Monthly Archives: February 2011

Count ’em one, two, three…!

Getting the Best Out of Your Bears

by Rachel Stepp

Comment on this post to win a $20 School Box gift card. Winners are chosen each month!

It is not unusual to see a set or two of counting bears in an elementary school classroom. If you haven’t ever seen a set, they are small, colored bears that come in different sizes and colors. They are used to promote sorting, counting, patterns, and much more! But it is easy to let them become dust collectors if you are not careful! So, here are a few ideas about how you can use these colorful plastic critters in your classroom.


To promote sorting in your classroom, you can give each child a handful of bears. Ask the children to sort the bears in the following w

ays: by size (big and small), by color (blue, red, green, yellow), and by size and color. You can also use color coordinated bowls or plates to sort the bears. For example, ask your students to put all of the red bears in the red bowl.


Since the bears vary in sizes and colors, you can use them to make patterns. If you are working on AB patterns, you can let your students create many different patterns based on colors or size. Ask students to pair up and make patterns. Then have students work with their partners to guess the different patterns or continue the patterns.


If your students are beginning to count and explore numbers, have them count the number of bears in a bowl and then record the number. You can have several bowls set up around your classroom with different numbers of bears in them. Have students walk around the room and “collect data” from the bear bowls. Students can practice counting and writing numbers. Have students compare their answers with others and recount the bears if necessary.

Book Connection:

One of my favorite books to use with the bears is Teddy Bear Counting by Barbara Barbieri McGrath because it depicts most of these aspects into a picture book. You can work with this book as a whole group or individually. You can have students at their own desks with an assortment of bears so that they can follow along with you as you read. Have students create the same pattern that is shown throughout the book. This will incorporate following directions, listening and comprehension skills. The book is available at The School Box for less than $10!

Now it’s time to go find your favorite little bear friends and put them to work!

Looking for a good set of counting bears? Check out these cuties from The School Box: Three Bear Family Counting Bears.

For more counting games and activities, click here.

To toss your name in the hat to win a $20 School Box gift card (which would pay for those cute counting bears), comment on this post below!

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


Filed under Centers, Math, Reading, Uncategorized

January Comment Winner!

We’ve got a winner, folks! Our (randomly selected) comment winner for this month is…

Comment Winner: June

Original Comment (on A Puzzling Holiday post):

I’ve added thekidzpage to my favorites. My students will love this site. I agree that it builds many cognitive skills like visual processing and reasoning and logic. Some of our students have not enjoyed the benefits of puzzles at home, so this free site will enrich our classroom. Thanks!

Congrats, June!! Pam from The School Box will be in touch shortly with details about claiming your $20 School Box gift card!

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Filed under Teacher Inspiration, Teaching, Uncategorized

A Learning Experience

Know what I love? The community and fellowship we achieve by sharing ideas for working with children. Whether we’re educators, parents, or both, we have a common bond: our passion for imparting the best to children. That’s what A Learning Experience is all about…and you are a vital part of this community.

For those of you who commented on our articles in the past few weeks, a big special THANK YOU goes out to you. We love (love) seeing how your thoughts add to the original articles. It’s amazing what we learn when we put our heads together.

Thanks to all of you, A Learning Experience continues to grow…and, most importantly, continues to stand out as an authentic resource for creative ideas and inspiration. I hope you keep joining us here and sharing your wisdom!

And, if you’d like to submit an article for us to publish on A Learning Experience (which scores you a $35 gift card to The School Box and a nice little addition for the ol’ resume), simply e-mail a 250-350 word article to Articles on a variety of educational topics are always welcome!

Warm regards,

Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.
Editor of A Learning Experience

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Filed under Motivation, Teacher Inspiration, Teaching

The Beat Down on Bullying

by Rachel Stepp

Comment on this post to enter to win a $20 School Box gift card. A winner is drawn each month!

In schools across the nation, bullying has become a serious issue for many teachers, parents and students. It’s all over the media, as well: there has been a concerning rise in bullying incidents, as well as a rise in the intensity and severity of bullying. As teachers, we must work hard to create classrooms that reduce and eliminate bullying behaviors. Here are a few tips to make your classroom and school a peaceful place.

1. Teach your students about bullying.

This idea sounds simple and obvious. But, as teachers, sometimes we get caught up in the academic curriculum and neglect social curriculum. It’s important for children to be able to identify bullies and bullying behaviors. For younger grades, you can help them do this by reading pictures books such as The Berenstain Bears and the Bully by Stan and Jan Berenstain and then having discussions with your students about what bullies do, who victims can be, and how bullying makes others feel.

Older grades especially benefit from such pointed conversations: honest discussions provide a safe forum for conversations and accountability. This will give your students an idea about how to identify bullies, and it may even let some students know that they are being bullies.

2. Eliminate stress that might cause bullying behaviors.

Many students tend to bully because they are negatively affected by something else in their lives. For example, it has been shown that students sometimes feel overwhelmed and pressured by constant testing and examinations; when students subconsciously feel like failures, they can lash out at others.

As teachers, we can reduce these feelings by lessening the stress of testing. Implement creative ways to assess in your classroom like individual creative projects, observation assessments and personal goals. When students feel ownership over their learning, they are more likely to enjoy it and retain information learned…and less likely to exhibit hostility.

3. Give students tools and information on how to deal with bullying.

One of the main problems with bullying is that students don’t know what to do when they are the victim. They are scared to speak out against the bully because they don’t know what will happen next. We can give our students ideas about the safe and smartest options, such as letting an adult know about the problem and protecting yourself from situations involving the bully. Here are a few concrete ideas:

  • Play a “role playing” game like Bullies, Victims & Bystanders (available at The School Box). This game presents bullying in a concrete way for students, raising their awareness of bullying and its seriousness.
  • Read Stop Picking On Me (A First Look At Series), which helps students discuss how they feel when they are bullied and what they can do about it.
  • Invite your school counselor into your classroom to host a discussion.
  • For more activities and ideas for younger students, check out The Anti Bullying and Teasing Book (also at The School Box).

Overall, it’s important to remember that both bullies and victims need support. For more information, talk to your school’s counselor about programs and age-appropriate books you can use in your classroom. Let’s work together to help protect our students and create peaceful atmospheres!

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

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Filed under Bullying, Classroom Community

Rockin’ through the Verbals!

Comment on this post to enter to win a $20 School Box gift card. One commenter wins each month!

by Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed.

When I was a middle school Language Arts teacher, I had to teach a topic about which I (although I’m ashamed to admit) was unfamiliar: verbals.

I can recall reciting the definitions of the three types of verbals to a class that was less than enthused, and I kept thinking, “I’m saying it, so they must be getting it, right?” Wrong! I instantly realized my homework: get creative with teaching verbals.

First thing’s first: What are verbals?

Yeah, I asked myself that, too. In a nutshell, a verbal is a verb that acts like another part of speech such as a noun, adjective, or adverb. There are three types: gerunds, participles, and infinitives:

  • A gerund is a form of a verb that functions as a noun and always ends in –ing.

Gerund Example: Learning can be hard work.

  • A participle is a form of a verb that functions as an adjective and ends in –ing, -en, or –ed.

Participle Example: My school promotes an exciting learning environment.

  • An infinitive is a form of a verb that functions as an adjective, adverb, or noun and includes to plus the base form of the verb.

Infinitive Example: I can’t wait to learn about verbals!

That concludes your grammar lesson for the day….

Sounds pretty dry, huh? So how do you make this grammar lesson more exciting?

Speak to students on their level! I realized that there are so many examples of verbals in music and movies, so I challenged them (and myself!) to seek songs, movie titles, band names, etc that contained a verbal. I first started with my examples, but then the students quickly caught on and added to the list (click here for our list, which I made into a printable activity sheet!). The next thing I knew, we had a pretty good list going, but the best part was… the students were EXCITED about learning!

I have to admit, some of the items on our list are a bit of a stretch. You might have to put them in a complete sentence to make the true gerund or participle technically work (the infinitive is much easier to identify). But there again, that’s how grammar can be… elusive and unclear at times! This too becomes a great teaching moment for the practicality of grammar.

So, I hope this helps you middle school English teachers in your quest to have those learners actually understand (and retain!) these tricky little things we call verbals! By the way, did you catch the verbal in the title of this article? : )

For some easy ways to review grammar skills, check out these activity books from The School Box!

Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed., teaches fifth grade at a private school in Atlanta, where she was recently named the 2010-2011 Teacher of the Year! Congratulations, Kristin! She also works at The School Box at Southlake during the summer months. We love when she contributes her stellar teaching ideas to A Learning Experience.

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Filed under Activities, grammar, Language Arts, Writing

Creating a Class Quilt

Comment on this post to win a $20 School Box Gift Card! A new winner is selected every month.

By Rachel Stepp

One of my favorite projects is creating a class quilt (out of paper…no needles required :). This activity promotes class unity, reinforces summarizing skills, uses the strategies of visualizing, synthesizing and connecting, and creates a stunning bulletin board or wall display. How’s that for multi-tasking?

Begin with a Book

To introduce this idea, read The Quilt Story by Tony Johnston. Teach your class about the history of quilts, including how women used to use scraps from old clothing to piece together a warm quilt. Talk about how quilts can tell stories because of their different scraps. Your class will be making a quilt that will tell a story they want to share.

Quilting Steps

  1. Brainstorm different stories your students might want to tell. List their ideas on the board, which may include: something I like to do at school, all about me (personality and interests), my favorite memory, my favorite thing that we have studied this year, all about my pet, all about my family, etc.
  2. Give each student a square of white construction paper (an 8″ square is easy to cut from an 8×10 sheet, and white makes a nice background for student pictures).
  3. First, students should write a rough draft of their paragraph (or sentence, depending on age level) on notebook paper. Discuss using sensory details, correct paragraph format, etc. Modeling a sample paragraph on the board, first, is a wise idea before students begin.
  4. Their paragraphs/sentences need to be rewritten in a final draft on white paper (or a notecard) and glued onto their squares, near the bottom (to leave room for an illustration).
  5. Once their paragraphs/sentences are complete, they can begin drawing a scene on their white square to illustrate their writing.
  6. When each child has finished, mount each white square on a larger square of colored construction paper. You may choose to laminate each mounted square for a polished look, but it’s not necessary. Punch a hole in each of the four corners of the colored squares, and use yarn to tie the squares together to look like a quilt. Yarn bows look especially cute and “quilt-y.” If you have an odd number of students, use plain colored construction paper squares randomly throughout the quilt to make an even number so the quilt forms an even rectangle when pieced together.
  7. To save time, the white squares could also simply be glued to a large piece of colored bulletin board paper to make one large quilt.
  8. Be sure to give your quilt a title and hang it in a visible place so that other classes can see it. This will help to share the story of your classroom throughout the school.

This idea could also be modified as a creative book report idea: each student could create a square to summarize a book or a different chapter. The quilt could even be used to sequence an historical event or time period, like the Civil War.

By making a class quilt, your students will be able to see that they can all work together to create a masterpiece. To continue with the theme of quilts, you can invite parents into the classroom to bring in family quilts. Student connections will abound, making this activity a memorable one for all!

If your students get inspired, they may want to make a “real” quilt at home with this beginner’s “knot quilt” kit from The School Box. So darn cute!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia who is full of creative ideas.


Filed under Activities, Art, Assessments, Classroom Community, Classroom Decor, comprehension, Cooperative Learning, creative writing, grammar, Reading, Writing

Interactive Math Warm-Up Idea

Comment on this post to win a $20 gift card to The School Box! One winner is selected each month.

by Elizabeth D. Cossick, M. Ed.

So, you’re looking for a fun way to begin your math class each day. It needs to be quick, engaging and easy to execute. Well, look no further because we’ve got a great one that students of ALL ages love–and it seriously couldn’t be easier.


Mini white or black boards (one per child)

White board marker or piece of chalk (one per child)


  1. Pass out white/black boards and respective writing instruments to your students. Tell them that they will use their board to participate in some fun math races.
  2. Then, simply call out math equations that are on-par with your class’s ability level or current topics of study. Everything from simple addition to complex long division and algebra equations will work for this activity.
  3. The students solve the problems and write the answer on their boards as quickly as possible. When they have their answer written, they silently hold their board above their heads.
  4. Award small prizes daily (or keep track of points and award a larger prize, like a full-sized candy bar, to one “Math Champion” each month). Prizes can be awarded for: first correct answer, second correct answer, third correct answer (to keep students working even after the first board gets raised into the air), neatest writing, or best display of steps (if “show your work” is a necessary instruction).
  5. At the end of the activity, you can collect the boards or allow students to keep them in their desks for drawing and writing when they finish their work.

Your students will look forward to this fast-paced activity…almost as much as they’ll look forward to writing on their own white/black board!

Helpful Hints: Laminated pieces of white poster board, cut into 9 x 12 sheets, also make good erasable boards for use with dry erase markers. They may have to be replaced after a few months, but they’re cheap and easy to make. And, old (clean :) socks make great erasers, as well as holders for chalk and white-board markers.

To purchase mini white or black boards and pens/chalk, visit The School Box…or check out these links:


Filed under Geometry, Math, Motivation, Multiplication, Test Prep

Dancing With the Stars (a school dance…with a twist)

Comment on this article and you could win a $20 School Box Gift Card! One lucky commenter each month wins!

Dance the Night Away…with a Little Twist!

by Rachel Stepp

If your school has a school-wide danced planned in the spring, then you might want to suggest a way to add a ‘twist’ to the dance! It’s hard to please everyone’s groove style with one theme, such as a “Sock-Hop,” but you can easily dance through ALL of the decades with the help of teachers throughout your school.

Here’s How to Get Your Groove On:

Plan a night for the school dance where the main dancing action will take place in a large area like a gym or cafeteria. In this area, have a DJ, cool decorations, and lots of room to move around! This room can be a place for participant games and group dances, too. In a nearby room, have refreshments so that people can revive themselves after hours of fun.

But, Here’s the Twist:

Get all of the grade levels and classes involved leading up to the dance by allowing different grades/classrooms to represent different decades throughout history. For example, one grade level can represent the 80’s. In these classrooms during the weeks or month before the dance, teachers might dress in their neon and acid-washed jeans with wavy-teased hair every Friday.

Then, on the night of the dance, these classrooms can become smaller dance areas with music from their selected decade. Push the desks against the wall, bring in lights and lamps, and pump up the jam! The more that the teachers get involved in their decade, the more authentic the experience will be. And, to add to the festivities, each classroom can host decade-related contests, like “best twist,” “coolest tie-dye” and “biggest hair.”

Another twist? Classrooms/grade levels could be themed by musical genre: country western, hip-hop, Motown, Big Band, Glee…the possibilities for music and accompanying decor are endless!

Here’s How to Get Parents Involved:

Since this is a family function at school, be sure to include something around the school that parents might enjoy. You can host a silent auction in one classroom. Ask for donations of prizes from your school partners and local vendors. Set up a silent auction room where parents can visit and bid throughout the night. Announce winners at the end of the night, and allow the parents that leave early to pick up prizes from the front office the following days. Since the prizes will be donations, this activity will help to pay for the whole dance event…and then some!

And as always, make sure you have a camera handy so that pictures can be published in the yearbook or school newsletter. Kodak moments are sure to abound!

Looking for the perfect music to get you inspired? Check out these two rockin’ CDs that include instructions for simple choreographed dances to accompany classics like Proud Mary, Please Mr. Postman, and ABC (on the Motown CD) and Who Let the Dogs Out, Mambo Number 5, and Wipeout (on the Dance Party Fun CD) from The School Box. Groovy, dude.

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia…and a bountiful resource of creative ideas!

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Filed under Activities, Classroom Community, Classroom Decor, Extracurricular

Will You Be My…?

by Rachel Stepp

Comment on this article for a chance to win a $20 gift card to The School Box. One lucky commenter wins each month!

Valentine’s Day is one of those wishy-washy holidays. You know, the kind that are sort of tough to justify academically but you’d be black-listed by your students if you completely ignored it. So, I’ve compiled some fun ways to recognize Valentine’s Day in your classroom while promoting literacy (check!), raising school funds (ca-ching!), and building classroom community (sweet!).

Val-Day Idea One: In Love with Literature

Read books to your students about the history or traditions of the holiday. For younger students, my favorite is Little Critter: Happy Valentine’s Day, Little Critter! by Mercer Mayer. For older grades, try Valentine’s Day (Holiday Histories) by Kathryn A. Imler. You can base classroom discussions around what people might do on Valentine’s Day and why we still celebrate the holiday in America.

Val-Day Idea Two: Will You Be My…Friend?

Of course, the traditional idea of having students exchange cards and sweets is ever popular with the kiddos. Remember to encourage students to bring a card for everyone if they are going to bring any (sending home a class list ahead of time helps with this goal). Depending on how involved you want the celebration to be, you can either have your students make shoebox mailboxes or decorate Valentine bags. For the shoebox mailboxes, students can bring in shoeboxes and decorate them with construction paper, stickers, paint, and more. For bags, the same can be done with brown or colored lunch bags (eliminates the need for students to bring in boxes). Allow students to place their boxes/bags on their desks and then invite students to walk around and deliver cards.

Val-Day Three: Cash for Carnations

If you want to celebrate Valentine’s Day on a larger scale, encourage your school to participate in a school-wide function. One of my favorite school-wide activities for Valentine’s Day is a carnation sale run by the PTA/PTO. A sale table is set up at the beginning of the week where students can order carnations in advance, which also helps the organization know how many to buy. On Valentine’s Day, carnations are delivered to classrooms with tags on them to say who they are for and who they are from. This allows students to buy carnations for others throughout their school. They can also buy them for their family members at home. Money raised can be used to support other school functions. (Hint: middle-schoolers LOVE this idea).

Valentine’s Day is a day to remember the ones you love…and the job you love! Make the day something that you and your students will enjoy.

For more Valentine-themed goodies for your home and classroom, check out The School Box’s good ideas!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia who is a constant resource of great ideas!


Filed under Activities, Classroom Community, Holidays, Reading, reading aloud

My Own Little Fishy! (class pets made easy)

by Rachel Stepp

Comment on this post to win a $20 School Box gift card! One commenter each month wins!!

Do you have a class pet that needs constant care, feeding, and attention? Well, if you’re tired of having the pet responsibility in your classroom, but you want your students to feel like they have their own “pet,” you can help them make their own fish tanks that they can take home! (Don’t worry… no fish will be harmed in the making of this craft!)

Materials: (per child)

– One 2-liter clear soda bottle

– Enough fish tank rocks to fill the bottom of the bottle

– A foot of fishing line

– A small fishing sinker

– Styrofoam tray from your grocer’s local meat packaging facility

– Scissors

– Blue food coloring

– Markers

– Water


  1. Cut the shape of a fish from the foam tray. The fist has to be small enough to fit through the top of the 2 liter bottle.
  2. Allow your students to draw on their fish with permanent markers.
  3. Attach the fishing line to the fish by piercing a small hole in the fish and tying a knot. Make sure that your line between the sinker and the fish is no longer than the soda bottle.
  4. Attach the fishing sinker to the other end of the fishing wire by tying another knot.
  5. Fill the bottom of the soda bottle with fish tank rocks.
  6. Drop your foam fish into the bottle, sinker side first.
  7. Fill the bottle with water and add blue food coloring.
  8. Use hot glue to secure the lid onto the top of the soda bottle.

Once you have done the above steps, your little fish should float to the top of the bottle. The blue food coloring will make it appear that your fish always has clean, sparkling water! To adapt this project on a smaller scale, you can use smaller soda bottles so that they are more manageable for smaller children.

Writing Tie-Ins:

And, now is the perfect time to introduce a fun writing project! Here are a couple “fishy” ideas to get you started:

  • Descriptive Writing: Write a paragraph introducing your fish. Include all the “vitals”: name, age, description, likes/dislikes, family, background/history, place of origin, etc.
  • Fiction/Creative Writing: Write the story of how your fish came to live in your bottle. Where was he born? How did she get into the bottle? What does he like about the bottle? Dislike? What does he like to do all day?
  • Nonfiction Writing: Research freshwater fish, saltwater fish, fish habitats, etc. What did you learn from your research? Include 3-5 facts about fish.
  • Expository Writing: How to catch a fish. Research the steps to fishing, from finding bait to reeling ’em in. Write the steps as a “How To Catch A Fish” guidebook for beginner fishermen.

For some other fishy-related classroom ideas, check out The School’s goodies. The inflatable sea creatures are some of my favorites. :)

And here’s an idea for a super unique (and educational) classroom pet: A Worm Farm!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia and a sharer of many great classroom ideas!


Filed under Activities, Art, creative writing, Science, Writing