Monthly Archives: October 2010

Outside-the-Box Alphabet Activity

by Kelli Lewis

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Tired of doing the same things to teach letters to your young students? Do you simply just need a way to liven it up a little? How about getting your students active in role playing and engaged with each other by participating in some out-of-your-seat learning?!

Here’s How:

  1. Tell the students that they are all going to “become” the letters in the alphabet, beginning with uppercase letters. When you say, “Give me an ‘A’!” then your students will work together to make an “A” on the floor. For example, two students would lay down, with their heads touching and a slight angle, to create the upside-down “V” shape.  Then, another student would lay down in the middle of them to create the bar that connects the two, making a letter “A”!
  2. After your explanation, tell the students to find a place where they have room to wiggle and giggle as they lay on the floor and use their bodies to make ABC’s!
  3. Then, explain and demonstrate with your students how it is going to work. Model for them what will happen each time. You will choose the amount of students you need for the letter you’re about to call.  You may even want to draw sticks with the students’ names on them to be sure that everyone gets a turn.
  4. Be sure to go over the rules.  We don’t want anyone getting too excited and causing others to get hurt, stepped on, or trampled over!
  5. Next, choose a letter, draw the appropriate amount of sticks, tell them their letter, and let them go at it!
  6. Finally, take a picture each time the students have finished the letter. You can later print these and create a classroom alphabet book. For your pictures, you could even have another student stand behind the created letter with a paper sign that displays the letter in written or typed form.

A book that goes well with this activity and could be read beforehand is Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book.

Hope you have fun with this zany activity! I know your students will!

Kelli Lewis is a graduate student at The University of Georgia and a regular contributor to A Learning Experience. We’re so glad!


Filed under Academic Success, Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, Writing

Creating a Bilingual Classroom

by Rachel Stepp

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Do you have a classroom with students that speak a native language other than English? Most schools have programs for these students where they are pulled out of the classroom several times a day in order to learn English. You can help these students, and educate your other students, by creating a bilingual environment in your general classroom.

Label Your Environment:

In your classroom, you probably have simple things such as “book bags,” “paints” and “computers” labeled in English. Why not put a label next to that one in another language, such as Spanish? This is simple and will create a bilingual, text-rich classroom where students will be able to explore the sounds and spellings of words in other languages.

If you have a calendar time each day, label your calendar (days of the week and months of the year) in Spanish as well as English. Teach your children the Spanish version of the “Days of the Week” song.

Language Lessons:

Teach your students basic words and phrases in an alternate lesson and use those words on a frequent basis. Spend about 15-20 minutes once a week teaching your students new words in an unfamiliar language. You can teach them commands such as “Look at me!” and “Sit down!” so that you can use the phrases on a daily basis. You do not have to become the foreign language teacher, but you can spend a few minutes enriching your students.

Ways to Impact all of your Students:

These activities will not only be beneficial for your ESOL students, but it will also enrich your native English speakers. Talk about different cultures and diversity in your classroom. Allow students to bring in artifacts and share traditions about their families’ cultures. For the native Spanish speaker in your class, this will help them realize that their culture is important and that while learning English, they should work to preserve their native language and culture.

These ideas are just the beginning to enriching your classroom culture. If you are nervous about bringing another language into your classroom or if you need help translating something, ask your school’s ESOL teacher to help you. The ESOL teacher can also help you translate letters and announcements for parents. Embracing your community’s cultures will help to bring everyone together in a society where students are encouraged to be proud of their heritage.

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia and a regular contributor to A Learning Experience. Lucky us!


Filed under Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, Multicultural Community

Class Jobs: Time to Delegate!

by Rachel Stepp

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Do you ever feel overwhelmed by doing everything in your classroom? Well, it’s time to let your students take some responsibilities! Here are a few of the classroom jobs that you can offer to your students:

Line Leader/Caboose: This is a classic job. The line leader position gives students the feeling of responsibility and importance. It allows them to take charge and show the rest of the class how to behave in the hallway. The caboose manages the end of the line by making sure that students stay in line and walk at a desirable pace.

Teacher’s Helper: This student can help with morning routines such as Calendar Time. Allow the student to point to the days of the week and the months of the year as students review or even sing. This student can also help to call on children to answer questions during appropriate times. For example, you might ask, “What month is it?” The teacher’s helper would then choose someone with their hand raised and ask that person to answer the question.

Paper Passer: This student helps to pass out any papers that all the students might receive. I would suggest only letting this person pass out blank worksheets or papers so that no one’s grade confidentiality is dishonored.

Homework Collector: This person can walk around in the mornings and collect homework from students. Students are very demanding of their peers, and they will be the first ones to tell you who has late homework. This person can also make a list of who has turned in homework so that you do not have to do it!

Lunch Counter: Most schools have lunch choices for students. Create an area in your classroom where students can view the lunch menu and then make their choice. Have your lunch counter tally up the results in the morning and deliver the numbers to the cafeteria.

Attendance Taker: Create a section in your room where students can mark whether or not they are at school. Let the attendance taker keep track of who is and who is not at school. The attendance taker can record the names of absent classmates and report them to you or the front office.

Book Returner: To cut down on trips to the library during class time, designate one student in the morning who will carry the books that need to be returned to the library. This student simply walks down to the library, returns the books, and comes back to the classroom.

Room Cleaners: The custodial staff does enough hard work around the school, so give them a break, too! Choose a student or two to monitor the room at the end of the day and announce areas that need to be cleaned. This will help students keep their desk areas clean. Also, if you have a small vacuum or sweeper, then students can begin to clean up the floors with it at the end of the day.

Animal Patrol: Do you have a class pet? A fish? A hamster? Choose a student to clean out your pet’s cage and to feed your animals. This eliminates some of the dirty work that comes along with having a critter in the classroom!

These are just several ideas of classroom jobs that you can use in your classroom. Their intensity will vary with grade level. Also, some jobs might be more appropriate for older grades, while others may only work in the youngest of grades. Display the names of the students and their jobs by creating a nametag for everyone and putting it by the job. You could also use “Classroom Jobs” posters and bulletin board sets that are available through The School Box (I particularly like this one …

Have fun…and happy delegating!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia and a regular contributor to A Learning Experience. Lucky us!



Filed under Behavior Management, Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, Discipline

Parent Teacher Conference Tips!

by Rachel Stepp

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It’s that time of year again…time for parent/teacher conferences. Here are a few quick reminders of what you will need during parent/teacher conferences so that they run smoothly and on time!

Student Work/Portfolio
Starting at the beginning of the year, begin collecting your students’ work. Don’t collect and keep everything! Keep some things that students have completed with great success and keep other things that the students might be struggling with. You can keep each individual student’s work in individual binders or in a file. At the conference, this will help you because you will be able to show the parents some of the work that their children are completing and what they are learning.

Have a list of all of your students’ grades on each individual assignment, incase parents have questions. If a child is doing poorly on certain projects, then a parent might be concerned and want to know how they can help. If you give an overall grade or average, parents might not know which topics their children are struggling with. It also helps to break the grades down into major subjects such as “tests,” “quizzes,” “class work,” and “homework.”

How to Help at Home
Give your parents concrete suggestions about how they can help their children at home. These could be ideas about cheap and easy games to reinforce math skills or some facts about the benefits of reading at home.

Questions from Parent
Always offer a time for a parent to ask questions. These questions could range from specifics about their child, lunch menus, fieldtrips or school events. If you don’t have an answer for a parent right away, then offer to call or e-mail them later in the week with the answer.

School Events
Keep a calendar of upcoming school events to show the parents. This will help them feel involved in the community and the school. Some calendars and announcements that are given to students or posted online are never seen by the parents.

Translation/Extra Support
If your students’ parents need an English translation in order to have a conference with you, make sure that it is available. Talk to your ESL teacher about having a translator and having important documents translated into native languages. This will help the conference go smoothly and accurately.

Remember to schedule your conferences ahead of time, and remind the parents about specific conference times. This will eliminate no-shows and late arrivals. Keep a phone number handy so that you can reach parents if they are late. Also, follow up with parents who do not show up for their conferences. I hope that these tips help you to make it through parent/teacher conferences! Happy conferencing!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia and a regular contributor to A Learning Experience.


Filed under Academic Success, Classroom Community

Sensational Sensory Stations

by Rachel Stepp

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Touch and feel sensory box stations are always a hit when center time rolls around! Children love the idea of sticking their little hands in a box of unknown treasures to explore and learn. I have seen sensory boxes filled with a variety of contents, and sometimes those contents can get out of hand! But if you’re feeling like adding a sensory station to your classroom, here are a few simple ideas:

If you don’t already have a sensory table, create your own! This can be done by purchasing an under-bed storage container; this size works well because it is long and shallow. Simply clear off a tabletop and put your storage box on the top of the table. Add Velcro or tape to secure your storage box so that it won’t find its way to the floor.

Next, add your contents!

1. Dry Noodles

Add uncooked noodles such as bowties or elbows and allow students to dig through them to find hidden contents. For younger grades, make a list of your hidden contents and have students search for each item and check it off as they find it (ex: a bouncy ball, dice, a fake coin, etc.). Also, you could hide tokens that have a number or letter on them. Ask your students to find the numbers or letters in chronological or alphabetical order.

2. Dry Rice and Beans

Add shovels and cups to the sensory station to allow students to dig through dry rice and beans. Let students write/talk about how the rice feels as it flows through their hands. You can dye white rice using food coloring to add some color to your table.

3. Sand

Wouldn’t it be nice to bring a little beach to the classroom? Add sand into your sensory station to let students experience the feeling of sand between their fingers. You can put a funnel and other sand toys in the box to let students play with. Ask students to try to ‘build’ buildings and create tunnels. Let them build their motor skills as they dig through the sand.

4. Water

If you’re feeling brave enough, add water into your sensory box. Water will be an automatic hit in your classroom! Students will enjoy sticking their hands into water and exploring its properties. Add in items–like a small toy boat, a small hollow plastic ball, a magnet–that allow students to explore the idea of sink and float. Create a worksheet that allows them to record predictions about sink and float and then their findings.

When bringing a sensory station into your classroom, it is important to remind students about guidelines they should follow. Such guidelines include keeping the contents in the table, following directions at the table, and completing work at the table. You can always ask your students what they would like to see in the sensory box… children are full of great ideas!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia who is brimming over with creative ideas to share on A Learning Experience. And aren’t we glad!


Filed under Centers, Cooperative Learning, Science

What to do with your substitute…new ideas!

by Rachel Stepp

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There always comes that time of year when you either need a little vacation or your body demands that you take one! It can be difficult to give your classroom over to someone else for the day, but if you leave the right information, you won’t need to worry! Here are a few things that you’ll want to do so that you have a successful substitute:

1. Seating Chart

There is nothing more important than leaving your class roster! Your substitute teacher will need to know your students’ names in order to have a peaceful day. If your students have assigned seats, leave a seating chart. Students might try to be sneaky and sit next to their friends, but a seating chart will prevent this from happening!

2. Class Schedule

Keeping your students in their usual routine while you are gone is the best thing for them. In order to do this, your substitute teacher will need the class’s schedule. Be sure to list the subjects, times, and locations where everything should take place. This will also help the substitute pace his or her time during the day instead of completing everything fast.

3. Class Rules

You will want your students to be on their best behavior while you’re gone, and the only way to keep track of this is if your substitute teacher knows the rules. We all know that sometimes our little darlins’ will try to get away with troublesome behavior and claim that the teacher allows them to do it, but with a list of class rules, the substitute will know this is not true!

4. Lesson Plans

Your students need to learn while you’re out for the day, so leave detailed lesson plans for your substitute teacher to follow. Make sure you leave all of the books and pages numbers that the teacher will need. (If the absence is planned, I like to leave all the teacher books opened, turned to the exact page, on my desk). If your students will be working on printed worksheets, make sure that you already have all of your prints made. Leave specific directions on tricky lessons. Also, leave extra worksheets, such as crossword puzzles, if your substitute finishes an activity early.

5. Map of the school

Where is the lunchroom? Where is the computer lab? These are simple questions that your substitute teacher might have if he/she has never been to your school before. Leave a school map with important rooms highlighted so that the teacher will be able to navigate around the school. If a school map is not available, leave the name of a nearby teacher that is will to assist your substitute. If you have a trustworthy student, he or she may also be able to help.

6. Emergency Plans

It would be awful for there to be an emergency while you were away from your classroom, but it is always a possibility! Make sure that your substitute teacher knows escape routes and emergency routines in case something happens. Post this by a doorway and outline it in a bright color. Emergency plans are good to have, even if you’re not going to be out!

These ideas are just some of the ways to help your day off be successful. Make sure your substitute feels comfortable in your classroom by leaving all of  the important information that he or she will need during the day.

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia who often shares her stellar ideas on A Learning Experience.


Filed under Behavior Management, Discipline

Tricky Transitions…Made Easier!

by Rachel Stepp

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Have you ever had trouble keeping your students focused while transitioning from one subject to another? I know I have! Here are a few ideas that might work in your classroom to make this process a little easier:

1. Try soothing music

When you are ready to change subjects, just press play on your favorite soothing song. Use the same song every time you are ready to transition so that your students know what to expect. Soon enough, they will automatically begin cleaning up their workspaces and getting ready for the next lesson without you directing them to do so! I have seen this technique work with children as young as 3 years old!

2. Call a meeting to a carpeted area

Do you have an area in your classroom where your whole class can meet at once (and not be in their desks)? This brings the class together and centers their attention on what is in front of them, instead of what’s in their desks! After each subject, ask your students to join you on the carpet. Once your students are there, begin a mini lesson, do a review of the day before, or let your students know what they are about to learn. Before dismissing them back to their desks to work, let them know what you expect of them. Tell them what materials they will need and how they will need to be behaving for the next part of the day to continue. This also allows for the students to move around and stretch their legs!

3. Timer

If your students are a little more independent, teach them time management skills. Between each subject, give your students several minutes to prepare for the next part of the day. If you have an interactive white board, pull up a timer on the screen so that all of your students can see it clearly. If you do not have an interactive white board, place a timer at the front of the classroom, where students can view it independently. Tell your students that there will be consequences for not being prepared in time for the next part of the day. This will also give your students freedom to socialize momentarily with their peers to get that burning question out that they having been dying to ask since the bell rang!

4. Mind Exercises

If you would like your students to get off topic in an educational way, post a tricky question or a mind-stimulating puzzle on your interactive white board (or old-fashioned white board :). You can find these types of puzzles online, and often daily trivia questions can be sent to your e-mail. Allow students to make guesses and reward the winners with something small, like a piece of candy.

Adding smooth transitions into your daily routine will help you to feel more organized. It will also help your students to stay focused on the school day…ensuring that you’re all happy when it’s time to make the final transition HOME!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia and a regular contributor to A Learning Experience (lucky us!!).


Filed under Academic Success, Behavior Management, Discipline

Celebrate the Season with a Fall Festival!

by Rachel Stepp

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As fall starts, fall festivals begin to pop up around the community. They are a great way to gain community support, fundraise, and have a good time! Here are a few ideas of events and activities that your school or class could incorporate at your fall festival. And…these ideas work just as great in the backyard at home! Wouldn’t your kids LOVE a Family Fall Festival?!

  1. Carnival Games
    Small, fun games capture the attention of children of all ages! Create a classic with rubber ducks—Bring in a baby-sized pool full of water and rubber ducks. Put special markings on the bottom of certain ducks that signal ‘winners.’ Allow students to pick up one duck at a time; if they choose a duck with a winner label, they win a small prize! You could even put different numbers or symbols on the bottom of every duck so that every child is a winner. Prizes can be bought from companies such as The Oriental Trading Company, where they can be bought in bulk. You could also use candy as prizes!
  2. Spooky/Fun House
    For the thrill seeker, create a spooky house inside the school building in a classroom or gymnasium (or in your garage or under a large tree in the yard). This can be done using an abundance of black tarps and glow in the dark objects. You can create a simple maze through the dark hallways. Remember, small children should not be scared! Keep it fun and lighthearted. Make sure that you have a guide leader that can take groups of children through the maze.
  3. Arts and Crafts
    Have local vendors come to sell their arts and crafts. This will be a great way to invite community business to your fall festival. Collect a vendor fee or a percentage of profits from the vendors. It will also give parents something to look forward to while their children are playing games.
  4. 5k Run and 1 Mile Fun Run
    For the athletic members of your community, host a 5k race and a 1 mile fun run. There are local companies available that help set up and manage a race. People love to run in the fall when the weather is just right! Offer the 1 mile fun run or even a dog walk to encourage all types of participants.
  5. Community Helpers and Heroes
    Children love to learn about the heroes in their communities, and it is important for community helpers to visit children and schools to teach children about safety. Invite your local firemen and police officers. You can schedule events like fire truck tours, police car rides, police dog petting, fire truck water sprays, and more. Contact your local service men/women for ideas and availability. They’ll probably be honored you asked them to be a part of the fun.

Here’s to a fun and festive fall, whether the festivities are organized at your school…or a free-for-all in the backyard!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia who is brimming over with creative ideas to share on A Learning Experience. And aren’t we glad!

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Filed under Classroom Community, Games

The Tiny Seed: Teaching Parts of a Story

by Kelli Lewis

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Here’s a lesson idea I’ve used to teach the “beginning, middle and end” of a story, using Eric Carle’s The Tiny Seed.

  • Gather your students together on the reading rug and read the story The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle.
  • After reading, post a folded piece of chart paper (folded into three vertical columns) on an easel for all of your students to view.
  • Write “beginning” on the first column, “middle” on the next column, and “end” on the last column.
  • Discuss with your students what they think this means. What are the “beginning”, “middle” and “end”? Try to think of other ways to describe this, apart from the story. For instance, an ant with three body segments. (You could even draw this out for them.) The head would be the beginning, the body would be the middle, and the last segment would be the end.
  • Be sure to end this discussion of the concept in relation to a story’s beginning part, middle part and end.
  • Now, tell the students that you are going to determine the beginning, middle and end of The Tiny Seed.
  • Reread the story, stopping and discussing what may be the beginning, middle and end.
  • After rereading, begin to fill in your folded chart. Allow the students to help you. Refer back to the book, flipping through the pages as you go, to demonstrate how the book can help refresh your memory and double check what you just read.
  • Fill in the chart with a sentence for the beginning, a sentence for the middle and a sentence for the end. Allow the students to help you come up with what each should say.
  • After determining the story’s beginning, middle and end, you then can add an illustration for each section.
  • Again, allow the students to help you decide what to draw. Be sure to make it clear that your illustrations should match your words. Discuss what wouldn’t be appropriate. For example, if your sentence says, “The tiny seed traveled with the wind,” it wouldn’t be appropriate for your drawing to be of a unicorn on a rainbow. These drawings solidify two important reading strategies: summarizing and visualizing.
  • After filling in the entire chart, have the students return to their desks or some other working space.
  • Hand out sheets of tri-folded paper for your students to create a chart, just as they saw you do.
  • Allow them to see yours as they create theirs. It’s alright if they just copy yours for now.
  • Then, the next day, read a different book of your (or your students’) choice, and allow the students to create their own tri-folded beginning, middle, and end chart by themselves.

This activity could take several days to completely finish, according to your allotted time. This activity was created for first graders but can be modified accordingly to meet your students’ needs for any grade level in which this concept may need to be taught. It could be used to introduce writing a summary paragraph in older grades, for example.

Display the students’ charts around the room, and then congratulate yourself. You just planted “a tiny seed” of knowledge in each of your students!


Filed under comprehension, Reading, Writing