Monthly Archives: December 2009

Study Tips for Students (Print This!)

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Those seeking some help in their study skills will find it in these invaluable tips.

Unplug. The Internet, video games and television are huge distractions. Unplug them if only for a few hours so you can actually get something done.

Find something to motivate you. Sometimes even something as basic as being hungry can help motivate you to get work done. Tell yourself you can’t do whatever it is you want to do until you’ve finished enough work.

Bargain. Sometimes it can help to bargain with yourself. Allow yourself one hour of fun for every two hours of work you do.

Set hours. Help yourself get into a studying routine by setting aside hours of your day to focus solely on your studies.

Have a set study place. Find a place in your home where it’s quiet and you can set your mind to working without interruptions.

Reduce outside distractions. From the phone ringing to family members peeping in, try to reduce the amount of things that can distract you and get you off track.

Get the hard stuff done first. If you have a particular assignment you’re dreading, tackle that first. The rest of your work will feel like a breeze after that weight has been lifted.

Take a stretching break. Get up and walk around every once in a while. It will help you feel refreshed and let you refocus.

Never study all night. Studying all night will let you go over more material but it won’t help you remember it. Studies have shown that studying and then sleeping on it is a far more effective method.

Start early. When you’ve got a major test coming up don’t wait until the night before to start studying. Give yourself a few days to tackle the information. You’ll be less stressed and remember it better.

These tips were adapted from

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Filed under Academic Success, Study Skills, Test Prep

Positive Insights for Students, Part One (print this!)

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Here’s a list of invaluable insights for students, which will prepare them for college and beyond. Print this for the student(s) in your life and encourage them to take ownership over their education!

TIP ONE: Practice public speaking. The vast majority of future careers, not to mention courses in college, will ask you to speak in front of others. If you struggle with it, practice it while you can so it won’t be as terrifying when it really matters.

TIP TWO: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone struggles sometimes, so don’t feel like you’re less successful because you need a little help.

TIP THREE: Try to balance your life. Your education is extremely important, but don’t make your life all about school. Give some of your time to friends, the community and hobbies, as well.

TIP FOUR: Don’t be too hard on yourself. There is no such thing as a perfect person. Give yourself a break when you make a mistake and take it as a life lesson.

TIP FIVE: Take risks. Your school years are the ideal time to try out new things, follow new interests and explore your talents. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

TIP SIX: View school as an opportunity, not an obligation. Many people around the world do not have the chance to pursue a quality education. Remember that education will pave the way for opportunities in life.

These tips were adapted from Part two in this series (Study Tips for Students) is coming soon!


Filed under Academic Success, Motivation

Seasonal Similes: Teaching Similes with The Polar Express

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Every year around this time, it’s a constant battle to keep students’ attention, isn’t it? I mean, who can compete with presents, parties and a much anticipated two-week vacation?!

Well, I’ve found that rather than fight the season, you might as well run with it. When I apply this if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em attitude to my lesson plans, I find a world of new inspiration. Take holiday story books, for instance. One of my favorites is The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. It just so happens that this book is chock full of similes and metaphors; there’s practically one on every page. Here’s my lesson plan to teach these literary elements via this classic Christmas tale:

  1. First, define simile and metaphor as a class. (Simile= a comparison between two unlike things, using the words like or as, i.e. “Lights flickered in the distance. They looked LIKE the lights of a strange ocean liner sailing on a frozen sea.” Metaphor= a comparison between two unlike things that does NOT use the words like or as, i.e. “[The train] was wrapped in an apron of steam.”
  2. Come up with your own examples as a class. [The sun is like a large, yellow beach ball suspended in the sky (simile). Or: The tree’s branches were arms lifted toward the clouds (metaphor).]
  3. Then, tell the class you’re going to read The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Every time they hear a simile, they should wave one hand at you. Every time they hear a metaphor, they should wave two hands.
  4. As you read and they wave, stop to write the similes and metaphors on the board, while students record them in their notebooks (or on paper). A two-columned chart (T-chart) works great for this, with similes in one column and metaphors in the other (there will be quite a few more similes than metaphors).
  5. Once you’re done with the book, discuss as a class why Chris Van Allsburg included similes and metaphors: How did they help you visualize the scenes?
  6. Give each student a piece of white construction paper, and have them choose one simile or metaphor from the book to illustrate. They can write the simile or metaphor at the bottom as a caption.
  7. Hang up their simile illustrations around the room…and then congratulate yourself on capitalizing on the holiday merriment with a teachable moment!

Other great seasonal story books to check out:

The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polaccho~ a classic tale of Hanukkah.
The Night Before Christmas Pop-Up
by Clement Clark Moore and Robert Sabuda~ an ingeniously amazing pop-up book depicting this classic tale.
Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Sever~ Christmas retold from the perspective of the Wise Men’s camel, Humphrey.

Submitted by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

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Filed under Reading, reading aloud, Writing

Unique Assessments III: Reader’s Theater

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This is part three in a three-part series on unique assessment ideas. (Part one and part two can be found here and here.) Here is an idea for using reader’s theater to evaluate comprehension.

Reader’s Theater is essentially just creating a skit based on a book or historical event. Because the skit will encompass all of the main ideas surrounding the historical event or plot of a book, it is a superb way to assess student comprehension. Here are some quick steps to generate reader’s theater skits with your students:

1. Groups. First, break students into groups of four to six. Assign (or allow a chance to pick) a different historical event or portion of a novel to each group.

2. Main Ideas. The groups need to first brainstorm the main ideas of the event of story and list them chronologically. You might want to model this first as a whole class, using a different book or historical event than those assigned to the groups.

3. Characters. Next, the groups should list all characters and major players.

4. Skit Conventions. Now would be a great time for a mini-lesson on playwriting conventions, such as format, use of colons after each speaker’s name, use of parentheses to describe emotion or voice inflection, dividing the story into Acts and Scenes, etc).

5. Plot. Next, review the elements of a story’s plot (beginning, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion). Students can fill out this printable form to help organize their story into these plot components.

6. Writing. Now the groups are ready to turn their lists of main events, plot elements, and characters into a skit! Model this as a class, first.

7. Practice. Allow time to practice, create props, sets, etc. This can get as elaborate or as simple as you desire. Simple props work just fine!

9. Then…perform! While the rest of the class will LOVE watching the other groups perform, other possible audiences include parents, other classes or younger students. Your students can complete this printable Reader’s Theater Audience Feedback Form on each group, as well.

This is a fun and unique way to assess comprehension while also encouraging public speaking and cooperative learning!

written by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.


Filed under Assessments, Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, Teaching

Unique Assessments: 3-D Projects

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This is part two in a three-part series on unique assessment ideas. While paper-and-pencil assessments have their place, children also need authentic, hands-on opportunities to showcase their learning. Here are a couple ideas to inspire you!

Part Two: 3-D Assessments

First of all, the word “3-D” just sounds cool. If you tell your class you’re going to complete a book report, you will be met with guaranteed groans. But, if you say it’s time to work on 3-D visualizations, that’s a whole different ball game.

3-D Shoe Box Diorama. Students LOVE to build miniature versions of a story’s setting. For this project, each student needs a shoe box and a variety of art supplies, such as clay (see recipe below), popsicle sticks, yarn, construction paper, cotton balls, dry uncooked grits (for sand!), glitter, miniature animals or cars, sticks and leaves, empty milk cartons (for buildings), etc. Tell students that their job is to recreate the book’s setting (such as Zuckerman’s farm from Charlotte Web) or a scene from history (like the Boston tea party or Native American dwellings).

First, have students list all of the details they visualize about the scene or setting. Then, have them draw or sketch the scene or setting on paper with as much detail as possible. Now they’re ready to begin creating their 3-D depiction!

Have students cover the outside of their boxes in construction paper (or you can spray paint them prior to the project). Allow several afternoons in class for students to complete their 3-D depiction. Then, have students write a paragraph describing the details of their setting; attach paragraphs to the shoe boxes. Finally, allow time for the students to share and/or walk around and explore each others’ dioramas. See if the finished dioramas can be displayed in the school’s media center, as well!

3-D Venn Diagram. Use this project to compare/contrast two topics, such as two different novels, two historical time periods, two versions of the same folk or fairy tale, two different cultures or countries, or two sides in a war. For this project (which can be done in groups or individually), each group or student needs a piece of art foam board. On the board, draw two concentric circles that overlap in the middle (a Venn diagram).

It’s helpful if students plan their project on paper, first, so have them draw a Venn diagram on paper and list the different components before beginning construction on their 3-D version. Next, allow time in class for students to visually portray the different elements of their Venn diagrams. For example, if they are comparing Sid Fleischman’s The Whipping Boy to the traditional tale of The Prince and the Pauper, they could build a castle in the  middle of the circles, to show that both settings include a castle. Other elements might include characters, major plot events, and the moral of the tale. Each element should be portrayed visually; written captions are also a good idea.

Recipe for quick and easy flour-salt dough:

2 cups plain flour
1 cup table salt
1 cup water

Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Gradually add the water, mixing to form a soft dough. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. Too dry? Add water. When mixed, remove from the bowl and knead dough for five to 10 minutes to make it smooth. Dough can be stored in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to a week before using. When exposed to the air, the clay will air dry in a matter of hours.

Unique Assessments Part Three (coming soon!): Reader’s Theater

submitted by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

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Filed under Academic Success, Assessments, Teaching, Writing

Unique Assessments: Beyond Multiple Choice

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While paper-and-pencil assessments have their place, children also need authentic, hands-on opportunities to showcase their learning. This three-part series will share some unique assessment ideas that might breathe fresh life into your classroom with surprising results.

Part One: Anchor Charts

An anchor chart is simply a piece of chart paper (or bulletin board paper or poster board) on which students create graphic organizers or make lists to display their thinking.

How Anchor Charts Work:

While reading a book or studying a concept in history or science, give students a sheet of chart paper to complete one of the ideas, below. The chart can be made either individually or in a small group. Just make sure you scaffold student learning by completing a chart as a whole class, first.

Anchor Chart Ideas:

  • Venn Diagrams. We all know and love the handy Venn diagram: a great way for students to compare and contrast information. Draw two large concentric circles that overlap. In the separate circles, students can compare two characters (Wilbur vs. Templeton), two concepts (fiction vs. nonfiction), two settings, two books, etc. In the middle where the circles overlap, students write what the two ideas have in common.
  • Synthesis. Synthesis, or high-level critical thinking, occurs anytime students’ thinking about a concept changes. A simple synthesis anchor chart might look like this:

I used to think… (about a character, an idea, a theme, etc)

But now I know… (how has your thinking changed, now? What do you know that’s different from before?)

  • Thinking Web. In a thinking web, students write one word, phrase or name in the middle of the chart, and then they draw spokes or lines out from the middle. On the spokes, they write supporting details about the word, phrase or name. For example, they might write “Charlotte” in the middle of the chart and then, on the lines or spokes, they might write “spider,” “kind friend,” “good writer.”
  • T-Chart. A T-chart is simply a two-columned chart. In the two columns, students can list Causes and Effects, details about two different characters, Before and After details, My Predictions and What Actually Happened, etc.
  • Other ideas for anchor charts include plot charts, K-W-L charts, acrostic poems, lists of questions students have while reading, and lists of main events with small illustrations.

Students enjoy showcasing their learning on a large piece of chart paper, and they feel even more validated when their charts are displayed in the classroom for all to see!

Unique Assessments Part Two (coming soon!): Bringing Learning to Life with 3-D Projects.

submitted by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.


Filed under Academic Success, Assessments

Comment Winners!

Congratulations to the following “commenters” who were randomly selected to win a $20 School Box gift card, just for writing an itty bitty comment on one of our posts last month!

Brittany Hall

Dorothy Warrenmiller


Janet Watson


“Hey!” you say. “I could buy some rockin’ Christmas gifts at The School Box with a $20 gift card. I want one, too!” Well, you’re in luck because all you have to do is comment on some of our great posts coming in the month of December, and you’ll have a very good chance of finding yourself 20 dollars richer.

So…happy commenting!

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