Classroom Solutions > 182 posts categorized "Lesson Ideas"

### Connecting Children With Nature: Learning About Trees

Our playground is surrounded by an abundance of beautiful trees, which always seem to captivate my very curious kindergartners. Who would have guessed that a group of five- and six-year-olds would find trees more intriguing than slides and swings? Read on as I share the lessons I created to capitalize on my students' natural enthusiasm for trees.

### October Read-Alouds: Literacy Fun With Pumpkins, Leaves, and Bats

Depending on where you live, you may have recently noticed a chill in the air, and the leaves may be turning from green to brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red. While many of your students may be focusing on how much candy they will receive trick-or-treating at the end of month, here are three of my favorite read-aloud books with accompanying activities that won’t require a trip to the dentist.

### Beware of Bias -- Graphing With a Critical Eye

My students studied graphing during our first math unit this year. Graphing lends itself to get-to-know-you activities — students can survey each other to collect data — and it provides an entry point for students of all math abilities.

Once my students understood how graphs work and how to create accurate graphs, I started to wonder how I could up the ante. How could I promote critical thinking with this relatively straightforward math unit?

One of my students handed me the answer when he brought in a graph that he had clipped from the newspaper to add to our graph collection. As I looked over his graph, I thought, "Hey, wait a sec! This graph is downright misleading." As I pointed out the graph’s flaws to my students, their eyes widened at the idea that a newspaper might seek to mislead with a graph.

### The Challenge Based Classroom: Using Curriculum to Serve the Community

Last year I came to a crossroads in my teaching. During my annual review, I found myself agonizing over my goals for this upcoming school year. I was completely stuck. I browsed through our district's professional development opportunities with a sense of “been there, done that.” It surprised me that so early in my career I would feel this way. My classroom certainly kept me on my toes, but I was missing that spark that ignited my planning each year. An offer to explore curriculum development made me even more confused. Was I really ready to leave the classroom? I needed a teaching makeover!

As if on cue, two amazing things happened that would transform my teaching: the opportunity to be a teacher advisor here and the discovery of Apple’s Challenge Based Learning. The journey outside of my comfort zone had begun.

### Art and Poetry Through the Year: Notebooks and Keepsakes for Your Students

Students in 1st grade need to have many experiences in language arts to become independent readers and writers. Shared reading is a great way for students to “play” with language to become fluent readers. Fluency is further developed when children have ample opportunities to read text that is familiar and easy for them. In my class, we love to use poetry to build our fluency. Read on to find out more about our poetry notebooks and our yearlong poetry keepsake project.

### Motivating the Unmotivated: Tough Kid Tools That Really Work

At some point in your teaching career you will have a "tough kid" in your classroom. You may even have several at the same time. These students send you home exhausted, often in tears, and raise doubts about your career choice. The tough kid changes the dynamic and mood of the room in an instant, and you may find yourself wondering what to expect from minute to minute. The tough kid may come to you with a prior history, with warnings from your colleagues, and with a cornucopia of labels such as "at-risk," "difficult," "attention deficit disorded," or even "lazy." How do you deal with tough kids, and what can you do to restore order to your classroom? Read on for the top five ways to motivate the seemingly unmotivated.

### Five Tips for Creating the Problem-Free Group Project

Assigning group work can be very frustrating. Reflecting back on my first year, I'm amazed at how out-of-control and unorganized my group projects were. I'm sure when the principal walked by my room, my class looked very chaotic. My students didn't understand my directions, the target was not clear, my expectations were off, and I wasn't sure how to grade them. But I took good notes on what worked and what didn't, and I did better the next year.

Though issues will arise with group projects, I continue to do them because the benefits are so great. Group work provides another form of assessment and takes students to a higher level of thinking. Students also learn to work on a team, an ability they will need in today's world. I've learned so much about myself and my students since I began group work. In this post, I'll share some of these things, along with five tips for creating a problem-free group project.

### Extra, Extra, Read All About It! Current Events in the Classroom

One of my personal goals this year is to read the newspaper every single day, regardless of how many student essays I need to read or how crazy my morning commute. I want to be aware of the world around me, and I am committed to living a more news-literate life. I bought a newspaper subscription for my Kindle, and at the very least, I am going to read the news while I take the subway to and from school.

While working on myself, I also consider my students’ current events literacy. I want to help my students to become informed young citizens and lifelong news readers. However, finding time for current events during our jam-packed school day has always posed a challenge. In this post, I'll share some of the solutions I've found. However, my current events curriculum is very much a work in progress, so I would love to hear how you cover world events in your classroom.

Photo: One of my students reading a newspaper on the subway during a field trip. I need to learn from her!

### Hands-On Geography: "Paint a Partner" Topographic Maps

"Where in the world is Randolph, NY? Is that near New York City?"

I smile every time I hear that question because our little corner of Western New York is nowhere near — and geographically nothing like — the big city. Modern technologies such as Google Earth show students the world through a whole new lens and offer exciting opportunities for them to improve their geography. But unfortunately most of my students still can't identify basic geologic formations on a topographic map: they're far more used to the flat, traditional maps they see online. For teaching topographic maps, modern technology just won't cut it.

Instead, I take an old-fashioned, hands-on approach that gives my students a solid understanding of how topographic maps work. Read on to turn your students into expert cartographers using their classmates as canvases.

### Creating a Positive Classroom Climate: "Capturing Kids' Hearts"

"If you have a child's heart, you have his head" - Flip Flippen

On the day I was hired at Randolph Jr/Sr High School as a special education teacher, the principal, Bill Caldwell, informed me that part of my professional development for the year would be to attend a three-day training titled "Capturing Kids' Hearts." The name alone had me hooked, and to hear him speak so passionately made me extremely eager to find out more about it. However, he didn't divulge any more information, other than to bring a personal item that held meaning for me and a lot of Kleenex. Little did I know that the magnitude of those three days would continue on in my teaching years later.

### Developing Hopes and Dreams

The goal of every teacher is to help students reach their fullest potential. Teaching students to develop their hopes and dreams for the new school year is a key skill for achievement. It helps them make the connection between their personal choices and the end results. Read on for ideas on how to encourage this important skill.

### Three Classroom Activities to Celebrate Banned Books Week

In the movie Field of Dreams, there is a scene at a school board meeting where PTO members are attempting to ban a book: The Boat Rocker by Terrence Mann. This scene is not far from reality. According to Banned Books Week.org, 348 books were challenged by various groups last year. As an English teacher, I see value in teaching literature. As a parent, I see value in censoring certain material for particular age groups. It is important that teachers select appropriate materials, but let's face it: Our students see many things that are far from appropriate. It is our responsibility also to teach life lessons to the best of our ability, though we have to be careful about how much we allow. As teachers, we must learn from the community and use our best judgment in the materials we select. With that said, September 24 - October 1 is Banned Books Week. I've created three activities to explore the concept of censorship, book bans, and specific titles that have been challenged or banned by particular groups.

### Poetic Beginnings: Four Poetry Lessons to Get to Know Your Students

Many curriculum guides would have us believe that poetry and April are conjoined twins, never to be parted, but we teachers know better. Poetry is powerful stuff, and cramming it into a single month is unfair to our students and to poetry! In my class, we read, write, and publish poetry throughout the year, and I frontload the first two months of school with even more poetry. We gain deep insights about each other while sharing our poetry, we luxuriate in words, and we celebrate creative risks –- important back-to-school practices. Here are four of my back-to-school poetry lessons that I use to get to really know my students.

Amy shares one of her published poems.

### Easing the Middle School Transition: "Getting to Know You" Geocaching

"Middle School" - Just the words alone can strike fear into the hearts of students and parents alike. Sixth- through eighth-grade teachers will agree these years can be the some of the toughest, and most tumultous, in a child's life. For some, it will mean a chance to advance to a higher-level floor in a familiar building, but for others it might mean acclimating to an entirely different school. While this is a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends, it may mean leaving lifelong friendships behind - which can be one of many scary steps to endure. In addition, there seems to be a laundry list of changes that middle-schoolers can expect, such as:

### Simple Ideas for Establishing Classroom Rules and Manners

What do we want our classroom community to look like? How do we want our classroom community to sound? These two questions begin our group discussion on sharing ideas, making decisions, and solving problems in our classroom. One of the earliest conversations we have focuses on good manners, appropriate voice levels, and classroom rules. This week, I am going to share a few of the books and activities I use to introduce our classroom behavior chart.

### Celebrating Community Heroes: September 11th in the Elementary Classroom

Let me be honest with you: Teaching my third graders about September 11th makes me a little uncomfortable. My students weren’t even born in 2001, and this historic tragedy just doesn’t seem all that relevant to their lives. On the other hand, September 11th has become a permanent part of our collective consciousness. As New York City gears up for the 10th anniversary of the tragedy, my students are inevitably curious about it. It wouldn’t be fair to my students if I didn’t help them understand 9/11 in a way that honors their intellectual curiosity, yet is appropriate for their age as well. Thank goodness for the picture book Fireboat by Maira Kalman! Here’s how I use this amazing book to discuss the facts about 9/11 and then shift into a lesson about heroes.

### Using Five Web-based Tools to Motivate and Engage the 21st Century Writer

In his book, Content Area Writing, Jim Burke wrote that "writing is the most public performance of our intelligence." Writing is a skill that is needed and used regardless of the career our students pursue. People write for many different reasons and audiences.  Writing no longer involves just a pen and paper and through the Internet, the 21st century scribe has the ability to build an audience in seconds. As the media continue to evolve it is important that our students understand that a tweet, an Internet blog post, and a research paper should be written differently. In this post are five web-based tools I have used in my classroom to motivate and engage the 21st Century Writer.

### Getting-To-Know-You Activities: The First Week and Beyond

The desks are arranged, favorite books are displayed, math manipulatives are sorted, and lesson plans are being written. It’s time to start building the classroom community. As I write my lesson plans, I include getting-to-know-you activities. These activities provide opportunities for the students to interact positively with one another. The children are eager to make new friends, learn about the classroom environment, and become part of a school family. After all, the classroom will become a home away from home for the next ten months.

During the first few weeks of reader’s workshop, the focus is necessarily on introducing routines, building stamina, and exploring the classroom library. At the same time, I need to immerse my students in the culture of reading by getting lost in good books together. There isn’t a moment to waste in initiating my students into our reading cult! How do I accomplish both goals at the same time? I use picture books that celebrate reading as a springboard into our discussions about reader’s workshop routines and expectations. Read on for my favorite picture books about reading and how I use them to launch our reader’s workshop.

### Ten Years Later: Remembering September 11th With an Oral History Project

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was on my way to work in Springfield, Illinois.  Many people remember where they were and what they were doing when terrorists attacked our country 10 years ago this year. My current students, however, may have a difficult time remembering as freshman students were 4 to 5 years old when this significant event changed the course of history. Since I often refer to 9/11 when discussing various pieces of literature, I wanted my students to have a firm understanding of the event, and so created the Remembering September 11th lesson. This lesson is broken into three phases: class discussion, group research, and individual project.

### Back-to-School Read Alouds: Favorite Books and First Week Activities

Reading aloud to children is one of my favorite activities of the day and it is a critical part of literacy instruction. In my classroom, I integrate children’s literature across the curriculum and read to the children throughout the day. The read-aloud books I choose for the first week of school help set the tone for the year and help begin to build our classroom community. These books feature characters about the same age as my students and allow us to discuss prior knowledge, build thinking skills, and make connections. Here are some of my favorite books and activities that engage my enthusiastic young readers.

### Creating a Professional Learning Community This Fall

The motto of my school district, Randolph Central, is "Learning with passion, innovation, and leadership." This serves as an excellent foundation for my teaching, as well as a reminder of how crucial it is to inspire students with our instruction. A professional learning community (PLC) is a wonderful way to focus on student learning and assess teaching practices. And in these tough economic times, in-house professional development opportunities, like PLCs, are even more attractive. Read on to learn more about creating your own professional learning community.

### What’s in a Name? A Back-to-School Literacy Unit

During the first few weeks of school, I always find it challenging to come up with a meaningful unit of study so that my students can feel as though they are accomplishing something beyond learning a bunch of routines. There’s the obvious imperative to build our classroom community. On top of that, the empty bulletin boards in the classroom are glaring at us, demanding student work so our classroom can begin to look “lived in.”

Last year, I had wonderful results using a name unit as our first shared literacy experience. Read on to find out what my students did. (This post includes a list of read-alouds and graphic organizers to support the unit.)

### My Top Five Tips on How to Celebrate Summer in Style

Like most teachers, I am relishing every moment of summer, but before we know it the days of grading papers and creating dynamic lesson plans will be upon us. Therefore, let's live each day of the next few weeks to the fullest so we can return to our classrooms refreshed and ready to go. Here are my top five ways to celebrate summer. You can use these tips to make the most of your time off and rejuvenate yourself and your teaching as well!

### To Endings, Transitions, and New Beginnings

It’s the end of the school year, and to kick off summer vacation, our classroom became the O.K. (Over Kindergarten) Ranch and Corral. To prepare my students for the long break, I created a calendar of summer bridge activities to give to parents. And to get ready for next year, I got some great advice from some surprise stars.

### Using Film As a Springboard to Writing in the ELA Classroom

As an English teacher, I am always looking for new ways to engage students in the writing process. I am continually trying to find and create interesting writing prompts that engage and challenge my students. Two years ago when I was asked to teach a film elective, I was provided with a wonderful opportunity to develop a course that would encourage students to write in new and exciting ways.

### Merry Math Ideas for May

Make math irresistible with three of my specialty themes popular with young children: a Counting Party, Frogs & Dogs, and The Price Is Right, Kindergarten Edition. Read on to find activity packages that make counting, number recognition, and money skills fun and exciting.

### Greek Mythology and Readers Theater

Covering Greek mythology can be very confusing. For one thing, the family tree for the Greek gods makes the family situations on Jerry Springer and The Maury Show look normal and tame. Mythology is not my strong suit, and the end of the year is not necessarily the time to cover topics that you are not completely confident with. So when I stumbled across a Greek mythology readers theater book, I was ecstatic. Read on to find out how to incorporate this activity into your classroom.

Photo: One student made a cake for the "God and Goddess Bake Off" play. This was a great way to celebrate the day!

It's a fact: every child is unique, and as teachers we know that more than anyone else. So why do we often find ourselves trying to teach every child the same way?

Teachers need all the help they can get, financially and otherwise. Use these tips, shortcuts, and dollar store ideas to save your budget and your sanity.

### Simple and Impressive Planet Art

My art skills were arrested at about the 4th grade level: My students can attest to that! So, when I was able to produce a pretty impressive planet scene in under 15 minutes, I was very proud of myself. When I told my students that I used spray paint to do it, they were impressed as well.

### Character Education and the Green Classroom

It really is easy being green. In this post, you'll find some great ideas for teaching character education in the context of the green classroom — just in time to plan for Earth Day.

### The Art of Literary Criticism

A goal of the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition test, which helps to make sure that students are truly college ready, is the careful reading and critical analysis of literature. Literary criticism requires students to study, evaluate, and interpret what they read — a valuable tool for all students, not just those in an AP class. But what is the best way to do help students develop this skill? How can you get high school students to think deeply and critically about literature?

### Adventures With Books: One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies

Join my class as we turn the book One Tiny Turtle into a unit of fun and exciting learning experiences. This lyrical and informative look at the elusive and endangered loggerhead turtle is sure to delight young nature lovers.

### Celebrating Eric Carle and The Tiny Seed

One of my favorite children's book authors and illustrators is Eric Carle. He is one of our classroom favorites as well. A while back, I even had the pleasure of hearing him read The Very Hungry Caterpillar LIVE at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Read on to get some fabulous resources for The Tiny Seed, watch a book trailer featuring Eric Carle, and listen to our Tiny Seed podcast!

### Nonfiction: Getting to Know Rachel Carson

Reading nonfiction is quite different from reading fiction. I find many upper elementary students have a hard time sorting through the facts and information in a nonfiction text. One series of books, Getting to Know the World's Greatest Inventors & Scientists, is becoming a hit with my students. These books are the perfect size for practicing nonfiction reading strategies, and the content is of high interest to the students.

### Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

Freak the Mighty is a highly readable book that addresses many serious issues, including domestic violence, alienation, and bullying. Through the story of the main characters, Max and Kevin, students can learn a great deal about themselves and others.

### Get Ready for National Poetry Month!

April is National Poetry Month, the perfect time to help get reluctant readers interested in reading and analyzing poetry. It is often true that high school students struggle with poetry and have difficulty unlocking the meaning of poems. This introductory lesson helps to hook students on poetry by challenging them to solve the riddle that each poem presents. It's a great building block to more difficult and challenging analysis.

### Explore Childhood Themes With a Kevin Henkes Author Study

To strengthen my students as readers and writers, I had them take to the Reader's Chair and the Author's Chair to share their responses to a study on Kevin Henkes, who writes and illustrates books about lovable mouse characters who express common childhood feelings, fears, and fantasies. After evaluating his writing style and comparing the characters, settings, and themes of four of his books, my students showed off their own reading, writing, artistic, and critical-thinking skills.

Have you ever wondered what a news report might have looked like if television had existed in the time of cavemen or Columbus? One of my favorite cross-curricular projects this year, blending technology and social studies, was a lesson I call the Historical News Broadcast.

### Darfur: Does History Repeat Itself?

Last week, I wrote about the classroom resources I use in my Holocaust unit, “Children of the Holocaust.” During literature circles for this unit, my students read a historical fiction novel and discuss character development. Adding a nonfiction component to literature circles provides the opportunity for text-to-text and text-to-world connections. The group discussions help them to better understand nonfiction. In this post, I'll take you through the lesson we do in my class connecting the Holocaust to a current event through nonfiction. Included in this post is a classroom video showing how this lesson was integrated into the "Children of the Holocaust" unit.

### Tyranny and Prometheus Bound

Helping students make real world connections to the works they read is an important part of teaching literature. When students comprehend the contemporary and historical links to literature, they have a much greater understanding of what they read. This year my sophomore class and I were fortunate enough to be part of a collaboration between the American Repertory Theater and Amnesty International in the Prometheus Project, a partnership designed to put the theater arts to the service of human rights advocacy.

### St. Patrick's Day — Mischief o' the Leprechaun

Yesterday, there was an incident in my classroom. My students and I walked in and found it torn apart. Furniture was tipped over; supplies were scattered everywhere; the whole place was a mess. And there were funny green footprints all over . . .

### National Children's Nutrition Month!

March is National Children's Nutrition Month! This is a great opportunity for you to help your kids learn to make healthy choices about food and exercise. Read on to learn about creating a Healthy Choices Unit in your classroom or school and to peek into my school as we celebrate Healthy Choices Week.

GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED AT THE END OF THIS BLOG POST!

### Using Lyrics for Beyond Literal Comprehension

Howard Gardner suggests that intelligence is not merely being able to read or do mathematical calculations. It encompasses several different components, one of which is music. I like to use music in my classroom to manage the day and to tap into the talents of those students who are high on the musical intelligence spectrum. One way to engage these students in reading is to use lyrics to teach the difference between the literal and beyond literal meaning of texts.

Photo courtesy of Filomena Scalise.

### Taxing Cartoon Characters

Teachers are always hearing how their lessons should have real world applications. You don't get more real world than taxes, my friends! Many students think taxes are hard because they see the frustrations their parents experience. I like to counterbalance those negative impressions with a lesson on how easy taxes can be if you know how to follow directions.

### Children of the Holocaust

I recently received my February 28, 2011, issue of Time magazine. On the cover was a picture of youths from around the world with the subtitle, “The Generation Changing the World.” In my classroom, we are transitioning from the protests in the Middle East to the Holocaust. After introducing the literature circle books for the unit, I held up the Time issue and Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy and posed the question, “Why would Hitler fear the youth?” The question set my students on fire. The biggest problem of the day was tracking all the books that started flying out of my room. The resources below will help you create an English language arts and social studies integrated unit on the Holocaust.

### Celebrate Reading With Dr. Seuss

Read Across America Day and Dr. Seuss's birthday are great reasons to celebrate reading. In the primary grades, we are all learning to read and love Dr. Seuss's colorful, wacky rhymes and imaginative illustrations. I have compiled tons of great articles, resources, and ideas to help you celebrate Dr. Seuss and reading. Go grab a book and join my class as we celebrate reading and Dr. Seuss all week long.

### Analyzing Characters with WALTeR

One day, I was driving to school, pondering my frustration over the impending state test dates that were approaching, yet my students were still struggling with identifying specific details to support a character trait. It was apparent they needed another approach. They needed a mnemonic device to help them remember the type of details that would help them succeed, so I created WALTeR, a guide for identifying text-based relevant details that BEST support their claim. Walter needed to be memorable, someone they could visualize and remember. (Clip art created with ToonDoo.com by Mary Blow)

### I Love to Read! Surefire Ways to Create Lifelong Book Lovers

February is “I Love to Read Month,” the perfect time to assess if your students do, in fact, love to read. Are they captivated by good stories? Does reading fill them with excitement and enthusiasm? Do they play with the sounds of language in a literature-rich environment that promotes active learning through highly engaging activities? If the answer to any of these questions is no (and even if it’s yes!), it may be time to arm yourself with a repertoire of techniques guaranteed to get every child in your class saying “I love to read!”