Monthly Archives: May 2011

Summer Learning Ideas (and GREAT Centers!)

Centers… Revised!

by Kelli Lewis, M. Ed.

Whether you’re a parent looking for some fun summer learning activities to keep your children’s skills sharp, or an early elementary teacher who wants to breathe new life into your centers next year, this article is for you!

Rhyming Picture Pairs

Create picture cards for your students to match with words that rhyme. For example, print two cards: one with a picture of a house and the word house printed on it, and another with a picture of a mouse and the word mouse printed on it. Make about 10 sets of word-pair cards, and then scramble them in a box or bag for your students to sort through and pair up.

Here are some rhyming word pairs to get you started: (1) mouse, house (2) bear, chair (3) fan, man (4) moon, spoon (5) horn, corn (6) pie, fly (7) box, fox (8) crown, clown (9) snake, cake (10) car, jar (11) hat, cat (12) hose, nose (13) duck, truck (14) bed, sled (15) ant, plant (16) key, tree (17) soap, rope (18) farm, arm (19) zero, hero (20) check, wreck.


Purchase or create word magnets for your students to group into sentences. Don’t forget punctuation! Students can use pie pans, dry erase boards, or even the front of metal teachers’ desks to place their sentences on. When a student creates a sentence, have them record their sentence by writing it down in a Magnet Journal (a binder filled with lined paper that stays in the center with the magnet words).

For a set of 200 sight word magnets, click here.

Poetry Pages

Familiar students with the great poets and poetic language while allowing them to practice their writing skills. Make a binder of poems (one poem per page), and then have students select a poem of their choice to copy onto paper, illustrate, mount on construction paper and display in the classroom (or on the fridge, if you’re doing this at home).

For an online resource of childhood poems, click here.

Now I Know My…

Create ABC cards (one letter per card) and allow students to put their ABC’s in order. You can also create picture cards that go along with each letter. Then, allow students to place the picture cards on the letter that shows their beginning letter. For an extra challenge, they can also group the cards by their ending letter.


Fill a paper lunch back with random things (a paper clip, yo-yo, a small toy car, small toy animals, etc.). Allow students to choose an item from the bag and draw it on their paper. Students should then write sentences about the object. Encourage them to describe their objects using as many adjectives as possible: How would you describe this item to someone from Mars who had never seen it before?


This center is an oldie-but-goodie. What child doesn’t like to sit on a fun pillow or comfy couch and look at books? Set out comfy chairs, stuffed animals, pillows, and of course, books on book shelves or in baskets. This will be the perfect place for students to build positive associations with reading!


You may already use the computer in your center rotation, but have you visited, yet? It covers early reading skills/phonics and is great for ages 3 through first grade. It’s the perfect way to make learning to read fun and techy.

For more computer programs that balance educational goals with entertainment, click here (for math activities) and here (for reading CDs).

Whether you use these ideas at the kitchen table or in the classroom, hopefully they’ll make learning fun for your little ones!

Kelli Lewis, M. Ed. recently graduated from the University of Georgia with a Masters in Education and will begin teaching in a third-grade classroom this fall. Congratulations, Kelli! And thanks for sharing all of your great ideas on A Learning Experience.


Filed under Activities, Centers, Math, Phonics, Reading, Summer Learning, Writing

Recent Comment Winners!

Congrats to Priscilla and Jennifer Nuss for being our two comment winners from the past month!

Priscilla and Jennifer just won $20 gift cards to The School Box. If they are not lucky enough to live near a School Box location (it’s an incredible store for teachers…and parents!), they will be sent a catalog from which to order. Enjoy your gift cards, ladies!

If you’d like to win your OWN gift card, simply comment on the posts on A Learning Experience. We draw winners monthly…and we love to hear the thoughts of other educators!

Happy commenting,

Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.
A Learning Experience

Comments Off on Recent Comment Winners!

Filed under Free Stuff!

Empire: a Great Game for the Last Week of School!

by Kelli Lewis

Comment on this post to be entered to win a $20 School Box Gift Card! Winners are chosen each month.

Here’s a game your class will enjoy during the last week of school! It’s a great way to celebrate the community you’ve built throughout the year and get to know. The whole class can play: the more people you have, the better. And it will work well in many grades: upper elementary, middle and high.

Game Name: Empire

Roles: Guessers (unlimited number!) and Reader (1 person, preferably the teacher)

Materials: You don’t need much! You only need one slip of paper and any type of writing utensil per Guesser.

How to get started: Guessers will write a name on a piece of paper. The name should be of a person that everyone would/could know–such as the name of a well-known famous person, a person from history (this could be a requirement if you’re playing this during history class), cartoon characters, movie characters, etc. Students should keep their name slip a secret and not tell or show anyone.

Goal of the Game: Guessers will try to match the famous names with the correct classmate who wrote each name. This will show how well they know each other!

What to do next: The “reader” will then collect all of the names and read each name aloud. Read all the names aloud a total of three times through. Everyone else should listen and try their best to remember as many names as possible.

Let the guessing begin! Decide who should go first; the student with the birthday closest to today’s date is always a good way to decide. One student will go first and try to guess who wrote a particular name. Each student’s turn after the first will be determined by the game’s outcomes. The first student’s turn will consist of them guessing who wrote a particular name. For instance, Guesser #1 may ask, “Sally, did you write Johnny Appleseed?” Sally will then have to answer to that Guesser whether or not she wrote “Johnny Appleseed” on her slip.

Guessing RIGHT: If Sally did write “Johnny Appleseed,” Sally then becomes a part of Guesser One’s empire/team. Guesser One then gets another guess, in which Sally can assist, since they have now become a team. Each time a student guesses correctly, the student they guessed (as well as anyone else in their empire with them) becomes a part of the correct guesser’s empire/team.

Guessing WRONG: If Sally did not write “Johnny Appleseed,” then it becomes Sally’s turn to guess and ask who wrote a particular name. Each time a student guesses incorrectly, the student they guessed incorrectly then gets a turn to guess someone.

This continues throughout the entire game until one person has every single player on their team (a winning empire). That student is the Emperor!!

Remembering the Names: If students have trouble remembering the list of names you read at the beginning, you can have them write down as many as they remember on a piece of paper, which they can refer to as they play. To further simplify the game for younger players, the Reader could also write all of the names on the whiteboard after collecting the slips of paper.

Happy End of the School Year, Everyone!

For more games, check out these awesome (educational) options from The School Box.

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


Filed under Classroom Community, Games, History

A Fun Science Activity for School or Home

Leaf Man Comes to Life

by Kelli Lewis

Comment on this post and you could win a $20 gift card to The School Box! Winners are drawn each month.

Here is a fun science lesson geared toward students in pre-k, kindergarten, or first grade that is perfect for the classroom–or kitchen table. This lesson incorporates a hands-on activity, a good book (of course), and a healthy dose of fresh air and movement. Let’s get started!

Step One: Read

Find a good place to have story time and read Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert. This story about “Leaf Man” includes labeled illustrations of different types of leaves collected from various locations. After reading the book, discuss the story’s characters, setting, plot, etc. This will be a great way to review any concepts you may have been working on prior to today.

Step Two: Leaf Hunt

Now it is time to go on a leaf hunt! Allow your students to ramble around outside in order to find all different types of leaves to bring back inside. They don’t need to bring in every leaf they see, but they also will need more than just a few (10-15 is a good goal). Encourage them to collect a variety of shapes and sizes.

Step Three: Make Leaf Man

Create, glue, and bring him to life! Bring the students back inside with all of the special leaves they collected. They are going to make their very own leaf man. Hand out construction paper, glue and any other extra materials you may want them to use (googly eyes, pipe cleaners, pompom balls, etc.) Allow them to bring their Leaf Man to life! Does he have a name, other than Leaf Man? Does his name have anything to do with the attributes of the leaves?


• This could also become a sorting activity. When students get back inside with their leaves, you could all come together and discuss the leaves that were chosen. How are they alike and how are they different? Can anyone remember the names of the leaves in the story and figure out what their leaves are called?

• To adapt this activity for older grades, you could incorporate deeper concepts and details about leaves, plants and other studies of botany. They could also write a detailed story about Leaf Man, incorporating vocabulary from their science lessons. The options are almost endless, but I’ll LEAVE the rest up to you!

Kelli Lewis is a graduate student at the University of Georgia and a frequent contributor to A Learning Experience.

For another cool activity for teaching about plants, check out this classroom activity kit available at The School Box.


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

Attention Grabbers (Keep students’ attention…even in May!)

by Bobbie Brownell

Comment on this article and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card! Winners are drawn monthly.

Almost every teacher, whether they went to Yale or got their teaching degree online, thinks about using a big attention grabber to start class…especially in these final weeks of the school year when spring fever is rampant. Attention grabbers can range from a simple question to an elaborate demonstration. Either way, the message is clear: Wake up! Time to learn!

When to use an attention grabber:

  • Quiet a noisy room
  • Introduce a new topic
  • Motivate students
  • Demonstrate a theory or natural occurrence
  • Ward off summeritis

Have fun getting their attention, just be careful that the attention grabber does not take away from the overall meaning of the lesson. Try to keep their focus on the learning objectives. This benefits everyone in class and helps by taking away unnecessary distractions. We all know how easy it is to get the students’ minds off of the material. Daniel Willingham’s explanation on why students remember or forget material learned in class is linked to what the students are thinking about while new material is being introduced.

Questions to consider before using an attention grabber:

• Is the attention grabber relevant to the lesson?

• Could this be done in the middle of the lesson if students start to zone out?

• Will students be engaged and motivated to learn afterward?

• Will this continue to distract the students after the demonstration is over?

Tips to motivate:

• Timing is key – Try using relevant attention grabbers in the middle of the lesson. Students tend to mentally check out around the half-way point of class. This is a great time to reel them back in with something stimulating like a thought-provoking or a controversial question for them to discuss or write about.

• Give choices – If motivation is lacking, give the students a chance to have some input in what they are learning. Giving choices on what to read or research can be a huge motivator because it allows students to learn about something they are interested in. Have students come up with their own writing prompts; you’ll be surprised by all the brilliant ideas!

• Ask questions – Ask the students thought provoking questions to start a class discussion. Discussion is an invaluable tool since it invites the entire class to become involved with the lesson and with each other. Try something like, “Is murder ever justified?” or “What do you think would be different if this classroom was in Paris?” Use anything to get them thinking and talking.

• Relate concepts to the real world – Teachers sometimes forget that the best way to learn something is the simplest way. Ask yourself, “How did I learn this?” and “How does what we’re learning relate to the outside world?” Real-world examples work because students can relate to them. At any age, we learn by making connections from things we know to new ideas and experiences. Using examples that can be found or repeated at home can help deepen the understanding between the concept and the individual student.

Transitioning into new subjects is difficult for both teachers and students. Make it fun and be creative! Paying attention to transitions will make the change easier for everyone involved. Tricky Transitions…Made Easier! is a great example of thinking about transitions and how they can be used in a younger classroom environment.

Bobbie Brownell holds a bachelors degree in English and is currently in the NC Teach program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


Filed under Activities, Behavior Management, Critical Thinking, Discipline, Motivation

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

Sometimes teaching is a thankless job…but not today!! For everyone who has a role in educating and impacting a child, we applaud and thank you. And, for the days you don’t feel appreciated, here’s a reminder that someone’s always watching.

When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking
By Mary Rita Schilke Korzan

When you thought I wasn’t looking, you displayed my first report, and I wanted to do another.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, you fed a stray cat, and I thought it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, you gave me a sticker, and I knew that little things were special things.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, you put your arm around me, and I felt loved.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw tears come from your eyes, and I learned that sometimes things hurt–but that it’s alright to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, you smiled, and it made me want to look that pretty, too.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, you cared, and I wanted to be everything I could be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking–I looked…and wanted to say thanks for all those things you did when you thought I wasn’t looking.

And, just to add a little icing on the cake, here’s a special discount from The School Box stores. Just show your teacher i.d. to receive 20-40% off today!!

1 Comment

Filed under Teacher Inspiration, Teaching