Monthly Archives: September 2010

You’ve Got Mail! (Using Letters to Connect with Students)

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by Kelli Lewis

Who doesn’t like getting mail? We all get that junk mail that we dread having to go through, but who doesn’t like getting personal letters in the mailbox for a nice surprise? I think it’d be safe to say that most of us wish we got them more.

Classroom Application:

Why not be that person and write your students daily letters? You may say you don’t have time to write each of your students everyday, and you don’t have to. What about typing up a few sentences to your class each day? I’ve seen this used by a teacher in a first grade classroom, and the students loved it.

What to Write:

The teacher simply wrote the students a letter for them to read each morning when they came into the classroom. This letter could include: something specific you did after school the day before, something specific that happened to you this morning, something specific someone in your family (or your pet) did, something specific you’re doing after school that day, any special school events happening for the day (ie. ceremonies, picture day, assembly, performance, etc.), lunch choices, what ‘special’ they are attending for that day (music, art, P.E., learning lab, etc.), a classmate’s birthday, etc.

Incorporate Grammar Practice:

Here’s the catch… don’t write the letter without any mistakes. Depending on what you are teaching in grammar/language at that point in the year, make specific mistakes to correlate with those standards. “Forget” to do a few things they should be able to catch.

For instance, you could “forget” to capitalize a sentence or proper noun, spell a word correctly, use the correct punctuation, etc. Make mistakes depending on what you expect your students to know. Start out making very few mistakes, to allow your students to get a feel on how this new letter idea is going to work. Then, progressively make mistakes more often.

You may also want to add in a mistake or two that isn’t something you have discussed quite yet. This could serve as a bonus, to see if anyone picks up on it. It would also be a great way to introduce a new concept you are going to be working on soon.

Morning Work:

Let this be your students’ morning work–for them to read the letter waiting on their desks, and then rewrite it the correct way. Get creative, make it interesting, and have fun with it! I have a feeling your students will like it. You could even ask your students to write letters back to you… or even to each other!

Kelli Lewis is an Early Childhood Education graduate student at the University of Georgia who often shares her wonderful ideas on A Learning Experience. (Lucky us!)

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Filed under Academic Success, Behavior Management, Classroom Community, grammar, Spelling, Writing

Simple Service Projects for Kids

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by Kelli Lewis

Do you incorporate service learning in your classroom? It’s simple to do and the best part is that it keeps your students engaged and learning hands-on! Think of the standards and curriculum you must cover, then consider the things around our own community that you could use to relate to the standards and/or curriculum in order to make a difference there.

A Simple Service Learning Idea

Here is one idea, concerning healthy eating habits in children today. We saw a need in our own community due to obesity among elementary children and unhealthy food habits. Students are not always aware of exercise possibilities, healthy snacks, and the benefits of being healthy. Our plan was to get information out there and teach the students what it means to be healthy, what a difference it could make in their lives, and to allow them to become a positive role model for someone else they know.

Here are some activities you could use in your classroom, if you chose to participate it something like this:

Comparing fast food menus:

Students make a list of their top three favorite fast food places. Teachers (and/or students, depending on the grade levels) look up the nutritional information for these places, and compare them to each others’ favorite places. Each student should then be able to list their favorite places in order of which restaurant is the most healthy, as well as explore the different menu items they could order to make healthier decisions (ie. choosing apple slices instead of fries.)

Workout video:

Students learn and/or choreograph a workout routine to a self-selected song. Students can suggest songs as a class, then vote for the one they would like to use for their routine. The most popular vote wins. After learning the steps to the selected song, students could have the option of creating a workout video of them teaching and performing the routine!

Writing letters:

Students write letters to the school about getting a healthy food grant. They could also even write letters to Jamie Oliver (from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution TV show) about the possibility of him coming to their school.


Students create a cookbook of recipes they have learned about and/or come up with themselves, that are healthy snacks or small meals they could easily create themselves. They can use these to refer back to when they are at home and need an idea of something healthy they can eat other than potato chips or candy. They can also use these to give to friends or family in order to spread the word.

Paper grocery bags:

Students write things they have learned about healthy eating on grocery bags that you have gathered from your community grocery store. Then, take the bags back to the store and ask if they will use these bags for customers. This way, students are getting the word out to the public in their community about the importance of healthy habits, and it gives them a chance to make a difference outside of the school building.

Kelli Lewis is an Early Childhood Education graduate student at the University of Georgia who often shares her wonderful ideas on A Learning Experience. (Lucky us!)


Filed under Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, Motivation, Service Learning, Writing

Carvin’ Up Some Great Informational Writing

by Kelli Lewis

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Gotta teach informational writing this year and need a way to spice it up a bit?  How about teaching it during the month of October and having your students learn about pumpkins…while carving them in the process, of course!? Consider this fun twist on traditional expository writing assignments: Have your students create instructional books about pumpkins, along with a step-by-step “How-To Carve A Pumpkin” guide to go along with it.

Like the idea? Here’s a detailed lesson plan to follow. (This plan was created for first-graders and designed to take one day, but it could be easily modified for older grades, as well.)


ELA1W2 b.) The student produces informational writing that stays on topic and begins to maintain a focus.

ELA1W2 d.) The student produces informational writing that begins to use organizational structures (steps, chronological order) and strategies (description).

ELA1W2 h.) The student produces informational writing that may include oral or written prewriting (graphic organizers).

Materials Needed:

The Pumpkin Book, by Gail Gibbons (available at The School Box)

-sticky notes

-chart paper


-web/bubble graphic organizer, for informational sentences


-pumpkins: choose one of the following, according to your classroom’s needs: 1) small pumpkins for every child, 2) medium-sized pumpkins for each group, or 3) two large-sized pumpkins for you and a parent volunteer to demonstrate.

-carving tools

-large trash bag

-butcher paper/newspaper to lay down on the floor/table, underneath the pumpkins

– “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet for documenting (This graphic organizer should just have spaces for: materials, “First you…”, “Second you…”, “Next you…”, “Finally you…”)


  1. Ask your students: What is informational writing? What is a topic?
  2. Read aloud The Pumpkin Book by Gail Gibbons.
  3. Reread the book again, using sticky notes to demonstrate how to take notes and copy an informational statement as you’re reading. Post the sticky note to the page in which you found it. Make as many ‘notes’ as you have room for on your web/bubble graphic organizer.
  4. Go back through the book and transfer your sticky-note information onto the web/bubble graphic organizer. Demonstrate this process to your class. Write each statement from the sticky notes onto the graphic organizer, around the topic “pumpkins” in the middle of the page.
  5. Have students return to their desks and copy your graphic organizer’s information onto their own graphic organizer. (For older grades, students could repeat this process independently with a second pumpkin story or book).
  6. Discuss the “step-by-step” processes for creating a jack-o-lantern.  Discuss the importance of listing the materials and being sure the steps are in order and nothing is left out. Discuss ideas with your students about what you would write.
  7. Record ideas, as you discuss, onto your “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet.
  8. Decide, as a class, what the “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet should say. Then, start to create the list of materials and steps.
  9. When it is complete, have your students copy it onto their own “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet.
  10. Now it’s time to carve!  As you carve, refer back to the the “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet, made by your class, to see if the steps are in the correct order and that nothing was left out!

Happy carving!

Kelli Lewis is an Early Childhood Education graduate student at the University of Georgia who often shares her wonderful ideas on A Learning Experience. (Lucky us!)


Filed under Assessments, comprehension, Cooperative Learning, Reading, Writing

Warm Fuzzies: Engendering Comraderie Among Students

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by Rachel Stepp

Do you want your students to get to know their peers better? Here are a few activities that you can use in your classroom to accomplish this. I recommend doing them during down time (such as before or after lunch), morning meeting, or at the end of the day.

A Web of Knowledge

Have your students sit on the floor in a circle. Use a ball of yarn to create your web. Start with one student in the circle who will hold the end of the string. Have the starting student tell the class something about himself/herself.

For example, students can tell their name, favorite television show, interesting fact, hobbies, etc. Once the first student has shared, the first student holds the end of the string and rolls the rest of the yarn ball to a student sitting across the circle. The student who now has the yarn ball tells information about him/herself. Then this student holds onto the yarn and passes the yarn ball to somebody else in the circle. By the end of the activity, students will have created a yarn web by passing the yarn ball all around the circle. Students will be able to see how they are “connected” to one another and learn about their peers!

Animal Introduction

Not only would this be a good activity for the beginning of the year, but also when students are studying animals. Once again, have students sit in a circle where everybody can see everyone else. The activity works as students go around the circle one by one. Each student must think of an animal whose first letter is the same as the first letter in his or her own name, and then state that animal after saying his/her name.

For example, I might say “Rachel Rat” because “Rachel” starts with “r” and so does “rat.” Each student would go around the circle and share this information.

To add some challenge to this activity, have each student repeat all of the responses of the students that have gone before them before adding their own name to the list! For example, if you are the fifth student to go, you must repeat what students one, two, three and four have said. This helps students learn their peers’ names while having a little fun!

Student Scramble

Make space in your classroom for everybody to stand up and move about the room. Each student should stand up and get ready to move! Students will learn about their classmates as they are asked to get into lines based on personal information. This is also a great exercise in categorizing–a higher level thinking skill!

To start, ask students to get into a line based alphabetically on their names. Students who names start with “A” will start the line. This makes students think and talk to their peers. You can do this activity repeatedly with different directions, such as “line up according to your birthday.” You can also ask students to get into groups instead of lines for directions such as, “Stand with people who share the same favorite color as you!” Here are some more directions you can use:

  • Stand with people who ride the bus with you.
  • Get into a line based alphabetically on your last name.
  • Stand with people who have the same color hair as you.
  • Get into a line based on height.

These activities can be used in many grade levels and can be easily modified to be age appropriate. And don’t be shy- play along in these activities with your students!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at the University of Georgia, currently working on a Masters in Early Childhood Education. We are pleased as punch to share her great ideas on A Learning Experience!


Filed under Cooperative Learning, Uncategorized

X Marks the Spot! Fresh Ideas for Using a Treasure Box

by Rachel Stepp

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For many years, teachers have had ‘treasure boxes’ in their classrooms to reward students for behavior, grades and much more. But when you’re on a tight budget, filling your box with desirable prizes can become difficult. Here are a few treasures that you might want to use in your classroom:

1. School Supplies

Each year, students are asked to bring in school supplies for the year. Sadly, there will always be some students that cannot afford the newest school supplies or even the basics. If you load your treasure box with school supplies, you are allowing students to get something that they need and that will benefit them throughout the school day. At the beginning of the school year, office supply stores often put the basic schools supplies on sale for just pennies! Examples include: pencils, scissors, erasers, notebooks, folders, markers and crayons.

2. Assignment Passes and Extensions

Give your students the chance to pass up a homework assignment or gain an extension on a take-home project. Simply print out homework passes so that students can skip a homework assignment. You can make different passes worth more if you are doing a points-based reward system in your classroom. Be sure to sign any passes that you make in order to keep them original (not that any of your little darlins are counterfeit artists, but I’m just sayin’…).

3. Extra Time Certificates

Sometimes students just need to spend a little more time one-on-one with the teacher to feel special. One way to do this is to have certificates that students can cash in to have lunch with the teacher. Also, students might want to have more time to spend at the library, on the computer or at centers. Why not give your students the opportunity to spend 5 or 10 more minutes doing something that they enjoy?

4. Parent Donations

If your school allows you to do so, ask your classroom parents to donate prizes to the treasure box. Give them a list of school supplies, small candies, stickers and other items that could be used in your box. Hopefully, you will have helpful  parents to help you stuff your treasure box. It never hurts to ask!

Sometimes toys are not appropriate for your treasure box because they distract the children, and they can get pricey. Get creative and think of prizes that could come out of your imagination instead of out of your wallet!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at the University of Georgia, currently working on a Masters in Early Childhood Education.


Filed under Behavior Management, Discipline, Motivation

An Excellent (Edible) Geography Lesson

by Kelli Lewis

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Trying to help your child understand the regions in which they live? Why not engage them in a lesson that is hands-on and…not to mention, edible?!

Here’s an idea that your child is sure to be “screaming” for!

Edible Ice Cream Regions

In order to help your child understand the different regions of the United States, create an ice cream sundae. This activity could be used for other countries, as well–but may need to be modified according to how the regions are broken down. Each part to the ice cream sundae will represent a region.

For instance, here is an idea to get you started:

  1. Decide what you want the ice cream sundae to go in. Obviously the biggest part will be the cone/bowl in which the whole ice cream sundae is placed. This could be used to represent the continent.
  2. Who makes an ice cream sundae without bananas?! Try putting banana(s) in next, and these could be used to represent the country.
  3. Now, here comes the ice cream!!! On top of the banana(s), place the ice cream scoop. Go ahead, you can add more than one scoop (maybe side-by-side), as long as there is an understanding of what it represents. :) The ice cream scoops could be used to represent the state.
  4. No need to stop there! Ice cream scoops always need some toppings! Next, add some chocolate syrup. You can use any type of syrup flavoring, of course, chocolate is just my favorite choice. This could be used to represent the county.
  5. Now, what could be better than adding some whipped cream on top of the syrup? Go ahead and add a little squirt of whipped cream, and it could be used to represent the city.
  6. We’re almost there.  I bet it’s looking pretty good. In fact, it looks so good that I’d really like to eat it right now… “Pretty please, with a CHERRY on top?” Yep, that’s right! Time to top it off with a luscious cherry, right on the top! This could be used to represent your school/home, according to where this activity is taking place.

Here is a picture of what I had in mind:

Enjoy the sweet success of mastering regions!

Kelli Lewis is an Early Childhood Education graduate student at the University of Georgia who often shares her wonderful ideas on A Learning Experience. (Lucky us!)

[UPDATE from mcornelia]:

YEAH! The wonderful folks at The Mailbox Book Company gave us permission to post the graphic Connie mentioned in her comments below!
Click here for the PDF:

This came from the original Grade 3 Superbook. It has been revised now (same title) and has some wonderful new ideas and can be found at your local School Box store on on-line here:



Filed under Academic Success, Assessments, Geography, Snack Time, Social Studies

Fresh Ideas for Those Boring Ol’ Spelling Words

by Kelli Lewis

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Looking for some creative ways to help your children learn their spelling words?  Need something new next time your child has spelling homework and you’re tired of telling them to write them each repeatedly?

Here are two unique ideas that I have seen implemented in a few elementary classrooms:

Four Times Each

Okay, I know. Write the word four times…at first it seems boring, right? But here’s the catch. Your child will still write the word several times, only with a little more excitement! Create a simple chart with 10 rows (or however many spelling words your child has) and four columns (or you may want to create more on our own, after you see where I’m going).  The columns should each have one of the following listed at the very top: pencil, colored pencil, marker, crayon.  Have your child write each word under the particular type of writing utensil, in that utensil.  For instance, if the first word is “cat” then you child will write “cat” in pencil, under the pencil column; they will write “cat” in colored pencil, under the colored pencil column; they will write “cat” in marker, under the marker column; and they will write “cat” in crayon, under the crayon column.  Click here for a printable sheet to use!

Feel free to get even more creative and add more columns.  You could even put colors in the columns (red, yellow, blue, etc.) and allow the child a choice in which type of writing utensil is used, as long as it is the correct color stated in the column.

Spelling Pyramids (or Spelling Stairs)

Have your child make pyramids out of each of their spelling words.  Let’s say, again, your first spelling word is “cat.” Start by first writing the first letter of the word “cat.”  Then underneath that, write the first and second letter of the word “cat”.  Underneath that, you then write the first, second, and third letter of the word “cat.”  Obviously “cat” only has three letters so you’re then done with that word.  If it had more letters, you would continue on in the same way.  You can have your child make as many pyramids as needed.  Here is a quick example of this:


Hopefully these ideas will help you breathe new life into your weekly spelling routine!

Kelli Lewis is an Early Childhood Education graduate student at the University of Georgia who often shares her wonderful ideas on A Learning Experience. (Lucky us!)


Filed under Academic Success, Spelling, Study Skills, Test Prep, Writing