Category Archives: creative writing

Creative Dr. Seuss Birthday Ideas {It’s March 2!}

by Diane Burdick, M. Ed. 

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One of my favorite sayings comes from my children’s favorite author. Seriously. Consider the wisdom of Theodor Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss:

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Truth, plain and simple.

Every March 2, libraries and schools around the country celebrate the birthday of this beloved childhood muse. So why not go beyond simply reading his timless tales and bring them to life? Here are some creative ideas to take you from snack time to craft time to recess.

Fun with Food

With a smidgen of creativity, Dr. Seuss’s books become veritable cookbooks! Favorite yum-o ideas:

  • Create a stack of pancakes with strawberry filling to look like the hat of The Cat In the Hat
  • Eat cake in the bathtub at home, like the cat does in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (do it while holding an open umbrella, if you’re truly talented)
  • Hand out multicolored Goldfish crackers to illustrate One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
  • Drink pink ink (strawberry Quik-flavored milk) like the “pink yink ink” in One Fish, Two Fish
  • Of course there’s green eggs and ham. Of course.
  • And check out these adorable Thing One Thing Two cupcakes, shown right, from Go Graham Go!

Dress Up, Seuss-style

Keep the fun going by helping kids dress like their favorite (or original!) Seuss character.

  • Look for tall pipe-like hats at the craft store and decorate them with red and white stripes (or make your own from poster board).
  • Wear socks on your hands and feet to resemble Fox in Socks.
  •  And if your dress-up box is a bit more on the wild side, let children layer on the funny furs, feather boas, ears and snouts to create their own silly Seuss-like character! Older children can then write rhyming stories about their original character to share with a younger class.

Tim Tebow Storytime

View the animated webcast recording of football phenom Tim Tebow reading Green Eggs and Ham. Great reading role model! Just click “watch now” and then enter the little information it asks for (city, state, etc.). The video is adorable.

Cat-y Crafts!

Looking for something to do? How about some help from Thing 1 and Thing 2?

Let kids create two paper bag hand puppets of the Things with this adorable template from obSEUSSed.com. In addition to a printout for each student (provided on the site), you’ll need two red paper bags (or white bags colored red), scissors, glue/double-sided tape and crayons or markers. So stinkin’ cute!

Get Movin’

Balance Silliness: Recreate some of the fun from the Cat in the Hat by letting children try their hand at carrying and balancing a variety of items, cat-style, while walking across the room: balance a book on a child’s head, hold a stack of books with a ball on top, and hang a curved-handled umbrella over the crook of the child’s arm. Make it into a contest: Have every child in your class try walking with the same items. Mark each child’s stopping point (how far they get before things topple) on tape on the rug, labeled with their names. The child who walks the farthest wins!

Kite Race: Recreate another activity from the Cat in the Hat by letting kids race kites outside or in the gym at school. Keep things safe by spacing children at least 10 feet apart from each other and shortening their kite strings to under 10 feet. They’ll end up dragging the kites the whole way, but it is hysterical!

Lego Cat Hat: Looking for a simple activity? Have kids sort out red and white Lego blocks and see who can build the tallest ‘Cat Hat’ quickest. Make sure to have a timer and ruler ready to see who wins!

After a Seusstacular day, your students will be saying, “Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.”

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Filed under Activities, Art, creative writing, Games, Reading, reading aloud, reluctant readers, technology, Writing

Writing Activity: Using Legos to Spark Creative Writing

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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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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How Do You Spell…?? (a reproducible sheet to help with dictionary skills)

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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No matter the age of your students, chances are you get this question often during writing assignments: “How do you spell….?”

While the answer “Look it up” may be an effective route for some students, oftentimes students don’t even know where to start in figuring out the spelling of a word. Thus, cracking a dictionary to find the word is a daunting task.

To break down the steps of how to look up a misspelled word in the dictionary, walk students through guessing the spelling, first. Once they sound out the word phonetically and take the time to really think about the ways in which the word might be spelled, they’ll be much more likely to locate the correct spelling in a dictionary. The key is prompting them to write down several spelling guesses so that a concrete version of possible spellings is in front of them. They can then use those guesses as they scan the dictionary.

To make this a simple, student-directed activity, here’s a Spelling Guess & Check sheet that your students can keep in their writing folders. Download a pdf of the sheet here. Anytime they run across a word that needs correcting, instruct them to use this sheet before diving into the dictionary.

Of course, their phonetic guesses still need to be somewhere in the ballpark of the correct spelling to be found in the dictionary, but at least this tool will get them thinking like a speller. Added bonus: figuring out multiple spelling guesses is good brain exercise, too!

Happy spelling!

For more spelling aids, check out these useful resources

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Getting Out the Pre-Holiday Wiggles! {aka Keeping your Students’ Attention in December}

adapted from an article by Rachel Stepp, M. Ed. 

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year…and also the most distracted! Enter any classroom between now and the holiday break, and you’ll find students who are a little more fidgety and a little less interested in long division and the exploits of European explorers. But, have no fear, all you brave and determined educators out there. Here are a few easy activities you can incorporate into your December lesson plans to help channel (and burn) your students’ extra energy.

Get Crafty

Okay, this is an obvious one that you’re probably already doing, so we’ll just mention it quickly. Plan festive crafts that allow your students to engage their holiday excitement in a productive way. Here’s a site to check out if you’re searching for original ideas: crafts.kaboose.com. 

Curriculum Tie-In: Crafts build hand-eye-coordination, encourage creativity, and promote fine motor skills. Not to mention that they’re just plain fun.

Do a “Walk and Talk”

This activity allows your students to talk (probably one of their favorite activities), walk, and be outdoors. So, during regular school-day transitions (like between subjects or after lunch), bundle up and go get some fresh air. During a walk and talk, students go outside to a track or playground where they can walk while talking with their classmates or grade level. This allows them to socialize and get a little low-key exercise.

Writing Tie-In: This activity can easily be turned “academic” by calling it a “Winter Nature Walk.” Instruct students to notice their five senses during the walk: certain sounds? sights? smells? feelings? Then, come back inside and do a little creative sensory writing using their observations. The paragraphs can be posted on cut-out snowflakes and hung around the room.

Get Techy

Head to the computer lab! Something as simple as having “history” class in the lab and exploring relevant websites together will have your students saying, “Santa who?”–at least for the next 40 minutes.

Curriculum Tie-In: Come up with a list of websites for students to explore that relate to a topic at-hand (like those European explorers), or ask your school’s computer teacher to help you select games that align with your current curriculum. You may want to create an Internet scavenger hunt, where you give students a list of fill-in-the-blank sentences or questions that they complete by finding the answers on various websites you provide.

Or, if you have a little extra time on your hands (stop laughing), you could just give your students 20 minutes of free time in the lab. School computer programs offer many possibilities, but due to time restraints, students don’t always get to use their favorite programs. They’ll enjoy exploring their favorites during a little pre-holiday free time.

Read Around the Room

Allow your students to bring one thing to school that will make reading more enjoyable for them. These things could include a beach towel, a stuffed animal, or slippers. Allow your students to have time during one day to read around the classroom with their favorite thing. You can up the anticipation-ante by bringing in a special snack like popcorn to munch while reading.

Language Arts Tie-In: Use this idea during regular reading class, when students are reading novels or nonfiction. Or, go to the library as a class first, and allow students to check out any book that interests them. Pleasure reading is still educational, you know!

Create an Obstacle Course

If your class needs to get out some energy, ask your physical education teachers to set up an obstacle course on the playground or in the gym (or get their feedback on how to do it, and have your students help you set it up themselves). Allow your students to complete the course in teams. Running, jumping and competing will help them use energy that they have (hopefully) been controlling.

Curriculum Tie-In: Obstacle courses help promote social skills, build physical abilities, develop coordination, and enhance motor skills. All good things!

Schedule Some “Me Time”

Finally, let’s just be real for a minute. Students aren’t the only ones who have trouble focusing before the holidays. Don’t forget to treat yourself to some free time after a long day of herding cats…er, I mean educating precious angels.

Tips to Try: Don’t grade papers at your desk after school. Take the stack home, put a log on the fire and slippers on your feet, and curl up on the couch to do your grading. And indulge in little pick-me-ups, like bringing your favorite warm beverage into school with you in the morning. Or plan an after-school outing or shopping trip with some of your favorite teaching peers for a Friday afternoon. Recharging your batteries will ensure that you can go the extra mile with your students before the break.

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Filed under Academic Success, Cooperative Learning, creative writing, History, Holidays, Reading, reluctant readers, Snack Time, Writing

Exploring the Great Explorers!

by Rachel Stepp, M. Ed.

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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:
http://worldhistory.mrdonn.org/explorers.html

For teaching materials, maps and reproducibles:
http://www.schoolbox.com

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Live History: A Creative Project

by S. Parbhoo

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Teachers, you all know that teaching history can be a challenge. After all, with Facebook and reality TV in kids’ lives, history just seems so…yesterday! Nothing can bore a kid faster than the idea of textbooks, note-taking and unit tests. But, there is a better way!

Here is a research project that will not only foster kids’ creativity, but will also put them into the driver’s seat of their own learning about the past. It’s called the Multigenre Research Project, and while I designed it for Middle School, it could easily be adapted for upper elementary or high school, as well. Here are the steps to complete the project:

Read a Historical Novel or Biography

Students should choose a book that is set in the historical period that the project should cover (as decided by you, the teacher). Both historical fiction and biographies cover “real life” historical issues that people lived through. It’s important that kids begin their historical journey by walking in someone else’s shoes; they’ll need that perspective later in the project.

Choose a Topic

After reading, kids should choose an important topic or social issue covered in their book: What important facts jumped out? What struggles did the main character go through? For example, was the book about children during the Civil War? Was the book about soldiers who fought during the Revolutionary war? Keep the topic narrow.

Explore the Past

Now is the time to find out all there is to know about the topic. Use the Internet to find articles, videos and pictures about the topic. The more knowledge kids have about their chosen idea, the better they will do in the next step.

Become a Historical Character

Here comes the really fun part! Let kids jump into the time machine of their own minds and create four to five creative original pieces. Kids should write (or draw or sing or act) from the point of view of someone in their historical era. Some ideas for them to think about:

• Write a poem or short story as an historical character

• Create a timeline of the era

• Record a video or original song as a character from the era

• Create an original magazine from the era

• Write a letter to a prominent figure of the era

• Draw a picture of a historical person from the era

Package It Up

Finally, kids will package up their work in a super creative way that fits the topic. For example, if the project was on American Soldiers during World War II, creatively package the pieces in a knapsack or backpack. If the topic was on families during the Great Depression, kids can frame drawings, poems and letters like family portraits on a display board. And Marie Antoinette findings, for example, could be fittingly collected in a jewelry box (or cake box!). The ideas are as endless as a student’s imagination!

 

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Filed under Academic Success, Activities, creative writing, History, Reading, Teacher Inspiration, technology, Writing

The “Write” Way in Middle School

by S. Parbhoo

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Kids– even middle schoolers– love to write about themselves. Not convinced? Simply look at social media. Young teens spend hours “writing” about themselves through texts, Facebook, Twitter and the myriad of other technologies they interact with daily.

But, when faced with writing in the classroom, many of these same students shut down. Why? They anticipate boredom and don’t see the skills as relevant to their lives. The antidote? Creative writing. Here are some great ideas for middle school creative writing activities that are guaranteed to get them writing with a smile (or at least without as much eye-rolling).

Journaling

A journal is the first tool for fostering a love for writing. Kids can use the journal to explore writing in an informal way without all the pressure of a formal writing assignment. Set aside 10 to 15 minutes for journal writing before any other activities. Routine journaling gets those words on the paper which is so important. You may choose to provide or prompt, or students can free write. Journals are a fun place for even the most insecure writers to learn to love writing–especially when no “grades” are attached to the writing.

Becoming a TV star

Another fun way to get kids writing is to have them write a new, original episode for their favorite TV show, starring themselves. Kids choose how they can fit into the existing cast of characters and write about how they would all interact. Once finished, the script can be read aloud or the students can work in groups to act out the episode. This activity is so fun, it won’t even register as writing!

Discovering my Name

Middle school kids are at an age where they are discovering who they are. A great way to do that and stimulate writing skills at the same time is to have them write a story about their name. The story could be based on their family history of their name. Who in your family named you and why? What are some memories they have associated with their name? Do they share their name with a celebrity? Once the ball gets rolling with this assignment, there will be no stopping it.

Becoming a Character

Writing in context with literature is an excellent way for kids to increase reading comprehension and jog their creativity. Using a book that the student is already reading, have them become a character from that book. There are several options for this activity:

  1. First, with a partner, write an interview with the character. One person is the interviewer and the other person uses what they know about the book character to answer the questions.
  2. Second, write a journal entry as the character.
  3. Third, write a letter to someone as the character.

All of these activities are opportunities for kids to use their creative writing skills in an entertaining way. It may be hard to compete with Facebook, but we can at least get close!

For great journaling ideas and prompts, click here.

 

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Interactive Bulletin Boards Part II: Tell Me All About It!

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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Welcome to Part II in our series on Interactive Bulletin Boards!

This idea, from Megan Power with Scholastic.com, is sheer genius. “If you teach young children, you know they always have something to tell you and to share with the class,” says Megan. “I love hearing their news and funny stories, but it was taking a lot of time away from getting started with our instructional day.” So, a few years ago Megan came up with the “Tell Me All About It” bulletin board, which is now a perennial class favorite.

Here’s how to make it:

  1. At the beginning of the year, attach a photo of each child to a bulletin board.
  2. Create and laminate a “speech bubble” for each child, and staple one near each student’s photo.
  3. Place a cup of dry erase markers under the board, and allow time every week or every day (like morning time) for students to write whatever is on their mind on their bubble. The dry erase markers erase easily to allow for an endless amount of chatter!
  4. Megan has a great idea for later in the year, too: “Later in the year, students make their faces with construction paper and craft materials. Changing the student faces is a great way to refresh the board and keep the excitement going all year,” she explains.

To get your students started with ideas, here are Megan’s sentence starters:

  • “My name is ___.”
  • “My favorite pet is a ____.”
  • “I like to___.”
  • “My favorite color is ___.”
  • “I am ___ years old.”
  • As the year progresses, she also has them write the whole sentence or complete the sentence starters with more words. “This weekend I ____.”
  • As students writing progresses, she opens the board up to sharing their own news without a sentence starter or question.

Parents love Megan’s board, too, and often stop to read their child’s comments. It’s a hit all around!

Put these ideas to work in your classroom and transform your ho-hum bulletin board into a flurry of learning.

For more on Megan’s classroom, visit blogs.scholastic.com. For more clever bulletin board starters, visit www.schoolbox.com.

Stay tuned for Part III in this series on Interactive Bulletin Boards, coming soon to A Learning Experience!

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Growing Strong Spellers in a TXTNG World.

by Diane Burdick, M. Ed. and Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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Spelling is important. Now, this fact is debatable if you look at the i-gadgets of most tweens and teens (CU L8R), but CTO (that’s “check this out”): Spelling correctly is essential to proper communication and success in life. Misspelled words immediately bring a connotation of lower intelligence, leaving readers wondering if you’re TSTL. (“Too Stupid To Live”…and no, we’re not making up this netlingo.)

So, even if “Spelling Bee Champ” isn’t on a child’s radar, you can still encourage your students to become better spellers (and writers) with just a few simple tips:

1. Show them the importance of spelling.

Spelling correctly isn’t just for writing papers or acing spelling quizzes. Show students real-life (and fun) examples of how people use spelling.

For example, create a list of games or television shows where spelling is important: Scrabble, Wheel of Fortune, Boggle, Word With Friends (a popular iPhone ap game). Depending on your child’s age, you could let him or her watch a few rounds of the national competitions of spelling and geography bees, where students are expected to know (and often DO know) the spelling of obscure words and country names. Mucho impressivo.

2. Publish student writing.

Make your students’ worlds known to other people by publishing their work. Now, publishing used to mean printing and binding, but in our digital age, publishing is as fast (and free) as clicking that mouse.

Consider creating a class website or blog that features their written work. Include stories, journal entries, and graphic projects like comic-strip stories and photo essays (pictures with captions that tell a story or convey an argument or social message). To set up a class blog, just visit www.blogger.com and click through the steps: free and easy!

Writing with an audience in mind provides authentic accountability for spelling and grammar. Be sure to give children a writing/editing checklist (checking for spelling, run-ons, fragments, etc.) to help them proofread their work before hitting “publish” for the world to see!

3. Develop an interest in words.

Implement a “word of the day” segment of class to broaden your students’ vocabulary and spelling prowess. Here are some ways to spice up this idea:

  • Learn the word in a variety of languages. Translate words from English to pretty much any other language in the world (Spanish, French, Tagalog, Swahili) at translate.reference.com. Point out how many Latin-based languages use similar spellings and pronunciations.
  • Share the root word or word of origin.
  • Use a thesaurus and dictionary to find appropriate synonyms and antonyms for the word of the day.
  • Hold a “creativity contest”: the student who can correctly use the new word in the most inventive, creative, humorous or clever sentence is the Word Champ for the day.

4. Relate word spellings to other words.

Use clue words to help students spell other words. For example, if your student knows how to spell the word “telephone” but struggles writing the word “elephant” remind them that the /f/ sound is the same as in the word “telephone.”

5. Read stories aloud.

Studies show that reading aloud to students cultivates more interest in–and positive connotations with–reading and writing. Read aloud to your students, and have them read aloud to you, as well. The result? They’ll gain a better comprehension of and appreciation for the printed word.

In summary, while our world may be increasingly lazy when it comes to spelling, we can still present this necessary skill as relevant. CU L8R.

For a list of innovative spelling projects, posters, and instructional aids, check out www.schoolbox.com.

Diane Burdick, M. Ed. holds a masters in elementary education and a bachelors in history, and is currently pursuing her specialists degree with a concentration in teaching and learning. A homeschooling mother of three, she also enjoys freelancing for online publications.

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 creative writing, grammar, Language Arts, Phonics, reading aloud, Spelling, Writing

A Fun Science Activity for School or Home

Leaf Man Comes to Life

by Kelli Lewis

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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?

Extensions:

• 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.

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