Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Part 4: {fun!} Games to train your brain

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed. 

This is part four in a four-part series on cognitive weaknesses. Comment to win a $20 School Box gift card.

Here are a few tips for sharpening children’s cognitive skills using everyday items, as shared by Kristen Thompson, LearningRx owner and former teacher.

  • Work on critical thinking with learning-geared computer games, like Disney’s Where’s My Water, that require critical thinking to solve a multi-step challenge.
  • Improve logic and reasoning by identifying patterns. Set out blocks in a certain pattern (red, blue, yellow, yellow, red….) and have children continue the pattern. For more pattern ideas, click here.
  • Build mental processing with a deck of cards. Tell the child to shuffle the cards thoroughly, then sort the cards into four piles as fast as he/she can. Note: no need to put the cards in order, focus on speed.
  1. Pile 1: RED cards Ace through 10
  2. Pile 2: BLACK cards Ace through 10
  3. Pile 3: BLACK face cards
  4. Pile 4: RED face cards
  5. Now, add difficulty: Next time count by 2’s out loud as you sort the cards. Then, count by 3’s out loud as you sort the cards. After that, sort again, and each time a face card is added to a pile, call out the name of the card (Ace, King, Queen, Jack). Do not say anything when adding other cards. Finally, each time an even numbered card is added to a pile, call out the number of the card (2, 4, 6, 8, 10). Do not say anything when adding other cards. Click here for more card ideas.
  • Improve memory…with your refrigerator! Open the refrigerator door and ask your student to look inside for 20 seconds and try to remember all they see. Then, shut the door and ask the student to write down everything they can remember. Open the door together and count to see how well they did. Now, add difficulty: Same 20-second peek as above, but this time ask your student to recall the items one shelf at a time and remember as much as possible from that one area at a time. Open it up and see how well he or she did.
  • Get moving! Physical activity is good for the body and the mind.

Kristen Thompson owns the LearningRx Brain Training Center in Kennesaw, Georgia. Call 770-529-4800 or visit www.learningrx.com/kennesaw for more information. Activities featured here are from www.unlocktheeinsteininside.com.

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Filed under Academic Success, brain training, cognitive weakness, Critical Thinking, Games

Part 2: {Secret} signs of a cognitive weakness

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

This is part two in a four-part series on cognitive weaknesses. Comment on this post to be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card.

Kristen Thompson, brain training expert. Photo by Jen Harris Photography

Most parents and teachers know the typical warning signs of a learning problem: declining grades, apathy, noticeable shifts in mood. “But for many children, like Jenny (featured in part one of this series), the signs that something’s amiss are much more subtle,” shares LearningRx owner and former Cobb County, Georgia, teacher Kristen Thompson.

Here, Kristen shares some lesser-known telltales of cognitive weaknesses: 

  • Completing homework is a struggle and takes an inordinate amount of time.
  • Looking several times at something while copying is necessary.
  • Remembering and independently following multi-step directions is a challenge.
  • Solving math word problems causes frustration. (Math skills are directly connected to cognitive skills.)
  • Responding with, “I don’t get this!” or “What should I do first?” is common.
  • Reading comprehension is weak; the “big picture” is often missed.
  • At test-time, recalling facts and remembering what was studied is difficult.
  • Asking for things to be repeated is a regular occurrence.
  • The student’s sense of direction and map-reading skills are weak.
  • The ability to readily “get” jokes or understand others’ senses of humor seems hindered.
  • Jigsaw puzzles are avoided or deemed “too hard.”
  • Organization of materials and time is elusive.

“The good news, however, is that the brain can be trained to overcome any cognitive weaknesses that might be causing these behaviors,” shares Kristen.

The first step, according to Kristen, is identifying exactly which cognitive skills are being impacted by a weaknesses. For more information on each of these different cognitive areas, stay tuned for part three in this series.

Click here to take a quick online quiz to determine if your child is displaying these warning signs.

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Filed under Academic Success, brain training, cognitive weakness, Critical Thinking, Home Schooling, reluctant readers, School Readiness

Part 1: The {true} story of overcoming a cognitive weakness

by Suzanna Palmer 

This is part one in a four-part series on cognitive weaknesses.

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

meet Jenny

Eight-year-old Jenny doesn’t fit the profile of a child with a learning disability. She receives high marks in school and praise from her teachers. She’s considered one of the smartest kids in her class and consistently scores in the 90th percentile on standardized tests. But last year, halfway through the second grade, Jenny became increasingly frustrated during afternoon homework sessions.

“Finishing assignments, especially math, would take a really long time,” recalls Jenny’s mother, Sherry. “As I explained things, she would say over and over, ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying.’”

To compensate for her struggle to learn new material, Jenny spent countless hours on homework each day, and as a result, continued to do well in school. But despite Jenny’s apparent success, Sherry had a feeling something was amiss: “I just knew in my gut something was wrong.”

Following her instincts, she had Jenny tested at a center called LearningRx that helps children overcome cognitive weaknesses. The tests revealed that Jenny did indeed have processing weaknesses that were impacting her ability to organize and recall information.

 a path of action

Over the next five months, Jenny participated in activities designed to retrain her brain to think and respond efficiently. The three weekly sessions, each an hour-and-a-half long, worked miracles. By the end of her training, Jenny’s cognitive test scores had improved by leaps and bounds—as had her ability to listen, remember and follow directions.

Although now-third-grader Jenny is finished with her training, she and her parents are still reaping the rewards. They no longer dread homework, and her mother reports that Jenny’s maturity level and relationships have also improved tremendously.

“There is a total difference in her personality,” Sherry concludes. “She is capable of understanding and remembering things we say to her. She’s not frustrated anymore. In a nutshell, LearningRx gave me my daughter back.”

 Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series: secret signs of a cognitive weakness (and how to identify them). 

Jenny’s success was found through the LearningRx. Call 770-529-4800 or visit www.learningrx.com/kennesaw for more information.

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Filed under Academic Success, brain training, cognitive weakness, Critical Thinking, Reading, reluctant readers, special needs

Top 10 Educational iPhone/iPad Apps for Your Kids

by Steven Burrell

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 gift card to The School Box! {winners drawn at the end of each month}

The day you came home with your newest iPhone or iPad, you felt like you had won the smartphone lottery. With built in GPS, camera and e-mail, not to mention the endless applications, you thought you had just bought yourself the best present in the whole wide world. Until your kids got ahold of it.

That’s when you realized that you had actually bought your children the best present in the whole wide world, whether you liked it or not.

Instead of letting your kids play hours of Angry Birds, put a few of these educational apps on your iPhone/iPad. Then you can sit back and relax while your children monopolize your favorite gadget. After all, they’re learning something.

1. Simplex Spelling HD is a great app for the spelling test challenged grade school students. It has more than 260 words that have been specially selected because they are the most frequently used in children’s literature. It’s a great way to help your children read better and learn new vocabulary without feeling like school.

2. Boggle is an old classic that you might already have on your phone for yourself. The newest incarnation has three-minute games of basic Boggle, but a whole slew of variations to keep things interesting. You might just find yourself vying with your kid for top scores.

3. Geocoachingis perfect for the Indiana Jones wannabe. The game takes its players on an exciting treasure hunt looking for hidden treasures, called

Geocoaching App

“geocaches,” by leaving clues and utilizing the iPhone’s built-in GPS It’s the safest way to send your adventurer on a wild expedition.

4. Monkey Preschool Lunchbox is perfect for the preschooler set. Using an animated, cuddly little monkey, it captures their attention. Once they’re under the monkey’s trance, they will learn colors, letters and numbers. It has written directions, but playing will also come very naturally to those who don’t know how to read yet.

5. WeetWoo is basically YouTube with a filter. Parents can curate their own children friendly video libraries, weeding out anything inappropriate. There are a lot of educational videos suited for all interests. Nursery Rhymes is good for the toddlers and Mythbusters is perfect for a science lover.

6. Math Ocean is an engaging way for kids to learn skills including addition, subtraction, matching, sorting, and patterns. You can also add fun themes like holidays!

7. Clever Tales makes reading fun. It uses beautiful images and great stories.

8. PUZZINGO is a top puzzle game. It will teach your kids animal names, letters, numbers, and more. And they’ll learn quickly, thanks to PUZZINGO’s reward system which encourages learning with prizes.

9. Cash Cow is a great app for first graders that uses a fun puzzle game to teach math.

10. PlayART is a unique artistic application that adults can play too. It incorporates the work of Van Gogh, Klee, Rousseau, Monet and Cezanne, and is suited for a wide span of ages, beyond the 5-13 range it was designed for.

There you have it: 10 apps that make your phone the best invention since sliced bread…for whoever happens to be monopolizing it.

About the author: Steven Burrell researches and reviews cognitive ability tests that help students measure their growth. His favorite thing in the world is spending rainy days indoors with his family.

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Summer Learning, technology

Fostering Text-to-Life Connections through Common Summertime Activities – Part II

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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

Making connections between a text and a reader’s life is an important part of reading comprehension. The more young readers are encouraged to relate books to their own experiences, the better they’ll be able to access prior knowledge, make predictions, infer cause and effect relationships, and synthesize meaning. And, the more readers practice making connections, the more natural this critical reading skill will become.

So, why not use summer to practice making authentic text-to-life connections? It’s easy. Just pick a book and read it before, during, or after an activity with a similar theme. Before you begin reading and also during reading, ask prompting questions like:

  • “Have you ever done this?”
  • “What was your favorite part about _____(fill in experience)___?”
  • “How do you feel when you’re ___(with Grandma, at the beach, camping, etc.)___?”
  • “How do you think the character is feeling now? How would you feel in this situation?”
  • “What did we do next when we were ____(experience)__? What do you think the character is going to do next?”
  • “How was this like our trip? How was this book different?”

To get you started, we shared a list of books that connect to visiting grandparents and going to the beach in Part I of this series. Now, here’s a list of books that connect to camping, flying on an airplane, and making something creative out of an empty box!

Summertime Activity:

Camping!

The books that connect to the activity:

S if for S'mores

S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet, by Helen Foster James

From what to pack, to where to go, to what to do when you get there, S is for Smores: A Camping Alphabet takes readers on an A-Z trail exploring this outdoor pastime.

Canoe Days, by Gary Paulsen

This gorgeous picture book is by the award-winning outdoor youth novelist of Hatchet. Here’s the publisher’s review: Opening this book is like sitting down in a canoe, taking up a paddle, and gliding out into the summer beauty of a hidden lake. In this picture book that is as refreshing and inviting as a perfect canoe day, a fawn peeks out from the trees as ducklings fan out behind their mother. Ruth Wright Paulsen’s sunlit paintings and Gary Paulsen’s poetic text capture all the peace and pleasure of a day when water and sky are one.

Summertime Activity:

Going on a picnic!

The books that connect to the activity:

The Picnic, by Ruth Brown

This delightful book narrates a picnic from the perspective of the animals that live both on top of–and under–the ground.

The Bears’ Picnic by Stan and Jan Baranstein

Oh, silly Father Bear! That’s not how you pick a picnic spot! In this bear-errific misadventure, Father Bear leads the family on a quest for the perfect picnic spot…but ends up trying out quite a few subpar spots (train tracks, dumping ground, mosquito swamp) first.

Summertime Activity:

Turning an empty box into a house, or castle, or race car, or ship, or….

The books that connect to the activity:

Christina Katerina and the Box, by Patricia Lee GauchChristina Katerina and the Box

If you can get your hands on a copy, DO IT! This imaginative book was my favorite growing up (and judging from the many reviews on Amazon.com, I wasn’t alone), and now it’s a favorite for my own young readers. Christina likes nothing more than the promise of an empty box. So, when a new fridge arrives at her house one summer day, Christina quickly claims the box. She pulls it into her front yard where it becomes a castle, club house, race car, and ballroom floor. It will inspire countless hours of imaginative play with your own empty boxes!

Other Summertime Activity Books:

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Writing Activity: Using Legos to Spark Creative Writing

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and you could win a $25 gift card from The School Box!

We all know that blocks are great for creative play, but what about for writing? Yes, indeedy! Blocks can be super starters for creative writing. Here are two ideas for how to use blocks at home or in the classroom to get the juices flowing. (Hint: blocks aren’t just good for the little ones, either. Dump a pile of Legos on the floor in a high school English classroom and watch the students come to life!)

Writer’s Block

Write or type basic words on paper, cut out the words, and tape them on the sides of big Lego Duplo blocks (the larger toddler-sized variety). Then, children can combine the blocks, lay them out, and build them up in creative ways to make sentences and stories! You can even color-coordinate the blocks by part of speech, so all nouns are on yellow blocks, all verbs are on blue blocks, all adjectives are on green blocks, all proper nouns are on red blocks, etc. Students can also suggest their own words. It’s like a 3-D game of Madlibs…and “writing” possibilities are endless!

For printable lists of sight (Dolch) words to use as starters, check out: www.mrsperkins.com/dolch.htm

Create a World

Allow students access to a large variety of blocks or Legos. Instruct them to build a house or building and then write a story about that structure. Who lives there? What do they do? Look like? Enjoy? Struggle with? Students can also write descriptive paragraphs about their structure’s imaginary world. Is it in our country? Is it on earth?

Students love the opportunity to play with blocks during “writing” time, and being creative with their hands often leads to creativity with words, as well. Not to mention the positive associations fostered around writing. This may be the “fun” activity that they need to prove to them that writing is accessible…and enjoyable.

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.

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Filed under Activities, Art, creative writing, Critical Thinking, grammar, Language Arts, Writing

a long way from Legos: the latest, greatest building sets {and how to use them in the classroom}

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card! (Which you could use to buy…building sets! :)

Legos and Lincoln Logs used to rule the roost when it came to building sets. Not so these days, my friend. Magnets, gears and pulleys make today’s building sets more engaging–and mind-bending–than ever. Whether you’re looking for sets for a classroom, birthday gift, or just a rainy day, here are our top picks for kiddie-approved, creativity-inspiring building sets, followed by some ways to incorporate them into your classroom.

Gears, Gears, Gears!

The fun Gears, Gears, Gears! sets allow young builders to construct buildings, vehicles, factories and the like. There are a variety of sets, from beginner to themed kits (like this cute Movin’ Monkeys set), but all are interchangeable. Sets include spinning gears, pillars, connectors and cranks to set creations in motion–plus interlocking plates for limitless building.

Magneatos

I first discovered these magnetized balls, rods and plates when my son received a Magneatos set from his Popi. Three years later, they’re still a favorite. No wonder why Magneatos have garnered so much praise: recipient of 2005 & 2006 OPPENHEIM AWARD WINNER; featured on NBC’s Today Show and Featured in MONEY magazine; recipient of Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award (Top Honor); recipient of Oppenheim SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Product) Award Winner.

Thistle Blocks

Thistle Blocks are an oldie but goodie– a cousin to the Bristle Blocks from my own childhood. Guess what? These stick-to-each-other squares, rectangles and rods are still tons of fun. 

Flexiblocks

What set allows children to build movable bridges, creatures, vehicles and reptiles all with the same blocks? Flexiblocks! These wonder blocks, shown below, can be configured into a limitless variety of critters and formations: a boredom buster for sure. 

In the Classroom

Here are three ideas for using building sets in the classroom to encourage critical thinking and creativity, while practicing  hands-on geometry, public speaking, measuring, graphing and writing.

  • Hold a Building Challenge.

Break students into groups or pairs. Give each group the same number of blocks (or have pairs bring in building sets from home) and set the clock. Give the groups 15 or 20 minutes to build. Then, have each group present their creation to the class. The class can vote on which structures win Most Creative, Most Impressive, Most Blocks Used, Most Movable, etc.

Skills utilized: critical thinking, cooperative learning, oral speaking/presenting

  • Create (and Write About) a Fantasy World.

Allow students (individually or in small groups) to build a fantasy world with sets of blocks, including buildings, creatures, people, vehicles, bridges–whatever their imaginations hold. At the end of a set building period (around 20-30 minutes), students will then write either fiction stories, descriptive narratives or poems about their fantasy world, explaining what it looks like, who lives there, and how life works within the world of their imagination.

Skills utilized: critical thinking, cooperative learning, writing, grammar

  • Have a Race and Chart the Results.

Lots of building sets have circle or disk components that make great wheels. Allow students to build vehicles and then hold a race. Make predictions about which vehicle will go farthest. Create a starting line with tape, line up students two-at-a-time to race their creations. Then, use a ruler or yard stick to measure the distance traveled. Chart or graph the distances as a class on a piece of a bulletin board or chart paper. Be sure to note which are creative and aesthetic, even if they don’t go the distance! :)

Skills utilized: critical thinking, predicting, math, graphing, measuring, comparing/contrasting

For more great building sets, click here and here and here.

Build on!

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Filed under Activities, Art, Centers, Critical Thinking, Parenting, School Readiness, Science, Summer Learning

Toys that Teach: Christmas Gifts that Go the Distance

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card…just in time for Christmas! 

I recently sat down with my 4-year-old son to craft a Christmas wish list. Two hours and about 40 items later, we were done. And he’s only 4!! I didn’t even know he knew half those toys existed!

As his mom, I obviously have a more realistic idea of the toys he will actually play with beyond Christmas afternoon. My job is to sort through his list and pick the items that won’t be quick to become toy box fodder. To help me (and hopefully you) find toys whose impact and interest will last longer than the egg nog, I consulted with Chris Persson, mom of two, former teacher, and co-owner of The School Box along with her husband Dave.

“The best gifts,” says Chris,”are those that blend fun with learning. The toys we carry at The School Box are highly engaging, but allow kids to learn while they’re playing–often without even realizing it!” It’s like sneaking applesauce into the brownie mix: something good for your kids, incognito.

Here, Chris shares her top picks (and The School Box’s top sellers) for holiday gifts.  

1. Hands-On Science Kits, $14.99-$26.99

What child (or adult) wouldn’t want to build a robot out of an empty soda can? Or make their own slime laboratory? Or create a doorbell from electromagnets? As gifts, these kits are just plain cool.

What Kids Learn: “These kits bring science to life while reinforcing critical thinking skills,” says Chris.

 2. Games Galore, $10.99-$29.99

The School Box’s unmatched game selection is the perfect red herring for undercover learning. my new fave: Cartoon It!, a fast-paced memory game with an artistic twist. Younger kids will love Maze Madness, where they guide a ball through a twisty-turny maze. Game on!

What Kids Learn: “Games promote memory, strategy, fine motor skills, fair play and more. Plus, they’re fun!” Chris asserts.

 3. Froggy Ecosystem, Price: $19.99

This funky gift is an annual best-seller. It’s two little frogs in a plant-filled, self-sustaining ecosystem: no cleaning required. Much lower maintenance than a puppy on Christmas morning!

What Kids Learn: “They learn all about habitat and lifecycles,” says Chris, who notes that these fly off the shelves during the holidays.

These gifts have me thinking that The School Box may be as sly as those applesauce-laden brownies. Perhaps they should really call themselves The School and Toy Box: where your kids will learn without even knowing it. And, as for my son’s list, I think there may still be room to add a froggy or two.

 Need more gift ideas? Visit www.schoolbox.com to order online or find a location near you. Or stop by any School Box location for Super Saturdays, where kids make a (free) craft! Second and fourth Saturdays each month, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

This article was adapted from Little Black Dress|Little Red Wagon Magazine. 

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Games, Holidays, School Readiness, Science

The Coolest Birthday Gifts Ever (Hands-On Science Part III)

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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

Science is one of those subjects that, when done right, is just as fun on a Friday night at home with the kids as it is in class. This is part three in a three-part series on fun science projects for home or school.

While the supplies under your kitchen sink make for great science experiments (as shared in Part I and Part II of this series), there are also some fabulous (affordable) science kits that you can purchase at specialty toy stores to provide hours of exploration and discovery.

Here are our favorites, which would also make welcomed birthday and Christmas gifts. Think of them as toys that pack a one/two punch. ONE: They’re tons of FUN. (Seriously, who doesn’t want to make a robot?) And TWO: They teach and reinforce critical thinking skills (cause and effect, reading and pre-reading strategies, direction following, synthesis, analysis, prediction…).

Now doesn’t that sound like a better gift than the usual overpriced plastic thingymajig that will become toy box fodder in two days? We thought so, too.

Five Rockin’ Science Kits

  • Tin Can Robot

Description: Recycle a soda can by turning it into a silly robot that can wobble around! Kit includes all working parts, motor, wheels, arms, googly eyes, and fully detailed instructions. Requires screwdriver and empty soda can (not included). Great way to recycle! Ages 6+.

Price: $14.99

Available at: The School Box store or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/Tin-Can-Robot-Kit

  • Electromagnet Science Kit

Description: Build a doorbell, telegraph system and even a catapult using a true electromagnet! Kit includes: disc, latch and neodymium magnets, compass, straws, wires, sand paper, switch plates, wood screws, nails, light bulbs, battery holders, iron filings and more. An instruction booklet walks young scientists through an array of project options and experiments for hours of captivating fun.

Price: $26.99

Available at: The School Box stores or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/ProductDetail

  • Big Bag Of Science

Description: This giant kit is designed to whet the appetites of budding young scientists of all ages. With more than 70 unique, fun, hands-on science activities, this kit guarantees hours of science fun. Amaze your friends and family with such activities as making water disappear, having liquid flow uphill, making a 30’ soda geyser, growing fake snow instantly, balancing 6 nails on the head of one nail – and much more. Store all components in the reusable zipper bag. Ages 8 and up.

Price: $39.99

Available at: The School Box stores or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/Big-Bag-Of-Science

  • Solar Rover

Description: Learn how regular sunlight converts to energy as it powers this rover to roll along the floor. All you need is a recycled soda can! Ages 8 and up.

Price: $19.99

Available at: The School Box stores or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/Solar-Rover-Kit

  • Weird Slime Laboratory

Description: Create green jelly worms, tadpoles and leeches, invisible jellyfish and more! Learn about the properties of matter, wet spinning, hydrated crystals and cross-linked polymers. Kit includes eight activities, each of which builds on the skills learned in the previous one. Ages 10 and up.

Price: $19.99

Available at: The School Box or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/Weird-Slime-Laboratory

For more hands-on science kits, check out these other awesome ideas and kits (erupt a volcano, anyone?): http://www.schoolbox.com/Science-Fair-Projects-And-Kits.aspx

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Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Centers, Critical Thinking, Reading, Science, Summer Learning, technology

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.

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