Category Archives: Centers

a long way from Legos: the latest, greatest building sets {and how to use them in the classroom}

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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Legos and Lincoln Logs used to rule the roost when it came to building sets. Not so these days, my friend. Magnets, gears and pulleys make today’s building sets more engaging–and mind-bending–than ever. Whether you’re looking for sets for a classroom, birthday gift, or just a rainy day, here are our top picks for kiddie-approved, creativity-inspiring building sets, followed by some ways to incorporate them into your classroom.

Gears, Gears, Gears!

The fun Gears, Gears, Gears! sets allow young builders to construct buildings, vehicles, factories and the like. There are a variety of sets, from beginner to themed kits (like this cute Movin’ Monkeys set), but all are interchangeable. Sets include spinning gears, pillars, connectors and cranks to set creations in motion–plus interlocking plates for limitless building.

Magneatos

I first discovered these magnetized balls, rods and plates when my son received a Magneatos set from his Popi. Three years later, they’re still a favorite. No wonder why Magneatos have garnered so much praise: recipient of 2005 & 2006 OPPENHEIM AWARD WINNER; featured on NBC’s Today Show and Featured in MONEY magazine; recipient of Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award (Top Honor); recipient of Oppenheim SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Product) Award Winner.

Thistle Blocks

Thistle Blocks are an oldie but goodie– a cousin to the Bristle Blocks from my own childhood. Guess what? These stick-to-each-other squares, rectangles and rods are still tons of fun. 

Flexiblocks

What set allows children to build movable bridges, creatures, vehicles and reptiles all with the same blocks? Flexiblocks! These wonder blocks, shown below, can be configured into a limitless variety of critters and formations: a boredom buster for sure. 

In the Classroom

Here are three ideas for using building sets in the classroom to encourage critical thinking and creativity, while practicing  hands-on geometry, public speaking, measuring, graphing and writing.

  • Hold a Building Challenge.

Break students into groups or pairs. Give each group the same number of blocks (or have pairs bring in building sets from home) and set the clock. Give the groups 15 or 20 minutes to build. Then, have each group present their creation to the class. The class can vote on which structures win Most Creative, Most Impressive, Most Blocks Used, Most Movable, etc.

Skills utilized: critical thinking, cooperative learning, oral speaking/presenting

  • Create (and Write About) a Fantasy World.

Allow students (individually or in small groups) to build a fantasy world with sets of blocks, including buildings, creatures, people, vehicles, bridges–whatever their imaginations hold. At the end of a set building period (around 20-30 minutes), students will then write either fiction stories, descriptive narratives or poems about their fantasy world, explaining what it looks like, who lives there, and how life works within the world of their imagination.

Skills utilized: critical thinking, cooperative learning, writing, grammar

  • Have a Race and Chart the Results.

Lots of building sets have circle or disk components that make great wheels. Allow students to build vehicles and then hold a race. Make predictions about which vehicle will go farthest. Create a starting line with tape, line up students two-at-a-time to race their creations. Then, use a ruler or yard stick to measure the distance traveled. Chart or graph the distances as a class on a piece of a bulletin board or chart paper. Be sure to note which are creative and aesthetic, even if they don’t go the distance! :)

Skills utilized: critical thinking, predicting, math, graphing, measuring, comparing/contrasting

For more great building sets, click here and here and here.

Build on!

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Filed under Activities, Art, Centers, Critical Thinking, Parenting, School Readiness, Science, Summer Learning

Pinspiration: Pinterest Finds for your Classroom

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed. 

Comment on this post to be entered to win a $20 gift card to The School Box! 

So, you’ve heard of Pinterest, right? It’s a virtual pinboard where you can “keep” all of your online inspirations–from recipes to decorating pics to travel plans to–yup–teaching ideas. Here are our favorite Pinterest-found classroom inspirations…so read, enjoy, and pin to your heart’s content.

And, if you haven’t been formally introduced to Pinterest, yet, you’ll find a good article from USA Today on how to get started here.

Pinsirpiation: Look What We Found On Pinterest

Runde’s Room: The Queen of Measurement

This cute Pinterest pin, left, led us to discover the blog of teacher Jen Runde, who offers a wealth of creative teaching ideas. We love this idea for teaching the metric system by declaring yourself the Queen of Measurement– tiara included.

Mrs. Schmelzer’s First Grade: Sensational Space

The image from Pinterest, below, led us to the classroom of Mrs. Schmelzer, who’s always got a great idea up her sleeve. Love this idea for teaching the moon phases and other facts about the solar system.

One note about blogs, though, should you choose to begin one: make sure you use good judgment and secure parental online photo releases for any children you feature. You never know whose Pinterest board they may end up being pinned to….

Disney FamilyFun

This adorable paper tray, below from Disney FamilyFun, caught our eye on Pinterest. Can you believe it’s just three boxes (think: cereal boxes) taped together and then wrapped with wrapping paper? What a cute idea for art papers at a writing or crafts center!

These examples hardly scratch the surface of the fabulous ideas found on Pinterest. We’ll be sharing more of our favorites from time-to-time. We thought you might appreciate some help narrowing down the really great ideas, since it’s tough to ferret through the good, the bad and the pretty on Pinterest without losing several hours of sleep.

So rest up…and happy pinning!

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Filed under Activities, Art, Centers, Classroom Decor, Math, Science, technology

Creating a “Where Are You?” Board

by Rachel Stepp, M. Ed. 

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Do you ever have multiple students leave your classroom at once for various reasons (clinic, library, restroom, pull-out programs, etc.), and you have trouble remembering who went where? Has the fire drill ever buzzed, and you were missing children once you were outside because they were in the library? It’s time to set up an area (or wall) in your classroom where your students can display their location. This area might look different depending on the age of your students and the places they can go on their own in your school.

Magnet Board

In grades pre-k through second, it would be appropriate to have an area that displayed each child’s picture and name on a magnet. This could be a place on the magnetic white board or on a magnetic cookie sheet hung on the wall. On this area, you will create a place for each student’s picture to be displayed under the home section. At the end of the day, every student’s picture should be moved to the home area to show that they are no longer at school. In the morning, when a child first walks in the door, he or she should move their picture from “Home” to “Classroom” to show that they are present at school on the current day. When a child’s picture is shown as in the classroom, they are to be participating in classroom activities and within sight of the teacher. This is also a visual way to take attendance, without wasting time calling roll.

Other sections that you might want to include on your board are: boys’ restroom, girls’ restroom, office, clinic, library, other. Each section besides home and classroom should only have enough room for several students at a time, depending on your classroom guidelines. For example, you might only want to allow two boys to go to the restroom at the same time. If those two positions are in use on the board, then no one else should leave the classroom to use the restroom.

Students will need to learn the routine of automatically checking the board when they walk into the classroom to make sure their magnets are in the correct location. It’s important to make sure that students know that they do not need to move their picture every time the class goes somewhere as a whole group. You can also use the same picture magnets for other activities, such as to show which center students are in during center time.

Popsicle Jars

In third through fifth grades, students might find that moving their picture around feels “elementary” to them.  When students are transitioning grades and learning a new routine for leaving the classroom, you can write each child’s name on a popsicle stick and place them in different cans/jars to show their location. The jars can sit beside the classroom door so that students can access them easily when they enter or exit the room. You can also create a simple sign-in and sign-out sheet for your students. On this sheet, they would have to record their name, the time they leave, their desired location, and the time they return. This will help you keep track of your students when they are out of the classroom and in the case of an emergency.

Hopefully these ideas will give your students some responsibility when it comes to keeping track of where they are. You are one teacher in charge of many students, and anything to make the process run smoothly is worth considering!

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Filed under Behavior Management, Centers, Classroom Community, Classroom Decor, Organization

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

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

Interactive Bulletin Boards, Part III: Sally’s Seashells

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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

This great idea from www.angelo.edu was designed for a second grade classroom, to allow an interactive area to practice problem solving. It could easily be adapted to other grade levels and concepts, too. And– in addition to shells, you could use pretty much any objects, including items that tie into current science or social studies concepts (rocks, planets, fish, stars, etc.).

Materials:

Borders

Velcro

Sand paper

Paper for the shells and letters

Bucket to hold the shells

Blue felt

Activity Sheet (click to download)

Goal:

To practice addition and subtraction problem solving

How To:

Students read the problems on the provided activity sheet, and then they manipulate the seashells on the bulletin board to depict the problem before they solve it.

The great thing about this board is that it combines reading, counting, addition and subtraction skills. Gotta love a multi-tasker!

And, if you think bulletin boards are only for elementary school, check out these super impressive interactive boards, geared toward middle and high school math concepts: faculty.kutztown.edu. Now those are some advanced ideas!

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Filed under Centers, Classroom Decor, Math

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

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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

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

Here’s how to make it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Academic Success, Centers, Classroom Decor, creative writing, grammar, Language Arts, Morning Work, Writing

Awesome Interactive Bulletin Boards, Part I

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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So, you have this big bulletin board hanging on your wall. And it’s so tempting to cover it with paper, slap up a pre-made bulletin board set and be done with it. But, what if we shared a few EASY (promise) ideas that will turn your generic board into an interactive learning spot.

From reading to writing to social studies, the ideas we will share in our Awesome Interactive Bulletin Boards series combine disciplines and allow students to showcase their learning in a fun, student-centered way.

Literary World Travels

This clever idea, courtesy of hill.troy.k12.mi.us blends reading and social studies.

Here’s how to create one in your room:

  1. Post a large, detailed map of the United States or world on a bulletin board, preferably near your classroom library.
  2. Next to the map, post a map key listing your students’ names, each designated with a different color or style of push pin.
  3. Every time a student reads a book, story or poem that mentions a city, state, or famous landmark, they pinpoint the geographic location on the map with their designated push pin.
  4. To keep the students organized and independent, give each student their own drawer filled with push pins of their designated color or style in an organizer below the bulletin board.
  5. Later in the year, the places “visited” provide an authentic springboard for a research project: Research the favorite city or country you read about this year.

Voila! Literacy meets geography! And, this board can stay up all year– how easy is that?

For more bulletin board materials and idea starters, check out www.schoolbox.com’s online array here.

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

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Filed under Centers, Classroom Decor, Geography, Reading, Social Studies

On Schedule: Teaching Kindergartners!

by Kelli Lewis, M. Ed.

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Are you moving down to kindergarten this year, or perhaps starting your very first year teaching and have just found out you have kindergarteners? Whatever the situation, all of us kindergarten teachers know that being on a schedule–and having students learn this schedule–is key.

Here’s a creative, hands-on way to make sure your students will have their schedule down in no time!

First, decide the different parts of your daily schedule. You may also want to include events that could occur weekly, monthly, or throughout the year: morning work, morning meeting, lunch, library, recess, literacy centers, math time, bathroom break, assembly, specials (music, art, P.E., computer lab), etc.

Next, create some type of visual pieces for each of these events. This can consist of small index cards (something around 4×4), or you could get creative and make puzzle-looking pieces. These pieces should include the name of the scheduled event and a picture.

For example, if you’re making a lunch piece, write or type “lunch” at the top and put a picture of a sack lunch or a lunch tray with food, so that students know what the piece indicates without having to know how to read the word. This is also a great way for students to learn letter sounds and words that are used daily in the classroom.

Finally, once all of your scheduled pieces are made, laminate them so that they hold up. Decide how you want students to be able to work with them. My suggestion is to have students put each of the pieces in the order of your schedule. Use a magnetic cookie sheet, dry erase board, corkboard, felt board, or some way for students to pick up, place, and move the pieces around as they figure it out. If you choose one of these options, you’ll need to place a magnet or Velcro piece on the back of each laminated piece. If you’re using a corkboard, of course, you’ll need large pushpins for attaching the pieces.

Do you have classroom jobs? If so, this scheduling activity can be one of the jobs for the students to alternate doing every morning, in order to give them all a chance to participate–as well as giving them a part in creating the visual schedule for everyone to view throughout the way. Of course, as the teacher, you should double check their order and perhaps even review the schedule as part of your daily morning routine or morning meeting.

Kelli Lewis, M. Ed. recently received her masters degree from The University of Georgia and is currently staying busy setting up her third-grade classroom!

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Filed under Centers, Classroom Community, Morning Work

Classroom Makeover Part I: Print-Rich Environment

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!

 

Creating a Print-Rich Environment

It’s a researched fact: children exposed to high-quality print in abundance are better readers. But, kids are just like adults: they want things (like books) to be nice, pretty and attractive before they pick them up. So, if your class library is a little less than attractive (read: tattered hand-me-downs wedged onto a spare shelf), check out these tips for creating an effective reading corner that will lure children into literacy.

First: Place Books With Covers Outward

Reading guru Jim Trelease makes the point that grocery stores arrange products with the fronts of packaging–not the spines–facing outward. Why? To attract buyers. But, how do we usually shelve books for children? Like this:


photo from www.trelease-on-reading.com

The solution? Face covers outward. Here are two ways to do just that.

TIP ONE: Install rain gutters!

This one would take some approval (it involves drilling), but look how GREAT this is. Inexpensive rain gutters make incredible, inviting book holders. Jim Trelease shares many success stories on this method on his website. Here are two photos, to show you how cute this is:

TIP TWO: Book baskets

This idea is easier and even less expensive than the gutters. Simply snag a bunch of cheap baskets from your local big-box store. Then, create genre labels for each basket by printing genres (mysteries, historical fiction, picture books, sports books, adventures, etc.) on cardstock, cutting them into small rectangles, laminating them, and attaching the labels to the front of each basket. Place books in baskets, covers facing outward. The books in a basket will overlap and cover each other obviously, but the front cover will face outward invitingly. Line up baskets side-by-side on your shelves, and voila! A colorful, inviting, well-organized library that children will literally run to when they first walk in the door. (The baskets also teach children to search for book by genre…another good literary lesson.)

Second: Comfy seating

Any non-school-looking seating options make for a great reading corner: an old rug, a couple beanbag chairs, a slew of pillows, a stack of carpet squares, a hand-me-down love seat, a futon. My elementary school library even had an old ceramic bathtub filled will pillows! It was THE hot spot in the library, of course. Any way you can set this space apart as fun and different will create positive connotations with literacy for your students.

Third: Fun lighting

A couple small lamps on the top of a bookshelf add a warm, inviting ambiance to your reading corner. Again, it’s all about giving the corner that “Oooh!-effect” when students walk in.

Fourth: Kids’ book reviews

Post a bulletin board above your reading corner that says: “Books We Dig.” You can decorate the bulletin board with a paper bucket and some paper “dirt” at the bottom (coffee grounds glued onto brown construction or bulletin board paper are cute…and smell Starbucks-y :). Tie a real plastic shovel on as an accent. Then, put a stack of colorful note cards nearby, and tell your class that after they read a book in the class library, they can recommend it to their classmates by writing a review for it on a note card, which you can then staple or tack onto the bulletin board. Include a sample card on the board that looks something like this:

Title:

Author:

Genre:

Why Was It Good?

Two-Sentence Summary (no spoilers!):

Do a mini-lesson at the beginning of the year on how to write an effective book review, using this format. (“No spoilers” is a simple reminder not to give away the ending!)

Then, when your students say, “But I don’t know WHAT to read!”–tell them to read their classmates’ reviews and pick a book.

Fifth: Stock the shelves

To stock your library with children’s books, check out garage sales, ask for donations from parents, and create a Library Wish List to send home (or post at Open House), listing titles your kids are asking for. For a large selection of children’s books at really great prices, check out: www.schoolbox.com/Children-s-Books.aspx.

Another idea: If you have a budget to play with, check out this awesome two-sided library shelf from The School Box (LOVE that store!): double sided library shelf.

Now that your reading corner has been sufficiently spiffed up, give yourself a pat on the back. You just created an inviting print-rich environment!

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 Centers, Classroom Community, Classroom Decor, Reading, reluctant readers

Summertime = Tweaking Time

by Kelli Lewis, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box Gift Card…. get on your way for a 2012 classroom makeover!

So, it’s summer. Time to chill, relax, unwind…and tweak! The school year is so crazy and fast-paced that, as teachers, our routines can sometimes get stuck in a rut. There’s no time to evaluate and change– only time to hold on and dash for the finish.

But summer is the perfect time to reevaluate your teaching and tweak your classroom procedures. Here are some practical, easy-to-apply ideas for the early elementary teacher.

Classroom Idea 1: Improve Student Writing

Have your students write using “4 Star Writing.” Here are the four “stars” to focus on: (1) “Use a finger space in between words.” (2) “Start each sentence with a capital letter.” (3) “Use punctuation at the end of each sentence.” (4) “Use the word wall to help spell.” Indicate these four concepts on big cutout stars to post on the wall to remind your students what makes good writing. Include illustrations/pictures on each of the cutouts to indicate the concept.

Classroom Idea 2: Word Wall!

Put up an “A to Z Word Wall” for students to use! A great way to get students involved with your Word Wall is to make posters for each letter and allow your students to draw a picture of something starting with that letter on the posters. Then, use note cards to print words that are “no excuse” words for your students to always spell correctly. Write one word on each card, and attach them to the wall under their respective letter posters. As the year goes on, you can make new cards and add to your Word Wall as your students learn more and more “no excuse” words. (For some super-useful pre-made Word Wall items, click here.)

Classroom 3: 1oo Club

A “100 Club” poster can be a real asset to give your young students the goal of learning to count to 100. The poster should state: “I can count to 100!” at the very top. Below, there should be lines where students can sign their name, any way that they would like (silly, a different color, with small pictures), once they can show you that they can count to 100. The School Box carries a 100-pocket chart that’s great for helping them achieve this milestone, as well.

Classroom Idea 4: Make the Most of Calendar Time

During calendar time, introduce your students to the “shortcut date”– writing the numeral for the month, day and year, separated by dashes (6-8-11). Once your students have the “Today’s date is…” concept down, teach them how to use the “shortcut date” on their papers. They’ll feel grown up, and they will learn to associate the date with its numeral equivalent.

For a calendar time challenge, introduce your students to how other countries write the date a little switched up! For example, in Italy, because of the way they speak, they write May 18, 2011, as 18-05-11, with the day first, then the month, then the year. This is because when verbally stating the date in Italy, they also say it differently than we do. They would say: 18th of May, 2011, instead of May 18, 2011.

There you have it: four simple ideas to implement in the fall that will maximize the lessons you’re probably already teaching. More bang for your buck! Now wasn’t that worth thinking about during your summer break? :-)

Kelli Lewis, M. Ed. recently received her masters degree from The University of Georgia and is currently staying busy setting up her third-grade classroom.

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Filed under Centers, Classroom Community, grammar, Math, Morning Work, Writing