to real life.

Planting Seeds

As a group, discuss seeds. Ask students to predict what would happen if they planted a seed. Then, ask each student to plant a seed in the dirt in his or her cup. Place the cups around the room, using different variables, such as sunlight and indoor lighting.  Ask students to draw a picture in their science journals of what they think will happen. Each day, they should observe the seeds and draw in science journals their current observations. Discuss as a group what is happening and why. After seeds have sprouted, ask students to compare their plants. Why are they different or the same? Draw this in journals. Discuss as a class, with answers such as, “mine grew more because it was in the sun.” At the end, have each student explain (justify) why his or her plant grew the way it did and why (variables) with a partner, and ask the partner to decide if that is correct. Working together, have small groups of students choose someone’s plant that did not grow as much as the others. Ask them how they would solve that problem. In the whole group, ask students to explain how the variables (such as the sun) would make a difference with something else related to plants (like a garden). Finally, ask students how these variables might matter to something other than plants. You’ll need to use specific guiding questions.

A Final Note

Incorporating rigor in your classroom does not mean simply doubling the amount of problems you give students. Rather, you incorporate specific aspects of higher-order thinking into engaging activities to give students opportunities to rise to the challenge.

More from Barbara: Let's Up the Rigor: K-12 Instructional Strategies

Looking for how to apply these strategies? Register now for Barb Blackburn’s 2023 Virtual Conference free webinar, Let's Up the Rigor: K-12 Instructional Strategies. Learn about a variety of instructional strategies for all grade levels and subject areas that will help you adapt what you are doing to incorporate more rigor!

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Barbara Blackburn

As a teacher, a leader and a university professor responsible for graduate training for educators, Barbara Blackburn has used her knowledge and experiences to write over 30 best-selling books.


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