Tag Archives: Cooperative Learning

Silly National Holidays {and how to use them in the classroom}

chocolate covered bacon!

Anyone want to celebrate Chocolate Covered Anything Day?

by Diane Burdick, Ed.S

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Thanksgiving and Christmas may be over, but that’s just fine by me because I recently discovered a new favorite holiday. And although I’ve been celebrating the spirit of this day for many (many) years, I didn’t know there was an “official” holiday for it until recently. It can be summed up in one glorious word: CHOCOLATE.

That’s right, December 16 is “National Chocolate Covered Anything Day.” So of course I celebrated it with gusto this past month. And it got me thinking: what other lesser-known holidays are out there languishing without celebration?

A little digging led me to discover the answer: quite a few! Many of these holidays are silly, most are funny, and almost all are downright perfect for a teachable moment. Here are a few lesson ideas, based on January’s wacky holidays:

January 10: “Peculiar People Day”

Look up the word “peculiar” in the dictionary. Have students copy the definition and then write their own definition in their own words below it. Younger students can then draw a peculiar person, and older students can create a description of a peculiar person.

Since peculiar people aren’t boring in the least, be sure to brainstorm a list of colorful synonyms and adjectives to describe peculiar people. For example, you could ask children to consider what would make a basketball player peculiar from his teammates (height, or lack thereof), or what might make a ballerina peculiar (clumsiness, huge feet, a mohawk, etc.). They can write a “peculiar person paragraph” and illustrate it. Or, better yet: have them trade paragraphs with a classmate and illustrate each other’s based on the descriptions! 

January 15: “Hat Day”

Provide magazines and have students search for hat pictures, cut them out, and make a “wacky hat” collage. Older students could research styles and fashions of different eras and see what types of hats were popular in each era. What was the purpose of each type of hat? For example, why are cowboy hats so different from baseball caps? Why did women used to wear hats to church? Why are Kentucky Derby attendees famous for wearing hats? Or add in a little math: What’s the average hat size in your classroom?

January 23: “National Handwriting Day”Girl writing with colored pencil

Practice using your best handwriting to write thank-you notes to people in the school. Brainstorm a list of seldom-thanked staff members (media specialist, janitor, cafeteria workers, front desk receptionist, etc.) who might appreciate a well-penned note.

January 25: “Opposite Day” 

Have fun with this one! Students can practice talking in opposites, or you can give instructions in opposites (“Stand up,” “Put your books away,” “Don’t write this down”). Give a sticker or small prize to the student who most successfully figures out and follows the correct instructions all day.

Here are some other wacky January holidays to get your creative juices flowing!

January 1: First Foot Day and Z Day

January 2: Run Up the Flagpole and See if Anybody Salutes It Day

January 3: Festival of Sleep Day

January 4: Trivia Day

January 5: Bird Day

January 6: Bean Day

January 7: Old Rock Day

January 8: National JoyGerm Day and Man Watcher’s Day

January 9: Play God Day

January 10: Peculiar People Day

January 11: National Step in a Puddle and Splash Your Friend Day

January 12: Feast of Fabulous Wild Men Day (couldn’t find a good explanation of this one…but it sounds fascinating)

January 13: Make Your Dream Come True Day (love this!)

January 14: National Dress Up Your Pet Day

January 15: Hat Day

January 16: Hot and Spicy Food International Day

January 17: Blessing of the Animals at the Cathedral Day

January 18: Winnie the Pooh Day

January 19: National Popcorn Day

January 20: National Buttercrunch Day

January 21: National Hugging Day (awww)

January 22: National Answer Your Cat’s Question Day (bizarre-o!) and National Blonde Brownie Day

January 23: National Handwriting Day, National Pie Day, and Measure Your Feet Day

January 24: Eskimo Pie Patent Day

January 25: Opposite Day

January 26: Australia Day

January 27: Punch the Clock Day

January 28: Rattle Snake Round-Up Day

January 29: National Cornchip Day

January 30: Escape Day

January 31: National Popcorn Day (just in case you missed it on the 19th! :)

Whichever holiday you choose to celebrate and integrate into the classroom, we’ll be excited to hear about it! Leave a comment about what you’ve already celebrated, or the holiday you plan on bringing into your classroom in the new year.

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Filed under Classroom Community, Classroom Decor, Crafts, History, Holidays, Multicultural Community, Uncategorized

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

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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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


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

Educator’s Day!!

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Okay, so you just have to know about this event: This Saturday, January 29, is the biggest sale at The School Box all year. Did you hear that? ALL YEAR, ladies and gents. I am more than a little excited.

But, wait, don’t tune out if you’re not a teacher. The School Box is also the PERFECT place to get craft supplies, kiddie room decor and furniture, the best book titles for all ages, tutoring & extra practice materials for home…and (my personal fave) birthday and baby shower gifts. Have you seen their awesome toy and game aisles? Quality stuff sans the lead paint (like Melissa & Doug). And now it’ll all be ON SALE!!! “Stock up” is the golden rule for a balanced birthday budget.

The Details:

Date: January 29, 2011

Where: At *every* School Box location. To find one near you, check out www.schoolbox.com.

Discounts: Available for parents, teachers, home-schoolers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, third cousins twice removed…everyone! Draw an apple at checkout, and the apple will determine the discount on your total purchase (10%, 20%, 30%, 40%).

Oh Goody Goody: The first 40 customers will receive special goody bags.  Drawings will also be done for $50 prizes, and one lucky duck will win a $250 Gift Certificate!!!

This is one of the best (and most fun!) sales for quality children’s games, supplies and the like. Just thought you should know about it!

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Filed under Activities, Classroom Community, Classroom Decor, Critical Thinking, Free Stuff!, Games, Geography, History, Holidays, Parenting, Phonics, Reading, Science, Study Skills, Teacher Inspiration

a puzzling holiday

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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So, whatcha doin’ on January 29? How about…a jigsaw puzzle??

If this wasn’t on your agenda this week, it should be! January 29 is National Puzzle Day. And, since puzzles are such a great way to incorporate cooperative learning while sharpening the ol’ noggin, we think we should all jump on the bandwagon of celebrating this holiday. Who’s in?

Need more convincing?

“Doing jigsaw puzzles can help build cognitive skills like visual processing, logic and reasoning, attention, and processing speed,” says Kristen Thompson, owner of LearningRx, a brain training center in Kennesaw, Georgia, that helps students overcome learning struggles. Puzzles rank at the top of their list for an impactful way to improve critical thinking.

Did You Know???

And now, here for your puzzling pleasure, are some random facts about puzzles that would impress even Alex Trebek:

· Jigsaw puzzles originated in the 1760s when maps were pasted onto wood and dissected.

· In 2008, more than 15,000 people in Ravensburg, Germany, assembled a nearly 6,500-square-foot puzzle in town square. The puzzle had 1,141,800 pieces.

· In the 1930s, puzzle manufacturer Einson Freeman convinced a toothbrush company to give away a puzzle with every toothbrush purchase. More than one million toothbrushes sold.

· No one is sure who invented National Puzzle Day, but there are various clubs dedicated to the love of puzzles.

There are lots of places online where kids can do jigsaw puzzles for free! Here’s a good starting place:


There is also a great selection of high quality puzzles for all ages available on-line from our sponsor, The School Box:



Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Cooperative Learning, Critical Thinking

Edible Earth

by Kristin M. Woolums, M.Ed.

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Try this great mini-lesson for teaching the layers of the earth!

What you need:

• Red hot candies – 1 per child

• Gum drops or spice drops – 1 per child

• Large marshmallows – 1 per child

• Graham cracker crumbs

• Paper plates or napkins for a workstation

What you do:

  1. I begin with a discussion of the inner core. I ask the students to describe what it is like, how we might know this since we’ve never been there, and to name an everyday item that might be similar to its makeup. Since finding something even remotely close to the temperature, density and makeup of the inner core is not feasible in the classroom, I use Red Hot candies (get it? Red hot?)!
  2. Secondly, we discuss how the outer core is somewhat softer than the inner core, but yet still very dense since both of these layers literally have the weight of the world on top of them! I have the students cram (note the real scientific term there: cram) the Red Hot inside the gum/spice drop.
  3. Next, for the mantle, we use the marshmallow. We discuss how the mantle is much more pliable (relatively speaking) than the core, and that the top layer actually “floats” on top of this spongy material. The students should then cram the core (the Red Hot inside the gum/spice drop) into the center of the marshmallow. At this point, the Earth may not look so “earthy” or round, but the point is getting across to the learner.
  4. Finally, have the students lick, but not eat, the outside of the marshmallow. They will then roll this concoction in the graham cracker crumbs to be… you guessed it… the crust. You can easily explain how the crust is a “crackly” surface even though it doesn’t look like it to us, and that it’s made up of plates that truly float on the mantle.
  5. Of course, by this point, the students are asking to “dispose” of their project. They will enjoy eating their Earth, so this is an opportunity to tell them that they’d want to eat a clean Earth, so hopefully they didn’t pollute their Earth. Give them a few moments to enjoy their snack. As a follow-up, I usually have the students describe their model of the Earth – either as a short-answer question on a test or as a quick-write – using science vocabulary and proper terminology.

Food is a great way to get (and keep!) students engaged. They’ll love this lesson because it keeps them engaged while learning, and gives them a sweet treat in the process!

Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed., teaches fifth grade at a private school in Atlanta and works at The School Box at Southlake during the summer months.


Filed under Activities, Science

Comparing: an important life skill

by Kelli Lewis
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Making comparisons is an important skill for life, not to mention a standard for elementary students. Centers can include comparing objects such as buttons, bottle tops, letter tiles, cubes, etc. However, as a class, I’ve found that students enjoy comparing something else even better: each other! Here are some sorting ideas that I’ve used in my classroom before, and the students always ask to do them over and over again.

long hair vs. short hair

Question: Do more students have long hair or short hair?

  1. Estimate. Have the students look around and guess whether they think there are more people in the room who have long hair or short hair.
  2. Observe. Have the students with long hair move to one side of the room and the students with short hair move to the other side of the room. (You can define long hair as below shoulders or below chin– whatever you and your students agree upon.)
  3. Record. Write the numbers of the amounts of long hair and short hair on the board or chart paper.
  4. Compare. Discuss and determine, together as a class, which one is the most and which is the least. Who estimated correctly?

other ideas for comparing:

  • tennis shoes vs. other shoes: Are more students are wearing tennis shoes or other shoes?
  • chairs vs. people: Are more chairs or people in the classroom?
  • jeans vs. other pants: Are more students are wearing jeans or other pants?
  • boys vs. girls: Are more students boys or girls?

And, comparing always leads to a great character lesson, too: It’s important that, as you compare, you don’t accidentally let your comparisons turn into judgments. The fact that we are all different and unique is what makes our class…and our world…so wonderful!

Kelli Lewis is working on her Masters at The University of Georgia, and she is also a regular contributor to A Learning Experience.

Do you have ideas to share, too? Write them up into an article and submit it to editor@schoolbox.com. If your article gets published on A Learning Experience, you’ll recieve a $35 gift card to The School Box!


Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning

All Aboard the Polar Express!

by Kelli Lewis

Comment on this post to win a $20 School Box Gift Card! We give away gift cards weekly. Just in time for Christmas presents!

One of my favorite books to read during this time of the year is The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg! Elementary students absolutely love reading it and hearing it read to them over and over. Here are some ways to engage your students with the book and some activities that you can do after reading.

Watch the movie!

After reading the book to your students, allow them to watch the movie together as a class. You could even allow your students to wear pajamas and bring their favorite stuffed animal for the movie day. Pop popcorn and have hot chocolate during the movie to make it even more festive! One way to make this academic is to incorporate Venn diagrams and have a discussion on how the movie and book compare and contrast with one another.

Create a train!

Since The Polar Express is a train, allow the students to each create a piece of the train, and then assemble it together as a class. Bring in shoe boxes and send out letters to parents requesting that they send in any extra shoe boxes that they may have lying around. Shoe boxes may also be donated from local stores.

Students can also bring in supplies to create and decorate their piece of the train. You can also contribute any materials or supplies you may have lying around, such as scraps of wrapping paper, ribbons, stickers, etc. Depending on the age and level of your students, you can also allow your students to create one piece/shoebox for the train as a group– adding cooperative learning to the mix.

Another option is to leave the train pieces/shoe boxes open (discarding the lid) and allow students to bring things to place in them, such as canned goods, toys, etc. for the less fortunate during the holiday season. Most schools are already participating in some type of event as such. Your class’s Polar Express train could be the way your class contains your donated items.

Silver bells!

Since a big part of The Polar Express is the special silver bell, it would be a special and meaningful idea to give each student their own silver bell after the day is over, to take home. This would a great conversation starter among their family and friends, and a great way for them to retell the story to others…furthering their summarizing and retelling skills in a festive way!

Kelli Lewis is a graduate student at The University of Georgia who is chock-full of great ideas and insights. We’re so glad she shares them with us at A Learning Experience!


Filed under Activities, Cooperative Learning, Reading

Gingerbread Man Math

by Kelli Lewis

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Why not get into the holiday spirit by baking cookies and learning math at the same time?

By using the following gingerbread man recipe (or any recipe, really), you can incorporate math concepts with a festive, hands-on activity.

Here’s how:

  1. Gather all materials and ingredients (listed below).
  2. Make the cookies with your class, calling on student volunteers to measure and add the various ingredients. Give everyone a chance to stir.
  3. While you’re mixing and measuring, discuss the measurements with your students: “If we need 1 ½ cups of flour, what are some ways I could measure this out using the measuring cups?” Students may respond by using the measuring cups for 1 cup along with the ½ cup.
  4. Now challenge the students to think of ways to measure the flour if you did not have the measuring cup for 1 cup: “Could we still make the cookies if we didn’t have the measuring cups for 1 cup nor the ½ cup? What if you only had the measuring cup for ¼ cup?” Explain to your students that these are real world situations that you may run into when cooking. Sharing your own stories of when you used math to cook will make the activity even more relevant and memorable.
  5. After you make the dough (and chill it according to the recipe, below), give each student a piece of wax paper for their desk. Add a small amount of flour to the wax paper and then give each student a small ball of dough. They can press the dough (or take turns using rolling pins to roll it out) to 1/8-inch thickness (they can even use their rulers to measure!) before cutting out their gingerbread man.
  6. You can either ascertain permission to use the kitchen’s oven to bake the cookies at school (a parent volunteer is helpful to take the cookies to and from the kitchen while you stay with your class in the classroom), or you can take the cookies home to bake them and bring them back. (To make sure each student gets his or her own cookie back, label foil-lined cookie sheets with students’ names in permanent marker, and place each child’s cookie on the foil by his/her name).

Materials List:

  • medium mixing bowl
  • mixing/stirring spoons
  • measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • refrigerator
  • oven
  • baking sheet
  • cooking spray
  • gingerbread man cookie cutter
  • wire racks
  • decorative containers/bags to store finished cookies in

Gingerbread Men Recipe (from Allrecipes.com):

*Yields: 2 ½ dozen (Calories 79, Total Fat: 3.3g per serving)

* Time: total of about 1 hour & 40 minutes


• 1 (3.5 ounce) package cook and serve butterscotch pudding mix

• 1/2 cup butter

• 1/2 cup packed brown sugar

• 1 egg

• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1. In a medium bowl, cream together the dry butterscotch pudding mix, butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the egg. Combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, and cinnamon; stir into the pudding mixture. Cover, and chill dough until firm, about 1 hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease baking sheets. On a floured board, roll dough out to about 1/8 inch thickness, and cut into man shapes using a cookie cutter. Place cookies 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, until cookies are golden at the edges. Cool on wire racks.

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

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Filed under Cooperative Learning, Math

{New} Guided Reading Activities

by Rachel Stepp

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Do you struggle with your guided reading group routine? Here is a simple idea for a five-day reading routine for the lower grades (which could easily be adapted for upper grades, as well).

Imagine your class divided into several small groups. You can work with each group for approximately 15-20 minutes depending on the number of students in your class.

Day 1: Selecting and Introducing the Book

If your school has a guided reading book library, then use it to find books that are appropriate for your students. When you first introduce the book, allow the students to do a picture walk (flip through the book, looking at the pictures) and make predictions. Then read the story aloud to the class the first time through. Make sure that your students are using their ‘tracking finger’ to follow along. After the whole group has read the book together, ask the students to whisper read to themselves as you listen in. Make sure that the students read the book enough times so that you have time to walk around the class and listen to each student read.

Day 2: Learning New Words

Begin the second day by reviewing and rereading the book from day one. Check ‘tracking fingers’ like you did previously, and monitor the students as they read to themselves. After they have reread the book, talk about new words from the story. You can write these words on index cards to add them to the word wall, if your class has one. Have your students practice saying the words and talk about their meanings. You can have the students write out new words on individual white boards if time allows.

Day 3: Be an Illustrator!

Once again, begin the day by allowing your students to reread their stories. Ask comprehension questions related to the text and pictures (“Why do you think he did that?” “What’s going on in that picture?” “What did you think about that part?”)–to get students to think deeper about what they’re reading.

Now it’s time to let your students’ creativity shine: tell them that they are going to become the illustrator for a page in the story! After they draw their favorite scene, they can write a caption. Depending on students’ writing abilities, their captions may range from one word to paragraphs. This will help them practice their spelling and attention to story sequence and details.

Day 4: Social Reading

On this day, once again reread the story, but allow your students to do this with a partner. Let them move about the room for a few minutes as they read to each other. Once everyone has had the chance to read, bring them back together and review the new words. The students can try to read new or unfamiliar words on their own by sounding them out or using context clues. At the end of this day, allow your students to take home their books so that they can read them with their families.

Day 5: Working on Writing

Since you sent the books home with your students the day before, you might not have them all back on day five (let’s be realistic). So, on this day, orally talk about the story. Tell the students to write words or sentences summarizing the story’s content. You might need to remind students what the story was about. Allow them to sound out words and work on their phonics skills. Also, while they are writing, ask them to check for spacing between letters and look for neat handwriting. Children can use their index fingers as a guide for how much space to leave between words.

These five days of guided reading plans are simple enough to be adapted to many classrooms and guided reading units. One final tip: Listen to your students read aloud during guided reading. This may be the only time that you will be able to hear them read one-on-one. One of the purposes of guided reading is to get to know your students’ abilities on an individualized basis, and after this week’s worth of activities, you will have witnessed oral reading, vocabulary skills, comprehension, interpersonal skills, writing, summarizing and drawing. Not too shabby for one week!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia whose good ideas are frequently published on A Learning Experience.


Filed under Academic Success, comprehension, Cooperative Learning, Reading, reading aloud

Outside-the-Box Alphabet Activity

by Kelli Lewis

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Tired of doing the same things to teach letters to your young students? Do you simply just need a way to liven it up a little? How about getting your students active in role playing and engaged with each other by participating in some out-of-your-seat learning?!

Here’s How:

  1. Tell the students that they are all going to “become” the letters in the alphabet, beginning with uppercase letters. When you say, “Give me an ‘A’!” then your students will work together to make an “A” on the floor. For example, two students would lay down, with their heads touching and a slight angle, to create the upside-down “V” shape.  Then, another student would lay down in the middle of them to create the bar that connects the two, making a letter “A”!
  2. After your explanation, tell the students to find a place where they have room to wiggle and giggle as they lay on the floor and use their bodies to make ABC’s!
  3. Then, explain and demonstrate with your students how it is going to work. Model for them what will happen each time. You will choose the amount of students you need for the letter you’re about to call.  You may even want to draw sticks with the students’ names on them to be sure that everyone gets a turn.
  4. Be sure to go over the rules.  We don’t want anyone getting too excited and causing others to get hurt, stepped on, or trampled over!
  5. Next, choose a letter, draw the appropriate amount of sticks, tell them their letter, and let them go at it!
  6. Finally, take a picture each time the students have finished the letter. You can later print these and create a classroom alphabet book. For your pictures, you could even have another student stand behind the created letter with a paper sign that displays the letter in written or typed form.

A book that goes well with this activity and could be read beforehand is Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book.

Hope you have fun with this zany activity! I know your students will!

Kelli Lewis is a graduate student at The University of Georgia and a regular contributor to A Learning Experience. We’re so glad!


Filed under Academic Success, Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, Writing