Monthly Archives: March 2011

Mother’s Day Craft: Garden Stepping Stone

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by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

A good Mother’s Day craft needs two simple ingredients to melt Mom’s heart: a child’s hand print and their handmade touch. This idea has both!

How to Make a Garden Stepping Stone

What You’ll Need:

A parent volunteer or two (Dads are ideal to keep Moms out of the loop!)

Quick-Dry Concrete (available at home improvement stores)

Large bucket or wheelbarrow

Garden shovel (for mixing)

Garden spade (for spreading)

Disposable foil pie plates (1 per child)

Small colorful glass or acrylic gems and stones (available at The School Box)

What You’ll Do:

  1. Schedule a couple dads to come help you with this class project. Take your class outside to a sidewalk area near the playground.
  2. Put those dads to work reading the directions on the concrete, adding the right amount of water, and dishing concrete into pie plates. The consistency should be smooth but still thick.
  3. Smooth the concrete into a pie plate. It’s easiest if you arrange for your class to play on the playground (supervised, of course) while you call 3-5 students at a time to make the project with your help on the adjacent sidewalk.
  4. Have the students press their hand prints into the concrete and then press the decorative stones around the print. The stones can be used to make a pattern, word, name, etc. (Tip: Having a hose nearby is handy for rinsing dirty hands! Also, if the hand prints aren’t showing up, allow the concrete to set for a minute and then try again.)
  5. Allow the concrete to set as long as possible before moving the pie plates. Then, move them to a newspaper-covered counter in your classroom to set overnight.
  6. The next day, your students will love popping their creations out of the pie plate molds. Keep pie plates, to use to carry stepping stones home. Allow a solid 24-48 hours of dry time on the newspaper-covered counter before they go home to Mom.

A final word: This project isn’t an easy one, but the results are super impressive. Moms absolutely love this lovely, child-made addition to their gardens!

Photo from


Filed under Art, Holidays, Parenting

February Comment Winner

Drum roll, please???

The randomly selected comment winner for February was June S, whose original comment was posted on A Puzzling Holiday. Congrats to June, who won a $20 School Box gift card!

A March winner will be announced shortly…so go comment on some posts to enter yo’self to win!

Comments Off on February Comment Winner

Filed under Free Stuff!

Cookin’ Up Some Word Muffins! (creative guided reading & center ideas)


by Rachel Stepp

Comment on this post to enter to win a $20 gift card from The School Box! Comment winners are awarded each month.

If you are running out of creative ideas for working with struggling readers, it’s time to make word muffins!

With this activity, students will either work with you to practice phonemic sounds, or they will work independently with a specific list of words.

Student-Teacher Activity (or Guided Reading Lesson)


Muffin tin

Magnetic letters (ideally more than one set in various fonts)


1. Explain to your student that he or she will be combining special “letter ingredients” to create word muffins.

2. In this activity, you will be working on phonemic awareness and letter sounds. Display all of the magnetic letters so that the student can see them all at once. Then, say a word aloud and ask the student to spell it out with the letters.

3. If the student is struggling while trying to spell the word out, then help them sound it out by saying the word sound-by-sound.

4. After the student creates the word using the magnetic letters, put all of the letters for that word in one muffin cup. Yea! You have just created a word muffin!

5. Following that same procedure, allow your student to fill up the pan with words.

Student Solo Activity (or Center)

The procedure is similar if students are working independently to create word muffins.


1. First, create a list of scrambled words.

2. Prepare the word muffin tin by putting the letters for the scrambled words in each of the muffin cups. (So, each cup will hold the letters for a different word.)

3. Students will take all of the letters out of one cup at a time and try to unscramble them to form a word. If they are unaware of a word, they will need to sound it out.

4. You can ask your students to write down their unscrambled words on a piece of paper so that you can review their answers later.

TIP: You will find that it is probably necessary to have more than one set of magnetic letters to do this because sometimes letters repeat.

Another Magnetic Idea

If you simply want to work on your students’ spelling and phonemic awareness, you can use a metal cookie sheet as the base for magnetic letter work. It provides a nice solid surface on which the letters can be manipulated while still being controlled.

TIP: If your students are searching for letters to create words or to identify letter sounds, have them first organize all of the magnetic letters alphabetically. This will help them find the correct letter quickly. There is no need to waste time searching for letters! I usually do this by writing the alphabet on sentence strips and then having the students place the magnetic letters on the sentence strip before beginning their word work.

Children love the unique use of these kitchen items in the classroom. It’s a “yummy” way to encourage phonemic awareness and sight word mastery!

Looking for magnetic letters in different fonts and colors? Here’s a slew of ’em at

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia and a regular contributor to A Learning Experience. We appreciate her great ideas!

1 Comment

Filed under Centers, Phonics, Reading, School Readiness, Spelling

Hop, Skip…Read?? Adding movement to your reading lessons

by Rachel Stepp

Comment on this post for a chance to win a $20 School Box gift card. Winners are selected monthly!

Are you looking for ways to incorporate action into your reading lessons? Sometimes reading and grammar can be dull subjects for students…especially when we ask them to sit and listen to us talk. Here’s an idea to mix it up a bit!

A Book

Recently, I did an activity with a book called Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins. This clever book is about a hen that outsmarts a fox by trickily walking around her farm. The book is filled with prepositions and scenarios that are hidden in the pictures. Your students will enjoy acting out the scenes and looking closely at the pictures to find out how the hen is tricking the fox. The book is fun all by its lonesome, but want to know what’s even more fun? Acting it out!

An Activity

To act out the book, you are going to need to set up your classroom so that students have room to move around. Here is a list of some of the prepositions in the book and a couple of ideas for how students could demonstrate them:


Put a tape line down on the floor and ask your students to “walk across the tape.”

Give a student a pencil and ask her to “pass the pencil across your desk” to another student.

Have your students “walk across the sidewalk” on the way to the playground.

Put a book on the floor and “walk across” the book.


Now, scatter books around on your floor and ask your students to “walk around the books.”

Ask half of your class to pick places on the floor to sit, and then ask the other half of your class to “walk around your classmates.”


Once again, place something on the floor such as a textbook and ask your students to “step over the textbooks.”

Create several parallel tape lines on the floor and ask your students to “hop over the lines.”


Expand student learning even ask you travel around the school building by asking your students to “form a line past the cafeteria” on their way to lunch.

Before your students can start playing at recess, ask them to “walk past the swings” before they start talking or running.


Invite your students to use their brains and ask them things that they can “walk through.” They should come up with ideas such as walking through the door to get into the classroom.


The students will really enjoy “under” if you allow them to “crawl under their desks/tables.” This is something that we usually discourage students from doing, but they will be able to remember prepositions if they are able to act them out!

Your classroom might end up looking like an obstacle course and your students might feel like they are in P.E., but they will really enjoy being active during reading and grammar! And, they’ll be prepared to outsmart a fox…lest they ever meet one.

For more help teaching prepositions, check out these charts and games from The School Box.

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia.


Filed under Academic Success, comprehension, Games, Language Arts, Reading

1, 2, 3…Draw!! (a fun math warm-up)

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post for a chance to win a $20 School Box gift card! Winners are drawn monthly!

Looking for a fun way to begin your math lessons? Your students will BEG to play this warm-up game every day. It’s easy and can work with pretty much any age group and almost any math concept.

Here’s how it goes:

  1. Have two students stand back to back at the front of the room, with their fingers raised like outlaws with “guns.” (If you don’t like the “gun” part, skip it.)
  2. The students at their desks can follow along with mini white boards or black boards, or paper.
  3. Now, call out a math equation. Every time you add a step in the equation, the students take a step away from each other, while computing the problem silently in their heads. Students at their desks solve the equation silently, as well. (See example below.)
  4. Then, whenever you decide the equation is over, say “Draw!” and the students turn quickly, face each other, and blurt out the answer. The first one to blurt it out correctly wins the “draw.” Simultaneously, students at their desks can silently hold up their whiteboards/blackboards with their answers written on them.
  5. Acknowledge the winner with verbal praise, and also acknowledge the students at their desks who have the correct answer on their boards.

To make this more clear, here’s an example:

Say: 5 + 6 (students step apart and silently compute 11 in their heads).

You keep going: + 12 (they step and think 23).

You say: – 3 (they step and think 20).

Plus 2 (step, 22).

Divided by 2…DRAW!

They spin around and shout out 11!

This can be really easy or really challenging depending on 1) how complicated your equations are and 2) how fast of a pace you keep. You can also write the steps to the equation on the board while you say them out loud, for the visual learners.

This is a great activity to sharpen both math AND listening skills…and it’s just a whole lot of fun to boot.

For some more math games, check out this fun activity book called Math Games that Teach.

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Geometry, Math, Multiplication, Uncategorized

Kindergarten Round Up

by Rachel Stepp

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It’s that time of year again when 4-year-olds are starting to register for kindergarten for the fall. Many schools host events for collecting information about these rising wee ones, and it can all become very businesslike and formal. Blech.

And while parents are completing forms and answering questionnaires, their little darlings have to do…something. Why not give them something fun to do, while building their excitement about school at the same time? One way to make the registration process more exciting for students and parents is to give it a theme, and my personal favorite theme is Kindergarten Round Up!

Here’s how to add a little “yee-haw!” to your kindergarten registration process.

Involve Your Current Kindergarteners

Your current kindergarten students can be role models for the younger students. The kindergarteners can create decorations that will allow future students to see some of the work they will eventually be doing. These work samples/decorations also let parents know what to expect from their students during the following year. Here are some decor ideas:


Kindergarteners can color or draw cowboys and cowgirls and then attach their pictures to the faces.

Writing Samples:

Have students write about their favorite farm/ranch animals, experiences with horses or cows or other farm/ranch animals, or what they think being a cowboy or cowgirl would be like. Affix rope in a curvy lasso pattern around bulletin boards displaying these items for instant cowboy-mania!

Provide a Simple Project

In addition to looking at the kindergarteners’ work, the rising elementary schoolers can work on their own projects. They can make farm animals to either add to the kindergarteners’ bulletin boards or to take home–they can decide which they’d rather do.

To make a pig:

For pigs, use basic shapes such as circles and triangles to allow children to make pig faces. Circles of different sizes can be faces, eyes and noses. Triangles can be used for ears.

To make a chick:

Use a paper plate that has been folded in half. First, the children can color it yellow, and then they can attach a yellow circle for the head, an orange triangle for a beak, and orange feet.

These activities will help involve the 4-year-olds in the registration process, and, even better, they’ll get a glimpse of all the yippee-ki-yay fun they’ll experience next year!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia.

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Filed under Classroom Decor, Welcome

Be Your Own Author!

by Rachel Stepp

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The story Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk is about a small mouse who dwells in the library and decides to become an author. He stays up during the night writing undersized books for his local library. The patrons of the library discover the books and fall in love with them! They become so curious about the author that they leave him a note. They want to meet him, but they don’t know he’s a mouse. Instead of revealing himself, the library mouse puts a mirror in a tissue box to encourage the children to see themselves as their own authors.

Write Your Own Books!

After you have read this book to the class, tell your students that they are going to be creating their own library books…just like the library mouse. Here’s how:

1. Prewriting

First, brainstorm ideas as a class. What would you like to write about? In the story, the mouse wrote about things he knew, such as himself and cheese. Help your students make a list of things that they know and could write about (pets, friends, activities they enjoy, toys they play with, etc.).

2. Drafting

Encourage your students to write rough drafts of their story with a beginning, middle and end.

3. Revising and Editing

Tell your students to read back over their drafts. Make this checklist on the board, for students to follow as they reread their stories:

Does the story make sense?
Does anything need to be added or changed?
Do the sentences all have capital letters and punctuation?
Do I need to check the spelling of any words?

4. Final Copy

Help your students make their own books by folding paper in half and stapling it. On the day that students will write their final drafts, create a tissue box with a mirror in it (like the one in the story). Have each student “meet the author” by looking into the box and seeing themselves. This will help students envision themselves as authors and illustrators!

5. Publishing!

After your students have written their own books, put them on display in your classroom library. Students will enjoy sharing their books with their peers and getting new ideas from others. You can even allow the children to read their books to the class, just like the teacher.

6. A Fun Text-to-Life Connection

A fun way to conclude this unit is to tell your students that the school’s library mouse will probably be visiting the classroom when he hears that there are new books to read! After one night, leave a small (mouse-sized) note from the mouse. Tell your students that the mouse has come during the night and read through some of the books. You can make it personal by including small comments about titles of books, illustrations, student names and even fun suggestions. Students will be enthused by the idea of the school’s mouse reading their books!

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


Filed under comprehension, creative writing, grammar, Language Arts, Reading, reading aloud, Writing

Chameleons of Our Own

by Rachel Stepp

Comment on this post to win a $20 gift card to The School Box! Winners are announced monthly.

One of my favorite books about colors and chameleons is A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni.

This book is a short picture book about a chameleon that is different from other animals because he does not stay the same color all the time. He comes up with a plan to stay one color, but it doesn’t work. Finally, he finds a chameleon friend that can always be the same color as him as long as they stick together! The story is cute and colorful. Once you have read the story to your class, you can discuss colors, emotions, and feelings about being alike or unlike others.

Art Activity

You can also incorporate art through an activity related to this book. Talk to your students about what they would like the chameleon to camouflage into. You will be creating these ideas through making “rubbings.” Here’s how:

  1. First, cut out chameleon shapes from thick cardstock paper.
  2. Place a cut-out for each child under a piece of white computer paper.
  3. Next, the students will make “rubbings” of the chameleon shape on the white paper with their crayons by taking their crayon and coloring with it on its side. You might need to peel all of the paper off of the crayon before you can do this.
  4. Encourage your students to be creative with their chameleon. They can color it like objects around the room, their own clothes, and so much more! For example, you might want your chameleon to blend in with a watermelon. To do this, you would color part of your chameleon green, part red, and add black seeds.
  5. When you are done coloring your watermelon slice, you will be able to see the outline of a chameleon.

Science Tie-In

Once you’re on the topic of chameleons, you can talk about reptiles and the things that chameleons blend in with. Send your class on an outdoor nature hunt to look for chameleons or other lizards. Encourage students to look under leaves, in grass…and even on the school building! You can bring art outdoors and let your students do tracings of leaves and other textures outside, as well.

Social Skills

If you’re not feeling crafty or you can’t go outside, you can relate A Color of His Own to the social skills in your classroom. You can discuss friendship with your students and the importance of finding friends that you feel comfortable around. Also, you can talk about how students, like animals and chameleons, are all different from each other. The students will enjoy comparing themselves to the story!

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


Filed under Activities, Art, Classroom Community, comprehension, Multicultural Community, Reading, reading aloud, Science

St. Patrick’s Day Interactive Bulletin Board

by Rachel Stepp

Comment on this post to win a $20 School Box Gift Card! Winners are selected monthly!

It’s almost that time of the year when tricky little leprechauns visit classrooms all over the world. Why not welcome him into the classroom with a creative and fun bulletin board?

Here’s how to bring a little luck o’ the Irish into your classroom this month:

1. First comes the spring background.

Start by creating a spring scene on the bulletin board. Create a nice blue background with spring flowers blooming in the fresh, green grass.

2. Then let the rainbow shine!

Have your students trace their hands on paper in all the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet). Once students have traced their hands (the more hand prints you have, the bigger your rainbow can be!), have them cut out their tracings. Then, add a rainbow to your bulletin board with all of the hand prints stretching across the spring sky.

3. Next, add a pot o’ gold.

Don’t forget to add a pot of gold at the bottom of rainbow! You can cut out a black pot and add yellow “coins” covered in gold glitter to come out of the pot. The children will be excited to see the sparkling coins, and you could even add American currency to the pot to reinforce coin knowledge.

4. Where’s the tricky leprechaun?

One of the most important parts of the St. Patrick’s Day bulletin board is, of course, the leprechaun! One simple way to get a leprechaun that is large enough for your board is to trace it on large butcher paper. Take a piece of green paper and tape it over your SmartBoard or on your white board. Then, use a SmartBoard projector or overhead projector to shine a picture of a leprechaun on the paper. Trace the picture to the size you want it. It might be easiest to find leprechaun clip art or coloring pages, so that it will be easy to trace. Once you have traced it, go over the lines with dark marker and then cut it out. Put the leprechaun on the bulletin board in various places throughout the month of March. The tricky guy can keep ’em guessing!

5. Now, set it to song!

Add some interaction to your bulletin by adding this short song (to the tune of BINGO):

There was a little leprechaun,

He lived under a rainbow.




He lived under a rainbow.

Teach your students this song and have different students perform it daily. Remember to stay true to BINGO. Each verse, remember to take a later off of ‘rainbow’ and clap in its place.

6. And, finally, read all about it!

St. Patrick’s Day by Gail Gibbons is a great book for Kindergarten through second grade that explains the origins and symbols (shamrock, leprechaun) of the holiday, including the life and works of St. Patrick. The colorful watercolor illustrations are engaging for students of all ages. (The book is available at The School Box for $6.95, by the way. Here’s the link to buy it online: St. Patrick’s Day by Gail Gibbons).

The children will enjoy reading and singing about St. Patrick’s Day during March, under a rainbow of their own hand prints!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia who regularly contributes to A Learning Experience.


Filed under Activities, Art, Centers, Classroom Decor, Math, Music