3 Easy Tips to Make Writing Instruction More Fun

Some kids love to write.  Some kids hate it.  How do you keep everyone engaged in the writing process?  Here are three quick ideas.

three easy tips writing fun1.  Editing Table:  Establish a table or area of the room that has at least two chairs.  During composition time, students who are ready to have their writing peer-edited may go and sit at the editing table.  As soon as another student is ready to peer edit, he or she will go over to the table to find a partner.  Each peer-editing pair leaves the editing table area once they are matched up.

With variations, I use this method in my classroom all the time.  If a lot of students are ready to peer-edit, I create the first pairs.  After that, students move to the editing table as they wrap up.  I usually ask that students peer-edit with at least three different people.

As soon as a pair approaches the editing table, the two students who are sitting there waiting to find a new partner MUST pair up and move away to begin work.  The editing table in not a work area and no more than two people should ever be there at any given time.jpg_Education-005-color2.  Peer-Editing Process:  Even reluctant writers enjoy reading their work aloud to a captive audience.  However, to make the most of peer-editing time it’s better for each partner to read the OTHER person’s writing aloud.  This gives the author a chance to hear how his or her words sound.

It can be very effective for a writer to see a classmate struggle over pronunciation due to the author’s spelling errors or awkward wording.  Also, children learn the language of writing during this process.  Nothing is more wonderful than hearing one student tell another, “You need a transition here.”   Also, student authors are less likely to be offended by a peer editor who asks “What do you mean here?”

If you require your students to use this shared reading process, remind them that the author has ultimate control over his or her words.  For example, if one student tells the other that a word doesn’t make sense, it’s the writer’s decision to change it or let it stand.  Partners suggest, but they are never to insist.  In the end, the writer earns the grade, not the peer editor.jpg_Education-001-color3.  Monitor Progress:  Provide a way for students to see how they are progressing.  When conferencing with students offer them two positive comments and one constructive criticism.  For example, a teacher might say, “Zack, you did a really good job with spelling and punctuation.  I also like the way you tied the topic sentence to the closing sentence.  Your personal challenge for next time is to avoid repeating any one word or phrase too often.  Did you notice that four of your sentences in this composition begin with, “He really likes…?”

Students also benefit from monitoring their own progress either along the writing process, or within a specific set of skills.  You can create a writing process monitoring chart and have students move move a clothespin up the chart from prewriting, to drafting, and so on, all the way to finishing the final draft.

Each student may also have his or her own goal chart with a list of three to five skills on which they will focus.  Students with introductory writing skills may focus on writing neatly, using complete sentences, and including a topic sentence.  Students with more sophisticated writing skills may focus on point of view, using specific language, and adding figurative language.  The key is setting small, reachable goals, and acknowledging each tiny improvement.  Click here, to download the assessment ladder of skills that could be used to develop student goals.  (See below.)

Asessment Ladder Glow edgesWriting can be fun for both teachers and students.  The best way to insure student success is to: (1) encourage students to write and rewrite until the meaning is clear, (2) provide ongoing opportunities for students to share their writing with their peers and interact, and (3) set clear, easy-to-meet goals for students still developing their skills.

What do you do in your class to make your writing lessons more interesting?  Please share your ideas below.  I’d love to hear from you!

DIY Posters


Looking for a quick and easy way to get your message across? Check out Recite, a fun way to “turn a quote into a masterpiece.”

It’s pretty easy.  Click “create” on the main screen.  Type in your quote.  Scroll through the different formats at the bottom of the screen.  Select one, and then post it to Pinterest, Tumblr, Stumbleupon, Facebook, or Twitter.  Or, simply download it to your computer.

Here are a few mini-posters I made using both an original idea and quotes I found on Brainy Quotes.nelson mendala

ben franklin4_4d7e306805f03902ee65b_c742-postmalcom forbes largerClick on the first three images to see the quotes displayed in the Piccsy gallery.  This is where Recite parks them once they’re created.

The final image was sent directly to my main Pinterest board, Lessons4Now Teach, Learn, and Have Fun, so I could immediately share it online.

I hope you’ll try making a masterpiece of your own, and then leave a link in the comment area to share your creation!

 

Tackling Tattling

Tattling is a constant issue at the elementary level.  With our school’s focus on anti-bullying, it’s sometimes difficult to know how much attention to give to students’ complaints about their peers.  It helps to make sure that the children understand the difference between tattling and telling, and to set clear expectations about how each will be handled.jpg_whisper201

Children tattle for many different reasons.  Some want to test limits and figure out whether or not the teacher will enforce rules.  Sometimes students point out misbehavior so that the teacher will recognize the their own efforts to follow the rules.  Other students may not know how to handle a situation, so they turn to an adult for guidance.  Of course, there are also times when the concern is legitimate and there’s good reason for reporting an inappropriate behavior.

The best way to eliminate tattling is through classroom discussion.  Students can work together to create a list of specific situations they encounter at school such as name calling, non-participation in group activities, incorrect completion of an assigned activity, taking another child’s belonging, using inappropriate language, cutting in front of someone in line, and so forth.  Once the list is made, students can decide which should be reported, which should be handled on their own, and which they should simple ignore.

Reporting Vs TattlingA good way to reinforce the whole-class lesson, is by displaying this FREE poster by edgalaxy.com.  Students who continue to tattle can be directed to this poster to review the difference between reporting and tattling.

This FREE 2:10 minute You Tube video, Tattling vs.Telling is a clear, straight-forward way to initiate another lesson followed by whole-class discussion.  It explains the difference between reporting a serious concern and trying to get a classmate in trouble.

For teachers who want to implement a more formal plan, this FREE 8:47 minute You Tube video, Tattle Ender by Charity Preston outlines a paper-and-pencil classroom management program.   Using this approach, students who bring any issue to the teacher that is not of immediate concern are directed to record the issue using a special procedure.  At week’s end these notes are reviewed by the teacher who determines which, if any, require additional attention.

With these resources and little patience, there should be less tattling and more time for teaching!


Teaching with Cootie Catchers

Everyone loves cootie catchers!  Check out these free downloads for some easy ways to use them in the classroom.

cootie catcher super teacherSuper Teacher Worksheets offers this FREE Cootie Catcher for practicing 2X multiplication facts.  Download includes folding directions and activity suggestions.

cootiesCheck out the Learning Bug for 16 FREE, Sample Cootie Catchers that cover math, science, and language arts for grades 2-5.

irregular verbsHere’s one example from the Learning Bug website noted above, a 2nd Grade lesson on Irregular Plurals.  Sample includes folding and activity directions.

Screen-Shot-2012-05-08-at-10.42.29-AM-232x300This pirate-themed cootie catcher provides students with Mixed Integer Operations.  Check out the free download at For the Love of Teaching.

marzano wordUse this Marzano Vocabulary Cootie Catcher template to review vocabulary words. Students will say and spell words, as well as provide synonyms, part of speech, definitions, and sentences using the word.

foldingIf you or your students need a quick Cootie Catcher refresher course check out the folding directions at Babysitter Blab.  You can find even more resources here: Cootie Catcher Folding Instructions and Cootie Catchers Video.

blank templateCoolest of all is this FREE PowerPoint Cootie Catcher Template from Downloadable Cootie Catchers.  Download this easy-to-edit template using PowerPoint. Click on each section to drop in a graphic or edit the text. Then just print and go. Great for reviewing math, vocabulary, or grammar!cootie catcher template low tech

For a simpler, low-tech approach download this FREE Cootie Catcher Template from Tonya’s Treats for Teachers or a similar one from BillyBear4Kids.com.

Thinking about making your own cootie catchers?  First, do a quick search using the keywords “free cootie catcher” and any appropriate skill words such as “math facts” or “irregular verbs.”

Whether you download a cootie catcher or make your own, you’re students will love this fun, hands-on activity!

A Few of My Favorite Things

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen a passel (fun word of the day!) of great FREE or low-cost ideas and thought to myself, I should do a blog post about that.  Hopefully, you’ll find something new and interesting in the potpourri collection I’ve assembled below!

First up, six art projects that caught my eye.  For example, who ever thought of doing “stained glass” Halloween decorations?  These ideas all have a unique twist that makes them stand out.

Falling back in Space Portraits~ Students trace hands and feet, and then fill in their other features. Great anytime project! Check out this and other fun posts at Oodles of Art!

Falling Back in Space Portraits~ Students trace hands and feet, and then fill in their other features. Great anytime project! Check out this and other fun posts at Oodles of Art!

FREE Paper Chipmunk~ This cute critter is made completely from paper! Canon's Creative Park site offers pattern pages and assembly instructions for dogs, cats, insects, vehicles, toys, a sundial, and a whole lot more. The downside is that you'll be using a lot of printer ink and many of the assembly directions are best suited for older children. However, if your kids have some dexterity and patience, the final products are amazingly realistic!

FREE Paper Chipmunk~ This cute critter is made completely from paper! Canon’s Creative Park site offers pattern pages and assembly instructions for dogs, cats, insects, vehicles, toys, a sundial, and a whole lot more. The downside is that you’ll be using a lot of printer ink and many of the assembly directions are best suited for older children. However, if your kids have some dexterity and patience, the final products are amazingly realistic!

FREE Coloring Pages~ This is my new favorite site for coloring pages. Each one has lots of details that make coloring so fun! Check out the ram, gecko, lion, and ocean scenes. Love these!

FREE Coloring Pages~ This is my new favorite site for coloring pages. Each one has lots of details that make coloring so fun! Check out the ram, gecko, lion, and ocean scenes. Love these!

Halloween Stained Glass Creatures~ Make your own, or buy Pink and Green Mama's art ebook ($10) for easy-to-use templates. Looks like she has a lot of other great ideas, too!

Halloween Stained Glass Creatures~ Make your own, or buy Pink and Green Mama’s art ebook ($10) for easy-to-use templates. Looks like she has a lot of other great ideas, too!

Animal Art Lesson~ Start with a magazine clipping and then let the students expand the picture. I thought about using animals from a particular continent and tying the lesson into a science or geography unit.

Animal Art Lesson~ Start with a magazine clipping and then let the students expand the picture. I thought about using animals from a particular continent and tying the lesson into a science or geography unit.

Snowflake Paper Craft~ Perhaps the coolest thing about this project is that the website it came from is in Finnish (I think!) and I was able to click "translate" on the top "Google translate" bar... and it did. At least well enough that I got the gist of this project. Pretty, not-too-challenging, low-cost craft!

Snowflake Paper Craft~ Perhaps the coolest thing about this project is that the website it came from is in Finnish (I think!) and I was able to click “translate” on the top “Google translate” bar… and it did. At least well enough that I got the gist of this project. A pretty, not-too-challenging, low-cost craft!

Next up, a bunch of cool science resources.  These experiments and activities could be used for class demonstrations, science fair projects, or at home– just for fun!

FREE Cloud Guide~ From time to time, everyone watches the clouds roll by.  Now you can use this quick reference to identify (and pronounce) whatever weather comes your way!

FREE Cloud Guide~ From time to time, everyone watches the clouds roll by. Now you can use this quick reference to identify (and pronounce) whatever weather comes your way!

Do-It-Yourself Sundial~ This simple yet effective sundial was made by placing a pencil in a ball of clay. Every hour a stone was placed to mark time. The sundial in the picture goes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Check out this fun blog post, and more at Otherwise Educating!

Do-It-Yourself Sundial~ This simple yet effective sundial was made by placing a pencil in a ball of clay. Every hour a stone was placed to mark time. The sundial in the picture goes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Check out this fun blog post, and more, at Otherwise Educating!

FREE Green Planter Idea~ Use recycled pop bottles to make self- watering planters. You'll also need potting soil, seeds, thick string, a Phillips screwdriver, hammer, and a sharp blade to cut the bottle. These are great science projects, craft sale items, or holiday gifts. Cheap, easy, and fun!

FREE Green Planter Idea~ Use recycled pop bottles to make self-watering planters. You’ll also need potting soil, seeds, thick string, a Phillips screwdriver, hammer, and a sharp blade to cut the bottle. These are great science projects, craft sale items, or holiday gifts. Cheap, easy, and fun!

FREE Video~ Learn how to make your own Seven Layer Density Column. Steve Spangler "stacks" liquids using a 9-oz. measuring cup, a tall, glass cylinder, and a turkey baster. Liquids include: light Karo syrup, water, vegetable oil, Dawn dish soap (blue), rubbing alcohol, lamp oil, honey, and food coloring. The preparation's a little cumbersome, but the "WOW" factor makes it all worthwhile! Limited budget? Watch the video together, and then let kids make their own concoctions at home!

FREE Video~ Learn how to make your own Seven Layer Density Column. Steve Spangler “stacks” liquids using a 9-oz. measuring cup, a tall, glass cylinder, and a turkey baster. Liquids include: light Karo syrup, water, vegetable oil, Dawn dish soap (blue), rubbing alcohol, lamp oil, honey, and food coloring. The preparation’s a little cumbersome, but the “WOW” factor makes it all worthwhile! Limited budget? Watch the video together, and then let kids make their own concoctions at home!

Constellation Keychain~ Even if you don't teach science, find a way to weave this project into your curriculum. It's that cool!

Constellation Keychain~ Even if you don’t teach science, find a way to weave this project into your curriculum. It’s that cool!

FREE Science Videos~ Disney presents short, interesting science demonstrations by Bill Nye. Each clip is 1-2 minutes, loads right from the home page, and is kid-friendly! Great resource for students looking for science project ideas or for introducing new science concepts to a whole class. Sample demos include: raw egg floating in salt water, static electricity, how atmospheric pressure works, and making a periscope. Fun, fast, and free!

FREE Science Videos~ Disney presents short, interesting science demonstrations by Bill Nye. Each clip is 1-2 minutes, loads right from the home page, and is kid-friendly.  Great resource for students looking for science project ideas or for introducing new concepts to the whole class. Demos include: floating a raw egg in salt water, static electricity, how atmospheric pressure works, making a periscope, and more. Fun, fast, and free!

Here are some great resources for character education and teaching children about good making appropriate choices.  Included lesson plans, videos, and a great list of kid-friendly, random acts of kindness.

FREE Online Character Education Resource~ This catchy tune teaches children that being kind is the best way to "Fill Your Bucket." Performed by The Learning Station, the video includes lots of examples and pictures that help make the concept concrete. The BIG IDEA: WE "fill our buckets" as well as those around us when we hold hands, share, and help others. A great lesson for all ages!

AMAZING, FREE Character Education Resource~ Westwood-Bale School provides five years worth of lessons and resources for teaching about trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. If you’re short on time, this “one-stop-shop” will provide multiple lesson ideas, links, and resources for EACH of these six character traits. Information is well-organized, concise, and diverse!

FREE Online Character Education Resource~ This catchy tune teaches children that being kind is the best way to "Fill Your Bucket." Performed by The Learning Station, the video includes lots of examples and pictures that help make the concept concrete. The BIG IDEA: WE "fill our buckets" as well as those around us when we hold hands, share, and help others. A great lesson for all ages!

FREE Online Character Education Resource~ This catchy tune teaches children that being kind is the best way to “Fill Your Bucket.” Performed by The Learning Station, the video includes lots of examples and pictures that help make the concept concrete. The BIG IDEA: WE “fill our buckets” as well as those around us when we hold hands, share, and help others. A great lesson for all ages!

FREE Behavior Bracelets~ Check out this great behavior management freebie, or make your own. The download includes a recipe for an easy lick-and-stick recipe that makes earning these bracelets even cooler. Kids wear them home, and Mom and Dad reinforce their good choices!

FREE Behavior Bracelets~ Check out this great behavior management freebie, or make your own. The download includes a recipe for an easy lick-and-stick recipe that makes earning these bracelets even cooler. Kids wear them home, and Mom and Dad reinforce their good choices!

35 Random Acts of Kindness~ For her 35th birthday, this blogger and her two children performed 35 acts of kindness. Each is explained and includes a picture. My favorite-- leaving dollar bills hidden in the toy section of the local dollar store! Creative and inspiring!

35 Random Acts of Kindness~ For her 35th birthday, this blogger and her two children performed 35 acts of kindness. Each is explained and includes a picture. My favorite– leaving dollar bills hidden in the toy section of the local dollar store! Creative and inspiring!

These are the last, few ideas that recently caught my attention.  If you’re a techy, ELA teacher, make sure you check out the final entry of this post!

Tagless Desk Name Tags~ Sharpie Paint pens are the secret to writing student names right on desks. No picking, peeling, or rubbing off. A dry erase marker and tissue easily removes the name at year's end. Check out this and other interesting blog posts at Timeout and Tootsie Rolls!

Tagless Desk Name Tags~ Sharpie Paint pens are the secret to writing student names right on student desks. No picking, peeling, or rubbing off. A dry erase marker and tissue easily remove names at year’s end. Check out this and other interesting blog posts at Timeout and Tootsie Rolls!

Turn a vintage straw dispenser into a pencil dispenser. Neat idea! This one from etsy is already sold, but you get the idea!

Turn a vintage straw dispenser into a pencil dispenser. Clever idea! This one from etsy is already sold, but you get the idea!

FREE List of Authors Who Skype~  Kate Messner offers a long list of authors willing to make a virtual visit to your school.  Connected via Skype with authors of their favorite books will make literature exciting for even the most relucatant reading.  Best of all, these 15-to-20 minute Q&A sessions are free!

FREE List of Authors Who Skype~ Kate Messner offers a long list of authors willing to make a virtual visit to your school. Connected via Skype with authors of their favorite books will make literature exciting for even the most reluctant reader. Best of all, these 15-to-20 minute Q&A sessions are free!

Hopefully you found a few “favorite things” of your own!

3 Fun Summer Projects

Kids restless?  Need a great idea– RIGHT NOW?  Here are three fun and easy activities that everyone will enjoy!

Popsicle Bookmarks~  Print, color, cut out, “take a bite,” glue to a craft stick, and you’re done.  Great reminder to keep reading during the summer!

Popsicle Bookmarks~ Print, color, cut out, “take a bite,” glue to a craft stick, and you’re done. Great reminder to keep reading during the summer!

This idea came from crafty blogger, Lisa Storms.  Want more bookmark ideas?  Check out this bookmark-themed Pinterest board.

Warm Weather “Snow Globe”~  Flowers, glitter, plastic  gems or butterflies make this project beautiful and fun!  Recycle creamer containers or any plastic bottle, add electrical tape grass and sky with a few paper clouds, and your kids have their own indoor garden.

Warm Weather “Snow Globe”~ Use flowers, glitter, and plastic gems or butterflies to create this fun, beautiful project!  Recycle creamer containers or any plastic bottle, add electrical tape grass and sky with a few paper clouds, and your kids have their own indoor garden!

Use all the treasures the kids collect at the beach, hiking, or in their own back yard!  This smart idea came from My Little 3… and Me.  Too rainy to get outdoors?  Grab some eggs, oranges, or potatoes and try out some fun, indoor, science experiments.  Find these, and a bunch of other great ideas at Science Kids!

NO DYE Tie Dye T-Shirts~  Kids use Sharpie markers to create their own colorful designs.  Stretch sections of a 100% cotton t-shirt over the tops of sturdy paper cups.  Secure with  rubber bands.  Color.  Add a bit of rubbing alcohol and let design dry.  Remove bands.   Wash separately on  hot and dry.  Children will enjoy wearing their  custom creations all summer long!

NO DYE Tie-Dye T-Shirts~ Kids use Sharpie markers to create their own colorful designs. Stretch sections of a 100% cotton t-shirt over the tops of sturdy paper cups. Secure with rubber bands. Color. Add a bit of rubbing alcohol and let design dry. Remove bands. Wash separately on hot and dry. Children will enjoy wearing their custom creations all summer long!

Love tie-dye, but don’t like all the mess and preparation?  This idea is great for you, and for the kids.  Using a few items you probably already have around the house, you can make these shirts in about an hour.  Get more details from Sun Scholars.  Learn more about the science behind the process and get a lot more great ideas at Steve Spangler Science.

Need more great ideas?  Check out these Pinterest boards, Teaching & Having Fun w/ Kids and Cures for Bored Kids.  For even more FREE activity ideas head to Lessons4Now FREE and Lessons4Now facebook page.

No-Prep Activity Ideas

Whether it’s the end of the year or just another Tuesday, all teachers have days when they need a little time to record grades from the last lesson, gather materials, or talk privately to a student.  Here are a few ways to keep students engaged.

jpg_103005-office-suppliesTo alleviate students’ fears about “getting things right,” tell them they’re only required to participate, work cooperatively, and complete the task without teacher support or intervention.

Even though the work is not graded, collecting papers at the end of an activity encourages appropriate behavior and participation.  The “reward” for students is interactive time with peers, a break from structured right/wrong responses, and/or a chance to share with the group at the end of the activity.

1.  Free Write:  Put three words on the board and have students write a story starter that logically includes all the words, or any form of the words.  Remind students not to worry about spelling or handwriting during this creative time.  Before starting the next lesson, allow one or two volunteers to read their story starters.jpg_hldn041  Collect all papers and keep for possible later use.

►Sample word combinations:toy-magic-snow/shark-treasure-hiccups/invisible-kitten-surprise/boy-recipe-boom.

2.  Brain Energizer:  Students silently walk X number of laps around the desks.  Have children enter the line by row and start walking in the same direction.  Define the “rules of the road.”  EX:  No speeding, no passing.  The line leader keeps track of the laps as they pass a certain “landmark.”  As they go past the landmark the final time, students file back into their rows and follow the written directions on the board.

►When they get good at this, you can add marching, walking in the other direction, or having a leader introduce a different arm motion at the beginning of each lap.

3.  Cooperative Puzzles:  Quickly assign pairs or small groups.  Give students X mjpg_0627IDEAinutes to identify as many ways as possible to solve a problem.  Ask one or two students to share the solutions they came up with at the end.  Collect any papers.

►Sample puzzles: list of ten items for a camping trip/three ways to raise $50 for a charity/create a new classroom seating chart/plan a menu for a week of healthy school lunches/use only hands to form all the vowels/make up at least 12 math problems that have 7 as the answer/create a rhyme that could help teach the importance of one of the classroom rules.

4.  Eye Spy:  Set the timer.  Students will have X number of minutes to silently list all the things they can see that begin with a specific letter of the alphabet.  They must remain seated.  Spelling and handwriting don’t count.  You can quickly glance at lists and reward 2-3 students for their work.

►If you have more time, students can read items from their lists aloud.  Students cross off each item they hear someone else say.  Have the winning student collect all papers.jpg_Education-037-color

5.  The Classic:  Students read silently.  They may choose a book from their desks to read for pleasure, or the teacher can assign a specific reading selection.

►Students can be given a task such as locating six examples of figurative language, identifying 12 words with the long a sound, finding twelve, three-syllable nouns, or whatever.  Require students to write out their answers and provide the appropriate page numbers.

6.  Art Activity:  Turn on some classical music and let students express themselves with drawing.

►Sample ideas: draw a machine with 10+ parts that turns on a light switch/draw a desert (or other) animal in its natural habitat/make an advertisement to sell your favorite book.

FREE Online Resource for Mandalas~ This site offers diverse and interesting mandalas for coloring. Download mandalas from 6 themes (animals, countries, dragons, etc.) and three levels (beginner, advanced, and expert). Designs may be printed in black and white for students to color, or they can be colored online and then printed out. Great for connecting activities to a wide variety of topics!

BONUS IDEA~  Color intricate mandalas with diverse and interesting patterns like this one from Australia.  Downloads include 6 themes (animals, countries, dragons, etc.) and three levels (beginner, advanced, and expert). Designs may be printed in black and white for students to color, or they can be colored online and then printed out.  Great for connecting activities to a wide variety of topics!

Check out another great mandala website, as well as many other great FREE resources on this site and Pinterest!