Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sensory Stimulation Through Art

This semester I am working on helping students who benefit from having extra stimulation through their senses. Teaching in a school with 100% special education students, this is something many of our students can benefit from. However, I think at any school there are students whom you might have noticed like to touch everything they look at or who love the messy projects & experiments just a little more than the rest of the class. These students can benefit from and enjoy some extra sensory stimulation.

How do you get students thinking about their senses? In my sensory stimulation group students listed the five senses and each week we discuss with them what senses they will experience with the activity we have planned. We try to come up with different ideas each week that hit different senses. Here are some ideas we have tried so far.

One week we made our own silly putty using this recipe from Wiki-How. The students had a lot of fun mixing up the glue and liquid starch and kneading it until it became silly putty. We also encouraged them to use their silly putty in class when they were stressed or upset like they would a stress ball. If you have students that need an outlet for their emotions in class, this would be a great activity for them to try.

We also made this microwavable puffy paint from Melissagoodsell's blog. If you don't have self rising flour you can make your own by mixing 1 cup of regular flour with about 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder (we added a little extra to make our paint extra puffy!) and 1/4 teaspoons of salt. This activity also used our sense of smell since we could smell the paint after it was done cooking in the microwave!

Today my students experimented by microwaving a bar of Ivory soap to create foam. It only took about 30 seconds and the soap seemed to explode out causing a huge pile of foam to form. They had fun after it cooled playing and shaping it with their hands. We also experimented with what happened when they added water or cooking previously cooked pieces again. Read about all the scientific concepts this demonstrates in the link above!

I hope you have a chance to stimulate your students' senses with some fun experiments & activities! For more sensory activity suggestions, check out my sensory pin board on my Pinterest page.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dramatic Reading Activity

I've used role plays, Shakespeare and  Reader's Theater to bring drama into my classroom.  Performances appeal to all learners: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.  Additionally, performing a text incorporates several excellent fluency and comprehension strategies.  The rehearsing and rereading that go into preparing to perform improve fluency.  The time students spend studying the text in order to know what is going on and how to deliver their lines require students to make inferences, define vocabulary, monitor for understanding, etc. 

Click on the cover page above to  see a lesson I've used to bring performances into the classroom. It is designed to have students choose ten lines from one of their favorite poems to perform and break down for the class. There are handouts for them to go through beforehand that include activities in several reading strategies: visualizing, summarizing, monitoring, making connections, etc. There is a graphic organizer to helps them break down the tone and theme. There is a simple checklist rubric at the end for grading. It is designed for poetry, but can be easily adapted for any dramatic text.  At just $2, it is a great value.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fabulous Friday Freebies: FREE Valentine's Day Lessons & Resources

With Valentine's Day in a few short weeks, I thought I would put together some free educational resources for you to use with a fun holiday theme.

Here is my FREE Early/Fast Finishers Valentine's Day Drawing Packet. It contains ten drawing activities that are perfect for fast or early finishers to complete and also contains educational material such as artist information. All students need to complete these drawing activities are a pencil and something to add color such as markers or crayons. Please leave feedback if you enjoy this free packet!

If you enjoy doing science experiments with your students, here is a lesson on how to create Borax crystal hearts! It looks simple and easy to do with just a few ingredients. has a great list of Valentine's Day lesson ideas for all subject areas and grade levels. I loved their idea of having students write valentines between two characters, ideas, or historical figures. This could easily be used in just about any subject area and grade level!

YouTube has video of the History of Valentine's Day available. It is a short but interesting four minute video that could help your students learn about the history of Valentine's Day. Be aware that there is at least one work of art shown in the video that contains mild nudity.  

The NEA has a list of 10 free Valentine's Day lesson resources that vary from grades K-12. There are  lots of links to helpful resources & PDF files that you can print and use in your classroom.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Teaching Text Structure

I have been known to bemoan the fact that computer classes started one year too late when I was growing up.  I was part of the last class to not receive training on how to use them in elementary school.  So, when I enrolled in computer literacy my freshman year of college it turned into one big headache, literally.

Fortunately, I was a much better reader than tech-head.  Still, like the computers, there are some things that I learned about much later in life but wished I had learned much earlier.  One of those is all of the different ways that text is structured.  When I first heard a university instructor outline that for me, something clicked.  Suddenly I had a way to categorize and approach textual information in my mind.  Today I've discovered that too many students have not internalized this concept.  I've spent hundred of hours assessing students in reading using individualized inventories.  The one trend that I see over and over is students' struggles with nonfiction texts.  They are used to telling and listening to stories.  They have learned about plot lines for fictional texts in English classes again and again.  They are not as familiar with nonfiction organizational patterns used for conveying information.

We know what the nonfiction text structures are, but I'll catalogue them for us once again: description, sequence, compare and contrast, cause & effect, and problem & solution. (You will them listed different ways in different resources, but this is a general list.)

So, for those of us who aren't doing this, how to we start?  For those of us who do, how do we do improve what we are doing for students who needs strong explicit instruction?  Here are a few resources to help:

1) Be explicit about teaching text structures.  Have students identify them and use the structure to guide their summaries.  Provide them with frame paragraphs in the beginning to use when summarizing.

2) Let students practice it by reading short passages and identifying the structure before applying it to larger selections.

3) Teach key phrases that are used in the various text structures to aid them in identifying the organizational framework.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Three Fun Games for African American History or Black History Month!

Although I also think like Etc. in that African-American history should be focused on year-round, I know that a special time to focus on it is in February. If you are celebrating Black History Month this year at school and your students love playing games as much as mine do, check out these three fun games to help your students learn about important African-American facts, people, and historical moments.

For small groups or as a center, check out my Black History Memory Game. This game contains 24 pairs of cards that helps your students learn about important African-American people, events, and terms.

Another fun game that is always a hit in my classroom is Bingo! I also love that my students can all play this game at one time and since they have to listen to the clues you read, your class is easily quieted throughout the game. Please note that the images and facts used in this game are almost identical to those in my memory game.

The last game for Black History Month available at my store is this PowerPoint Black History Game in the style of Jeopardy. If you have access to a projector or can huddle students around a computer monitor, this game is a blast! Students click on each category and answer important questions.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Fabulous Friday Freebies: Celebrating African American History

There are so many ways to celebrate African American History throughout the year, but since it often receives special attention during February, I'm preparing you to jump start the month's activities with some fabulous freebies across the content areas.


  1. Scholastic has a Math Hunt game that teaches students a bit about African American history and requires them to use math to answer the questions.  The skills tested are not super advanced (reading graphs, estimating, adding, etc), but it is worth checking out.  It covers a range of topics and is interdisciplinary.
  2. Beatrice Lumpkin has created an excellent pdf complete with some of the history of math in Africa.  There are games and drawing activities you can have your students do to practice proportions and logic.   

Language Arts 

  1. Check out 10 African American authors everyone should read
  2. The Harlem Renaissance was a time when African American arts and literature thrived.  PBS has an online lesson plan to teach your students more about it.


  1. Check out these biographies of 10 great African Americans who fought justice.  The lesson packet includes a couple activities.
  2. One of the coolest resources I've found this year is an oral history archive devoted to famous African American leaders.  There is a wealth of primary sources here.  Your students can listen to   Maya Angelou and 100's of others tell their stories.


  1. Check out the online article Black Inventors A-Z.
  2. Want to turn a lesson on African American inventors into a project?  Check it out.

General (other websites with useful collections)


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

First Day of Class Ideas

My school just started its spring semester this week and many other schools are starting as well. With a new semester comes new classes and I always like to start the new semester getting to know my students and doing some fun team building activities or games to get them excited about their new class. Here are some suggestions of activities I have used on the first day.

Writing & Art Telephone Game

This fun game is perfect for practicing creativity, writing sentences, and drawing. I give my students a long sheet of paper and have them fold it into little squares. In the first square they write some kind of silly sentence. Then they pass the paper to the next player and that player draws out the sentence in the next box and folds the sentence back. The next player draws a picture of that sentence and so forth. I have done this with elementary and high school students and both grade levels were very amused at the end of this game! It's a fun way to start the school year.

Vocab Memory

Vocab memory is an easy game to play and a great way to introduce students to basic vocab words they will use throughout the year or semester. It is easy to set up as well. I cut about 12 pieces of copy paper in half and taped them to my board. Some of the paper can easily be seen through, so I also added a Post-It to cover up the words as well. Under each one I wrote a word or a definition. I had my classes divided into two teams and would lift up two sheets of paper and play on the board like regular memory, with each student taking turns. After picking up a new word I would ask them what it meant or what word might match the mystery definition. It was a great way to see which students knew which words and how familiar they were with basic art vocabulary.

Personal Symbol

Having students either learn or review what a symbol is and create one for themselves is another great first day of class idea. Seeing what students come up with for themselves helps you learn a lot about them and that knowledge is valuable in those early weeks! I have used these blank mandala templates before and had each section of the mandala be represent something different for them to draw. One section was for them to create a symbol of themselves, one section was to write a goal for themselves for that school year, etc... The bonus is that most students love talking or drawing about themselves!

See What Their Personality Is

A personality test is another fun way to get to know your students on the first day of class. There is a fun one here and you can also print out questionnaires about learning styles so you can see what types of learners you have in class. Most students love learning more about themselves and enjoy these types of quizzes.

Break the Ice

Ice breakers are always a hit! They can be a great way for the students to get to know each other and you to know them. Find a huge amount of free ice breaker and team building activities at Teampedia.

Those are my favorite ways to start the semester!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Greek God and Goddesses Quiz

Looking for a quick way to quiz your students on Greek gods and goddesses?  Click the link to the mythology quiz to find a 30 question matching quiz that asks students to identify the Greek gods and goddesses by their characteristics and legends. The Greek gods/goddesses that are covered include: Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hera, Hestia, Demeter , Aphrodite , Hephaestus, Apollo, Ares, Hermes, Athena, and Artemis.  Don't reinvent the wheel.  It's just $1.  Check it out!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fabulous Freebies: Martin Luther King Jr. Resources

Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday will be honored on January 21st this year. Here are some fabulous freebies to help your students learn more about Martin Luther King Jr. in your classroom.

This video is a short 3 minute clip that summarizes important points of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and background. It is easy to watch and understand and would be a great introduction for students of many ages.

Check out Teaching Heart's Blog to get two activities to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Get a free fact and opinion sheet and mini book through this link. Both are nicely laid out and easy to print and use. Use this link to get even more freebies and teaching resources!

I also thought that this visual aid was a great way to make an important point about skin color in your classroom. See how it was used at the The First Grade Parade blog.

The Certification Map website also has a great list of lesson plans divided by grade level. All grades are included from middle school to high school!

Do you have a great free resource for learning about Martin Luther King Jr.? Share it with us in the comments below and I'll post about it this week.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Teaching Students to Self-Assess

We live in an age when we are bombarded with information.  When I googled the word reflection I received 198 million hits in .23 seconds.  There is more information out there than we can possibly consume, some of it good and some of it, well....  So, as we already know, the key is to teach our students to be critical thinkers so they can analyze data and use it to meet their objectives.

In order to help students do that, they need to be reflective.  They need to be able to analyze their goals, take inventory of their strengths and weaknesses, consider their options for how to improve, plan, execute those plans and reflect on their progress.  Here are some key questions to use to help students:

Reflect on your goals.

  • What is the class goal?
  • What is my personal goal?  
  • What do I wish I could do better?
  • What am I interested in knowing how to do?
  • If I achieve my goal, what would that look like?

Is what I'm doing working?

  • What is going well?  What part of the goal have I already mastered?
  • What am I doing?
  • What am I not doing? Why not?

Options are available.  List them!

  • What can my teacher do to help me?
  • What can my teacher say to help me?
  • What can I do to help myself?
  • Who else can I go to for help?
  • What sort of questions should I be asking?
  • What is stopping me from reaching my goal?
  • What are my next steps?
  • What help do I need that I'm not getting?

Now what?

  • What will I do?
  • Where will I do it?
  • When is my deadline?
  • Who will I go to for help?

Then reflect again!!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Fun Winter Math & Literacy Centers on Sale!

If you are looking for fun math & literacy centers to use this month, check out my winter themed math & literacy packet! This packet contains 10 math and 10 literacy centers with a fun winter theme. I am putting it on sale now through Friday, January 11th, 2013.

The math centers focus on multiplication, division, pie graphs, and bar graphs. Lots of fun winter graphics are used and each worksheet can easily be printed in black and white or color. Here's an example of one of the math worksheet pages:

Literacy centers focus on writing skills, graphic organizers, homophones, and facts/opinions. Here is an example of a literacy page worksheet:

 This packet has been rated by 9 TPT customers and has a 4.0 rating! It is recommended for grades 3-6.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Fabulous Friday Freebies

Happy 2013!  We hope that you are re-energized and ready to finish the year off strong.  To start the year off right and help you in your efforts, we're making our first post of the new year another edition of Fabulous Friday Freebies.  Here are some great ones that I found this week...

#1: Izzit is an online site that allows you to sign up for a free basic membership.  With that membership comes a  yearly free educational video.  All you have to do is write a review once you have shown it in your classroom.

#2: Everyone has heard of Netflix, I'm sure.  Don't forget, though, that they offer free one month trials.  Need to find an online documentary or something to keep the kids occupied during indoor recess on a blustery day?  Check it out.

#3: Teacher Lists is a website that offers freebies to teachers who post supply and/or wish lists.

#4: Go-to-freebie is a site that posts free office supplies.  Right now they are posting several free calendars.  
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