Monthly Archives: August 2009

Carry on, Teachers. Carry on.

chalkboard eraserTeaching is hard work.

And every teacher, no matter how seasoned nor how green around the ears, needs encouragement from time to time–a little pat on the back. A little proof that he or she is making a difference. A little reassurance that the effort, time and lack of sufficient paychecks are producing something greater than mere chalk dust in the tray at the end of the day.

I got that encouragement last week, when a former student contacted me. Ten years ago, I had the privilege of being this student’s fourth-grade teacher. And although our paths had separated over the years, she got back in touch with me when she graduated from high school this past spring. She just wanted to tell me that I am still her favorite teacher and to ask if we could have lunch before she went off to college.

So we did. We met at a local restaurant and got caught up. I was astounded by how quickly the little girl who had captured my heart with her sweet spirit all those years ago had grown into a beautiful woman, taller than I, and full of dreams, passion and purpose. What a gift, a blessing, to know that I somehow shaped her life–even if only in a meager way for one short year.

Infamous American historian Jacques Barzun once said, “In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.” But do not doubt that the fruit will ripen in time.  Persevere, carry on, wipe the chalk dust out of the tray and know that you, Teacher, are making a difference.

Author: Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

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Filed under Teacher Inspiration, Teaching

Add Life to Boring Vocabulary Lessons

students thumbs upSix Easy Tips

How do you jazz up your vocabulary lessons? Share your ideas in a comment, below. The most original idea from this post and the next three posts will win a School Box gift card!

We all know that vocabulary instruction is an important aspect of any language arts program. Unfortunately, common practices such as looking up words in the dictionary or memorizing word lists simply aren’t enough to help students develop a genuine knowledge of word meaning.

And plus, they’re just plain boring.

So how do you add life to your vocabulary instruction?

You could probably come up with some really creative song and dance routines, but sometimes all you really need is a simple yet effective way to present your lessons that keeps students engaged.

With that in mind, here are six easy tips vocabulary experts recommend to integrate active participation techniques into your direct instruction:

1. Use choral responses

Ever notice how students all like to talk at the same time? Well, how about taking advantage of it for once? Next time you introduce new words, ask students to:

– Pronounce the words together.

– Read the words in a sentence together.

– Complete cloze sentences or other activities as a class.

2. Use nonverbal responses

Okay, giving the thumbs-up sign may be a little out of style, but it’s a fun way to answer simple questions. Try eliciting student responses through simple signs or signals such as pointing to a word, standing and sitting, or even clapping.

3. Use partner responses

To mix things up a bit, start your next lesson by having students practice with a partner first. Or have students pair up and work as teams while taking part in class discussions.

4. Allow thinking time before taking responses

Nobody likes being put on the spot. Give your students the time they need to think before calling on them—you may be surprised by what they come up with.

5. Randomly call on students; don’t ask for raised hands

We all love seeing those hands up in the air, but sometimes calling on students without asking for raised hands can be a good way to get those who may be reluctant to participate involved in the discussion.

6. Ask students to rephrase what a partner or other classmate said.

Asking students to rephrase answers can be a great way to support students who may be shy or unsure of what to say.

And after the lesson is over, don’t forget to model and practice new words throughout the day. Make a point of using new words in your other lessons and conversations, and find moments (like while waiting in line) for students to interact with their new words.

Try integrating these easy steps into your next vocabulary lesson and see for yourself how a few simple active participation techniques can go a long way!

* Need more help with vocabulary instruction? The tips from this article came from Evan-Moor Educational Publishers’ Daily Academic Vocabulary. Download a free sample week of instruction here and take a look at the teacher resource pages for more ideas.

How do you jazz up your vocabulary lessons? Share your ideas in a comment, below. The most original idea from this post and the next three posts will win a School Box gift card!

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Filed under Academic Success, Games

Improving Writing Instruction (Six Easy Ways)

girl writing (blurry background)Got a fun idea for teaching writing? Share it! Post a helpful or original comment below and be entered to win a School Box gift card!

By now, many of us know what the six traits of writing are: ideas, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, voice, and conventions. And we know that those are the basic traits that make up good writing.

But do we know them well enough to explain them to our third graders? How about our first graders?

It’s not always easy to present such indefinite terms to our younger students in a way that they’ll understand. So until School House Rock comes up with a great new song about them, here are some simple scripting suggestions to help you introduce the six traits of writing to your class.


Explain to students that good writing starts with good ideas.

Say: A good idea is clear, interesting and original. It makes the readers say, “Wow!” or “I never would have thought of that!” Without good ideas, your writing would not have much of a point. Your reader would be bored!


Explain to students that good writing is organized in a way that helps the reader understand the information and follow what the writer is saying.

Say: The organization of your writing is what holds everything together. It puts your ideas in an order that makes sense, and it gives your writing a strong beginning, middle and end. When your writing is not organized, your reader can grow confused and lose interest.

Word Choice

Explain to students that good writers choose their words carefully in order to get their ideas across.

Say: When you write, choose just the right words and use them correctly. Make them fun and interesting so they help your readers “see” what you are talking about. Try not to use the same words over and over again. If you don’t choose your words carefully, your reader may not understand what you’re trying to say.

Sentence Fluency

Explain to students that good writers make their writing flow by using different kinds of sentences.

Say: You want your writing to be easy to read and follow. It should flow so smoothly and sound so interesting that people want to read it aloud! When your sentences don’t flow, your writing sounds choppy and flat. Your readers would not want to read it aloud.


Explain to students that when they write, their personality, or who they are, should shine through.

Say: You want your writing to sound like you, and no one else! When you write, you show who you are through words. No matter what type of writing you do, always make sure it sounds like you. Otherwise, your reader may not care about what you have to say. In fact, your reader may not even know who wrote it!


Explain to students that good writers follow all the rules, or conventions, of writing, so their readers can easily read and understand the writing.

Say: Using correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation when you write is important. When you don’t follow the rules, your reader can become lost or confused. He or she may not know where one idea stops and another begins.

Looking for more 6 trait writing help? The tips from this article came from Evan-Moor Educational Publishers’ Daily 6-Trait Writing. Download a free sample week of instruction and take a look at the teacher resource pages for more examples on how to introduce the traits and lead class lessons.

Got a fun idea for teaching writing? Share it! Post a helpful or original  comment below and be entered to win a School Box gift card!

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A Positive Classroom Community: Concrete Ways to Foster Unity from Day One

three students hugby Kristin M. Woolums, M.Ed.

We’d like to know: How do you foster a sense of community in your classroom? Leave a comment to share your idea! The best idea from this week’s posts will win a School Box gift card!

Face it; we’re a numbers-based society. We rely on GPAs, SATs, CRCTs, ITBSs, ACTs and other alphabet soup assessments, so how do we prevent our students from becoming just another number in our classrooms?

Good question! The answer is to connect with your students as individuals. If they know you care, they will want to meet your high expectations. Students who feel welcomed and valued are more likely to succeed academically, and connecting with their teacher–and with each other–is essential toward that end. Let’s look at some easy ways to foster connections in your classroom, starting on day one.

Teacher-Student Connections

The connecting process starts on day one. Greet each person at the door, address him/her by name and take note of special things about each student. For example, does he wear glasses? Does she have a nickname? Does he have a cold? A simple question like, “Are you feeling better today?” goes a long way in a student’s eyes toward knowing you care. Even after day one, make it a point to personally greet each student as they arrive.

Student-Student Connections

Give students a chance to bond with each other by initiating “study buddies.” Pair off students with like personalities or abilities. Study buddies serve several tasks: they ensure that their partners aren’t falling behind on an assignment, they keep up with assignments for absent partners, and they act as an assignment checker when you’re unable to check every child’s work. Take pictures of the study buddy partners (or threesomes) and give each person a copy to put in a special place to remind them that they have someone to call if they need help.

Whole Group Connections

Connecting as a whole group unifies your class. Begin the year with the following activity to initiate positive interactions, and then repeat it every time students fall prey to gossip or unkind acts.

Connecting Web: Have the group sit in a large circle. With a ball of yarn in your hand, pick a student to praise (maybe an unlikely candidate), and toss the ball while holding onto the end of the yarn. That student then praises someone, and tosses the ball (while also still holding onto the yarn). Continue until every person has heard something nice about him/herself and has had the opportunity to throw the yarn and say something nice to another student.

The result is a unique web, which opens the door for discussing that you’re a unique group–worth protecting by being kind to each other. To conclude,  give each student a piece of the web to wear on his/her wrist to symbolize the friendship of the class.

Connection is essential to the success of the students in any classroom. Start by building a relationship with each student, and then encourage students to bond with each other. Authentic, personal connections will ensure that your students never feel like a number.

Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed., teaches fifth grade at a private school in Atlanta and works at The School Box at Southlake during the summer months.

We’d like to know: How do you foster a sense of community in your classroom? Leave a comment to share your idea! The best idea from this week’s posts will win a School Box gift card!


Filed under Classroom Community, Motivation, Teaching

Beat the Back-to-School Blahs (with great at-home ideas)!

boy holding applePost a useful or helpful comment, below, and be entered to win a School Box gift card!

The rubbery smell of a new pink eraser. The squeak of new tennis shoes on freshly waxed linoleum. The chorus of children’s laughter cascading through school bus windows. These images encompass the annual phenomenon called the first day of school!

Each fall, we fill our children’s closets with new clothing and fill their backpacks with new notebooks and pencils—all in preparation for returning to school. This year, try filling your home with a few new routines, as well, to help ease the transition from summertime to school time. Here are some tips for your family to try:

1. Create a Homework Nook: To beat the back-to-school blahs, help your child create a motivating and relaxing space to complete homework. Let him or her pick out a fun desk set, cute lamp or cozy beanbag to personalize the spot. Build excitement about the coming year!

2. Celebrate Good Work: Decorate an inexpensive corkboard with fabric, ribbons and tacks in anticipation of displaying your child’s work. Hang the board in a prominent area where it can be enjoyed by the entire family.

3. Let ‘Em Eat Cake (or at least crackers): Fill the pantry with nutritious, child-approved after-school snacks. Yummy chocolate chip trail mix or peanut butter crackers ease the sting of homework. And research shows that nutritious snacks promote learning and concentration.

4. Set Goals: Be proactive and set goals for the new year. Make sure you involve your child in the process; what does she really want to achieve? The most effective goals are action-based, not outcome-based. For example, rather than stating the desired result (earn an A on every spelling test), list specific actions that your child can achieve and control (study my spelling words for 15 minutes every evening).

5. Celebrate Success! When a goal is met, celebrate with your child. Celebrations can be as simple as a hug or as involved as a family camping trip. Just make sure the emphasis is on the learning—and not just the reward.

6. Finally, be Positive! Help your child focus on the fun aspects of school (seeing friends, going on fieldtrips, learning new stuff). Your positive talk will go a long way toward easing jitters and silencing groans as the year begins. And if all else fails, a new pink eraser and squeaky new sneaks might just do the trick.

Post a useful or helpful comment, below, and be entered to win a School Box gift card!

author: Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

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Filed under Academic Success, Motivation, Parenting

Outside the Lines: Creating an Art Center in Your Classroom

boy painting

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adapted from ideas submitted by Sandra Jacoby

I have always loved watching children express themselves by creating their own pieces of art. Regardless of what grade level you teach, incorporating opportunities to create art can inspire your students to think outside the box–particularly if they’re allowed to color outside the lines.

Incorporating Art at Every Grade Level
If your curriculum and schedule do not allow for much time for whole-class art projects, set up an art center in your classroom. Fill the center with ideas that relate to a theme you’re currently studying, such as oceans, insects or community helpers in the younger grades, or deeper literary themes, like betrayal or adventure, in the upper grades. If you’re studying outer space, fill the center with books on constellations, black paper, star stickers, chalk, white crayons, and string. If you’re doing a unit on Gary Paulsen’s novels, outfit the center with twigs, bark, leaves, uncooked grits (which make excellent sand!) and glue; then, tell your students to create a scene that captures adventure or survival.

You’ll be amazed at what your students create! Students naturally enjoy showcasing their understanding of a topic through their creativity, and artwork provides an authentic means of assessment for you as the teacher.

Thinking Beyond Coloring Sheets
I once visited a kindergarten classroom where the teacher required that the students color two coloring pages relating to curriculum themes before being allowed to create an original work of art in the classroom’s art center. While I applaud the teacher for having an art center, the coloring requirement kept many students from ever being allowed to truly enjoy the art center. Student-created art provides a much better glimpse into students’ understanding and mastery of a theme than does a generic coloring sheet. Loosen the reigns a bit and see what your students create on their own.

Switching up Supplies
If the art center seems to get dull after awhile, and student projects start lacking inspiration,  change up the supplies. Add watercolors or hole-punchers. Take out the markers but leave the crayons. Take out regular scissors and add crazy ones. Add pipe cleaners but take out glue.

You will be amazed at the things children can create when they are allowed to color outside of the lines.

Sandra Jacoby lives in Stonewall, Texas, and is a recent graduate of Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education.

How do you incorporate art into your classroom? Post a comment on this entry to share your ideas; the most creative or useful idea will be selected by our editor, and its contributor will win a School Box gift card!


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