Monthly Archives: November 2009

Introducing Poetry: Makin’ it Cool with Music

by Elizabeth Cossick M.Ed.

The first year I introduced poetry to a class of too-cool-for-school eighth graders, I was optimistic…but skeptical. I had grand visions of unearthing a poetic genius from this unlikely crew, and I just knew that they would connect with the authentic voices of Langston Hughes, e.e. cummings and Maya Angelou. If I could get them to keep an open mind. Which–for eighth graders–is a big if.

Sure enough, when I announced the unit on the very first day, the word poetry was met with groans and rolled eyes. I knew I had to change the students’ perceptions. Clearly, they were thinking of poetry that’s limited by rules and rhymes. I wrote the word “poetry” on the board and asked them for a definition. As they called out phrases (“it rhymes,” “it’s all mushy and lovey-dovey,” “boring”), I wrote them on the board.

Then I told them we were going to read some of my favorite poems. I pulled out the overhead projector and put up an overhead with a long poem on it. We started reading it, and they were still groaning. It was a love poem. But, what they didn’t know was that it was actually a song; I’d typed out the lyrics to a song by Boyz II Men (who were seriously hot stuff at the time). But I kept that little secret to myself and just let the students tear into the “poem.”

Then, without saying much, I hit play on my CD player, and the song started playing. It took them a minute to catch on, but when they realized that they were listening to the words on the screen being sung by Boyz II Men…well, let’s just say I had them hooked on poetry.

After the song was over, I pointed out the obvious: music is poetry. If you like music, you like poetry. And so, with that revelation in mind, I erased their previous definitions of poetry and asked for new ones. This time, they filled the board with phrases like “meaningful,” “you can connect with it,” “sometimes it tells a story,”  etc.

By the end of the poetry unit, I was right. They had connected with Huges and Angelou and cummings. And…quite a few unlikely poetic geniuses had also been unearthed.

To search for song lyrics, check out

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Filed under Motivation, Poetry, Teaching

Cookie Math: A Yummy Way to Teach Counting

by Cortney Pope (who just earned a $35 gift card for submitting this idea to

Comment on this post (just click “Leave a Comment” above) and you could win a $20 School Box gift card. Two comments each week win!

When teaching money to my first graders, I use an activity called Cookie Math. I found the idea online, but have adapted it to my students’ first-grade needs and standards. The students love this, and it really helps them learn the value of counting money in the real world.

Materials Needed (I usually ask for parents to help out and send in items)

sugar cookies (one per student)


blunt knife to spread icing

toppings: M&Ms, candy corn, red hots, gummy bears, sprinkles, etc.


play money (coins)

1. This activity should be done after the money unit/lessons are complete.*

2. Explain to the class that they are going to be able to decorate (and eat!) a real cookie today!

3. Tell them, “The cookie is my gift to you, but you have to purchase all the toppings.”

4. Explain that they will each be given a cookie and $1.00 to spend on toppings. (Give children $1.00 in coins with which to pay.)

5. As a class, make a list of prices for each of the toppings available. (I have an idea already of how much toppings should cost, i.e. icing 50 cents, candy corn 3 cents each, etc.)

6. Students will decide how to spend their money according to what they want on their cookies.

7. Call the students up to your table three or four at a time, and help them decide how to spend their money.

8. Then, simply eat and enjoy!

*You may need to provide extra help for students who are struggling with counting money to ensure that they are able to participate.

Cortney Pope holds a bachelor’s degree in teaching preK-fourth grade from Carson-Newman College. She also holds a master’s degree in reading from Grand Canyon University. She teaches first grade at City Park School in Dalton, Georgia. When she’s not at school, she enjoys working with the students from her church and spending time with her husband.


Filed under Math, Motivation, Teaching

Turn a read-aloud into a think-aloud

Comment on this post to receive a $20 School Box gift card. One comment will win–no strings attached!

Quick question: Parents, do you read aloud to your children? Teachers, do you read aloud to your class? Chances are, you just answered “yes.” Well, to maximize the effectiveness of your read-aloud time, here are a few quick tips for fostering critical thinking skills with your children.

Tip One: Think Out Loud

As an accomplished reader, you have lots of great thoughts pinging around that noggin of yours while you’re reading– and you probably take them for granted. But if you can become aware of them- and then share them aloud with your children or students- you will be providing a great model for critical thinking. For example, if you’re reading about the kitchen in Little Women, and you can picture curtains at the window, a braided rug on the floor, and a worn wooden table against the wall, tell your children that’s what you’re picturing. Then ask them what they think might be in the kitchen, too. Are pictures hanging on the wall? Who is in the pictures? This may seem like a simple conversation, but you’re actually practicing visualizing and inferring– two traits of critical thinkers and readers.

Tip Two: Be Socratic

The Socratic Method, termed thus after Socrates, uses questioning to teach learners to think for themselves. To be Socratic during a read-aloud, simply stop every page or so and ask a question. Some basic questions you could use are:

  • What do you think is going to happen next? Why?
  • Why do you think he/she did that? (or felt that way?)
  • Have you ever been in a similar situation? What happened?
  • What do you think it would be like to do that (or go there)? Would it be fun/boring/scary? Why?

Tip Three: Pull out the Art Supplies

Before reading, pass out blank paper and coloring supplies (crayons, colored pencils, etc.) Ask students to illustrate what they’re visualizing while you read. Tell them to add as many details as possible–even if they have to infer (or guess) to fill in details if the author didn’t tell exactly what color something was or how something looked. Again, this will reinforce visualizing (making mind pictures) and inferring (making guesses)– two skills necessary for advanced reading and thinking. And don’t worry- most students can actually listen better while doodling!

Tip Four: Post it!

Finally, if you can’t remember to stop and do these things while reading aloud, take a stack of sticky notes and stick them every few pages. Then, when you get to a sticky note, share a thought you’re having about the book or ask a question. If you have time, write down a question or thought on the notes beforehand.

And remember–no matter what you do while reading aloud, applaud yourself! Reading aloud to children is one of the most effective ways to model fluency and comprehension…not to mention that you’re making reading an enjoyable experience!

Written by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed., who holds a master’s degree in Literacy from Lesley University, Cambridge, and a bachelor’s in education from The University of Georgia.

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Filed under comprehension, Reading, reading aloud, Teaching

Easy Money. And We Mean EASY.

TwentyDollarBillThanks for reading this online newsletter for teachers and parents! Because they are committed to supporting our vibrant online community of educators and parents,  The School Box sponsors a $20 gift card giveaway to two people who comment on our newsletter posts EACH WEEK. We just wanted to point out that we have $$$ to give away. Which you could easily earn. By simply commenting on the posts (even recent previous posts! Go back and look here and here and here...).

So, if you’d like help with the presents this holiday season, go post a comment! You could easily earn $20 to spend at The School Box. (If you are unfortunate enough to live where there is not a School Box store- gasp!- no worries. You can shop online and phone in your gift card order!)

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Filed under Parenting, Teaching, Writing

Do you have any good ideas? We’ll trade you $$ for them!

dollar billWhether you’re a teacher or a parent, you undoubtedly have a few tricks up your sleeve for working with children. Maybe it’s a favorite activity while riding in the car or a fun game you play to reinforce good behavior. It might be a holiday tradition or a tried-and-true lesson plan. Whatever it is, we’d love for you to share it on this online newsletter!

Simply e-mail a brief (250-500 words) description of your activity or idea to this e-mail address (click here). We’ll publish it on A Learning Experience, and you’ll earn a $35 School Box gift card straightaway! Now, wouldn’t that help buy a few presents this holiday season??

Can’t wait to hear your ideas, so go ahead and send them to us! Your gift card could be in your mailbox within the week….


Filed under Writing

Practical Tips for Increasing Reading Comprehension

3186570_lowPart two in a two-part series by Dr. Connie H. Hebert

Comment on this post to be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card and a book from On The Mark Press.

What are some ways we can increase comprehension for readers who don’t seem to understand what they read?

  • Always set a purpose for reading that is meaningful and engaging, as opposed to asking students to read up to a certain page. Falling readers comprehend better when they have a mission: something to read to find out, to figure out, to search for, or to be accountable for.
  • Divide long pieces of text into small manageable “chunks” for students while ensuring they know what you want them to find out.
  • Do not rely on “retelling” to be the sole determinant of comprehension. Falling readers need questioning strategies, graphic organizers, both oral and written ways of showing what they read, sticky notes to identify important points in the text, and open-ended questions as opposed to yes/no questions.
  • Students who read ‘word by word’ are not reading fluently. Fluency is the act of putting words together as we talk. Model this for children by saying, “I’ll read a page, you read a page, or I’ll read a line, you read a line.” Through this practice, they will hear what fluent reading is and they will imitate you. We learn by watching others model for us!
  • Allow students to select what THEY want to learn from the index of a non-fiction text. They don’t always need to start at the beginning of every book. Shake up routines!
  • Teach falling readers how to go return to the book to search for evidence that supports their responses and understandings. Encourage them to do this often so they learn how to search, confirm, and self-monitor while reading.

With these practical tips, readers will be able to experience the success they need to make reading a lifelong, enjoyable experience!

Dr. Hebert is an author, professor of reading and nationally acclaimed teacher of teachers. She has taught and inspired parents and teachers in 47 states and 3 countries and presented at many literacy conferences around the country such as IRA, NAESP, RRCNA, & MRA. Her internet radio show, Help Your Child Succeed: Ready, Set, Read can be heard every Sunday evening at 8:00 PM. For more information, please visit: or email her at


Filed under Academic Success, comprehension, Reading

Tips for Teachers and Parents of “Falling” Readers

Part one in a two-part series by Dr. Connie H. Hebert

Comment on this post to be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card and a copy of a book from On The Mark Press.

3186311_blogMany of us teach or live with children who struggle with learning to read, write and think. A “falling” reader is a student who is not reading ON or ABOVE grade level, as defined by text readability levels. The first and most important thing we can do for any struggling reader is to help them feel successful. Don Holdaway, founder of the big book and the practice of shared reading said, “If children could work on literature tasks most of the time, at a level of success, we would have solved the biggest problem in learning to read and write.” It is essential that we provide opportunities for falling readers to experience immediate and consistent success. There is no time to lose if we expect them to become proficient, independent readers.

What are some ways we can create success for readers who struggle?

  • Back struggling readers to easier text levels where they feel successful and motivated. They need to read lots and lots of books at independent levels.
  • Find a genre that “hooks” the student, such as fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, cookbooks, comic books, manuals, catalogs, menus, maps, dictionaries, driver’s education manuals, SAT practice books, etc. Structure a schedule that provides the child with DAILY opportunities to sit down and read without spending any time searching for something to read. They must read to get better at reading!
  • Create frequent opportunities for falling readers to read to others: younger students, former teachers, the school principal, Grandparents, family members, etc.
  • Flash sight phrases as opposed to isolated sight words in order to increase fluency, meaning, vocabulary, visual tracking and sight word automaticity.
  • Provide audio-books for falling readers to listen and read along with, especially in the car.
  • Send home five to seven independent, motivating texts EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, and instruct the student to read at least four books to someone.

With daily opportunities to experience success, falling readers can be taught and caught. Let’s catch them ALL!

Dr. Hebert is an author, professor of reading and nationally acclaimed teacher of teachers. She has taught and inspired parents and teachers in 47 states and 3 countries and presented at many literacy conferences around the country such as IRA, NAESP, RRCNA, & MRA. Her internet radio show, Help Your Child Succeed: Ready, Set, Read can be heard every Sunday evening at 8:00 PM. For more information, please visit: or email her at


Filed under Academic Success, Reading