Monthly Archives: January 2010

Using “Hangman” to teach writing…creatively!

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Getting your kids excited about writing

by Sandra Jacoby

I have been extremely lucky this year in that I have a classroom full of kids who will just write, draw, cut and paste all day! Unfortunately, we all know this is not the norm; many times it is hard to get kids motivated to write.  But just today, I was reintroduced to a way to make writing exciting and challenging for kids of all ages…using the classic game of hangman!

Higher Grades

In high school, middle school, and even upper elementary, hangman can be used to introduce the topic of the assignment and build excitement and anticipation about writing!  Just think of a topic, spell it out in blanks on the board (Wheel-of-Fortune style), and then have the students guess letters until the topic is revealed. This will work if the topic is 10 words long or one word long. To get students even more motivated to write, allow a student to lead the game by calling on classmates to fill in the blanks.

For more advanced classes, have the students each create a topic they would like to write about and put it in a jar at the beginning of the school year.  Approve the topics, and then, when it is time for a new writing prompt, allow a student to draw a topic from the jar and set up the hangman game on the board.  This encourages freedom and ownership, which students of all ages appreciate!


In addition to writing lessons, hangman can also be used as an original way to practice spelling words. Instead of just hearing the word and putting the letters in order (as in a spelling bee), hangman allows the children to see the letters come together to make the word. This way, they practice visualizing and analyzing the order of the letters.


Set up the game in front of the class on the chalkboard or on a sheet of paper in front of a small group.  Use your students’ names or your name or simple words that go along with your theme of the week.  You can help students guess letters by giving them a sound of one of the letters used.  For example, give the students /s/ and see if they can guess S.

You could also play using the alphabet.  Students can give you all the sounds they know, and you put the letters in the appropriate places. For sounds they repeat or make up, they get an arm or leg!

Do you have a creative way to get your students excited about writing? We’d love for you to share it with a comment on this post (and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift certificate)!

This article was submitted by Sandra Jacoby. Sandra graduated from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in December, 2008, with a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies. She currently teaches pre-kindergarten in Fredericksburg, Texas.


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Filed under Academic Success, Assessments, Motivation, Teaching, Writing

Your First Year: What you need to know in the primary grades.

adapted from advice by Sandra Jacoby

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Your first year as a teacher can be crazy. Scratch that. It will be crazy.  A new job, new rules, new students, and a whole lot more than what they teach you in college equates to an exciting, scary and sometimes downright shocking experience.

Here are a few tricks to help you survive…and even enjoy yourself!


Making your discipline plan explicitly known to the class on the first day is key.  Go over the rules as a class–or, if your students are old enough, involve them in helping create class guidelines, based on respect and responsibility. Be sure to send a note home describing the plan to parents, so they know what will be expected of their child.

Then, once the rules are covered, be consistent from day one. Students need to understand your expectations from the get-go, and they’ll feel more secure knowing that you are going to enforce consistent behavior guidelines.

A good idea for primary teachers is to send home a simple “reward” with the students every time they have a good day.  It can be as simple as a skittle or a sticker or a paper star. At the end of the week or the month, allow students to visit a treasure box filled with small prizes if they received a certain number of stars or stickers or skittles (you can keep track with hash marks on a simple name chart).

Parent Communication

Parent communication goes hand-in-hand with a good discipline policy. You want the parents on your side…and vice versa! To establish a positive partnership from the start, send home “happy notes” when students do good things. And, whenever a note needs to go home to communicate negative behavior, make sure you temper it with something positive the student did, as well. This lets parents understand that although there may be an issue, you’re looking for the best in their child. Of course, be sure to keep a copy of every note that is sent home. Although you might never need it, documentation is never a bad thing.

It’s also a good idea to send  home a newsletter once a week. Parents appreciate being kept in the loop about what you’re studying, fun activities you did, and interesting conversations you’re having. They’ll also appreciate the opportunity to reinforce concepts at home.


Finally, you need to remember you. Believe me, it is so very easy to get caught up in paperwork and lesson plans and forget about the most important part of your job: yourself. If you are not healthy and happy, your class will suffer.

So, make balance a priority. Although there will be days when you have to stay late after school, try to leave on time whenever you can. It’s better to grade papers in your slippers, curled up on your couch, than sitting stiff-backed under fluorescent lights in your classroom.

Try to take a “breather” every day, as well. Get out and enjoy some fresh air after school: take a walk, go shopping, meet a friend for coffee, or participate in a form of exercise you enjoy.  This will help you clear your mind and stay connected with your “non-teacher” self. It might sound silly, but it’s oh-so important.

And then, at the end of the day, after the papers are graded and the lesson plans are solidified for tomorrow, pick up your favorite magazine or a good book. End your day relaxed and refreshed, so you can wake up smiling, ready to make your students’ day a success!

This article was adapted from advice submitted by Sandra Jacoby. Sandra graduated from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in December, 2008, with a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies. She currently teaches pre-kindergarten in Fredericksburg, Texas.

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Filed under Academic Success, Behavior Management, Classroom Community

Make Your Classroom Pop!

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by Sandra Jacoby

From the very beginning of the school year, students are watching your every move and your classroom’s every changing detail. Here are a few ideas that will make your classroom zip and make kids want to zap into learning.


Instead of decorating your classroom’s walls in August and leaving them primarily untouched until May, add new pictures or posters on a regular basis. Students love to play the “What’s Different?” game, and you might be a little surprised as to which of your students notices the changes first!

Add a strand of white twinkle lights to the darkest part of your classroom. This will look warm and inviting from the doorway, and the kids will think that it adds an awesome effect to the classroom. Add a cool lamp or two, as well; there is something magical about light. Make your classroom the one that every child in the hallway peers into with envy!

Center Switch Up

We all get bored looking at and doing the same things, so you can imagine that a few weeks into school, students are beginning to tire of your centers. It’s time to switch things up! Add different types of blocks to the block center. Put watercolors in the art center and take out the markers, or take out the scissors and tell the children they have to find a new way to “cut.” Rotate out the dramatic play center’s clothes to give a new and exciting role to play. Add different objects to the sand in your science center: sea shells, rocks, fossils, and then show your students how to use magnifying glasses and a balance to see and weigh the things in the center.


We all strive to make our lessons student-focused (and not entirely teacher-directed), and this same conviction applies to classroom decor. Look at your room from the students’ perspective. If you teach 4-year-olds, decorations and supplies should be at a 4-year-old’s height as much as possible. If you notice that the class is not enjoying something for as long as you would have liked, find something to replace it and introduce it again later when interests have changed.

Another focus for classroom decor is organization. Where do students hang their coats and bags? Where do they sit as a class in the morning? How can they tell who is the leader or the caboose? How do they order their lunch? What are the classroom helper roles? The more that is displayed for the child, the more efficient the teacher’s job becomes, and–most importantly–the more the child understands his important role in the classroom.

Sandra Jacoby graduated from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in December, 2008, with a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies. She currently teaches pre-kindergarten in Fredericksburg, Texas.

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Filed under Behavior Management, Classroom Community

An Ocean of Discovery

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By Sandra Jacoby

At some point in every primary level classroom, an ocean creature is going to float across the minds of the students. Whether you teach using themes and talk about ocean life for weeks or only briefly cover sea mammals, fish or plants, here is an activity that teaches more than just the ocean!

First, the things you will need:

• paper plates (a half for each child in the classroom)

• crepe paper (in a variety of colors, cut into four different lengths, between 6-12 inches)

• crayons

• scissors

• glue

Steps to follow:

1.) Have the students write their names on the side of the plate that you would normally cover with food.

2.) Let each student select for pieces of pre-cut crêpe paper – one of each in four different sizes.

3.) Allow the children to arrange the crêpe paper from shortest to longest (or visa versa). When they have it correctly arranged, they should glue the pieces to the side of the paper plate where they wrote their names.

4.) When all pieces are attached, have the students pick up their jellyfish by the plate and turn it around to see. If children are capable, have them write “shortest” and “longest” on the appropriate sides. If they cannot do this step on their own, provide help: your hand over theirs, sentence strips with the words on them, etc.

5.) If time permits and if preferred, have the students draw a face on their jellyfish.

What you taught and what to do with the jellies:

You have just covered so many things with your students. The letter J and the sound it makes, shortest to longest, writing skills, counting, sea creatures…and you now have a great classroom decoration to boot!

Sandra Jacoby graduated from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in December, 2008, with a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies. She currently teaches pre-kindergarten in Fredericksburg, Texas.


Filed under Science, Writing

Start the New Year with a Bang! Games and Activities to Inspire and Excite

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By Sandra Jacoby

The presents have been opened, fireworks have welcomed the new year and kids have gotten used to being home for two weeks! Now it is time for back-to-school, the winter version. How do we, as teachers, get our students back into the swing of class? Instead of jumping head-first into the pool of knowledge (that is more than likely frozen over), you have to break the ice. Hold off on the piles of homework and start slow. Find something that will get their gears going without the stress.

Primary/Elementary Levels:

Games and hands-on activities are a great way to review the previous semester and ignite students’ excitement to be back in class. A scavenger hunt on the playground or in the classroom, for example, is sure to grab their attention! Students can find five rocks (to work on counting) or things that starts with a certain letter or sound (such as /b/). A scavenger hunt can be adjusted to any subject and any grade…and it doesn’t take a lot of preparation.

Junior High/High School:

Stretch students’ brains and get them talking with optical illusions. Just search “optical illusions” on Google Images, and you’ll find plenty. Students can write about what they see and discuss their different perspectives.

Students, Come on Down!

Another option to get children of any age tuned in to the new semester is to take previous tests and quizzes and use them as questions in a game show. You can break students into groups to play (students are generally more motivated when they’re working with their peers), and you might choose to award the winners with five extra credit points on the next test or a dismissal from a homework assignment.

Starting the new semester with a game or activity will inspire your students to even greater heights during the second-half of the year!

Sandra Jacoby graduated from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in December, 2008, with a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies. She currently teaches pre-kindergarten in Fredericksburg, Texas.

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Filed under Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, Games, Writing

Benefits and Tips for Making Children WANT to Read

by Melissa Nelson
Literacy Coordinator, North Cobb Christian School

We all know that reading is the foundation of a successful education. Moreover, reading ability, like exercise, is improved through repetition. Helping your child learn to love reading is the key to academic success.

Sadly, in a recent survey, more than half of all students surveyed said they spent less than four minutes a day reading at home. (They also reported spending two hours a day playing video games or watching television.) Research shows that kids who spend as little as 30 minutes a day reading books, magazines and newspapers are more likely to become good readers and do better in school. Not surprisingly, 10 minutes of reading is greater than 2 hours of television!

Moreover, books make idle time productive. Diet experts recommend always having an interesting book that you want to read. They say that when we are reading, we have less idle time and are less likely to snack between meals! Like exercise, the more you read, the better you get. Period!

5 Secrets for Making Children Want to Read

1. Let your child stay up 30 extra minutes to read.

2. Routinely take a family trip to the local bookstore or library. Get to know your librarian or book clerk.

3. Have family reading night. Create a cozy atmosphere in your home and curl up with good books! Coffee, hot chocolate, cookies, and books are great companions!

4. Create bedroom libraries. Designate a book shelf or basket for books. Pull out “special books” throughout the year (birthday, seasonal, holiday). For example, in January my 4-year-old has a book basket filled with books on snow and snowmen. I also have special birthday books that come out once a year.

5. Get hooked on a series. Children who find an author or book series they love are more likely to stick to leisurely reading.

Source for survey: The Parent Institute

Melissa Nelson holds a bachelor’s in education from the University of Georgia. With 18 years of teaching experience, Melissa currently serves as the Literacy Coordinator for North Cobb Christian School, where she enjoys imparting a love of literature to students and teachers alike.


Filed under Motivation, Parenting, Reading

Teachable Moments…in the Tub!

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Wanna know a great place to teach your young child? In the bathtub! Talk about a captive audience…it’s perfect!

Recently, my toddler and I have embarked on a series of color lessons via the tub. We started with foam letters and numbers in a variety of colors, and now we’ve graduated to food color. A drop or two of liquid food color turns the water all sorts of fun colors. It’s amazing how much more fun bath time is with green water!

Another favorite  bath time color activity is painting. We start by putting a dollop of hypoallergenic, fragrance-free shaving cream in four cups. Then, my son and I talk about the colors we could make by adding a drop or two of food color to each cup. We often start with the primary colors: add a drop to the shaving cream and use a large paint brush to mix it up. Then, we’ll mix a drop of blue and yellow to make green, or blue and red to make purple. The large paint brush is the perfect instrument for adorning the tub’s walls with our shaving cream “paint.” And then, when my son rivals a California Raisin, we pour water on the walls and our paint magically disappears. Easy clean up!

What are your tricks for finding teachable moments during the day? Comment below and you could win one of several $20 School Box gift cards this month!

submitted by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.


Filed under Motivation, Parenting, Writing