Monthly Archives: January 2011


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adapted from Rachel Stepp

Okay, so this post may not be as exciting as the World Cup, but they do have something in common: in both, goals are a very good thing!

By now, your crew is settled back into the routine of school after the holidays, but this doesn’t mean life has to be ho-hum. To keep students motivated for the remainder of the year, give them a little ownership over their learning. One of the best ways to do this? Setting goals.

A Goal-Setting Lesson Plan

  1. Talk about different types of goals, such as short term and long term, personal goals and academic goals. Ask: Why would we want to set goals? Discuss the importance of visualizing growth and success. You have to conceive it before you can achieve it!
  2. As a class, come up with several categories for goals that the students would like to set. Write the categories on the board or chart paper as you brainstorm. Some ideas: Academic, Family, Friends, Future, Sports/Hobbies/Talents, or Projects.
  3. Then, once you’ve selected three to five categories as a class, have students brainstorm one or two specific goals for themselves for each category. Discuss and model how to create specific, attainable goals that are within their control (i.e. “make every soccer practice until May,” rather than “win every game”).
  4. After students have brainstormed individually, allow them to work with a partner to share their goals and provide feedback to each other.
  5. Once your students have solidified their ideas, give them strips of different colored construction paper. Encourage students to write one goal on each piece of paper. Allow them to write anonymously if they would like.
  6. Once students have written the goals, arrange the strips of paper in a firework pattern and build a bulletin board or a door display that showcases the explosion student-generated goals. This festive display will be a daily reminder for students of what they plan on achieving…and the celebration that can happen when a goal is met!
  7. Then, follow up: on a regular basis (morning work is a great time), have students journal on how they’re doing with their goals. Do they need to tweak any of the goals? Allow a time for students to share their progress…and be sure to celebrate successes, too!

And…don’t forget to set goals for yourself, too. Just because you’re the teacher doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve something new and great everyday!

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



Filed under Academic Success, Behavior Management, Classroom Community, Motivation

Educator’s Day!!

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Okay, so you just have to know about this event: This Saturday, January 29, is the biggest sale at The School Box all year. Did you hear that? ALL YEAR, ladies and gents. I am more than a little excited.

But, wait, don’t tune out if you’re not a teacher. The School Box is also the PERFECT place to get craft supplies, kiddie room decor and furniture, the best book titles for all ages, tutoring & extra practice materials for home…and (my personal fave) birthday and baby shower gifts. Have you seen their awesome toy and game aisles? Quality stuff sans the lead paint (like Melissa & Doug). And now it’ll all be ON SALE!!! “Stock up” is the golden rule for a balanced birthday budget.

The Details:

Date: January 29, 2011

Where: At *every* School Box location. To find one near you, check out

Discounts: Available for parents, teachers, home-schoolers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, third cousins twice removed…everyone! Draw an apple at checkout, and the apple will determine the discount on your total purchase (10%, 20%, 30%, 40%).

Oh Goody Goody: The first 40 customers will receive special goody bags.  Drawings will also be done for $50 prizes, and one lucky duck will win a $250 Gift Certificate!!!

This is one of the best (and most fun!) sales for quality children’s games, supplies and the like. Just thought you should know about it!

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Filed under Activities, Classroom Community, Classroom Decor, Critical Thinking, Free Stuff!, Games, Geography, History, Holidays, Parenting, Phonics, Reading, Science, Study Skills, Teacher Inspiration

a puzzling holiday

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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So, whatcha doin’ on January 29? How about…a jigsaw puzzle??

If this wasn’t on your agenda this week, it should be! January 29 is National Puzzle Day. And, since puzzles are such a great way to incorporate cooperative learning while sharpening the ol’ noggin, we think we should all jump on the bandwagon of celebrating this holiday. Who’s in?

Need more convincing?

“Doing jigsaw puzzles can help build cognitive skills like visual processing, logic and reasoning, attention, and processing speed,” says Kristen Thompson, owner of LearningRx, a brain training center in Kennesaw, Georgia, that helps students overcome learning struggles. Puzzles rank at the top of their list for an impactful way to improve critical thinking.

Did You Know???

And now, here for your puzzling pleasure, are some random facts about puzzles that would impress even Alex Trebek:

· Jigsaw puzzles originated in the 1760s when maps were pasted onto wood and dissected.

· In 2008, more than 15,000 people in Ravensburg, Germany, assembled a nearly 6,500-square-foot puzzle in town square. The puzzle had 1,141,800 pieces.

· In the 1930s, puzzle manufacturer Einson Freeman convinced a toothbrush company to give away a puzzle with every toothbrush purchase. More than one million toothbrushes sold.

· No one is sure who invented National Puzzle Day, but there are various clubs dedicated to the love of puzzles.

There are lots of places online where kids can do jigsaw puzzles for free! Here’s a good starting place:

There is also a great selection of high quality puzzles for all ages available on-line from our sponsor, The School Box:


Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Cooperative Learning, Critical Thinking

A Wintry Way to Review Patterns!

by Rachel Stepp

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Here’s an imaginative way to create a wintry wonderland in your classroom and also review patterns and counting!

Paper Chains

  1. First start by creating paper chains that you can hang from the ceiling. These chains can be made with different shades of blue and white construction paper.
  2. Mark strips on the paper using a ruler. Place the ruler along the paper and just make the strips as wide as the ruler. (No real measurement is necessary!) Older students can do this themselves. Make enough sheets for each student to have around 20 strips in several different colors of paper.
  3. Once your students have their paper, allow them to cut the strips along the lines.
  4. Now, teach (or review) patterns. Explain and model various patterns such as ABAB or ABBABB. For upper elementary/middle grades, this would also be a great time to get in a little literary integration by whipping out some poetry with various rhyme schemes. You can compare the rhyme schemes with the paper patterns…and students could even copy various lines of poetry onto their strips. For a great list of printable winter-themed rhyming poems, check out Apples 4 the Teacher.
  5. After students have had time to explore different patterns, teach them how to make a paper chain using their strips. Encourage them to hold the glued links for ten seconds to secure the glue. This will also help them count to 10 and review their numbers.
  6. Once your students have made paper chains, connect all of the chains together and hang them across the classroom from the ceiling. The classroom will be filled with snowy skies when you are all done!

(If your county’s fire marshall is anti-ceiling-hanging, you can hang the chains from bulletin boards, white boards, walls and doorways instead. Just as magical!)

Glitter Snowflakes

  1. Add a little extra pizazz to your room with snowflakes from your students. Students just start with a regular piece of white (or light blue) paper. Then have students fold the paper multiple times, until it is a small, folded rectangle. They can fold as many times as they’d like…so long as scissors can still penetrate the folds.
  2. Next, students will cut small snips and shapes out of the edges of their folded rectangle. They can also snip and round out corners. You can review shapes with this lesson (and practice fine motor coordination) by guiding the students in cutting out specific shapes: triangles, circles, squares, rectangles, etc.
  3. Then, when students unfold their snipped paper, voila! A unique snowflake.
  4. Add some glitter so they sparkle in the light.

You can also use the idea of reflection and have students draw half of a snowflake and then reflect their drawing on the other side of their paper.

Then, you could follow up these chilly activities by reading your favorite winter storybook to your class. I love Jan Brett, but if you have another great wintry-themed book suggestion, post it in the comments below! I’d love to hear your favorites!

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

Photo from


Filed under Classroom Decor, Math, Poetry, Reading, reading aloud, Seasons, Uncategorized

Eating my way through…geometry???

by Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed.

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It’s good to teach geometry by showing the students shapes. We discuss them, we point to them, and we even draw them. But have you ever nibbled them?

About halfway into my geometry unit, at the point where the students seems to be glazed over with tons of geometry vocabulary words, I pass out four or five Saltine crackers for each student. After a brief partner discussion where they use math vocabulary to describe one of the crackers, in the large group we discuss the words I hope they used with their partner: polygon, square, right angles, regular sides, estimated length of the sides, perimeter, etc. I then ask the students to “nibble” some of the shapes we’ve been studying. For example, we might nibble a pentagon, and then talk about its features, then eat the cracker. We would also nibble a rhombus, trapezoid, hexagon, or the ever-tricky octagon. With each “nibbling,” we would show off the shape to the group, discuss its features, and then eat the cracker (they love that part!).

Sometimes, to differentiate, I might have stronger students nibble some of the more difficult shapes (trapezoid, parallelogram, or rhombus) while others might be better suited to nibble the shapes that are less challenging. I might even partner up students to nibble two different shapes and then share using math vocabulary.

Short but sweet, this mini-lesson helps to reinforce many math vocabulary words while having a little fun! The students enjoy it immensely, and would eat a whole box of crackers to prove they know their geometry! Food is a great way to get (and keep!) students engaged. Just don’t forget to allow the students to get a sip of water at the end!

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. We love when she contributes her stellar teaching ideas to A Learning Experience!


Filed under Activities, Behavior Management, Classroom Community, Geometry, Math

(Delicious) Sensory Writing with Hershey’s Kisses

by Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed.

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A sweet way to improve writing skills is with a single Hershey’s Kiss!

Have your students take out a sheet of paper and writing instrument, close their eyes, and pretend they’re meeting someone from outer space. They’ll soon have to describe an object from Earth, but they’ll have to explain this object using words that the alien would understand. The words will have to be vivid, descriptive, succinct, perhaps dramatic, but definitely explanatory. While they’re envisioning this scenario, you are passing out one Hershey’s Kiss per student and reminding them that they should keep their eyes closed until further instruction.

Once you’ve passed out a Kiss to each student, tell them that there’s an object in front of them and that they’ll have to write one sentence about seeing this object. The hitch is that they can’t use the words chocolate, Hershey’s, or Kiss – they’ll have to describe this object based only on appearance. They’re not allowed to touch it, just write a descriptive sentence using the sense of sight without using those words.

Next, have the students pick up the object. They should then write a sentence about the object based on their sense of touch, of course without using the words chocolate, Hershey’s or Kiss. They’re not allowed to unwrap the object; they should simply write based on how it feels.

Keep going! Have the students write a sentence based on their sense of smell. At this point, I remind them that a good sentence should have ten or more words (for 5th graders, but adjust as necessary) and good capitalization and punctuation. They should go back to adjust their other sentences, if necessary. Then, the students should use their sense of hearing to describe the sounds the object makes as they unwrap it. Challenge them to write with vivid, descriptive words, not boring and bland ones.

Finally, you guessed it… the students will place the object in their mouth to describe what the object tastes like (but don’t forget to check for any food allergies before this step!). They can opt to chew the object or let it melt, but they should descriptively portray the object using his/her sense of taste.

It’s at this point that I tell the students that they’ve just written a descriptive paragraph based on all five senses, and that when they ever feel a need to pump up a paragraph, they can rely on their senses to add to the description. I encourage them to go back and make this paragraph ‘flow’ by adding an introduction, transitions, and/or a summary statement, as well.

For older students, you could easily adapt this activity to write one paragraph per sense (instead of one sentence). Also, you could have the students name this object or describe its ingredients. Either way, this method definitely challenges the students to “sweeten” their writing abilities!

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.


Filed under Activities, Writing

Edible Earth

by Kristin M. Woolums, M.Ed.

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Try this great mini-lesson for teaching the layers of the earth!

What you need:

• Red hot candies – 1 per child

• Gum drops or spice drops – 1 per child

• Large marshmallows – 1 per child

• Graham cracker crumbs

• Paper plates or napkins for a workstation

What you do:

  1. I begin with a discussion of the inner core. I ask the students to describe what it is like, how we might know this since we’ve never been there, and to name an everyday item that might be similar to its makeup. Since finding something even remotely close to the temperature, density and makeup of the inner core is not feasible in the classroom, I use Red Hot candies (get it? Red hot?)!
  2. Secondly, we discuss how the outer core is somewhat softer than the inner core, but yet still very dense since both of these layers literally have the weight of the world on top of them! I have the students cram (note the real scientific term there: cram) the Red Hot inside the gum/spice drop.
  3. Next, for the mantle, we use the marshmallow. We discuss how the mantle is much more pliable (relatively speaking) than the core, and that the top layer actually “floats” on top of this spongy material. The students should then cram the core (the Red Hot inside the gum/spice drop) into the center of the marshmallow. At this point, the Earth may not look so “earthy” or round, but the point is getting across to the learner.
  4. Finally, have the students lick, but not eat, the outside of the marshmallow. They will then roll this concoction in the graham cracker crumbs to be… you guessed it… the crust. You can easily explain how the crust is a “crackly” surface even though it doesn’t look like it to us, and that it’s made up of plates that truly float on the mantle.
  5. Of course, by this point, the students are asking to “dispose” of their project. They will enjoy eating their Earth, so this is an opportunity to tell them that they’d want to eat a clean Earth, so hopefully they didn’t pollute their Earth. Give them a few moments to enjoy their snack. As a follow-up, I usually have the students describe their model of the Earth – either as a short-answer question on a test or as a quick-write – using science vocabulary and proper terminology.

Food is a great way to get (and keep!) students engaged. They’ll love this lesson because it keeps them engaged while learning, and gives them a sweet treat in the process!

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.


Filed under Activities, Science

A “Snowy” Idea for Indoor Recess!

by Kelli Lewis

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This is a great activity for the month of January. Wintry weather may keep your students indoors during recess, but that doesn’t mean the fun has to be canceled, too!

Chances are, your students are all wishing for snow. Well, how would you like to make your students’ wishes come true, right there inside your own classroom?! Get ready… set… throw! It’s time for an inside snowball fight for your classroom! All you need are lots and lots and lots of cotton balls (and a camera…this activity is definitely a Kodak moment!).

Here’s how to Let It Snow!

  • Have students all gather to the rug, or wherever you see that will be a good place to move around and get some wiggles out. You could even move the desks for this if you think that is a better option. Remember, do not let your students know what is about to happen! They should have NO IDEA!
  • Stand out of sight, with your cotton balls, and don’t let them see you.
  • Stand up and start throwing lots and lots of cotton balls at them.
  • Allow them to pick up the cotton balls and throw them at each other.
  • Whenever you choose, allow your students to then make snow angels in the balls that are left on the floor. They may not actually look like snow angels, but it is always something they really enjoy!! ☺
  • Then, when they get back to their desks, you could have the students write a story about the day it snowed in their classroom, imagining what it would be like if it actually did begin to snow inside! What would they do? What adventures might occur? What conflicts might arise? How would they resolve them?

Kelli Lewis is a graduate student at The University of Georgia–and one of the great teacher-contributors who submits ideas to A Learning Experience.

Do you have ideas to share, too? Write them up into a short article and submit it to If your article gets published on A Learning Experience, you’ll recieve a $35 gift card to The School Box. We always enjoy publishing new contributors!


Filed under Activities, Cooperative Learning, Writing

Comparing: an important life skill

by Kelli Lewis
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Making comparisons is an important skill for life, not to mention a standard for elementary students. Centers can include comparing objects such as buttons, bottle tops, letter tiles, cubes, etc. However, as a class, I’ve found that students enjoy comparing something else even better: each other! Here are some sorting ideas that I’ve used in my classroom before, and the students always ask to do them over and over again.

long hair vs. short hair

Question: Do more students have long hair or short hair?

  1. Estimate. Have the students look around and guess whether they think there are more people in the room who have long hair or short hair.
  2. Observe. Have the students with long hair move to one side of the room and the students with short hair move to the other side of the room. (You can define long hair as below shoulders or below chin– whatever you and your students agree upon.)
  3. Record. Write the numbers of the amounts of long hair and short hair on the board or chart paper.
  4. Compare. Discuss and determine, together as a class, which one is the most and which is the least. Who estimated correctly?

other ideas for comparing:

  • tennis shoes vs. other shoes: Are more students are wearing tennis shoes or other shoes?
  • chairs vs. people: Are more chairs or people in the classroom?
  • jeans vs. other pants: Are more students are wearing jeans or other pants?
  • boys vs. girls: Are more students boys or girls?

And, comparing always leads to a great character lesson, too: It’s important that, as you compare, you don’t accidentally let your comparisons turn into judgments. The fact that we are all different and unique is what makes our class…and our world…so wonderful!

Kelli Lewis is working on her Masters at The University of Georgia, and she is also a regular contributor to A Learning Experience.

Do you have ideas to share, too? Write them up into an article and submit it to If your article gets published on A Learning Experience, you’ll recieve a $35 gift card to The School Box!


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

100th Day of School Activity!

by Kelli Lewis

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The 100th day of school is always a fun time to celebrate…and a great time to incorporate math concepts. Although this particular idea has been done with first graders, the activity can be adapted for other grade levels, as well.

  1. First, you’ll need 100 of 10 different small foods–like raisins, marshmallows, M&Ms, pretzel sticks, Life cereal, goldfish crackers, cheese crackers, Chex cereal, dried cranberries, Cheerios, chocolate chips, etc. (Just be mindful of any food allergies in your class as you select your items.)
  2. Divide the students into groups of about four. You can change this number of group members to accommodate your classroom; group size doesn’t make a difference for this activity.
  3. Now, have each child wash their hands.
  4. Next, place each of the food items in cups on each of the students’ table groups. They should have a cup of each item on their table. Just make sure that the cups have enough items for each student to count out 10 of each item. For example, for a group of four students, you would need a cup of 40 M&M’s for their table. No eating, yet, though… that will come later!
  5. Each student will then receive an empty egg carton (use only 10 holes; cut two off and discard).
  6. Students will then put 10 of each of the items (from the cups) into each of the egg carton holes. So, each student’s egg carton should contain 10 of each of the items in each of the ten holes. (hole 1= 10 raisins, hole 2= 10 marshmallows, hole 3= 10 pretzels, etc.)
  7. You could use this opportunity to teach 10×10=100, 10 groups of ten make 100, fractions (5/10 = 1/2, 2/10 = 1/5, etc.), or any other math concept that is appropriate for your class.
  8. When this is complete, everyone will bring their egg carton to a big bucket and dump it in. This will create a big mixture of all of the snack food items, making a yummy trail mix!
  9. Allow students to eat a small portion of the created mixture for their snack, then bag the rest in take-home baggies for students to take home for their families…so they can continue celebrating their 100th day at home!

Kelli Lewis is a graduate student at The University of Georgia and a wonderful contributor to A Learning Experience!


Filed under Activities, Math