Tag Archives: positive reinforcement

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

Making Homework Fun, Part II!

by Kate Wilson and Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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As a parent, it’s up to you to set the right tone, provide the right support and create a positive atmosphere for homework time. We shared three TIPS on how to do this in Part I of this series, and now here are three more!

1. Set a goal.

Don’t you work better (and faster) when you know you’ll get to do something fun as soon as you’re done? Well, kids are the same way! So, at the start of each session, ask your child what they look forward to doing as soon as they’re done. Tell them that their goal is to finish their homework by ___(pick a concrete ending point, like 4:30), so they’ll still have plenty of time to do x. Then, if they start dragging their feet, point to the time and remind them of their fun goal.

And, sometimes a small treat may be an appropriate motivation, too. We’re not talking full-scale bribery here, but just a small reward, like a piece of her favorite candy or favorite cookie, once homework is completed. Small enticements can be very motivating!

2. Roll up your own sleeves.

Okay, so it may have been decades since you last did long division, but it’s time to polish those skills, Mom and Dad. The best way to motivate your child to do his or her homework is to be there to help them.

This doesn’t mean that you need to write the entire thing, but you should be readily available if your child needs help. Your presence cuts down on frustrations and also expedites the process; you can refer them to books and websites they may need, or help them look up an answer. Bonus: you are also modeling good study skills.

A great idea we recently heard: Use homework time to check your own e-mail and wrap up loose ends on your computer, too. Sitting with your child, say, at the kitchen table while you both work sends the message that homework time isn’t punishment; it’s important. Even for adults.

3. Talk with the teacher.

Use your child’s teacher as a resource. If your child seems to be struggling (something you will also be able to observe if you’re there to help with homework), or if homework is taking an inordinate amount of time even when your child applies himself, there may be an underlying issue. Ask your child’s teacher is he or she observes similar issues at school.

And, if you feel that too much homework is being assigned, you can politely broach that subject with the teacher, as well. Ask the teacher: “How long should it be taking for ___ to complete his/her homework assignments? I’m asking because homework seems to be taking several hours each night, and I don’t know if this is normal.”

Okay, so your child still may not be begging to do their homework after implementing these tips, but hopefully the process is a little less arduous, a little less fuss, and a lot more productive. And maybe, just maybe, even fun.

Kate Wilson is a professional blogger who enjoys writing about child development issues. She is also a cook, avid reader, and environmental enthusiast. 

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 Academic Success, Behavior Management, Parenting

Classroom Makeover Part II: Procedures

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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Summer is the perfect time (read: only time) for teachers to think about giving their classrooms and procedures a spiffy little makeover. This three-part series will share a few ideas for polishing up your reading corner (Part I), procedures (Part II), and discipline (Part III). It’s makeover time!

Procedures that Make Sense

Establishing procedures for your students helps a classroom run much more smoothly…and keeps interruptions at bay. (“Can I sharpen my pencil? Can I go to the bathroom now? Is it time for lunch?”) Here are some tried-and-true tips for sharing your expectations and procedures with your students– from the get-go!

Label Your Drawers

So that your students know where the glue sticks, extra pencils, notebook paper and other supplies are located: type, print and laminate labels for all of the cupboards and drawers in your classroom. Attach them with rectangles of clear contact paper, cut a half-inch larger than the labels on all sides. Include a picture if you teach pre-readers. The labels will greatly help substitute teachers and parent volunteers, as well!

Post Your Schedule

Type or write each element of your schedule on cardstock, then laminate them (morning work, science, reading, lunch, recess, etc.). Post the components on your white board, and rearrange each day to show the day’s routine.

Communicate Your Expectations

At the beginning of the year, when you go over your expectations for procedures, print a list that includes when/how to leave the classroom (is there a pass to take?), go to the restroom (are their certain times that are appropriate?), sharpen your pencil, enter in the morning, order lunch, etc. Give each student a list of your expectations to keep in a binder, and post a copy in your classroom, as well. For an extensive list of procedures and ideas, see this article from Scholastic.

If you have older students (~2nd grade and up), ask for their input on classroom procedures: When do you think it would be smart for us to all sharpen our pencils? How should we ask for help so we don’t interrupt each other when we’re working? What might be a good way to walk in the hallway/enter our classroom/store our book bags? Engaging them in this conversation makes them aware of the reason behind the procedures: to ensure a smooth-running, courteous and safe classroom.

What To Do When You’re “Done”

To avoid the dreaded “I’m done…what do I do now?” question, try this fun idea from this previous post. Have your students create a list of classroom-appropriate ideas to fill your “When I’m Done” jar.

Giving a little thought to your procedures now, during the summer, will ensure a smooth-running classroom come August!

For more tools to help streamline your classroom, check out http://www.schoolbox.com/Teacher-Essentials.aspx.

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


Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Classroom Community, Classroom Decor, Morning Work

Class Jobs: Time to Delegate!

by Rachel Stepp

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Do you ever feel overwhelmed by doing everything in your classroom? Well, it’s time to let your students take some responsibilities! Here are a few of the classroom jobs that you can offer to your students:

Line Leader/Caboose: This is a classic job. The line leader position gives students the feeling of responsibility and importance. It allows them to take charge and show the rest of the class how to behave in the hallway. The caboose manages the end of the line by making sure that students stay in line and walk at a desirable pace.

Teacher’s Helper: This student can help with morning routines such as Calendar Time. Allow the student to point to the days of the week and the months of the year as students review or even sing. This student can also help to call on children to answer questions during appropriate times. For example, you might ask, “What month is it?” The teacher’s helper would then choose someone with their hand raised and ask that person to answer the question.

Paper Passer: This student helps to pass out any papers that all the students might receive. I would suggest only letting this person pass out blank worksheets or papers so that no one’s grade confidentiality is dishonored.

Homework Collector: This person can walk around in the mornings and collect homework from students. Students are very demanding of their peers, and they will be the first ones to tell you who has late homework. This person can also make a list of who has turned in homework so that you do not have to do it!

Lunch Counter: Most schools have lunch choices for students. Create an area in your classroom where students can view the lunch menu and then make their choice. Have your lunch counter tally up the results in the morning and deliver the numbers to the cafeteria.

Attendance Taker: Create a section in your room where students can mark whether or not they are at school. Let the attendance taker keep track of who is and who is not at school. The attendance taker can record the names of absent classmates and report them to you or the front office.

Book Returner: To cut down on trips to the library during class time, designate one student in the morning who will carry the books that need to be returned to the library. This student simply walks down to the library, returns the books, and comes back to the classroom.

Room Cleaners: The custodial staff does enough hard work around the school, so give them a break, too! Choose a student or two to monitor the room at the end of the day and announce areas that need to be cleaned. This will help students keep their desk areas clean. Also, if you have a small vacuum or sweeper, then students can begin to clean up the floors with it at the end of the day.

Animal Patrol: Do you have a class pet? A fish? A hamster? Choose a student to clean out your pet’s cage and to feed your animals. This eliminates some of the dirty work that comes along with having a critter in the classroom!

These are just several ideas of classroom jobs that you can use in your classroom. Their intensity will vary with grade level. Also, some jobs might be more appropriate for older grades, while others may only work in the youngest of grades. Display the names of the students and their jobs by creating a nametag for everyone and putting it by the job. You could also use “Classroom Jobs” posters and bulletin board sets that are available through The School Box (I particularly like this one … http://www.schoolbox.com/Overalls-Job-Assign-Bbs.aspx?CategoryID=1889.)

Have fun…and happy delegating!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia and a regular contributor to A Learning Experience. Lucky us!



Filed under Behavior Management, Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, Discipline

X Marks the Spot! Fresh Ideas for Using a Treasure Box

by Rachel Stepp

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For many years, teachers have had ‘treasure boxes’ in their classrooms to reward students for behavior, grades and much more. But when you’re on a tight budget, filling your box with desirable prizes can become difficult. Here are a few treasures that you might want to use in your classroom:

1. School Supplies

Each year, students are asked to bring in school supplies for the year. Sadly, there will always be some students that cannot afford the newest school supplies or even the basics. If you load your treasure box with school supplies, you are allowing students to get something that they need and that will benefit them throughout the school day. At the beginning of the school year, office supply stores often put the basic schools supplies on sale for just pennies! Examples include: pencils, scissors, erasers, notebooks, folders, markers and crayons.

2. Assignment Passes and Extensions

Give your students the chance to pass up a homework assignment or gain an extension on a take-home project. Simply print out homework passes so that students can skip a homework assignment. You can make different passes worth more if you are doing a points-based reward system in your classroom. Be sure to sign any passes that you make in order to keep them original (not that any of your little darlins are counterfeit artists, but I’m just sayin’…).

3. Extra Time Certificates

Sometimes students just need to spend a little more time one-on-one with the teacher to feel special. One way to do this is to have certificates that students can cash in to have lunch with the teacher. Also, students might want to have more time to spend at the library, on the computer or at centers. Why not give your students the opportunity to spend 5 or 10 more minutes doing something that they enjoy?

4. Parent Donations

If your school allows you to do so, ask your classroom parents to donate prizes to the treasure box. Give them a list of school supplies, small candies, stickers and other items that could be used in your box. Hopefully, you will have helpful  parents to help you stuff your treasure box. It never hurts to ask!

Sometimes toys are not appropriate for your treasure box because they distract the children, and they can get pricey. Get creative and think of prizes that could come out of your imagination instead of out of your wallet!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at the University of Georgia, currently working on a Masters in Early Childhood Education.


Filed under Behavior Management, Discipline, Motivation

Morning Meeting~ A Great Way to Begin the Day!

by Kelli Lewis

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“Morning Meeting” is a great time to get to know your students, allow students to get to know their peers, and spend quality time together that is outside of academics.

Here’s how it works:

  • Check In: Greet your students and briefly share something exciting, important or interesting going on in your own life. (Aside from teaching, that is…because, yes, we really do have lives outside of these four walls….right??)
  • Agenda Box: Throughout the day, students are given the opportunity to write down instances and conflicts that occurred with their classmates. Then, if they weren’t able to resolve them on their own, the teacher can open them up for class discussion during Morning Meeting. The teacher talks with each student involved and asks questions about how it made them feel, why they did it, what they could do instead, etc. The other peers also discuss ways to help those who were involved, and they work together to come up with ways to prevent such instances from happening again. This creates a sense of teamwork among peers and allows students to realize that they can work through conflicts with others.
  • Daily Details: Go over the schedule for the day. Any special programs or deviations from the regular routine? Being able to work out the small things, early on, can make for more time throughout the day that you don’t have to deal with them.
  • Temperature Readings: Students go around the circle and give their “temperature” reading. On a scale of 1 to 10 (or 1 to 3 for younger grades), students pick the number that describes them that day (1 being not so great, 10 being fabulous.)  For younger students, you may even display illustrations along with this: a sad face for rating 1, straight face for rating 2, and happy face for rating 3. One rule: students must speak in complete sentences. This allows everyone to discuss their feelings and know exactly where everyone is coming from before the day really starts.
  • Compliments: Students are given the opportunity to raise their hand and have a Koosh ball (or other soft ball) thrown to them in order to speak. Students must not speak unless they are holding the ball. Once the ball is in their possession, they are able to give someone a compliment. For example, “I want to compliment Jackson for holding the door for the class yesterday without being asked” or “I want to compliment Alexis for sharing her crayons with me.” This is a good way for students to learn to say (and notice!) positive things–and friendships are forged. Encourage students to find compliments for everyone and not just their friends. Students soon become aware of how it feels to receive a compliment and hopefully how well it feels to give one, knowing they made someone else feel happy.

Of course, Morning Meeting is a flexible time that can be adapted for each class’s (and teacher’s) personality. The goal is simply to start the day on the right foot…as a community.

Kelli Lewis is an Early Childhood Education graduate student at the University of Georgia.


Filed under Classroom Community, Discipline, Motivation

Make Your Classroom Pop!

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by Sandra Jacoby

From the very beginning of the school year, students are watching your every move and your classroom’s every changing detail. Here are a few ideas that will make your classroom zip and make kids want to zap into learning.


Instead of decorating your classroom’s walls in August and leaving them primarily untouched until May, add new pictures or posters on a regular basis. Students love to play the “What’s Different?” game, and you might be a little surprised as to which of your students notices the changes first!

Add a strand of white twinkle lights to the darkest part of your classroom. This will look warm and inviting from the doorway, and the kids will think that it adds an awesome effect to the classroom. Add a cool lamp or two, as well; there is something magical about light. Make your classroom the one that every child in the hallway peers into with envy!

Center Switch Up

We all get bored looking at and doing the same things, so you can imagine that a few weeks into school, students are beginning to tire of your centers. It’s time to switch things up! Add different types of blocks to the block center. Put watercolors in the art center and take out the markers, or take out the scissors and tell the children they have to find a new way to “cut.” Rotate out the dramatic play center’s clothes to give a new and exciting role to play. Add different objects to the sand in your science center: sea shells, rocks, fossils, and then show your students how to use magnifying glasses and a balance to see and weigh the things in the center.


We all strive to make our lessons student-focused (and not entirely teacher-directed), and this same conviction applies to classroom decor. Look at your room from the students’ perspective. If you teach 4-year-olds, decorations and supplies should be at a 4-year-old’s height as much as possible. If you notice that the class is not enjoying something for as long as you would have liked, find something to replace it and introduce it again later when interests have changed.

Another focus for classroom decor is organization. Where do students hang their coats and bags? Where do they sit as a class in the morning? How can they tell who is the leader or the caboose? How do they order their lunch? What are the classroom helper roles? The more that is displayed for the child, the more efficient the teacher’s job becomes, and–most importantly–the more the child understands his important role in the classroom.

Sandra Jacoby graduated from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in December, 2008, with a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies. She currently teaches pre-kindergarten in Fredericksburg, Texas.

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Filed under Behavior Management, Classroom Community

An Ocean of Discovery

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By Sandra Jacoby

At some point in every primary level classroom, an ocean creature is going to float across the minds of the students. Whether you teach using themes and talk about ocean life for weeks or only briefly cover sea mammals, fish or plants, here is an activity that teaches more than just the ocean!

First, the things you will need:

• paper plates (a half for each child in the classroom)

• crepe paper (in a variety of colors, cut into four different lengths, between 6-12 inches)

• crayons

• scissors

• glue

Steps to follow:

1.) Have the students write their names on the side of the plate that you would normally cover with food.

2.) Let each student select for pieces of pre-cut crêpe paper – one of each in four different sizes.

3.) Allow the children to arrange the crêpe paper from shortest to longest (or visa versa). When they have it correctly arranged, they should glue the pieces to the side of the paper plate where they wrote their names.

4.) When all pieces are attached, have the students pick up their jellyfish by the plate and turn it around to see. If children are capable, have them write “shortest” and “longest” on the appropriate sides. If they cannot do this step on their own, provide help: your hand over theirs, sentence strips with the words on them, etc.

5.) If time permits and if preferred, have the students draw a face on their jellyfish.

What you taught and what to do with the jellies:

You have just covered so many things with your students. The letter J and the sound it makes, shortest to longest, writing skills, counting, sea creatures…and you now have a great classroom decoration to boot!

Sandra Jacoby graduated from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in December, 2008, with a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies. She currently teaches pre-kindergarten in Fredericksburg, Texas.


Filed under Science, Writing

Tips for Teachers and Parents of “Falling” Readers

Part one in a two-part series by Dr. Connie H. Hebert

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3186311_blogMany of us teach or live with children who struggle with learning to read, write and think. A “falling” reader is a student who is not reading ON or ABOVE grade level, as defined by text readability levels. The first and most important thing we can do for any struggling reader is to help them feel successful. Don Holdaway, founder of the big book and the practice of shared reading said, “If children could work on literature tasks most of the time, at a level of success, we would have solved the biggest problem in learning to read and write.” It is essential that we provide opportunities for falling readers to experience immediate and consistent success. There is no time to lose if we expect them to become proficient, independent readers.

What are some ways we can create success for readers who struggle?

  • Back struggling readers to easier text levels where they feel successful and motivated. They need to read lots and lots of books at independent levels.
  • Find a genre that “hooks” the student, such as fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, cookbooks, comic books, manuals, catalogs, menus, maps, dictionaries, driver’s education manuals, SAT practice books, etc. Structure a schedule that provides the child with DAILY opportunities to sit down and read without spending any time searching for something to read. They must read to get better at reading!
  • Create frequent opportunities for falling readers to read to others: younger students, former teachers, the school principal, Grandparents, family members, etc.
  • Flash sight phrases as opposed to isolated sight words in order to increase fluency, meaning, vocabulary, visual tracking and sight word automaticity.
  • Provide audio-books for falling readers to listen and read along with, especially in the car.
  • Send home five to seven independent, motivating texts EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, and instruct the student to read at least four books to someone.

With daily opportunities to experience success, falling readers can be taught and caught. Let’s catch them ALL!

Dr. Hebert is an author, professor of reading and nationally acclaimed teacher of teachers. She has taught and inspired parents and teachers in 47 states and 3 countries and presented at many literacy conferences around the country such as IRA, NAESP, RRCNA, & MRA. Her internet radio show, Help Your Child Succeed: Ready, Set, Read can be heard every Sunday evening at 8:00 PM. For more information, please visit: www.conniehebert.com or email her at dr.conniehebert@comcast.net.


Filed under Academic Success, Reading

Straws and Pennies: Cheap and Easy Classroom Management Techniques

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by Kelly Quabeck

Looking for a positive way to promote good classroom behavior with my first-graders, I opted to try two concrete techniques: one involving straws and the other, pennies.

The Straw That Broke the Teacher’s Back

Each child in my classroom starts with five straws for the day. They can then earn straws or lose straws as they day progresses, depending on their behavior. Simple, but effective!

The best part of the straw technique is that the students really feel like they can turn their day around and make it better by earning back straws. Unlike most discipline approaches that only remove privileges or enact consequences, this approach allows the student to make choices to negatively and positively impact their day. As a little extra positive reinforcement, I let my students earn a star pencil once they reach 10 straws for the day.

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

In my class, the students are seated in groups. As another positive discipline approach–and also a means to promote cooperativepenny tails learning–each group earns pennies for good behavior. The group can also lose pennies for poor choices, and the students in each group encourage one another to make good decisions during the day. Every Friday, we count the pennies (by twos, of course :-), and the group with the most pennies gets a trip to the treasure box.

These two techniques keep my students aware of their behavior and accountable for their choices–and, most importantly–they make our classroom a positive environment in which to learn.

Kelly Quabeck holds a master’s degree in education from University of Phoenix. She currently teachers first grade at Russom Elementary School in Georgia, where she enjoys meeting the needs of her students and watching them reach their full potential.


Filed under Behavior Management, Classroom Community, Discipline