Back To Class!

Well, it’s been a year since “Teacher, teacher!” has been up and running. A lot has happened in that year. I moved and changed jobs! I went back to the classroom, 4th grade more specifically. I decided to take a break from posting and focus on teaching (it has been 16 years since I was in the classroom as a teacher)! backtoclassIt was a successful year and I am eager to get back at it; both school and posting.


I hope you will find my posts both informative and helpful. Feel free to use any of the information or ideas you find here. I will be posting helpful hints, lessons I’ve learned, successes and failures, recipes, and humorous stories.

Stay tuned!



Get on the “Write” Track

The writer Donald Miller offers an interesting thought about journaling: “He captures memories because if he forgets them, it’s as though they didn’t happen.”  

Numerous analysts celebrate the power of journal keeping, and its importance is especially critical for young learners.  I believe everyone can benefit from developing a practice of looking inward, recording actions and feelings, and observing their world with a critical eye.  So how do you take journal writing from an assignment to an opportunity?  How do you make it something that kids will look forward to continuing long beyond their time in your class?  Variety and consistency are two important things to incorporate as you move into this with your kids.Train-clip-art-free-free-clipart-images

For some students, the act of writing will be a foreign concept, and providing prompts and assignments can be helpful.  Your journaling assignment could take the form of a daily diary or creative writing.  (See examples below.)  Your students’ journals could be a series of responses to journal prompts, i.e. questions or considerations that ask the student to evaluate their mood, set or reflect on goals or objectives, or wrestle with life challenges and common situations that they might face.

The key is to just get started and encourage, encourage, encourage.  Here is a process you might consider:

  1. Begin the journal process by having students observe you modeling it; writing in a journal either on your ELMO, Smartboard or overhead projector.
  2. Brainstorm a list of topics that you might write about and list them in the front of your journal. Then each day for a week, share examples of how to write about a few of the topics. Go back and edit or revise something you’ve written; add to the topic list based on something you did the previous evening.
  3. After a week or so, have them begin their own topic list and journal writing.
  4. As they progress, conference with them about what they’ve written.  Use the time to nurture their early attempts to craft a story or communicate their ideas.  I would suggest that you avoid “grading” the writing itself.  You can track participation and even make the journal assignment mandatory, but the value of journaling comes more from the act of transferring thoughts into words than from the mechanics of writing.  Accuracy, sentence structure, and clarity aren’t as important as learning to process ideas and take thoughts captive in written form.  When a child begins to make progress in turning a phrase or communicating more clearly, celebrate their accomplishments, and challenge them to go to the next level.
  5. Have them refine their list of journal topics as their interests or experiences change. As the year goes by, model for them how to bounce ideas off each other and collaborate. 
  6. At the end of the year, have the students look back at their early work, and compare the ways they have matured or changed during the course of the school year.

If you choose to prompt your students to try their hand at different forms of writing other than a diary, here are some possible ideas:

  1. Poetry
  2. Photo captions
  3. Thank you notes
  4. Letters
  5. Lists
  6. Short stories
  7. News reports
  8. Biographies of friends or family members
  9. Interviews
  10. Instructions or How-To’s (recipes, playing a game, craft projects, etc.)

Playgrounds of Knowledge

When kids are asked to choose their favorite time of the school day, the majority say recess.  (A few might say lunch.) This comes from the fact that on the playground, students are totally engaged. They are physically, mentally and socially engaged; their imaginations are firing, their bodies are active, and they are connecting with a circle of friends and competitors of their own choosing.

If we as teachers could bring that enthusiasm and excitement into the classroom, we could transform the learning process and impact students exponentially.  Our goal should be to turn our classrooms into playgrounds of knowledge!

Such a transformation will require innovative thinking and ongoing commitment.  The methods will vary by grade level and curriculum, but here are a few brainstorms to jumpstart your creativity:

Think about how a playground is organized:  equipment is provided for structured individual fun (swings, slides, tunnels, monkeybars); seesaws and merry-go-rounds offer activity for a pair or small group; competitive game areas are typically available (e.g., foursquare, hopskotch, basketball, etc.), and where there’s room, there’s usually some wide open spaces for unstructured activities or large group play. 20216673

Your classroom could be arranged with similar intent.  Just like the playground offers individual, pair, small group, and large group opportunities, the classroom should too. Consider these needs when designing lessons and assessments too.  Give students opportunity to choose their own mode of learning (activity) and a customized output (assessment).  If you only offer one way of interacting with a topic or lesson, it’s unlikely that every child will engage.  Presenting information with creativity & variety from multiple vantage points is the key to reaching the largest number of students.

Play to the variety of learning styles that are represented in your class.  Challenge them to collaborate in unfamiliar or inventive ways.  Consciously put children together who are wired differently, have divergent interests, or come from different backgrounds.   Encouraging children to bring their individuality to group challenges can inspire them to grow in amazing ways.


Example:  You’re presenting a math lesson on perimeter using manipulatives.  At the start of class, place the manipulatives in bins around the room.  Encourage children to pick a random bin and begin exploring.  Each manipulative station could be themed (a sports arena, a space station, a pet store, a Lego lab, or art “studio.”) Kids will gravitate toward the ones that interest them, and they’ll select their own method (individual, pairs, or groups) based on natural preferences. (Watch them closely, you can learn a lot about a student’s personality and learning style in this way.)  A bit later, give them a specific task, but let them choose their own response to the task initially.  As the session progresses, you can begin to “stir the pot” and move kids out of their comfort zone to work in new areas or split up the cliques to challenge kids into new relationships.  Introducing a competition or game element could be a way to engage in the content with practicality and fun.  Divide the class into two teams, possibly having them line up or arrange themselves into specified areas of the room that you’ve taped off or pre-arranged.  Students pass a ruler from teammate to teammate, keeping track of the dimensions.  The first team to calculate the perimeter is the winner.

You could also connect the content to other disciplines (a perimeter can be a border, as a geographical, history, or social studies topic.)

The end result of this approach is that children find meaning in the subject matter, and have a higher level of ownership in the content.  They will stay physically & mentally engaged longer, and tap into dormant areas of their brains.  With time and some luck, one day your kids might say learning is their favorite thing about school.  (A few will still say lunch.)