Monthly Archives: April 2010

Inspired Poetry (Made Easy)

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by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

Okay, so not every child is going to be Langston Hughes or Emily Dickinson out of the gate. But that’s alright. As teachers and parents, we need to remember that some of the most effective learning is not about a polished (or publishable) finished product, but rather about the process itself.

So it goes with this fun little poetry activity. Since poetry can be a big yawner for many kids, spice it up with magazines. Have the children each bring in a magazine* for cutting from home. Then, tell the students that they’re going to write a poem entirely out of the words they find in the magazine. They will cut out individual words and phrases and glue them onto a large sheet of white paper in the form of a poem.

Step One: Model

Pass out magazines, ensuring that each students has one at their desk. Then, show a model you made previously (or, if time, model in front of the class how to make one).

Step Two: Get Inspired

Encourage students to spend some time browsing a magazine or two, looking at ads and article titles. If they see anything they like, they should cut it out and put it in a pile on their desks. Tell them to swap magazines after a few minutes, to browse a new one.

Step Three: Piece it Together

Now, using a glue stick, students should glue their words and phrases to the paper so they make one cohesive poem. This is a great time to address the conventions of poetry in a mini-lesson. You can discuss usage of commas and periods, as well as the role of white space in a poem: most often, the words go down the center of the page with a lot of white space around them. If students need a word that they can’t find, they can build it out of individual letters.

While the students are working, circulate the room and hold up good examples to inspire the other students and give them a few concrete ideas.

Step Four: Share!

Give students a chance to share their clever poems with the class. Then hang them up! The principal will wonder why your classroom is filled with ransom notes. It can be your and the students’ little private joke. :0)

* It’s a good idea to browse the magazines that are brought in from home BEFORE this activity, to ensure that the content of articles and ads is appropriate for your classroom. Tear out inappropriate pages. Bring a stack of “safe” magazines from your house as a back-up.

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Filed under Parenting, Poetry, Uncategorized, Writing

Summertime Learning (A List for Parents)

Share this list of fun activities with parents to keep kiddos learning (and enjoying it!) all summer long.

by Elizabeth D. Cossick. M.Ed.

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  • For real-world math practice, cook together! Cooking is one of the most concrete ways to conceptualize fractions. To make it fun, sit down with your children and a stack of cookbooks, and take some time selecting fun recipes together. Let your child measure the ingredients, while you guide them in discussing fractions (“Look! 1/2 cup + 1/2 cup = 1 cup!”) Cooking is also a great lesson in greater-than/less-than and volume.
  • For more real-world practice with math, go shopping! Seriously, money is a wonderful way for students to practice counting…and decimals! Count out some money together, and write it in decimal form with your child. Then, go shopping to teach monetary values. (Nothing teaches the value of money faster than good ol’ fashioned capitalism!)


  • Keep a family scrapbook/journal of your summertime activities. Keep it simple. Purchase an empty journal or spiral notebook, and then take a photo (or have your child take a photo) of some of the things you do each week (even if it’s just playing at the pool). Print the picture, tape it into the journal, and then have your child write a caption. (Children can dictate the sentence to you if they’re “pre-writing,” or they can write a single sentence or a whole paragraph, depending on age and writing ability.) At the end of the summer, you’ll have a fun keepsake of your many adventures…and your child will have practiced creative writing on multiple topics–without even thinking about it!


  • Make reading fun by reading a novel together that has a corresponding movie. Read the book together, and then, to celebrate, roll out some sleeping bags, pop some popcorn, and watch the movie together! Some book titles that have movies: Because of Winn-Dixie, Charlotte’s Web, Holes, Hotel for Dogs, Inkheart, The Chronicles of Narnia.

Summertime is a great opportunity to show students that learning is fun and relevant. You can learn wherever, whenever– it certainly doesn’t take four walls and a textbook!


Filed under Math, Reading, reluctant readers, Summer Learning, Writing

Engaging and Easy End-of-the-Year Activities

The end is drawing near, and it’s time to finish with a bang! Here are some grand activities to take you through the final days of the school year.

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by Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed.

Collaborative writing

In groups of four, have each person write an opening to a story (a mystery, a silly story, or whatever you decide).  Let them write a story opener for 5 minutes, then pass the paper to their left.  The next person reads the story opener of the person who just passed to them, then continues the story by adding the conflict or problem.  This person also writes for five minutes.  Then, each person passes again to the left, reads what’s written, then writes for five more minutes (continuing the story), and then pass again.  Finally, each person writes a final time (the conclusion), and then passes so that each person has the story they began.  Once they see what their group members wrote, the giggle fest begins!  And guess what… they just wrote four paragraphs!

Culminating projects

I like to send my students on a “scavenger hunt” to review the topics we learned throughout the year (see attached details and grading rubric).  Although you could easily tailor this project to any subject area, I use this idea in math.  This review project shows that the concepts they’ve learned in math have real-world relevance, application and connection.  The students enjoy the openness and creativity with which they’re tasked – no rigid project rules here!  Students’ projects are so creative and different from one another, too!  (A big thank you goes to Sharon Shaw for the idea; I took her high school version and made it fifth-grade appropriate).

Review games

I love the variety of PowerPoint games you can find online these days!  From Jeopardy! to Who Wants to be a Millionaire! to Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?… the options are endless!  You can choose from making your own questions from the templates or the ready-made games (both free!) chock full of good review questions.  Use your favorite search engine to find the exciting options out there!

As we draw to the close of another school year, we need to keep the academics flowing even if the energy level is low.  Students will enjoy these hands-on, energetic activities that review and reinforce the concepts taught throughout the year!

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.

To submit your own ideas for publication, simply e-mail an original educational article (250-500 words) to You’ll receive a $35 School Box Gift Card if you are selected for publication!


Filed under Assessments, Behavior Management, Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, Discipline, Games, Writing

April is the month for…

Here’s a unique run-down of events and causes to celebrate and support this month.

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by Sandra Jacoby

No, this is no April Fool’s prank– many things are happening in April! How do you fit them all into your day plus follow your school and state’s set curriculum? Here are some ideas for several oft-overlooked events in April, plus ideas on how to easily incorporate them into your day.

Child Abuse Prevention Month

This is over looked by most, and I myself didn’t know about it until my freshman year of college in 2004. The entire month of April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the color to show your support is blue.

If you follow the website below, you will find all kinds of great links to pass on to all teachers, parents and anyone working with children and their families. Be sure to check out the Activities Calendar.

To show our support, our school is wearing blue on Wednesdays!

Earth Day

Earth Day (April 22) is just around the corner, but you have nothing planned! EEK! What to do?! Never fear, Kaboose has lots of ideas that are cheap and easy to gather!

There is also a history of Earth Day written just for kids that can be found at the above site.

National Volunteer Month

Yup, that’s right! I am sure you have thanked your classroom volunteers (high school helpers, parents, friends, etc.) profusely by now, but we do something at our school that includes all volunteers at the same time. We hold a Volunteer Appreciation Brunch during the week to show that we are thankful. People are assigned something to bring to keep cost down for everyone, and invitations are sent through the mail.

For a tight budget, ask your PTO/PTA if they would be willing to help support the idea even though most of them will more than likely be invited. You can also send home the invites to parents in backpacks (to save on postage) and personally hand deliver invitations to your own volunteers.

Another great idea is a card… or–even better–a banner! Have the entire school make and sign a banner to hang where all can see who enter the building. This is one of the best “thank you” gifts you can give!

More Grand Ideas

For a whole list of things you probably don’t know occur in April, check out:

And remember, April showers bring May flowers…so here are some more ways to celebrate this month:

Sandra Jacoby is a teacher in Texas who enjoys the challenges and rewards of teaching her pre-kindergarten class.

To submit your own ideas for publication, simply e-mail an original educational article (250-500 words) to You’ll receive a $35 School Box Gift Card when you are selected for publication! (Not to mention that “Contributor for A Learning Experience, an online education newsletter” is a sweet little line item for your résumé.)


Filed under Classroom Community

A Little at a Time

by Kristin M. Woolums, M.Ed.

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We’ve all been told that doing things in small doses instead of one large task is the better way to get things done.  This is true in the classroom, as well.  Think about it:  we tell our students to study a little each night for an upcoming test, and that all night cram sessions don’t work (and actually work against a student).  Why not apply this philosophy other areas and subjects in my classroom?

Homophones in the Morning

Each day, my students and I discuss a homophone pair or trio as a part of their morning work.  For example, the homophones there, their, and there are constantly mixed up by students and adults alike.  We discuss the meanings of these words (usually accompanied by pictures or phrases for each word), the similarities and differences, why they’re easily confused in the real world, and ways to help keep them straight.  The students then use each word in a sentence (10 or more words in my 5th grade class).

By the end of the school year, we’ve introduced or reinforced the meanings of over 200 words, 2 or 3 at a time.  Students “blossom” in improvement in the use of these homophones, as well as in their sentence length and creativity. This is a must for the English language learners in my classroom, too.  See the attached list of homophones I use each day in my classroom, but many more are available online.

Daily Grammar Practice

Many students don’t enjoy grammar.  Thanks to a great grammar program called Daily Grammar Practice (DGP, for short), we take on grammar for 5 minutes each morning.  DGP is effective because it breaks down the grammar parts on a weekly sentence, but it allows students to see how the parts all fit together.  The best part is that if a student doesn’t “get” the sentence one week, there will be another one the next week, and the repetition ensures that what’s learned is not forgotten.  Offered for grades 1-12, it’s a program that I use each day with conviction.  It’s like taking a daily vitamin of grammar! (Visit

Some other things a teacher could do on a daily basis are:

  • Estimation of whole numbers, fractions, or decimals while learning addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
  • Quote of the day – give each student a quote and let them explore its origin and meaning
  • Famous figure of the day – whether it’s a famous scientist, entertainer, story character, or historical figure, the options are limitless of learning about a new person each day.
  • State or country of the day – assign each person a region to research and share with the class.

I didn’t invent anything new here, but it’s reaffirming to see how students learn so much better when they take in a little at a time.  I can’t imagine a lesson on just homophones or just estimation!  But broken down into easily digestible daily parts, these ideas are much more manageable for student and teacher alike!

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.

To submit your own ideas for publication, simply e-mail an original educational article (250-500 words) to You’ll receive a $35 School Box Gift Card if you are selected for publication!


Filed under grammar, Morning Work, Uncategorized, Writing

The Plot Thickens: A Graphic Organizer for Teaching Writing

So, it’s time to assign a writing project to your class. You want creative stories with a clear beginning, middle and end. But how do you get your students–from third grade through high school–to craft well-developed tales (and not rambling gibberish that, let’s face it, you will dread grading)?

Here’s a super creative way to teach plot to your students. Just walk them through the attached Plot Skeleton organizer (which was adapted from Angela E. Hunt), and they’ll be equipped with all the elements of a good story.

An Explanation of the Chart:

Main Character Needs: What are the deep needs of your main character (which will turn into motives for action)? Most have an obvious need (like survival for Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web) and a hidden need (like Wilbur’s need for acceptance).

Inciting Incident: What happens to change the course of the story? (i.e. The conflict, like when Wilbur discovers that pigs’ purpose is to become food for the farmer.)

Complications: Events that happen as the main character tries to resolve the conflict. There are usually a couple complications that lead to the “bleakest moment.” Ex: Wilbur tries to escape but realizes the world is too scary for him; Fern is growing up and not as interested in Wilbur anymore; Bleakest Moment: Charlotte dies

Help: What happens to help the character overcome the conflict? Ex: Charlotte saves Wilbur’s life by spinning words in her web.

Lesson or Decision: What lesson is learned or decision made by the main character as a result? Ex: Wilbur discovers that friendship is of paramount importance and friends sometimes come from unlikely places.

Resolution: How do the character’s needs ultimately get met or resolved? Ex: Wilbur takes Charlotte’s babies back to the farm, where he befriends several of them and never again feels lonely.

Here’s how to use it:

1. First, model how to fill out the skeleton by completing one or two together (either on an overhead projector or on the board), using books you’ve read together as a class to complete the blanks.

2. Then, model creating a story from your own imagination, and fill in the chart in front of the class, showing them how to use questioning to develop your story (i.e. “What could be the inciting incident that gets the action rolling?” and “I wonder why a character would do that. What could be their inner need?”).

3. Give a copy to each student and have them brainstorm ideas for their own story, using the chart as a guideline.

4. Have students share their plot skeleton charts with a partner at the end of class to get feedback and additional ideas.

5. From the plot skeleton, students then begin drafting their stories.

This chart takes more scaffolding in the younger grades (third through fifth), but it’s worth the effort. These components of a strong plot will ensure quality writing from your students–writing you’ll actually enjoy grading!

To download the graphic organizer, click here!

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Filed under Academic Success, Assessments, Writing