Monthly Archives: November 2010

Some (Cheap and Easy) Discipline Ideas

by Kelli Lewis

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As the winter break grows closer, attention spans grow shorter. Looking for some fresh discipline ideas to get you through “the most wonderful time of the year”? Try these easy ideas to keep your little elves out of mischief.

Think About It

First of all, think of the times of day that seem to be trickiest when it comes to self-control (your students’, not yours :-). Do they need a little incentive to get quiet after transitions? Do they need to remember to do their homework more often? Do they need to use that handwriting you know they are capable of but usually choose to not use? Do they need to be better at staying quiet in the hallways?

Second, decide on a way to encourage your students. One motivating (and easily replicated) discipline strategy involves students collecting things (see ideas below) and then trading said “things” for small rewards or privileges. Here are a few easy ideas:

Show Me the Money

Plastic money coins (I found them at The School Box) are always a big hit, and using/counting money also incorporates the standards for several elementary grade levels. You could also use play money bills, or even print your own money bills with your face on them!

Paper Trail

If you’d rather not purchase money, you can simply cut small colored circles or squares out of construction paper. If you choose this option, just be sure that students can’t reproduce or make them themselves. Add your signature or stamp to each one to make them uniquely yours.

Chart It, Baby!

If small coins or bits of paper prove to be a distraction for little hands, create charts for each student instead. The charts can follow behavior daily, weekly or monthly–whatever works for your group. Stamp students’ charts each time they do something deserving and then cross them out as they trade them in for a reward.

Speaking of Rewards…

Finally, decide on the privileges you want students to choose and allocate different “values” to each reward. (A homework pass may “cost” more than wearing a hat to school, for example.) Here are some ideas of things your students could “purchase” with their coins/paper/chart rewards:

  • free ice cream pass
  • eat lunch with a friend
  • draw on the board/smartboard
  • play games in the afternoon
  • wear slippers for the day (remember to bring tennis shoes for P.E.)
  • wear a hat for the day
  • bring a small stuffed animal to sit at your desk while you work
  • extra computer time
  • wear sunglasses to school
  • write with a colored pen all day
  • sit at the teacher’s desk, special table in the room…or the floor!

Hopefully these ideas will help keep your classroom (and you!) merry and bright during the next few busy weeks. Happy Holidays!

Kelli Lewis is a grad student at The University of Georgia who volunteers her great ideas for the benefit of all of us here at A Learning Experience.


Filed under Behavior Management, Discipline


by Kelli Lewis

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Here’s an idea that works well for those young sweethearts of yours who are learning their alphabet! For older students, this could also be used as just a fun activity to get their creative juices flowing…or as inspiration for older students to create an alphabet book to share with younger learners.

Teaching Letters

This idea started with a book by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss called Alphabeasties: And Other Amazing Types.

This book is a great way to introduce letters through objects and ideas that are familiar to students. Each page is filled with objects and words relating to a particular letter. The first page, for example, features an alligator comprised of lots of A’s, as well as other objects that relate to A. Each page helps students understand both the sound and shape of a letter.

Teaching Writing

This book is also great for teaching how to write the letters. It not only showcases the letters in many fonts, but helpful tips for remembering how to write each letter are also introduced.  For lowercase “a,” for instance, it says to write it “like a ball and a stick.” And, there are so many things on each page, it keeps students looking for more!

Making Your Own Book!

After exploring this book, your class could make their own Alphabeasties book. Together, you and your students could come up with a name for your book. (Alphabeasties is creative…but I am sure you all could come up with something just as grand!)

Depending on the time allotted and the dynamics of your class, you could choose to assign each student a letter to work on, or you could create one letter each day, together as a class whole. Students could work independently or in groups, getting ideas from the Alphabeasties book and then making their own versions.

And, once older students make their alphabet book, they could have a time set aside to show off their book to a younger learners and then donate it to their classroom– which would be a guaranteed great time for all of your beasties….big and small.

Kelli Lewis is a graduate student at The University of Georgia whose creative ideas are often featured on A Learning Experience.


Filed under Uncategorized

Oh, the Weather Outside…

by Rachel Stepp

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Everyday, people are affected by the conditions outside, so it is important that you teach your students how to interpret the weather. You can teach weather skills and knowledge in many grades and incorporate the skills and concepts across subject areas. Here are some creative ideas, broken up by grade level!

In Kindergarten and First Grade:

During calendar time or social studies, ask your students what the weather is outside. If you have a window or door in your classroom, allow a student to go/look outside and report on the weather. You can then ask students what it’s appropriate to wear with the reported weather.
Record the daily weather so that students can begin to see patterns. You can also ask students where they can look to find out the weather report for the day (Internet, news, TV, etc). Weather can also be incorporated into the study of the seasons as you talk about the typical weather of each season.

If you’re looking for a fun resource, The School Box offers a felt board addition called “Wally the Weather Dog” that allows students to dress “Wally” daily with the appropriate clothing while reporting the weather.

In Second and Third Grade:

With this age of students, it’s still a good idea to allow students to do outside observations of the weather and to discuss what weather they felt when they were on their way to school. You can do the same activities that younger students do, but also add graphing into the learning time. You can make a bar graph or a pictograph about the daily weather as students add another “unit” to the graph everyday. The different bars in the graph could represent weather conditions such as sunny, rainy, cloudy, cold, hot, and snowy. Chart paper or poster board would work just fine for this activity, but I have also seen pocket charts that are made for bar graphing that would make this activity even easier.

In Fourth and Fifth Grade:

In the higher elementary grades, you can draw outside resources into the classroom to allow students to explore the weather. Bring in daily local newspapers and news clips to let children know some of the different resources that tell about the weather. You can also study weather terminology, cloud types, weather patterns, and the effects of the weather on our environment and community. Students in this age group enjoy studying about natural weather disasters and their impacts. Maybe your class discussions and suggestions about the weather will spark interest in conducting some student-led research!

Whatever grade you teach, you can always use a picture book to teach your students about weather. Also, use some of the time when you teach about weather to do art projects. You can create collages, paintings, and drawings of the weather outside and weather around the world. And–if the opportunity arises– give your students the chance to learn outside and enjoy the weather!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia whose good ideas are frequently published on A Learning Experience.

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Filed under Science

What Letter Are We Learning This Week??

by Rachel Stepp

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Are your children still at a level where they benefit from studying letters? Well, you can help them by focusing on one letter a week. For example, if you wanted to study the letter “Hh” this week, here are some ideas for what you could do:

Focus on five different words.

This will help you to plan your activities and create projects. If I was going to study “Hh” this week, I might choose the words: house, hats, helpers, hippos and happy. These are all broad words that I think I will be able to find picture books about or lessons based around. Now, create your activities for each word that you chose:


Read aloud  A House for a Hermit Crab by Eric Carle. Discuss with your children the different houses that the hermit crab lives in and what he adds to his house during the book. You could do an art activity and decorate “hermit crab houses” (just drawn on paper) and use art supplies to embellish them. You could also have your students draw their own houses and share them with the class. This would help the children realize the differences among houses and the fact that there is diversity within their own classroom.


Of course on this day, I would encourage you to allow your students to wear hats to school! If your school won’t allow baseball caps or any other distractions, then make paper hats in your classroom that day. Your students can wear their hats while they are in your classroom, but be careful about letting them wear them to lunch, specials and recess.

You can also talk about different types of hats and their purposes. For example, you might talk about helmets, chef’s hats, and head-dresses.


If you talk about community helpers during the year, this would be a great time to review about them or to bring them up in discussion. Ask students to identify some community helpers such as the mailman, doctors and policemen. Students can also identify themselves as helpers if you have helper jobs in your classroom.


In my experiences, I have found that children generally love to learn about animals. Take time one day to teach your students about hippos. Find images and hippo sounds that you could share with your students. Find an informational book about hippos and allow your students to write about what they learn.


Students can learn about their feelings and the feelings of others when studying about being “happy.” Have children draw and make happy faces. Let children tell and describe what makes them happy. This would be a good activity to end the day so that your students leave school thinking happy thoughts.

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia whose good ideas are frequently published on A Learning Experience.

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Filed under Activities, Assessments, Reading, Writing

Doing a Book Study…Even in the Early Grades!

by Rachel Stepp

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Do you have a particular author that you are interested in? Do you think that your students should read a special book that will teach them a lifelong lesson? If you do, you might want to do a book study with your class.

The first step is choosing a book. Choose one that each student in your class can read individually or in pairs. In the earliest grades, you might have to choose a book that you can read aloud to the class everyday. Here are five days’ worth of ideas for how to do your very own book study:

Day 1

  • Introduce the book to your students. Tell your students why you have chosen your particular book and what you hope to do with it. Take ideas and suggestions from your students.
  • Create a chart with them on large chart paper. Title the chart “KWL,” which stands for “What I Know, What I Want to Know, and What I Have Learned.” The students can fill in the K and the W before reading the book, after they have done a picture walk. Students can also predict what the reading will be about.

Day 2

  • Let your students read the book (or read it aloud to them). If you are letting your students read it individually or with a partner, make sure that you have enough copies of the text.
  • Help students to create a word bank of important words that they come across and words that they do not know.
  • At the end of your session on this day, fill in the “W” on your chart about what students have learned that day from their reading.

Day 3

  • On this day, focus on the author (and possibly the illustrator) of your book. Bring in biographies and online information about your author so that the students are aware of who wrote the book.
  • When you introduce authors to students, they realize that people who write books are real people, just like them. Ask them to find similarities between their own lives and the author’s life.
  • One great book I like to do this with is Tommy DePaola’s The Art Lesson. This book follows the thoughts of a young student, Tommy, who wants to be an artist; the fun comes when you tell your students that Tommy DePaola wrote this book about himself!

Day 4

  • Revisit your book on this day. Reread the text and go over tricky and important words that students have recorded.
  • Have students illustrate and write about their favorite part in the book. They can write describing words, sentences, and even paragraphs (depending on the grade). Allow your students to share their ideas and discover similarities and differences between their illustrations and those found in the book.

Day 5

  • Celebrate your book choice! Reread the text to the children and finish the “KWL” chart. Children should be able to identify what they have learned while reading the book. Ask children if they answered all of their questions about what they wanted to know.
  • If they did not answer their questions, help them discover places where they can look to find answers. This could start a student-led research project!

When you’re finished with your week-long book study, introduce a few more books to your students that are either written by the same author or are written on the same topic. Students that were interested in your book will be interested to read more.
If you are looking for some variation in this book study, ask your students what kinds of projects that they would like to complete. Student choice gives students the chance to express their individuality and to be creative!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia whose good ideas are frequently published on A Learning Experience.

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Filed under Academic Success, comprehension, Reading, reading aloud

{New} Guided Reading Activities

by Rachel Stepp

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Do you struggle with your guided reading group routine? Here is a simple idea for a five-day reading routine for the lower grades (which could easily be adapted for upper grades, as well).

Imagine your class divided into several small groups. You can work with each group for approximately 15-20 minutes depending on the number of students in your class.

Day 1: Selecting and Introducing the Book

If your school has a guided reading book library, then use it to find books that are appropriate for your students. When you first introduce the book, allow the students to do a picture walk (flip through the book, looking at the pictures) and make predictions. Then read the story aloud to the class the first time through. Make sure that your students are using their ‘tracking finger’ to follow along. After the whole group has read the book together, ask the students to whisper read to themselves as you listen in. Make sure that the students read the book enough times so that you have time to walk around the class and listen to each student read.

Day 2: Learning New Words

Begin the second day by reviewing and rereading the book from day one. Check ‘tracking fingers’ like you did previously, and monitor the students as they read to themselves. After they have reread the book, talk about new words from the story. You can write these words on index cards to add them to the word wall, if your class has one. Have your students practice saying the words and talk about their meanings. You can have the students write out new words on individual white boards if time allows.

Day 3: Be an Illustrator!

Once again, begin the day by allowing your students to reread their stories. Ask comprehension questions related to the text and pictures (“Why do you think he did that?” “What’s going on in that picture?” “What did you think about that part?”)–to get students to think deeper about what they’re reading.

Now it’s time to let your students’ creativity shine: tell them that they are going to become the illustrator for a page in the story! After they draw their favorite scene, they can write a caption. Depending on students’ writing abilities, their captions may range from one word to paragraphs. This will help them practice their spelling and attention to story sequence and details.

Day 4: Social Reading

On this day, once again reread the story, but allow your students to do this with a partner. Let them move about the room for a few minutes as they read to each other. Once everyone has had the chance to read, bring them back together and review the new words. The students can try to read new or unfamiliar words on their own by sounding them out or using context clues. At the end of this day, allow your students to take home their books so that they can read them with their families.

Day 5: Working on Writing

Since you sent the books home with your students the day before, you might not have them all back on day five (let’s be realistic). So, on this day, orally talk about the story. Tell the students to write words or sentences summarizing the story’s content. You might need to remind students what the story was about. Allow them to sound out words and work on their phonics skills. Also, while they are writing, ask them to check for spacing between letters and look for neat handwriting. Children can use their index fingers as a guide for how much space to leave between words.

These five days of guided reading plans are simple enough to be adapted to many classrooms and guided reading units. One final tip: Listen to your students read aloud during guided reading. This may be the only time that you will be able to hear them read one-on-one. One of the purposes of guided reading is to get to know your students’ abilities on an individualized basis, and after this week’s worth of activities, you will have witnessed oral reading, vocabulary skills, comprehension, interpersonal skills, writing, summarizing and drawing. Not too shabby for one week!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia whose good ideas are frequently published on A Learning Experience.


Filed under Academic Success, comprehension, Cooperative Learning, Reading, reading aloud

Quick and Easy Review Activity

by Kelli Lewis

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Want an easy way to review concepts you’re currently studying? Make a “Talk About It Box”! A “Talk About It Box” is simply a small box (like an empty tissue box) that’s been decorated and filled with question strips that relate to a current topic of study. During lulls in the day (or transition times), you can pull out a strip and call on a student to answer the question. You could even pull one for every student and tell them that as soon as they answer their question, they can line up for lunch/ get their coat for recess/ stand behind their chair, etc.

To make this, you’ll need:

  • an empty Kleenex box
  • construction paper
  • markers
  • strips of cardstock paper OR index cards (laminated if you want to reuse them)
  • stickers or other decorative materials (optional)

1.) First, cover the tissue box with construction paper, leaving the hole open at the top.

2.) Think of prompts or questions to write on the strips or cards. These questions can relate to a current unit (How many planets are in our solar system?) or be general discussion questions (What’s one new thought you had during science today?). They could even be “get to know you” questions (What’s your favorite game to play at home?)

3.) Use markers, stickers, and any other decorative materials to decorate your box.

4.) Place the prompt/question strips/cards into the top hole of the box, and voila! You’re ready to go!

When to “Talk About It”:

This is a great way to keep kids engaged during transition times, and also an impressive way to use ‘down time’ if an administrator pops in while you’re lining up for lunch or switching between subjects! Substitute teachers could even use it if they’re in your room and need a way to control chaos when returning after lunch or specials.

How to Fill the Question Strips:

You could have students come up with their own prompts/questions if you teach older grades. For younger grades, here are just a few to get you started:

-Name two things that you would find in the kitchen.

-What are two words that start with the /f/ sound?

-What is the last letter in the alphabet?

-Name three types of fruit.

-Name two pieces of clothing you would wear in the winter.

-What noise would you make if you were a cow?

-What number comes after 10?

-Name two words that end with a /t/ sound.

-Name a green vegetable.

-Name a primary color.

Now, go Talk About It!

Kelly Lewis is a graduate student a The University of Georgia and a regular contributor to A Learning Experience.


Filed under Activities, Assessments, Behavior Management, Classroom Community

Parent Volunteers: How to Utilize Them

by Rachel Stepp

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Do you have parents that want to assist you in your classroom? It can be rewarding for you and your students if parents volunteer their time to come and help out. Here are a few ways to invite parents into your classroom:


About halfway through the day, students begin to get hungry and unfocused. Lunch was either hours ago or it’s still hours away. You may already provide a snack time, where students are allowed to eat a “nutritious” snack from home, but what if you asked parent volunteers to sign up for a special whole-class snack time periodically?

You can set up a snack schedule so that parents know in advance when to pack snacks for the class. Parents can either be helpers by simply providing the food, or they can actually come into the classroom during snack time and help pass out the snacks. This gives parents time to observe their children socializing and to see what is going on in the classroom.

Reading Buddies

One of my favorite ways to bring parent volunteers into the classroom is to ask them to be reading buddies to your students. Parents will come in once a week during reading time and pull students to the hallway or the back of the room to read one-on-one with them. This gives students the extra attention that they might need. You can give your parent volunteer some materials or activities that they could do with the students. Both your students and parents will benefit from the time spent mentoring.

Lunch Monitors

If your lunch period and cafeteria seem a bit out of control and hectic each day, it might be a good idea to ask a parent to come be a lunchroom monitor. Parents could sign up for any time slot that they wanted to come help. Lunchroom monitors could help students with their trays, make sure students have all of their utensils and are able to open all of their food, and help control cafeteria volume.

Bulletin Board Sign-Up

Do you have a bulletin board in your classroom? If so, you know how time consuming it can be to put it up and take it down regularly. What if you had parents sign up to be responsible for the bulletin board all year? A different parent could take the board every month, and–sticking to an academically relevant theme that you provide–they create and decorate the bulletin board for the class. You could also provide them with student work or thematic poster sets to incorporate…or not! This idea always leads to the MOST creative bulletin boards. Believe me, moms take this task very seriously (especially those who are gifted scrapbookers!!).


Around the holidays, you may celebrate the holidays of the season–or even celebrate a culture or tradition that your class has been learning about. While most of us allow (or ask!) parents to send in materials and supplies for our celebrations, you may also want to ask several trusty parents to come in to monitor, crowd control, and help keep the celebration organized. It is fun to have some creative time in your classroom, but it is more fun when you do not have to worry about all the details yourself!

However you decide to incorporate parent volunteers into your classroom, make sure that you have your school’s permission to do so. Parents might need to sign forms and possibly even get background checks to come into your classroom and work with your students. This might seem like a hassle, but it is for the safety of the students and will benefit everyone involved. So go ahead and pass out those volunteer sign up sheets!

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, Parenting

Solutions for the Changing Seasons

by Rachel Stepp

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As fall progresses and the weather gets cooler, it is time to adapt to the changes that the environment goes through. There are a few things that you can do to help yourself and your students transition smoothly. Consider these suggestions to create a classroom where students are aware of their environment:

  1. Talk About It. First, have a discussion with your students about the seasons and the local weather. Discuss weather patterns and how it feels outside. Talk about different holidays that happen during fall and winter and how your students feel during those holidays. Ask your students to recall how they dress during the holidays. This will help raise your students’ awareness about the weather outside.
  2. Make Room. You might need to adapt your classroom to the weather changes, as well. Make sure lockers, cubbies and book bag hooks are cleaned out to make room for large, fluffy coats.
  3. Play Away! If outdoor recess is a regular part of your day, you may want to come up with a stash of indoor activities to have on-hand for those just-too-cold days. Board games, art projects or team-building activities are fun alternatives. For some great ideas, check out, a site brimming with indoor activities. Who knows…some students may even enjoy indoor recess more than the regular outdoor recess!
  4. Give Back. Encourage your students to participate in some type of service project for their community during this time. You can organize a canned food drive, coat/blanket drive, or a Thanksgiving food drive. Students and their families will enjoy helping their peers and other people from the community have a good holiday season. Talk to your school’s counselor about families that might need donations or how to organize this type of service project.

By using some or all of these ideas, you can help your students prepare for the weather changes. The transition between fall and winter is a beautiful time of year to be celebrated…and enjoyed!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia who is full of good ideas to share on A Learning Experience!

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Filed under Activities, Classroom Community