Cracking the “Secret of Life”

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers!

I’ve been reading about the life and work of Reynolds Price who died on January 20 at age 77. Price was a novelist, poet, dramatist and essayist, but according to some former students, he was most of all – a teacher.

Reynolds Price taught English at his alma mater, Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, for fifty-three years! Never mind that the focus of this blog is on grades K – 5, I find it inspiring to read what former students of Price, like James Schiff, have recently written about a beloved teacher who guided them as college freshmen, in writing and in life.

Schiff, who now teaches American literature at the University of Cincinnati, wrote something that jumped off the page at me because his description of Price makes a direct connection with paying attention…

Schiff wrote that the most important lesson Reynolds Price taught him was (the fact that) “It’s a great SECRET OF LIFE that people are generally blind.” “Most people,” said Price, “don’t pay careful attention to the world around them; they literally don’t see anything.” “Watch the world carefully,” advised Price, “be attentive to its messages.”

As Schiff describes his own life and work, he’s taken Reynolds Price’s advice to heart. He writes of learning “to look more carefully – whether at texts, photographs, films, or most importantly, the thousands of minor events that take place in our daily lives.”

Daily teaching is OUR ticket, as teachers in grades K – 5, to impact students with lessons about how to pay attention – lessons that will hopefully last well into college where, with luck, they’ll find a teacher as passionate and purposeful as Reynolds Price who will help them continue an attentive journey into adulthood.  Cracking the Secret of Life means breaking through blindness!

Tools and Tricks to Crack the Secret

1) PLAY CONCENTRATION – Remember the card game Concentration? You spread out a deck of cards, all face down, on a table. One by one, you lift up a card and try to find a match. Suits don’t matter; the matches are numbers and kings, queens, jacks and aces. If your cards match, you keep them and get a second turn. No match? Put the card back face down where you found it; it’s the next player’s turn. Talk about teaching kids to pay attention to their immediate world – this game does the trick!

2) PLAY THE GETTING WARMER/COOLER GUESSING GAME – This game is as old as the hills and easy as pie to play in your classroom or teaching space. Pick out an object and invite students to guess what you have your sights set on. As they call out wrong answers, tell them if they’re getting warmer, meaning that the object they’ve guessed is close to the correct answer. If they call out objects that are further away from your pick, tell them that they’re getting cooler. Keep the action going until someone correctly names the object you’ve selected for them to guess. This simple attention-ology activity will help kids notice details in their classroom environment.

3) PLAY NAME & DESCRIBE THAT NATURAL TREASURE This fair weather activity will help children become more observant outdoors. The easiest way to play this attention skills development game is to take your class outdoors to an area of the playground or playspace where it’s easy to see natural treasures of any kind – the sky, clouds, bushes, trees, you get the idea. Pick something out and begin to describe it. For example, you might say, “I’m looking at something that reminds me of soft wool. What is it?” Quick thinkers might yell out, “It’s the group of clouds above us.” Ask the student who correctly guesses what you’ve picked out to add to your description and invite others to join in with the question, “How else can we describe the clouds?” Building children’s ability to describe nature not only improves their focus skills, it’s also a great way to develop their writing skills.

Speaking of writing, Reynolds Price wrote a children’s book, A Perfect Friend, published in 2000. You might check it out.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in instructional settings!

Talk with you next week,

Barbara The Lovable Poet


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One Response to “Cracking the “Secret of Life””

  1. Ben Levitan Says:

    Schiff say that “Most people are blind…” He is so right for era he spoke. Now I believe people are deaf, dumb and blind. He says people are not aware of the world around them. Too true. Did you see the video of the lady walking though the mall with her nose in her iPhone? She was so distracted that fell right into the mall’s fountain.

    Although the new toys of today bring the world to us, it does little to cure Schiff’s dilemma of getting people to notice the world around them. K-5 is the most important time to teach minds that the world is not found in a cell phone but is in front of our faces.

    At least they won’t fall into a fountain.

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