Tag Archives: reluctant readers

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 3: Identifying cognitive skills

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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

In this four-part series, we’ve been discussing cognitive weaknesses. So far, we witnessed a student success story and examined some hidden warning signs of a cognitive weakness–or a breakdown in the brain’s ability to carry out a critical cognitive skill. So, just what are these all-important cognitive skills? Essentially, they are the brain behaviors responsible for learning.

Here’s a rundown of the critical cognitive skills, and how each impacts a child’s ability to process information: 

Attention Skills:

A student’s ability to attend to incoming information can be observed, broken down into a variety of sub-skills, and improved through properly coordinated training. There are three primary types of attention:

Sustained Attention: The ability to remain focused and on task, and the amount of time we can focus.

Selective Attention: The ability to remain focused and on task while being subjected to related and unrelated sensory input (distractions).

Divided Attention: The ability to remember information while performing a mental operation and attending to two things at once (multi-tasking).


The ability to store and recall information.

Long-Term Memory: The ability to recall information that was stored in the past. Long-term memory is critical for spelling, recalling facts on tests, and comprehension. Weak long-term memory skills create symptoms like forgetting names and phone numbers, and doing poorly on unit tests.

Short-Term / Working Memory: The ability to apprehend and hold information in immediate awareness while simultaneously performing a mental operation. Students with short-term memory problems may need to look several times at something before copying, have problems following multi-step instructions, or need to have information repeated often.

Logic and Reasoning:

The ability to reason, form concepts, and solve problems using unfamiliar information or novel procedures. Deductive reasoning extends this problem-solving ability to draw conclusions and come up with solutions by analyzing the relationships between given conditions.

Students with underdeveloped logic and reasoning skills will generally struggle with word math problems and other abstract learning challenges. Symptoms of skill weaknesses in this area show up as questions like, “I don’t get this,” “I need help…this is so hard,” or “What should I do first?”

Auditory Processing:

The ability to analyze, blend, and segment sounds. Auditory processing is a crucial underlying skill for reading and spelling success, and is the number one skill needed for learning to read.

Weakness in any of the auditory processing skills will greatly hinder learning to read, reading fluency, and comprehension. Students with auditory processing weakness also typically lose motivation to read.

Visual Processing:

The ability to perceive, analyze, and think in visual images. This includes visualization, which is the ability to create a picture in your mind of words or concepts. Students who have problems with visual processing may have difficulty following instructions, reading maps, doing word math problems, and comprehending.

Processing Speed:

The ability to perform simple or complex cognitive tasks quickly. This skill also measures the ability of the brain to work quickly and accurately while ignoring distracting stimuli. Slow processing speed makes every task more difficult.

Very often, slow processing is one root of ADHD-type behaviors. Symptoms of weaknesses here include homework taking a long time, always being the last one to get his or her shoes on, or being slow at completing even simple tasks.

To identify specific weaknesses within these cognitive skills, visit learningrx.com. For tips on strengthening cognitive skills, stay tuned for part four in this series. 

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Filed under Academic Success, Assessments, brain training, cognitive weakness

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.


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

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.


Filed under Critical Thinking, Summer Learning, technology

The Reading Pond: Creating an Enchanting Reading Corner

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by Rachel Stepp

By creatively designing parts of your classroom, you can intrigue students to utilize these areas properly and often. One space that I think is important to put time into designing is the classroom library.

The Reading Pond

  1. PICK A SPOT. Designate one corner of your classroom as the reading area. This area can carry an enchanting theme of the “Reading Pond” by incorporating cool colors (blues & greens), water themes, and maybe even a pet fish or two!
  2. FABRIC. To get started, drape some strips of blue fabric from the ceiling to create fabric swag over the lights. This will add softer lighting to this area. At the end of the fabric, drape blue bead curtains or skinny strips of blue fabric that go all the way to the floor. The curtain of fabric hanging from the ceiling to the floor will create a secluded area where students will feel comfortable reading. The blue fabric can be the “waterfall” that fills the “Reading Pond.”
  3. PAINT. Paint your bookshelves blue as if they are water. Fill your shelves with all kinds of books that students would be interested in reading. Display the books in baskets, so that the covers face forward. When students are able to look at the covers instead of just the spines of books, they are more likely to choose a book they will enjoy.
  4. PEER INVOLVEMENT. Along the wall, give the students an area where they can suggest books to their classmates. Call this area, “Catch a good book!” Draw or cut out a fishing pole and put it on the wall. Also, cut out many blank fish shapes out of construction paper. These paper fish can be stored in a clear fishbowl that is accessible to the students. Students can recommend a good book to their peers by writing the title, author, and their name on a paper fish and then taping it to the wall.
  5. PILLOWS AND STUFFED FRIENDS. Floor space should be comfortable so that students want to spend time in the reading area. You can do this by putting green bean bag chairs or green pillows that represent “lily pads” in the “Reading Pond.” You can also add pond-related stuffed animals such as frogs, fish, and water snakes that students can read to and have as reading companions.

This is just one idea for making your classroom creative and inviting. Remember, it is important to create an environment that makes your students feel safe and comfortable so that they can challenge themselves in the classroom. It would even be possible to carry to water theme throughout your entire classroom!

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


Filed under Academic Success, Classroom Decor, Reading, reluctant readers

Summer Learnin’ Part 3: Bubbles in the Backyard!

This is part 3 in our series on fun Summer Learnin’ ideas! Click here and here for part 1 and part 2.
by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post to receive a $20 School Box Gift Card!!

Nothing says summer quite like…BUBBLES! So, pull out the kiddie pool and strap on the water wings. It’s time for a wet romp in the backyard, with the highlight being giant homemade bubbles! Below is our favorite bubble recipe, along with three fitting books about bubbles (to make it all educational, of course!).

First, here’s how to make some rockin’ homemade bubble stuff:

Homemade Bubble Stuff

1 cup water
4 Tablespoons dishwashing liquid
2 Tablespoons light karo syrup (or 2 Tablespoons glycerin)

Mix all of the ingredients together. That’s it!

For more bubble recipes, see bubbleblowers.com.

Now, it’s time to find a bubble wand. Be creative with household items! A few to try:

cookie cutters
fly swatters
a metal coat hanger bent into a circle (watch for sharp ends)
a silicone steaming basket
mason jar lid rings
a funnel
a potato ricer
the plastic rings that come around a 6-pack of soda

And, here are some of our favorite books about bubbles, to drive home those great text-to-life connections:

Pop! A Book About Bubbles. Available here at amazon.com.
Bubble Trouble. Available here at amazon.com.
Benny’s Big Bubble. Available here at amazon.com.
There you have it: everything you need for a fun-filled day of summer fun, with just enough learning thrown in to make you happy (and solidify your title as World’s Greatest Mom).


Filed under Parenting, Reading, reluctant readers, Summer Learning, Uncategorized

Summer Learnin’ Part 2: Library Scavenger Hunt!

This is Part 2 in our series on engaging (and easy!) Summer Learnin’ ideas. To read Part 1 (Fractions in the Kitchen), click here.

Comment on this post and you could win a School Box gift card! Two comments win each week.

by Elizabeth D. Cossick, M. Ed.

It’s hot. The kids are bored. And you’re at your wits’ end. You need a fun activity to pass the afternoon, and you’d prefer one that’s educational…and FREE, right? Well, we’ve got a ringer for ya. Take your kids on a library scavenger hunt! Here’s how it works:

  1. Print this list (click here for a printable version) of books and items to find at the library.
  2. Head to the library and help your kids scour the shelves for all of the items on the list.
  3. When they’re done, they can check out the titles that interest them.
  4. If they successfully find all of the items on the list, reward them by letting them check out a DVD, too. Now you have free entertainment for tonight after dinner!
  5. Leave the library, feeling proud of yourself for providing a summer learning opportunity…in air conditioning…for no cash. You go, Super Mom.

Do you like this idea? Do you have your own good ideas for summer activities? If so, e-mail them to editor@schoolbox.com. If we publish them on A Learning Experience, you receive a $35 School Box gift card!

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Filed under Parenting, Reading, reluctant readers, Summer Learning, Uncategorized

Our Fave Mommy-and-Me Beach Reads!

by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

There you sit, sand between your toes, enjoying the sun, the surf…and the fact that you can finally crack a book! To help you achieve beach Zen this summer, here are our favorite lit. picks—as well as award-winning books and activities to keep your kids engaged (and learning!) long enough for you to get past the first chapter.

Mommy Lit.

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

The basic plot seems trite: Girl steals best friend’s fiancé. But, with Giffin’s witty narration and relatable characters, you’ll actually root for the cheaters!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Told through letters written by a cluster of characters in 1946, this enchanting novel shares the story of Guernsey Island’s Nazi occupation.

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

The latest from Kinsella (Confessions of a Shopaholic), this is the tale of Lara, a girl who is visited by a fun-loving ghost from the 1920s. Kinsella-style hilarity ensues.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

An uplifting and compassionate tale about a Mississippi town in 1962, whose racial tensions are blown wide open when Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan publishes the stories of the town’s mistreated black maids. Soon to be a major motion picture from DreamWorks.

Kiddie Lit. (and Activities)

Summer Express, $14.99*
Give children a head start in school! Each workbook includes 100 ready-to-go, fun-filled math and literacy activity pages.

Hot Dots Flash Cards, $9.99*
These electronic, self-checking cards are great for reviewing math facts. And they’re (gasp!) lots of fun, too.

Carole Marsh Mysteries, $7.99*
Each adventure mystery in this series is set in a historical place, making history and geography really cool for kids.

Science Kits, $9.99*
These award-winning kits bring science to life with exciting, educational projects that have amazing results!

*Featured products are available at The School Box.

This article appeared in the spring issue of Little Black Dress/Little Red Wagon Magazine, page 26. Click here to see the original article, along with a printable coupon for 20% off one regular-priced item! (Coupon good through July 1, 2010).

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Filed under comprehension, Games, Parenting, Reading, Science, Summer Learning

Anatomy of a Creative Novel Study

by Kristin Woolums, M.Ed.

A creative study based on From the Mixed-Up files of Mrs. Basil E. Franweiler

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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg is a Newbery Award-winning novel about two children who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The story combines adventure and comedy, and each year, my 5th graders eagerly tell me how much they love it!

Originally published in 1968, one might think that it wouldn’t appeal to today’s youth, but here’s how I foster a love of a novel that’s over 40 years old:

A Virtual Field Trip

Early in the story, the lead characters, Claudia and Jamie, run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I take my students to the computer lab for a virtual field trip to see the sights that Claudia and Jamie would have seen (www.metmuseum.org). The website allows students to see priceless pieces of art that they perhaps would never get to see, so I allow them to browse through the many pieces shown online. Click here for a printable sheet about the virtual tour.

The students supply a few details about their favorite pieces, including a rough sketch, which they record on a note-taking guide (click here to print it). We discuss the proper way to react to art and that there are many pieces that showcase the human body in tastefully, yet unclothed, ways (just a head’s up!).

A Great Debate

There are several ethical decisions that Claudia and Jamie encounter throughout the story:

o Stealing money from the museum’s fountain so they could eat

o Sneaking around and lying so they wouldn’t get caught living in the museum

o Worrying their parents by running away

Each student chooses whether they thought the action was justified or not, and in a traditional debate setting, we civilly discuss the matter at hand. This makes for some very teachable moments, and the students love this!

A Creative Culmination

To end the study, the students participate in a creative “summary-by-chapter” book report. A post describing all of the details about this creative project, including a rubric, is coming next on A Learning Experience. The best part is that this idea can be adapted to any novel!

This wonderful and timeless adventure about two children running away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is chock full of adventure, comedy, and a sense of family as Claudia and Jamie learn to survive in the real world. My students enjoy the novel, and I hope Ms. Konigsburg is happy that I’ve taken her exciting novel to the next level by interjecting classroom reading with a virtual field trip, a debate, and a creative book report project!

Kristin’s Chapter-by-Summary book report idea (including a rubric) is coming next on A Learning Experience!

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 Assessments, comprehension, Field Trips, Reading, reading aloud, reluctant readers, technology, Uncategorized

Books for Reluctant Readers, Part III: Fifth Grade

Welcome to a new series on finding books for reluctant readers! This four-part series will be divided by grade level, from kindergarten through sixth grades. For books for K-2, click here. For books for grades 3-4, click hereby Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

Leave a comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box Gift Card!

Fifth grade is the grade when I discovered my first true literary love: The Babysitter’s Club. For the next three years, this series would provide my staple reading material; I seldom went anywhere without a copy in hand! The list of books below will hopefully provide the same love-at-first-read experience for a fifth-grader in your life. (Tip: This might be a good list to share with parents or send home for recommended summer reading, as well.)

Favorite Titles:

Jack Black and the Ship of Thieves by Carol Hughes

Perloo the Bold by Avi

Wild Man Island by Will Hobbs

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Mr. Tucket by Gary Paulson

The Janitor’s Boy by Andrew Clements

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Martin the Warrior by Brian Jacques

Flight of the Eagles by Gilbert Morris

Door to the Dragon’s Throat by Frank Peretti

Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech

School Story by Andrew Clements

Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? By Jean Fritz

The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars Blue

Willow by Doris Gates

Jason’s Gold by Will Hobbs

Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry

Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech

Dear Levi: Letters from the Overland Trail by Elvira Woodruff

Call Me Francis Tuckett by Gary Paulsen

A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer

Because of Winn Dixie by Katie DiCamillo


The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

Trailblazer fictionalized biography series by Dave and Neta Jackson

The Seven Sleepers series by Gilbert Morris

Dear America and My Name Is America series by various authors

Star Wars and The New Jedi Order young adult fantasy series by Paul Davids and various authors

Any children’s books by:

• Katherine Paterson

• C.S. Lewis

• Gilbert Morris

Coming next in the series~ Part IV: Sixth Grade Book Picks

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Filed under Academic Success, comprehension, Reading, reading aloud, reluctant readers, Summer Learning