A Wonder Box is a collection of books and artifacts that are related to a topic. In the picture at the top of this post, you can see my Wonder Box about skeletons. There are three non-fiction books about skeletons, some x-rays that I was lucky enough to have donated from our local hospital and vet clinic and a couple of Halloween toys.
Teachers often ask me where I get the artifacts for the boxes. The truth is, I just keep an eye out now, and I often find things at a dollar store, around the house, or outside that can be used. Oh yes, and I kept a lot of my own kid's old toys!
I have used Wonder Boxes during science or social studies (or Theme, or Exploration, as I've called them in the past) as centres. I have also used them as Literacy Centres. The students, in groups of 2 or 3, go through the stuff in the box. They tend to gravitate towards the artifacts first, and then the books. Then they take a Wonder Card.
Students write the topic at the top of the card (Skeleton, Sign Language or Polar Bears) and their name. Then they must come up with a question that they think they could find the answer to by reading the books and examining the artifacts. Some examples may be: "Why is global warming bad for polar bears? How big are polar bear cubs when they are born? How many cubs are at the Assiniboine Zoo in Winnipeg?" Depending on the age of my students, I may try to get them to develop "thick" questions, that require more than a one-word answer (I call these Google-able questions). I'm OK with Google-able questions for the younger students though. :)
I make about 5 or 6 Wonder Boxes a month, introducing one box at a time and over lapping them, so there are always two choices. The students have quite a collection of cards built up after a few weeks. Some of the students like a topic so much that they may write up to 5 wonder cards just for one Wonder Box! I provide a container for them to keep their cards in. I've used recipe boxes, sandwich keepers... anything that is close to the size of the card. I usually create a new card each year depending on the size and shape of their container. The link on this post is for a copy of cards that fit sandwich keepers perfectly, and they were only $1 at Dollarama!
It does take a while to get students to write good (essential) questions. One way to get them to recognize essential questions is by following a website called Wonderopolis, which is also available as an iOS app. This site asks a question a day, such as: "Why are barns red?", "What is a general store?" and "How do you make a burrito?" Then you can click through photos, videos and text to find out the answer. It's great to do this as a whole class activity.
As an extension, later in the year, I like to have students create "Investigations." I wrote about this in a previous blog: click here. Students often turn to their wonder cards to get ideas for what to turn into an investigation. I have also requested that students create their own Wonder Box as a research project in the spring. They totally know how to do this, as they've been using Wonder Boxes all year! We set criteria together, like how many books, artifacts, etc must be included. Students write at least 5 facts about their topic on index cards, and they present their Wonder Boxes to our visitors that day (usually parents and other classes). They also enjoy decorating their boxes! Shoeboxes, cereal boxes and coffee cans and our go-to containers.