Monthly Archives: November 2011

Creating a “Where Are You?” Board

by Rachel Stepp, M. Ed. 

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card! 

Do you ever have multiple students leave your classroom at once for various reasons (clinic, library, restroom, pull-out programs, etc.), and you have trouble remembering who went where? Has the fire drill ever buzzed, and you were missing children once you were outside because they were in the library? It’s time to set up an area (or wall) in your classroom where your students can display their location. This area might look different depending on the age of your students and the places they can go on their own in your school.

Magnet Board

In grades pre-k through second, it would be appropriate to have an area that displayed each child’s picture and name on a magnet. This could be a place on the magnetic white board or on a magnetic cookie sheet hung on the wall. On this area, you will create a place for each student’s picture to be displayed under the home section. At the end of the day, every student’s picture should be moved to the home area to show that they are no longer at school. In the morning, when a child first walks in the door, he or she should move their picture from “Home” to “Classroom” to show that they are present at school on the current day. When a child’s picture is shown as in the classroom, they are to be participating in classroom activities and within sight of the teacher. This is also a visual way to take attendance, without wasting time calling roll.

Other sections that you might want to include on your board are: boys’ restroom, girls’ restroom, office, clinic, library, other. Each section besides home and classroom should only have enough room for several students at a time, depending on your classroom guidelines. For example, you might only want to allow two boys to go to the restroom at the same time. If those two positions are in use on the board, then no one else should leave the classroom to use the restroom.

Students will need to learn the routine of automatically checking the board when they walk into the classroom to make sure their magnets are in the correct location. It’s important to make sure that students know that they do not need to move their picture every time the class goes somewhere as a whole group. You can also use the same picture magnets for other activities, such as to show which center students are in during center time.

Popsicle Jars

In third through fifth grades, students might find that moving their picture around feels “elementary” to them.  When students are transitioning grades and learning a new routine for leaving the classroom, you can write each child’s name on a popsicle stick and place them in different cans/jars to show their location. The jars can sit beside the classroom door so that students can access them easily when they enter or exit the room. You can also create a simple sign-in and sign-out sheet for your students. On this sheet, they would have to record their name, the time they leave, their desired location, and the time they return. This will help you keep track of your students when they are out of the classroom and in the case of an emergency.

Hopefully these ideas will give your students some responsibility when it comes to keeping track of where they are. You are one teacher in charge of many students, and anything to make the process run smoothly is worth considering!


Filed under Behavior Management, Centers, Classroom Community, Classroom Decor, Organization

Turning Your Classroom into a “Smart Garden”

by Rachel Stepp, M. Ed. 

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow?

This popular nursery rhyme might be recited in your classroom all throughout the year, but it can also be your classroom’s theme. Of course, as a teacher, you want your classroom garden to be a smart garden! Transforming your class into a smart garden during the upcoming holiday break may be a fun “surprise” for your students when they return in January. Here’s how to plant your own smart garden:

Garden Decor 

First, you need to decorate your classroom with a garden theme: flowers, grass, garden bugs, and anything else to bring your garden to life. The School Box has a cute flower garden bulletin board set that could get you started, but don’t feel limited to using these critters only on a bulletin board. Post them all around the room! A string of gazebo lights feels cozy, too.

Next, organize your classroom’s zones with the garden theme in mind. For example, your library and reading center can be made cozy with green pillows, a stuffed hungry caterpillar, and a large fabric leaf draped over the area. Leaves, such as this one found at IKEA, are easy to install and relatively cheap.

You might want to call your reading area, “the backyard.” The whiteboards could then be labeled “the front yard” and a grassy border, like this one, shown left, from The School Box, could be layered on the lower wall. Label every area of your classroom with a different outside place: closet = “garden shed,” your desk = “Master Gardener,” art station = “budding artists,” etc. You can then direct your students to “go to the backyard for reading time.”

Student Groups

After your room is set up, label your desks/tables as well. I like the idea of naming table groups because it allows you to speak to a group of children at once without having to name all of the students. You can name your table groups with different garden bugs such as ladybugs, butterflies, and bumble bees, or with different types of gardens, like flower garden, vegetable garden, rock garden or fruit orchard. You can use these labels when calling small groups, instructing students to line up, and designating responsibilities in the classroom.

A Garden-y Greeting

On the first day back to school, welcome your students into the classroom with galoshes on your feet, a watering can in your hand, and live plantsin your classroom. This will get your students excited about your smart garden…and about coming back to learn and “grow.” As the year continues, create a bulletin board area (like the one pictured from to show progress and student learning. Add flowers and other aspects of a garden to your bulletin board to show growth of academic and behavioral success in your classroom. Your students will enjoy seeing what they have learned, and you will enjoy the commonality and unity in your classroom. So start watering your smart garden…and watch it grow!

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Learning to Give: A Hands-On Way to Teach Generosity

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed. 

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 gift card from The School Box! 

Don’t you just love this time of year? Cider brewing on the stove’s back burner, pies bubbling in the oven, stores festooned with twinkle lights, the Salvation Army volunteer merrily ringing at the store’s front door…it’s all just so cheery. And it’s also the perfect time of year–as we all know–to teach children about the blessing of giving to others. Here is a hands-on way to do just that, as gleaned from Primrose Schools, whose award-winning character education curriculum is all about encouraging little ones to help others.

Beyond the Canned Food Drive

Stashing some cans in the bin at the gym is all well and good. It meets a need. It fills a soup kitchen. It’s a good thing to do. But–what if you took a different approach and got your children (and yourself) more directly involved in giving?

To really drive home the impact of giving to others, Primrose Schools nationwide encourage their private pre-k and kindergarten students to earn money through doing chores at home throughout the month of November, during their Caring and Giving event. The money is brought in to school each day, counted, charted and saved for a class-wide field trip to a local grocery store. There, the children use their own hard-earned stash of cash to select nonperishables off the shelves themselves, which are then loaded into the schools’ buses and taken to local community food banks.

What an ingenious way to make giving relevant to children! And, how easy to adapt with children at home, as well. Here’s how:

Set it up. 

First, designate a special spot in your home to save the money that’s just for giving. A mason jar labeled “Giving” and decorated with a cute ribbon (or decorated by your child) will do nicely. Put the jar in an important place, like on the kitchen counter or your child’s bedside table. Here’s a cute pre-made jar set from Lil Light O’ Mine, pictured right, that could be used year-round:

Earn it.

Then, brainstorm ideas with your child on how he or she could earn money to fill their jar. Explain that the money won’t be for them this time; it will be used to help families and children who don’t have as much food or as many nice toys as your child has.

Ideas might include unloading the dishwasher, vacuuming, picking up toys, clearing the table after dinner, setting the table for dinner, helping cook, raking leaves, taking out the trash, dusting their room, feeding the pets, making your bed or a sibling’s bed as a good deed…and whatever other helpful ideas your child mentions. List the ideas, and then post the list so your child can refer to it if they get “stuck” and need a prod or two.

Set parameters. 

Designate an amount of time (like two weeks), and an amount of money a chore will earn (like $0.25 or $1). You may also want to point out to your child that they won’t get paid for doing the things they’re already expected to do, like brushing their teeth or being nice to their siblings. Together, set parameters for earning that make sense for your family.

Then, sit down together and count the money your child has earned regularly. Not only will this reinforce math skills, but it will also build excitement and a positive sense of pride in your child at the good they’re going to do.

Spend It.

At the end of the set time period, take your child to the store and help them select nonperishable food items with their money. Talk about what they’d like to eat at Christmas or Thanksgiving, and help them make their choices. But, don’t control their choices. As an adult, you may want specific items to be purchased, but let your child do a little leading, as well. Teach them the joy of giving by making the process fun! When I did this with my 4-year-old son, for example, he insisted on adding in a couple cans of Sponge Bob chicken noodle soup. More power to him!

Donate It.

Then, either have your child put the goods in a collection box at the front of the store (if there is one), or find a shelter or food bank in your community and donate the goods there, with your child in tow. If you’re not sure where one is, do a quick Internet search. Key words to try: “food bank + (your city)” or “canned food drive + (your city).”

Some nonprofit resources for the Atlanta area: 

Hope for Christmas: collects new gifts, toys and nonperishable food. Volunteers also needed.

Atlanta Community Food Bank

MUST Ministries

It’s important for children to see the whole process– from earning, to saving, to spending, to giving. Thanks for the inspiration, Primrose Schools! We agree that thankfulness is best learned through giving, and giving is most enjoyed when experienced hands-on, from the heart. 

Elizabeth D. Cossick, M. Ed. has a bachelors in education from The University of Georgia and a masters in curriculum and instruction from Lesley University, Cambridge. In addition to being the editor of A Learning Experience, she publishes Little Black Dress | Little Red Wagon Magazine. She resides in Atlanta with her husband, two young children, and a frisky Westie named Munson.


Filed under Activities, Classroom Community, Extracurricular, Field Trips, Holidays, Service Learning

gift card winners!!

We have two lucky-duck gift card winners! Just for leavin’ a little ol’ comment on A Learning Experience post, these lovelies have each won a $20 gift card to The School Box. Woohoo for classroom decor…AND holiday presents!!! (And, yes, we’re sure they’re going to respond just like the extremely excited lady in this picture. Ha!)


Winner 1: Patricia Roberts
Comment: (on “Live History: A Creative Project”)
What a Great Project!!!! I am definitely going to be doing this project this year. It is sad but true, kids today are all about the social networking and seeing what they can get in the “now” they are clueless about the past and how the past adventures, inventions etc have made what they have and want “now” possible. Thank you so much for sharing this AWESOME project!!!! Have a Great Day!!!!

Winner 2: Sahara Jordan- Georgia 
Comment: (on “The ‘Write’ Way in Middle School”)
I am a first year 5th grade Reading teacher and I can definitely relate to this article with the experiences I have had with my upper elementary students. From the very first day of school, I realized it is very hard to get my students to write without complaining (or expressing very loudly either they don’t know how to do it or they plain out dont understand what to do).

I believe creative writing is an excellent way to get my 5th graders more interested in writing. For instance, journal writing was an activity my reading teacher used when I was in school and I still enjoy writing today. I definitely plan to incorporate these activities into my daily routine especially the activity about becoming a tv star. I am constantly telling my students that as a writer you can be whoever you want to be and I believe through this activity they will understand that better. Thank you Sheryl for writing this article to help my creative flow as well. I am truly ready to finally get my students at least a little bit excited about writing.

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Exploring the Great Explorers!

by Rachel Stepp, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!!

How was America “discovered” by the European world? Who sailed across the dangerous seas? How do we know what all they did? These are questions that your students might ponder when learning about the early explorers.

To help keep details straight and minds interested, students can keep an explorer’s journal. To complete this journal, students will need a composition notebook, glue, and large brown paper bags (like the ones used at grocery stores). First, students cover the front and back of their journals with the brown paper bag using glue. They can tear the edges of the paper bag to make it look more rustic and antique.

Once students have their journals created, it’s time to determine the content that will go inside them. Here are some options:

Explorer’s Journal Ideas

  • Taking Notes. 

Students can keep notes, research, and facts in the journals. This makes note-taking fun and relevant!

  • Keeping a Diary.

To make note taking even more creative, students can use their journals as an explorer diary. Each time the class studies an explorer, they use a page to record important information like dates, voyages, discoveries, and country of origin.

Then, on the next page, students write in the journal as if they were the explorer, including inferred emotions, but with a factual and believable context. They can elaborate on the facts, sharing, for example, how they felt when they discovered something new or how they survived the cold weather.

  • Writing Letters.

Students may also use their journals as a record of letters written between the explorers and their home countries. Students can write letters to their home country’s kings and queens to update them on their progress, and the rulers can write back with instructions, advice, or congratulations on discoveries.

  • Organization of Handouts. 

As more information is added to the explorer’s journals, students can glue in maps, worksheets and hand-outs. Maps can mark an explorer’s discoveries, and student-drawn illustrations can portray the explorers in action–transforming the notebook into an engaging scrapbook.

If you want a fun idea for exploring the explorers but don’t want to commit to a daily journal, try creating wanted posters or certificates of achievement for the explorers. (For example, a student might want to congratulate Juan Ponce de Leon on his discoveries in Florida.) Students can even present their awards to classmates dressed in costume!

However you decide to incorporate journals, one thing is certain: when students participate in hands-on learning, they will be more likely to remember (and enjoy) what they learn. Bon voyage!

Additional Resources

For more materials on the explorers, check out: 

For lesson plans and worksheets:

For teaching materials, maps and reproducibles:

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Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Art, creative writing, Social Studies, Writing