Category Archives: Motivation

a foolproof way to introduce poetry {to middle schoolers}

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by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

The first year I taught, I was faced with the daunting task of introducing poetry to a class of too-cool-for-school eighth graders.

I was young, naive…and therefore optimistic. I had grand visions of unearthing a poetic genius from this unlikely crew, and I just knew that they would connect with the authentic voices of Langston Hughes, e.e. cummings and Maya Angelou. If I could get them to keep an open mind.

Which–for eighth graders–is a big if.

Sure enough, when I announced the unit on the very first day, the word poetry was met with groans and rolled eyes. I knew I had to change the students’ perceptions. Clearly, they were thinking of poetry that’s limited by rules and rhymes.

I wrote the word “poetry” on the board and asked them for a definition. As they called out phrases (“it rhymes,” “it’s all mushy and lovey-dovey,” “boring”), I wrote them on the board. Every one of them.

Then I told them we were going to read some of my favorite poems. I pulled out the overhead projector (dating myself here :) and put up an overhead with a long poem on it. We started reading it, and they were still groaning. It was a love poem.

But, what they didn’t know was that it was actually a song; I’d typed out the lyrics to a song by Boyz II Men (dating myself again). But I kept that little secret to myself and just let the students tear into the “poem.”

Then, without saying much, I hit play on my CD player (phew, I’d have been really embarrassed to have to type cassette deck), and the song

There- ha! At least my photo is up-to-date. :)

started playing. It took my students a minute to catch on, but when they realized that they were listening to the “lame” words on the screen being sung by their idols…well, let’s just say I had them hooked on poetry.

After the song was over, I pointed out the obvious: music is poetry. If you like music, you like poetry. And so, with that revelation in mind, I erased their previous definitions of poetry from the board and asked for new ones. This time, they filled the board with phrases like “songs are poetry,” “meaningful,” “you can connect with it,” “sometimes it tells a story,” etc.

By the end of the poetry unit, I was right. They had connected with Hughes and Angelou and cummings. And…quite a few unlikely poetic geniuses had also been unearthed.

To search for song lyrics for your poetry unit, check out www.allthelyrics.com.

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Filed under Motivation, Poetry, reluctant readers

teacher self-care {take a minute for you}

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card! Winners are drawn regularly. 

The hardest thing for me about back-to-school time is transitioning from summer relaxation to high-energy fall schedules. As teachers, we look forward to meeting our new classes, and there’s a certain unmatched energy about starting a new year with a new group. It’s fun! (Okay, most of it :).

But I find that if I don’t take a little time for self-care, I feel burned out come October. (Or September. Or August 30. :) Am I alone here, or can I get an Amen?

Here are some ideas for us educators who need a little R & R– even after our swimsuits have long ago dried and the sand is long gone from our flip-flops. These ideas don’t take long, but they provide a bit of happy in the midst of all the busy.

1. Get Social!

Fill the “off-hours” time in your calendar (evenings, weekends, Friday nights) with activities you authentically look forward to. Plan fun outings, girl’s nights out, date nights, or just solo trips to the coffee shop. Having these fun times planned and scheduled on the calendar gives you something to look forward to even on your longest days. At least you’ll know that a break is coming!

2. Just Say No.

In order to have space in your calendar (and mind) for things you enjoy doing, you may have to say “no” to invitations and activities that come your way…and that’s okay. Learning to say no is crucial to self-care. If you’re bad at it, here’s an article on how to do it well.

3. Play Music.

When you’re in your classroom during breaks or after school, put on some favorite music. It really is an endorphin booster! Here’s a play list of relaxing tunes. How pretty is Bella’s Lullaby??

4. Leave Work on Time. 

Sometimes you have to stay late at school (parent meetings, faculty meetings, PTA meetings, meetings meetings meetings). But, let’s be honest– sometimes it’s just a bad habit or a choice. Make a pact with yourself to leave on time at least three afternoons a week. It’s much more relaxing to grade papers at home with your fuzzy slippers kicked up in a recliner than with your aching feet still stuck underneath your metal teacher desk.

5. Get Physical. 

Exercise is a great stress reducer– this is no secret. But with newly packed schedules, it may be hard to find time to hit the gym or treadmill this fall. If so, try to at least get outside and take a walk, look up at the sky, notice the world around you. Even if it’s just a quick walk after dinner, getting out and moving is grounding and re-centering. 

6. Stay Inspired.

And finally, remember why you became a teacher to begin with. It wasn’t for the glory. And it sho wasn’t for the salary. It was to make a difference in the lives of children. Here’s an inspiring website that shares the stories of famous celebs and their favorite teachers. And here’s a video to remind us why we wipe down our boards, plan our lessons, grade those papers, put on a smile, and reach out and care.

Happy August! Let’s remember to invest in ourselves as we invest in our students. We’ll all be happier this month…and beyond. ♥

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Filed under Motivation, Teacher Appreciation, Teacher Inspiration, Teaching

Four Timely Reminders for all Educators

 by Mary Jane Downs

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Are you creating a teaching legacy for future generations? What wisdom can you pass down from your experiences?

My daughter graduated as an education major from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, this past spring. As she is hunting for a teaching position and awaiting her first solo flight, I want to give her some sage advice to ponder as she anticipates the future. Here are four tips from my teaching experience that I will be sharing with my daughter, which are, perhaps, a good reminder for all of us teachers…both young and not-so-young. 

Healthy Fear

A little ‘healthy fear’ at the beginning of each year can be a good thing. You do not have all the answers yet because every class has a different make up. This keeps you willing to seek for the answers…and it can also foster a mutual respect from your students. Don’t fear the fear; embrace it as an opportunity to learn.

The Truth Behind Discipline

Discipline has a lot to do with who you are and how you present yourself. It also has to do with honesty, fairness, your example and what you expect of each student. Bad attitudes and criticism will only aggravate the challenges. Finding the good in each student and telling them so can begin to change even the most hardcore children.

Each New Day is a New Day

Let everyone have a new start each day. Don’t hold grudges against students. It will only bring more friction to a classroom. We all have bad moments, days and periods of time when our behavior reeks. Forgive and move on. Try to find out if there is a reason for a student’s behavior. Then, work to help your student learn to overcome their problems in a more positive way.

Teachable Spirit

The best teachers keep a teachable spirit throughout their career. They never think they have arrived at fully knowing everything. They continually search for the best ways to enhance their students’ learning environment. Then, when all is said and done, your students will honor and respect you for helping them learn to succeed under your watch.

Teaching is a challenge no matter how you look at it. However, starting out with the right kind of wisdom will help you build a rewarding career…and a living legacy.

Mary Jane Downs is an author, speaker and teacher who lives in the foothills of the Asheville Mountains. She loves long walks with her camera in hand, reading, hand quilting, and cooking for friends. Mary Jane has been published in Awe Magazine, Inspiredmoms.com, as well as a guest blogger. Mary Jane has found her writing and love of quilting to work well together. Quilting gives her time to think and gain insight for story ideas, and writing helps her to express those ideas and thoughts to others. Read more by Mary Jane at www.maryjanewrites.com.

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Filed under Academic Success, Behavior Management, Motivation, School Readiness, Teacher Inspiration, Teaching

Student Appreciation Certificates (a warm fuzzy)

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by Diane Burdick, M. Ed.

Believe it or not, one of the fondest memories of my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Krause, was forged the last day of school.

Once the school desks where pushed to the side of the room, all the supplies were put up, and the room cleaned from top to bottom, Mrs. Krause called us to the center of the room where we sat down in a large circle. She told us how much she had enjoyed the year getting to know each one of us in her classroom, then presented us each with our own individual award certificate.

Instead of a generic certificate that said something like “great job this year,” Mrs. Krause awarded each student a personalized certificate that showed specifically why that student was special to her. For example, the shyest kid in the class, who gave her a hug every morning when he walked into the classroom, received the “Best Hugger” award. She passed out a “Sleepiest” award to the child who showed up late to school most mornings because she had overslept, and she awarded the “Where Is It?” award to the child who forgot her homework and permission slips most often.

Although it didn’t take much time for Mrs. Krause to physically create each award—she used a certificate from the local teacher supply store—she did take the time to think of why each child was special, which is a great way to leave a lasting impression from the school year.

How to Create Your Own

This year, consider forming a short list of the things that make each student in your class unique, and then create a special award for each student. Four easy places to start:

1. Purchase a pack of customizable paper certificates like these achievement certificates or this “awesome” award (shown right) from The School Box.

2. Or open up the “certificate” setting in your Word software. Download the free printable/savable pdf of the four award stamps featured below right, to add to your awards. Click here for download: Award Stamps. 

3. Or download an award from www.123certificates.com/formal.php.

4. Or use one of these great printable certificates from www.familyshoppingbag.com.

Consider adding your school mascot or logo to further personalize the awards.

The Award I Earned

When I got home that day from school, I proudly showed my mother the certificate Mrs. Krause had given me. While my mom wasn’t thrilled that I received the “Where Is It?” award, I was touched that my teacher would turn something that could have been a frustration into something that became an endearment.

As teachers, we’re all eager to end the year with a bang, and we’re all excited (let’s admit) about the prospects of summer. But, let’s also remember that we can make a lasting impact on our students with a gesture as simple as a hand-written certificate. Decades later, I still remember fifth grade–and, yes, Mrs. Krause–fondly. 

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Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Classroom Community, Motivation, Teaching

And we have a win-ah!

Time to announce a winner for our monthly School Box $20 gift card giveaway! We randomly draw a winner from among the month’s commenters (so if you want to toss your name in the hat next time, share some little tidbits in the comments under a post).

Our newest winner is:

S. Jordan-Georgia

Comment: on Spelling Guess & Check

What a great idea Elizabeth! I probably hear that question a million times during writing alone and my answer is simply a point towards the dictionaries. However, not only does my EIP class struggle with spelling, they also lack the dictionary skills they need as fifth graders. I believe the Spelling Guess & Check sheet is an awesome ‘visual’ tool to allow my students see how they are spelling a word, while thinking back to the sounds and decoding skills they learned in the primary grades to help them spell. With the CRCT fast approaching, I definitely plan to download this sheet to help my students become better spellers and to sharpen their dictionary skills not only for the test but for their future in middle school as well. Thank you Elizabeth for such a helpful post!

You can see all comments on this post here:

http://newsletter.schoolbox.com/2012/01/11/how-do-you-spell-a-reproducible-sheet-to-help-with-dictionary-skills/#comments

Congrats! You’ll be receiving an e-mail from The School Box confirming the mailing of your gift certificate. Enjoy!

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Filed under Free Stuff!, Motivation, Teaching

Attention Grabbers (Keep students’ attention…even in May!)

by Bobbie Brownell

Comment on this article and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card! Winners are drawn monthly.

Almost every teacher, whether they went to Yale or got their teaching degree online, thinks about using a big attention grabber to start class…especially in these final weeks of the school year when spring fever is rampant. Attention grabbers can range from a simple question to an elaborate demonstration. Either way, the message is clear: Wake up! Time to learn!

When to use an attention grabber:

  • Quiet a noisy room
  • Introduce a new topic
  • Motivate students
  • Demonstrate a theory or natural occurrence
  • Ward off summeritis

Have fun getting their attention, just be careful that the attention grabber does not take away from the overall meaning of the lesson. Try to keep their focus on the learning objectives. This benefits everyone in class and helps by taking away unnecessary distractions. We all know how easy it is to get the students’ minds off of the material. Daniel Willingham’s explanation on why students remember or forget material learned in class is linked to what the students are thinking about while new material is being introduced.

Questions to consider before using an attention grabber:

• Is the attention grabber relevant to the lesson?

• Could this be done in the middle of the lesson if students start to zone out?

• Will students be engaged and motivated to learn afterward?

• Will this continue to distract the students after the demonstration is over?

Tips to motivate:

• Timing is key - Try using relevant attention grabbers in the middle of the lesson. Students tend to mentally check out around the half-way point of class. This is a great time to reel them back in with something stimulating like a thought-provoking or a controversial question for them to discuss or write about.

• Give choices – If motivation is lacking, give the students a chance to have some input in what they are learning. Giving choices on what to read or research can be a huge motivator because it allows students to learn about something they are interested in. Have students come up with their own writing prompts; you’ll be surprised by all the brilliant ideas!

• Ask questions – Ask the students thought provoking questions to start a class discussion. Discussion is an invaluable tool since it invites the entire class to become involved with the lesson and with each other. Try something like, “Is murder ever justified?” or “What do you think would be different if this classroom was in Paris?” Use anything to get them thinking and talking.

• Relate concepts to the real world – Teachers sometimes forget that the best way to learn something is the simplest way. Ask yourself, “How did I learn this?” and “How does what we’re learning relate to the outside world?” Real-world examples work because students can relate to them. At any age, we learn by making connections from things we know to new ideas and experiences. Using examples that can be found or repeated at home can help deepen the understanding between the concept and the individual student.

Transitioning into new subjects is difficult for both teachers and students. Make it fun and be creative! Paying attention to transitions will make the change easier for everyone involved. Tricky Transitions…Made Easier! is a great example of thinking about transitions and how they can be used in a younger classroom environment.

Bobbie Brownell holds a bachelors degree in English and is currently in the NC Teach program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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Filed under Activities, Behavior Management, Critical Thinking, Discipline, Motivation

A Learning Experience

Know what I love? The community and fellowship we achieve by sharing ideas for working with children. Whether we’re educators, parents, or both, we have a common bond: our passion for imparting the best to children. That’s what A Learning Experience is all about…and you are a vital part of this community.

For those of you who commented on our articles in the past few weeks, a big special THANK YOU goes out to you. We love (love) seeing how your thoughts add to the original articles. It’s amazing what we learn when we put our heads together.

Thanks to all of you, A Learning Experience continues to grow…and, most importantly, continues to stand out as an authentic resource for creative ideas and inspiration. I hope you keep joining us here and sharing your wisdom!

And, if you’d like to submit an article for us to publish on A Learning Experience (which scores you a $35 gift card to The School Box and a nice little addition for the ol’ resume), simply e-mail a 250-350 word article to editor@schoolbox.com. Articles on a variety of educational topics are always welcome!

Warm regards,

Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.
Editor of A Learning Experience

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Filed under Motivation, Teacher Inspiration, Teaching

Interactive Math Warm-Up Idea

Comment on this post to win a $20 gift card to The School Box! One winner is selected each month.

by Elizabeth D. Cossick, M. Ed.

So, you’re looking for a fun way to begin your math class each day. It needs to be quick, engaging and easy to execute. Well, look no further because we’ve got a great one that students of ALL ages love–and it seriously couldn’t be easier.

Materials:

Mini white or black boards (one per child)

White board marker or piece of chalk (one per child)

Activity:

  1. Pass out white/black boards and respective writing instruments to your students. Tell them that they will use their board to participate in some fun math races.
  2. Then, simply call out math equations that are on-par with your class’s ability level or current topics of study. Everything from simple addition to complex long division and algebra equations will work for this activity.
  3. The students solve the problems and write the answer on their boards as quickly as possible. When they have their answer written, they silently hold their board above their heads.
  4. Award small prizes daily (or keep track of points and award a larger prize, like a full-sized candy bar, to one “Math Champion” each month). Prizes can be awarded for: first correct answer, second correct answer, third correct answer (to keep students working even after the first board gets raised into the air), neatest writing, or best display of steps (if “show your work” is a necessary instruction).
  5. At the end of the activity, you can collect the boards or allow students to keep them in their desks for drawing and writing when they finish their work.

Your students will look forward to this fast-paced activity…almost as much as they’ll look forward to writing on their own white/black board!

Helpful Hints: Laminated pieces of white poster board, cut into 9 x 12 sheets, also make good erasable boards for use with dry erase markers. They may have to be replaced after a few months, but they’re cheap and easy to make. And, old (clean :) socks make great erasers, as well as holders for chalk and white-board markers.

To purchase mini white or black boards and pens/chalk, visit The School Box…or check out these links:

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Filed under Geometry, Math, Motivation, Multiplication, Test Prep

Gooooooaaaaaal!!!!!!

Comment on this post and you could win a $20 School Box Gift Card! A winner is selected weekly!

adapted from Rachel Stepp

Okay, so this post may not be as exciting as the World Cup, but they do have something in common: in both, goals are a very good thing!

By now, your crew is settled back into the routine of school after the holidays, but this doesn’t mean life has to be ho-hum. To keep students motivated for the remainder of the year, give them a little ownership over their learning. One of the best ways to do this? Setting goals.

A Goal-Setting Lesson Plan

  1. Talk about different types of goals, such as short term and long term, personal goals and academic goals. Ask: Why would we want to set goals? Discuss the importance of visualizing growth and success. You have to conceive it before you can achieve it!
  2. As a class, come up with several categories for goals that the students would like to set. Write the categories on the board or chart paper as you brainstorm. Some ideas: Academic, Family, Friends, Future, Sports/Hobbies/Talents, or Projects.
  3. Then, once you’ve selected three to five categories as a class, have students brainstorm one or two specific goals for themselves for each category. Discuss and model how to create specific, attainable goals that are within their control (i.e. “make every soccer practice until May,” rather than “win every game”).
  4. After students have brainstormed individually, allow them to work with a partner to share their goals and provide feedback to each other.
  5. Once your students have solidified their ideas, give them strips of different colored construction paper. Encourage students to write one goal on each piece of paper. Allow them to write anonymously if they would like.
  6. Once students have written the goals, arrange the strips of paper in a firework pattern and build a bulletin board or a door display that showcases the explosion student-generated goals. This festive display will be a daily reminder for students of what they plan on achieving…and the celebration that can happen when a goal is met!
  7. Then, follow up: on a regular basis (morning work is a great time), have students journal on how they’re doing with their goals. Do they need to tweak any of the goals? Allow a time for students to share their progress…and be sure to celebrate successes, too!

And…don’t forget to set goals for yourself, too. Just because you’re the teacher doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve something new and great everyday!

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

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Filed under Academic Success, Behavior Management, Classroom Community, Motivation

Simple Service Projects for Kids

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by Kelli Lewis

Do you incorporate service learning in your classroom? It’s simple to do and the best part is that it keeps your students engaged and learning hands-on! Think of the standards and curriculum you must cover, then consider the things around our own community that you could use to relate to the standards and/or curriculum in order to make a difference there.

A Simple Service Learning Idea

Here is one idea, concerning healthy eating habits in children today. We saw a need in our own community due to obesity among elementary children and unhealthy food habits. Students are not always aware of exercise possibilities, healthy snacks, and the benefits of being healthy. Our plan was to get information out there and teach the students what it means to be healthy, what a difference it could make in their lives, and to allow them to become a positive role model for someone else they know.

Here are some activities you could use in your classroom, if you chose to participate it something like this:

Comparing fast food menus:

Students make a list of their top three favorite fast food places. Teachers (and/or students, depending on the grade levels) look up the nutritional information for these places, and compare them to each others’ favorite places. Each student should then be able to list their favorite places in order of which restaurant is the most healthy, as well as explore the different menu items they could order to make healthier decisions (ie. choosing apple slices instead of fries.)

Workout video:

Students learn and/or choreograph a workout routine to a self-selected song. Students can suggest songs as a class, then vote for the one they would like to use for their routine. The most popular vote wins. After learning the steps to the selected song, students could have the option of creating a workout video of them teaching and performing the routine!

Writing letters:

Students write letters to the school about getting a healthy food grant. They could also even write letters to Jamie Oliver (from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution TV show) about the possibility of him coming to their school.

Cookbook:

Students create a cookbook of recipes they have learned about and/or come up with themselves, that are healthy snacks or small meals they could easily create themselves. They can use these to refer back to when they are at home and need an idea of something healthy they can eat other than potato chips or candy. They can also use these to give to friends or family in order to spread the word.

Paper grocery bags:

Students write things they have learned about healthy eating on grocery bags that you have gathered from your community grocery store. Then, take the bags back to the store and ask if they will use these bags for customers. This way, students are getting the word out to the public in their community about the importance of healthy habits, and it gives them a chance to make a difference outside of the school building.

Kelli Lewis is an Early Childhood Education graduate student at the University of Georgia who often shares her wonderful ideas on A Learning Experience. (Lucky us!)

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Filed under Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, Motivation, Service Learning, Writing