Monthly Archives: February 2010

Gotta Love Facebook

Eleven years ago, I took the helm of my very first classroom. On that first day, I stared into the faces of 23 fourth-graders and knew, unequivocally, that I had found my calling.

Since that day, those students have gone on to graduate and attend college, but I have been able to reconnect with many of them via Facebook. It has been wild to see their (graduation!) photos and hear about their (college!) experiences. And it’s even better to get messages like this one, which I received from one of my precious former students this week:

I can’t tell you how much I love Facebook in moments like this so that I can fill you in on things :) I am doing a senior “my life” project for a class, and one of the things that we needed to have in our power point were people that have influenced you in your life, and you were one of the people I put in the power point!

I will always credit you as the one who taught me how to read…not just read the words but to comprehend what it is that I am reading, and to actually enjoy reading! Without your amazingly creative reading activities I don’t know when I would have ever learned HOW to really read.

You also helped me grow. 4th grade was still a “blooming year” for me; I was at the school for my first year and I was scared, but you were the perfect person that God placed in my life to help me learn how to reach out. Not only did you introduce me to friends the first day at lunch, but you also helped me and [several of the girls] become such good friends for so long. Also, you helped me learn how to reach out and ask questions when I didn’t understand, and to be ok with the fact that I didn’t understand something. Raising my hand was the hardest thing for me to do for a while :).

Sooo, this extremely long message is basically to say thank you. Thank you for being that special person that God made you to be, I will forever be thankful for all the many many things you taught me. I am truly blessed to have been taught by you!

Yes, I’ll admit it. I teared up a bit (okay,  a lot) when I got this message. Because, as teachers, we put in so much, don’t we? And there’s no such thing as overtime, is there? But this is why we do it. This is what makes it all worth it. This is why we teach.

by Elizabeth Dondiego Cossick, M.Ed.


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Filed under Motivation, Teacher Inspiration, Teaching

Part III: Assessing Your Wax Museum

Recently, we posted about a great culminating activity for a biography or history unit: A Wax Museum! Now, it’s time to talk about how to grade this project.

So, your students researched historical figures, wrote biographical sketches, created costumes,  and recited their sketches during a successful “Wax Museum.” But now, how do you devise a numerical grade from all of this activity?

A rubric is the best assessment for this activity because you can grade students on a variety of criteria and provide ample feedback–easily. For a great Wax Museum rubric, click here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this creative idea for bringing characters to life for your students!

Up next on A Learning Experience: Our favorite children’s book picks!

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Filed under Assessments, comprehension, Reading, Writing

Characters, Part II: R.I.P. Boring Book Reports

Bring Books to Life with a Wax Museum!

This is part two in a multi-part series. For part one, click here.

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(Ideal for 3rd-7th grades, but could be adapted for older or younger students)

Gone are the days of dry, dull, coma-inducing oral book reports. Why assign boring rote assignments when you could foster excitement and build positive associations with reading by just making a few creative tweaks? The Wax Museum, for example, has all the great qualities of a traditional oral report–responding to literature, writing a summary, practicing public speaking–but without the drudgery. And it will have parents (not to mention your principal) singing your praises. In fact, the local paper might even show up (it did for ours!).

Here are the easy steps to pull off this super impressive book response:

1. This project works best as the culmination of a biography unit. The students begin by selecting an on-grade level biography or autobiography to read.You will probably want to approve the students’ choices, to ensure they’re appropriate. It also works best if students select different people, but if you end up with four Harriet Tubmans, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, sometimes students can pair up when appropriate (Orville and Wilbur Wright, for example).

2. Allow time in class and outside of class for students to read their biographies. (Mini-lessons might include characterization, author language, non-fiction writing conventions, flashback, plot, setting, or proper nouns, point-of-view.)

3. Use modeling to teach students how to write a slam-dunk summary of their subject’s life– in first person point-of-view! (You might also introduce timelines as a good pre-writing activity). Be sure to include a catchy intro, sound middle, and interesting conclusion. Paragraphs should be around seven to 10 sentences long for third-grade and higher.

4. Students can use the writing process to write their summaries, and then they can begin to work on memorizing them.

5. Help students brainstorm costumes and simple props…because they’re about to become their subjects!

6. Practice, practice, practice. Give students plenty of time to read and recite their paragraphs in front of your class.

7. Pick a date for the museum and announce the event to the school. Invite parents and younger classes to tour your museum (younger students get a total KICK out of seeing George Washington come to life!) See if you can hold the event in the school’s gym or another large room, to allow for enough space.

8. On the big day, arrange your students in a ring around the room, with as much space in between each student as possible. Have them make a “button” (construction paper) with their subject’s name on it. Instruct them to freeze (in a realistically maintaibable pose…or with their arms at their sides, looking down at the floor). When the guests enter the room, they will walk around and tap the “button” with their feet. The “wax” students will then come to life, recite their life summary, and then refreeze when done.

Voila! You just made reading exciting and memorable for your students…with absolutely no yawn factor!

Next Post in this Series: How to Assess the Wax Museum

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Characters, Part I: Keeping a Character Chart

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by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

Sherlock Holmes. Huckleberry Finn. Captain Ahab. Anne (with an “e”). These characters shaped our childhoods, our educations…and, on some scale, our lives.

Book characters are like immortal friends, aren’t they? I will admit it, I am often sad when a book ends and my time with those friends is over.  (Well, maybe not so much with Captain Ahab…but definitely with Anne!)

Yes, characters are what connect us to books. If you want a child to love reading, introduce her to a character worth loving. And if she’s never found one she loves, keep trying!

I remember when I taught fourth grade, one of my students was a particularly reluctant reader. And then, one day, he actually carried a book out to RECESS. To READ. I almost passed out. What brought about this sudden change? He was introduced to…wait for it…Captain Underpants. Hey, whatever works.

So, the next time you sit down to read a book with your children or start a novel with your class, take a little time to talk about the characters. Here are two ideas to help you do so:

  1. Have a Character Conversation. Ask probing questions that will lead to a deep discussion about characterization. Here are a few to get you started: What would it be like if that character rang your doorbell and came to dinner? Would you want that character for a friend- why or why not? Are you like that character in any way? How are you different?
  2. Keep a Character Chart. Have students keep track of who they’re meeting while they’re reading by charting character names, descriptions, and sketches. For a graphic organizer for this idea, click here.

Hopefully these ideas will have your kiddos toting their books out to recess in no time…even if it’s only to see George and Harold’s principal strip down to his skivvies.

Look for the next article in this series on characters: Bringing Characters to Life Through a Wax Museum.

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Filed under comprehension, Motivation, Parenting, Reading, reading aloud

What You Need to Know About Teaching Boys

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by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

We’ve all heard someone use this lovely little adage as an excuse for obnoxious behavior: “Boys will be boys.” Cringe! Why would being a boy excuse poor choices?

Well, apparently, there may actually be some truth behind this oft-misused little quote. Research supports that, as a whole, males often have more aggressive temperaments and shorter attention spans than girls. So, while this still doesn’t excuse naughtiness, it might help to explain it.

Below are five other facts about boys that every educator should keep in mind:

1. Multi-tasking. A girl’s corpus callosum (the bundle of nerves that connect the right and left brain hemispheres) is significantly larger than a boy’s. Some researchers think this may explain why females can multi-task better than most males. Boys tend to do better with short lists (1-3 items) of tasks to complete in consecutive order.

2. Just the Facts, Ma’am. On the whole, boys like to memorize facts. If you’re not sure if this is true, just ask any 8-year-old how many different types of dinosaurs there are. In the classroom, harness this strength by providing opportunities for boys to memorize information and then teach the facts to other students. Boys are also often motivated by becoming an “expert” in an area of interest.

3. Need for Speed. Physically, boys often have more energy to burn than girls. Recess in the younger grades is especially important to boys, so don’t take it away as a punishment unless absolutely necessary. (Girls, who tend to be social, also benefit from recess, so this guideline applies across the board.)

4. Show, Don’t Tell. Boys on average tend to be more visual and kinesthetic than most of their female counterparts, so supplement auditory lessons with visuals and manipulatives.

5. Time Out. Boys often need more wait time before answering a question, more processing time when listening to oral instructions, and more completion time to finish an assignment.

Okay, so obviously this list provides generalizations that cannot possibly describe every boy on the planet; personality and disposition may trump any one of these points. Still, it’s wise to note that girls and boys often have different learning needs. So, as you plan your lessons and set up your classroom, just remember that, yes, boys will be boys. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)


Filed under Academic Success, Behavior Management, Classroom Community