Posts Tagged ‘drama’

Make Teaching Magic with Magnifyers

March 4, 2013

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

Are you familiar with the English expression, “Sometimes big things come in little packages?” I’m thinking that may be true for gifts of jewelry, but for teachers giving the gift of a good education, making things bigger is often better.

Magnification helps children and adults see more clearly. Making magic with different kinds of magnifyers is a classroom-tested attention-getting trick for teachers.

In children’s hands magnifyers become instructive devices that are fun to use. Holding a magnifying glass in hand is an active way to look closely at something. Sight is the result, but the ACT of looking helps the learning process.

"Okay great, boys and girls, now we can see the pictures much better!"

“Okay great, boys and girls, now we can see the pictures much better!”

Any teacher that uses a document camera or a computer to project images on a screen or SmartBoard, (like the teacher in my blog pic here) is working with magnification.

Today’s Attentionology post offers a few tricks to try using the magic of magnification.

Play I Spy a Good Listener Hold up a magnifying glass – a large toy one available in many “dollar stores,” (at least in the US) or in toy stores.

In your best “detective voice” announce that you’re looking to spy good listeners.

Move around the classroom as you look into the magnifying glass and lean towards students who readily respond to you in a positive way. Kids will get a “kick” out of your easy “theatrics.”

If you want to take this activity a step further, single out kids that are showing excellent looking and listening skills. For example, you can note to the class the Jorge and Isabel are paying close attention by following you around the room.

Test students’ listening skills further by asking them to repeat a short math equation, if you’re using this trick as part of a math lesson, or to repeat a short rhyme, for example, if the magnification trick is part of a language arts activity.

Let’s Look More Closely at Words The magnifying glass I’m holding in my blog pic here is an antique; it belonged to my great-grandfather.

"Let's look more closely at the words we choose to use."

“Let’s look more closely at the words we choose to use.”

I’ve shown this decorative glass to students as a lead-in to writing time. “Let’s look more closely at the words we choose to use,” I’ll say, explaining that many of the words we use in English and other languages of the world come from an ancient language called Latin.

I’ve found that kids love learning bits and pieces of Latin; word origins fascinate them.

"Who wants to come up with the magnifying glass and focus in on this number?"

“Who wants to come up with the magnifying glass and focus in on this number?”

What Time Is It?Draw young children’s attention to a teaching clock, like the one in my blog pic here, by letting kids take turns “zeroing in” on one number at a time with a magnifying glass.

Tell the class that it’s important to be able to keep track of time, like detectives keep track of leads on a case!

Track Back in TimeInvite students in grades 3 – 5 to use magnifying glasses to study maps of earlier civilizations in Social Studies.

Simply showing your class a magnifying glass sets up a mini-history lesson, an opportunity to track back in time to the origin of magnifying glasses themselves…

Many historians agree that it was the Romans (back to Latin!) who discovered magnifying glass in the first century, A.D. Research suggests that the Romans found that glass that was thicker in the center and thinner around the outer edges magnified an object being observed.

Score a Science Connection Hold up a toy or real magnifying glass and ask your class if they know how it works. Answer: modern magnifying glasses are double convex lenses that make objects appear larger than they are. Explain the difference between convex and concave, showing convex with the magnifying glass.

Tell students that magnifying glasses have been key to scientific and medical discoveries. How? Early magnifying glasses led to modern-day microscopes.

Get to the Heart of ArtSome museum educators use magnifying glasses to help kids understand the concept of studying – not just looking at – paintings and other works of art. Museum visitors are not permitted to actually get too close to pieces on display, but a magnifying glass symbolizes investigation.

In school you can enrich the art curriculum by introducing art prints or

"What do you 'spy' that these Egyptian figures are doing in this painting?"

“What do you ‘spy’ that these Egyptian figures are doing in this painting?”

framed copies of art work, like the Egyptian parchment painting shown in my blog pic here.

Invite students to take on age-appropriate challenges, using a magnifying glass to look for subject, color, placement, lighting, etc. in the work of art.

If you like these teaching tricks, let your students know that you’ll offer more opportunities to use a magnification glass in class.

In fact, eventually you may catch and keep kids’ attention before you begin a lesson simply by holding up your magnifying glass for all to see and repeating your goal of spotting good listeners. The magnifying glass can become an attention-getting signal for students.

Using tools of magnification – cameras, computers, glasses – models curiosity and critical thinking. Getting a closer look aids understanding and mastery of skills.

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

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet


The Magic Hat – Mid-Week Focus – Motivating Kids

September 5, 2012

Hats off to teachers…it’s time for Mid-Week Focus!

Mid-Week Focus is all about quick and easy ways to approach teaching to keep kids on task in any instructional setting.

Let’s share insight and practical ideas. Let’s blend fun with function, and let’s FIND NEW WAYS TO MOTIVATE CHILDREN TO DO THEIR BEST IN SCHOOL!

Last Wednesday, a couple of “school day starters” were “under the magic hat” in Mid-Week Focus. This week offers more creative ways to start your school day in motivational ways. Try these two tricks…


Peppi cheers on kids to take responsibility for learning.

Why do teachers need to “set the stage” for learning? I think it’s because kids today face so many challenges and demands in a distracted world.

Many children begin their school days hungry – literally hungry.

Smart teachers never assume that all students in any corner of the world take their seats in class “hungry to learn”. Kids need an extra dose of motivation. They need to feel that they are an important part of your class “team.” Winning teams often have cheerleaders…

Enter Peppi, (shown in my blog pic above) an adorable puppy puppet to use as your class cheerleader. Peppi cost all of $1.00 (US). Got to love those dollar stores! I named the puppet Peppi because the root word (in English) is pep, as in pep rally.

Any puppet can be a class cheerleader. Use one you have or buy one and name it to suit your culture. As you can see, Peppi’s “stage” is a pre-printed poster that reads in capital letters: RESPONSIBILITY – IT’S ALL YOURS! Sets of motivational posters, like this one, are available in some dollar stores, in teacher supply stores and online.

With this motivational trick, all you need to do is:

  1. slip the small puppet on one hand,
  2. hold the poster up with the other hand,
  3. stand behind a table (or desk),
  4. announce to the class that it’s time for Peppi’s cheer.

Before you begin the cheer, remind students that the whole class needs to participate by answering Peppi’s questions. Make Peppi’s paws move a little when you lead the cheer with your comments and questions. (Teacher’s part is noted by T – Students’ part in bold print is noted by S)

Here’s the CHEER…

T: Okay kids, it’s time to cheer for your responsibility in school. WHO?

S: ME!









T&S in unison: LET’S START!

When you start the day with a motivational cheer like Peppi’s, it’s as if you’re saying to each student, “Please know that you’re a special part of my team.” You’re telling kids in a positive way that, no matter how they may have felt when they first got to class today, it’s time now to take responsibility to listen and learn.

A word about age-appropriateness for the use of puppets in teaching…there’s no question that puppets appeal to young children. If you’ve every used puppets yourself or viewed children watching a puppet show, you know that to be true.

Olympic mascots, like this little bear, are part of the summer games.

What surprised me recently was the interest fourth graders showed when I used a bear puppet (shown in my blog pic here) to talk about animal mascots in the summer Olympic games.

I was prepared to “ditch” the puppet if the students seemed offended in any way. To the contrary, they wanted me to bring the puppet behind its Olympic scarf around the room and talk with it! Please let me know if puppets help you motivate students.


I use this trick to warm kids up for writing time,

“Shake those hands; shake ’em to wake ’em!”

but it’s also effective at the start of a school day.

Begin this “trick” by standing in front of your seated class. Raise your arms high above your head.

Ask if everyone is ready to “shake ’em to wake ’em.” Shake your hands to your sides and ask the class to shake theirs (being careful not to bump anyone). Tell the kids that “we’ll shake ’em to wake ’em! Let’s wake up to learning!”

Remind your class that “we use our minds (point to your head), our hearts (point to your heart) and our hands (shake them again) to get good work done.”

No matter the weather, no matter students’ moods, using creative motivational tricks is a smart start for a productive school day.

Stop by next Wednesday for more Mid-Week Focus. On Monday Attentionology will be back with more magic.

All the best,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

Bring Your Mom to School!

May 14, 2012

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

Yesterday, for me, was the first Mother’s Day without my mom, shown in my blog pic here. She died last July, 2011, and I miss her.

My mother, holding print information, as was her style. She never stopped learning!

Thank heavens for photographs; I could take one of Mom with me to school if, for example, I wanted to show my students someone who inspired me to become a teacher.

Simply stated, all mothers are teachers and all countries of the world recognize mothers each year in some special way. Mother’s Day celebrations are centuries old. Research shows that Mother’s Day can be traced back to springtime celebrations in ancient Greece that honored Rhea, “the mother of the Gods.”

Mother’s Day as it is celebrated in the US was first observed on May 10, 1908 in West Virginia, in honor of Mrs. Reese Jarvis. This thanks to efforts begun in 1858 by her daughters, Anna and Elsinore. By (US) Presidential proclamation on May 9, 1914, the second Sunday in May was declared to be observed as Mother’s Day.

As you’ll see if you Google the history of Mother’s Day, honoring moms occurs during different times of the year in different countries of the world. In India, for example, people of the Hindu faith celebrate mothers in an October festival they call “Durga Puja.”

So you see, you can take your mom to school any time, either in a photo or video, or in person – that would be best of all – and certainly a cool attention-ology tool!

That’s what Debbie Slais, a third grade teacher, does when her mom, Nancy Hulse, visits each year. As you can see in my blog pic below, this special

Mother and daughter don costumes that connect with curriculum.

mother-daughter team dresses to impress – that is – to catch and hold students’ attention – in Debbie’s class.  As part of her Social Studies curriculum Debbie teaches a unit on The Oregon Trail; she’s had success helping students learn by bringing history to life through costuming.

Like mother, like daughter…Nancy worked as a Special Education teacher for twenty-eight years before retiring. Ask her if she knows a thing or two about kids and her smile and eyes reveal her experience. Imagine the stories she has to tell!

Storytelling is part of the costuming “gig” that Nancy and Debbie have created. On the designated day when Debbie’s class will (pretend to) head out on the Oregon Trail, Nancy comes to class already in costume. She plays the role of Nellie, mother to Debbie’s character, Sally. “Well, hello there boys and girls,” Nellie greets the class. “My daughter, Sally, should be along soon. She had to tend to the horses,” Nancy explains why their teacher is not in the room. The kids instantly get the “gig” and take their seats eager to see what comes next.

Debbie rushes into her classroom in character attire and voice, announcing that it’s time to sew marble bags to prepare for a long journey along The Oregon Trail. Before costume day when Debbie brings her mom to school, the class has learned about The Oregon Trail as you see in my blog pic below.

Westward ho along The Oregon Trail in mid-nineteenth century America

The students have learned about life on the trail, westward ho, during pioneer days in America. FYI, between the years 1843 and 1869 The Oregon Trail was the only possible land route for settlers who wanted to reach the west coast of the United States.

Travel could be treacherous and tedious, and as Debbie’s character, Sally, tells her class in a fine southern voice, “We’ll have to amuse ourselves when we stop along the way.” “Everyone travels with marble bags – small cloth bags full of colorful marbles – and you’ll sit down and play wherever you are,” explains Sally. This is character mother Nellie’s cue to chime in with an invitation for students to learn how to make marble bags stitched together from small squares of fabric, as you see

“Everyone travels with marble bags along The Oregon Trail.”

in my blog pic here. “If you was a boy,” advises Nellie, “you’d hang your marble bag from your britches.” “If you was a girl, you’d tuck it in your pocket.”

When Debbie brings her mom to school, their entertaining and educational skit in costume holds students spellbound. Oregon Trail (pretend) travel activities include reaching the west coast and having a quilting bee, piecing together some of the fabric squares the students have learned to design and stitch.

No matter what part of the world you live in, you can invite your mom (in-person or not) to be part of your teaching plan. Every nation has a history that children who are native to that land learn. Making simple costumes based on your nation’s history, like pioneer women costumes are to America, or simply wearing or showing special occasion clothing you and your mom have or had can help connect kids to your Social Studies curriculum. Costuming is a classroom-tested trick for effective teaching.

Flags are as colorful as costumes and they are a wonderful way to introduce children to the world.

The Japanese flag waves among the flags of nations.

The Japanese flag you see forefront in my blog pic here brings us back to Mother’s Day. In Japan Mother’s Day dates back to the Showa period. The modern traditions began in 1913, marking the second Sunday in May as the day to celebrate. Yesterday in Japan we would have heard children say, “Haha-no-hi!” – Happy Mother’s Day!

As every mother and every teacher knows, children learn by doing. When you set the classroom stage for learning by wearing curriculum-connected costumes, like Debbie and her mom do together in school, and by using “props” like national flags, you can engage your students in learning.

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

Animate Cuddly Animals to Catch Attention

April 9, 2012

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

Have you noticed like I have that many libraries, media centers and classrooms serving children in grades Pre-K – 2 have stuffed animals sitting on shelves near books?

Problem is…they’re just sitting there, bright-eyed, some of them bushy-tailed, but all of them lifeless until a child or literacy specialist or grade-level teacher brings them to life!

Okay, you may be thinking that the kids will think you’re crazy if you cradle a lamb in your hands like I’ve done in my blog pic

“Would you be a lamb and read to me?”

here and talk to it as if it’s real. Go ahead, be brave, try it and you’ll see that young children will be all eyes and ears, ready for what comes next.

If you can find a small stuffed lamb like mine you can engage children in reading by asking a familiar (at least in English) endearing question…“Would you be a lamb and read to me?” That’s the exact question I’m asking in my blog pic with the book that the lamb and I are about to “share” with my class.

No theater background required! Promise! You simply have to have the courage, sense of fun, and certainty of the power of animation to catch kids’ attention to effectively use cuddly critters as teaching tools.

After I (pretended) to ask the little lamb to read to me, I pulled a “fast one” on the class and acted as if the stuffed animal had spoken back to me. I said, “Oh, I see, you want ME to read to YOU!” “Okay and let’s include this wonderful group of students too.”  Just like magic, the children were quiet and ready for a story. The story, by the way, wasn’t about a little lamb, but it could have been. A stuffed lamb would be a great way to bring a familiar (English) nursery rhyme to life, Mary Had a Little Lamb. See what stuffed animals you already have to work with and select rhymes and stories accordingly.

“Let’s read this!”

Delight Pre-K – 2 kids by setting a cuddly creature on a poem you plan to read to them, like you see in my blog pic here. Give the animal a name; I call my stuffed lamb Lucky Little LambLucky because Little Lamb gets to visit the book center in classrooms and read so many books in the library.

Here’s another attention-getting trick…animate a stuffed animal to act out a spoken poem or story

“Lucky Lamb” brings stories and poems to life.

using a book and CD like Poetry Speaks to Children, a “New York Times Bestseller” (Sourcebooks, Inc. 2005).

Help young children develop observation and memory skills by inviting them to play “hide and seek” with a favorite stuffed animal. Tuck the animal behind or inside a book like you see in my blog pic below and challenge the kids to find it. Ask where it was last found. Hide the toy in different places around your classroom or storytime section of your media center to keep the kids interested.

Where’s “Lamb” hiding now?

Animating cuddly animals is an opportunity to introduce young children to different languages of the world as well. If you can get your hands on a stuffed deer, you can speak to it in French with another popular term of endearment for children: ma bichette; that in English means my little doe.

Little lamb, little deer, make room for a small goat, and help children learn a bit of Spanish: mis cabritos, that translates (with young children I use the term, turns into rather than translates) into English as my kids; my small goats.

If your classroom or library has a stuffed bumble bee, pick it up along with one of your favorite children’s books and explain to your class that in Australia, the cuddly bumble bee in your hand would call this book, the bee’s knees – that’s Australian slang for the absolute best!

Grab a hold of a big stuffed ape like “Harry” (I featured “Harry” in my blog of 05/16/2011 “going ape” over homework) along with a book about a visit to a zoo and introduce them to the Chinese word Xing Xing, meaning (in English) both star and ape.

Once you have created animated teaching applications of a cuddly stuffed animal like those I’ve described above and the animal has taken on “a life of its own,” you can use it in all kinds of ways to help children learn. For example, Celebrate Little Lucky Lamb’s Birthday with the class. (Pretend) to give a new book to the lamb, wrapped up in paper with a bow (ask a student volunteer to unwrap Lucky Lamb’s gift). Invite the children to illustrate pre-cut paper bookmarks to “give” to the lamb for its birthday. (Lucky can later “suggest” that the children take their bookmarks home because Lucky has so many already.)

Search online or in teacher supply stores for copyright-free printable or pre-printed outlines of animals. Give copies to students to color and keep to list the books they’ve read. You can even set up a Lucky Lamb’s (or other animal) Reading Club for Kids to join. The children will love you for it and they’ll love the learning they do with the cuddliest member of class.

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

Sprinkle Seasonal Rewards – Anniversary Blog

April 2, 2012

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for Teachers as we celebrate the second anniversary of my blog! A special thank you is in order, but first let’s look at a clever attention-getting trick successfully put to the test by a Media Center Specialist.

Lori Brannon is a “veteran” librarian in a Pre-K – 5 school. My blog pic below shows the doorway to the Media Center

A new school day is about to begin.

where Lori greets class after class of kids, helping them develop literacy skills before sending them back to their grade-level teachers.

The empty doorway is a metaphor, I think, for a new school day. Picture this…students have yet to flood the library floor for storytelling time or gather at the reading tables. Lori is waiting inside her special teaching space – a colorful room full of books, computers, interactive screens and traditional white boards.

Once a school day has begun, that doorway is never quiet. In fact, Lori has noticed over the years that children no longer automatically know how to enter the Media Center quietly, sit down and get ready for reading. “Now we have to teach kids how to be quiet and to focus,”  she asserts. That’s the reason educators need effective tools and tricks to catch and keep kids’ attention. “Kids today think and move so fast,” observes Lori, “I think that we as teachers have to change our ways to keep up, but also model quiet time and strive for a balance.” 

Faced with the challenge of helping students stay focused during their visits to her Media Center, Lori has created a reward system. She offers an incentive for students to conduct themselves in an acceptable manner while in the library.

Lori explains, “My reward system started out with my giving cards to the students at the end of class when they behaved well. They in turn gave the cards to their teacher and she or he would offer rewards at the end of a term.” “That worked pretty well,” continues Lori, “but then sometimes I forgot the cards so I said to myself, you know what, I’m going to use an imaginary reward!” “Wow, what a concept,” Lori says, “because it’s so low maintenance.” “There’s nothing extra to keep track of, and for teachers that’s huge,” Lori concludes.

What’s Lori’s attention-getting trick? She SPRINKLES IMAGINARY SEASONAL REWARDS, a trick easily adaptable for use by teachers in individual classrooms. Check out

“Thanks for a good job, everyone!” “Catch some good luck.”

my blog pic here, taken in mid-March, and see Lori sprinkling imaginary four-leaf clovers for good luck as students prepare to leave the library.

Lori sprinkles different imaginary rewards throughout the school year and you can too! You may need to adjust your sprinkle collection to create climate-related symbols that suit your part of the world. Lori’s rewards include:

January – imaginary snowflakes that she asks students to catch on their tongues.

February – chocolate hearts that Lori says can have chocolate and/or vanilla sprinkles on them.

March – four-leaf clovers for good luck, as shown.

April – Lori sprinkles spring showers and reminds everyone that April showers bring May flowers. Note: Climate changes may prompt future reward adjustments.

May – This clever librarian sends imaginary flower petals falling. When Lori and I talked about her trick, I suggested that she could also give children the option of putting their flower petals in their pockets to give to someone they love.

June – Lori offers no-melt ice cream with rainbow sprinkles.

July – In traditional calendar schools at least in the Northern Hemisphere, summer vacation, not school, is in session this month. If you teach in a year-round school, you could sprinkle evening light from imaginary fireflies.

August – Lori sprinkles something suited to summer, like drops of suntan lotion, as her school year begins – an idea that promotes good health!

September – She sprinkles apples for the harvest; in October – candy corn that connects with Halloween celebrations; in November – falling leaves. Lori closes her calendar year of seasonal rewards in December – gifting students with imaginary cookies covered with holiday sprinkles.

Now for the special thank you I mentioned at the beginning of this blog…

I love writing to bring you a wide range of tools and tricks to catch and keep the attention of Pre K – 5 kids. My appreciation, at least in English, is expressed in the pic below.

Thank you to my blog readers on the 2nd anniversary of Attention-ology!

I’m excited to report that after two years of publication online, my blog is now being read in forty-six countries and in six continents around the world!

So…Thanks, Gracias, Merci, Vielen Dank, Grazie, Dank ku, Tacka dig, Tesekkur ederiz, Obrigado (and all of the other languages not shown here) to all of my readers. I hope that you will continue to post comments as you read my weekly features and that the ideas shared here will benefit you and the children you teach.

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

Add Drama to Engage Your Students

September 26, 2011

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

If “all the world’s a stage,” as William Shakespeare asserted, then we teachers can cast ourselves in lead roles within our classroom walls (and in other parts of school, as well) to more fully engage our students as we present lessons.

Check out my blog pic here and you’ll see me teaching with my arms and hands.

“THIS is special for ALL of you!”

Notice how my arms are stretched out to my sides. A simple dramatic gesture, but one that demonstrates my embrace of the WHOLE class. The message: “I want and expect all of you to look, listen and learn.”

I like to call teaching “a performing art.” Pause a second; go back and re-read the opening paragraph of this blog. The focus is on more fully engaging students and I’ve used the words present lessons rather than teach lessons.

To gain and maintain K – 5 students’ attention in our world today – a world in which we’re forced to compete with all kinds of eye and ear-grabbing distractions – we have to COMMAND ATTENTION. One way to do that is to perform – to teach with dramatic moves, mannerisms and methods – in ways that may seem overly dramatic to some and perhaps non-traditional to many educators that have been trained in protocols of past years.

I’m not suggesting that you don a costume every day before greeting your class as school begins (although once-in-a-while costumes can be very effective attention-getters! We’ll save costuming for another blog). I’m offering classroom-tested easy to implement tricks that will add drama to your instruction time and help improve your hold on your students’ eyes and ears. Let’s get specific…

Offer Outstretched Arms – Again, as my blog pic above shows, it’s easy and effective to open out your arms as you make an important announcement or explain a broad-based study point to your students. Once you’ve stretched your arms out you can add further drama as you call attention to the focus of your lesson by bringing your hands slowly back in front of you and touch the palms of your hands together. Try it…broad message – arms wide.  Key points – hands back together in front of you.

Move Lessons Around Your Room – Elementary school students today have been born into a world that is constantly moving. I haven’t recently counted the times a television or video picture changes in 60-seconds, but I know that research has been done on the subject. Electronic media that blend audio and visual stimulation are sure-fire attention magnets.

Teachers can capitalize on the television attention-ology “formula” by moving about the classroom more as they speak. This isn’t to suggest that you dart about the room, only that you consider new ways to move while you teach. I’ve had success, for example, with tip-toeing to mimic the action of a sneaky witch getting ready to brew up some wonderful Halloween writing. Movement to dramatize characters in stories you share with your class is a wonderful way to bring stories to life.

Use a Dramatic VoiceMany teachers find that they have to raise their voices to be heard in class. But, a raised voice is different from a dramatic voice. Dramatic voices stand a better chance of catching and keeping K – 5 kids’ attention.

A dramatic voice can be anything you choose to use that is different in sound from your regular voice. Some teachers are comfortable using dramatic voices when they read stories aloud to their classes. It’s an age-old part of storytelling, but some teachers feel more comfortable with this than others. My experience tells me that few teachers use dramatic voices for different kinds of instruction other than storytelling. That’s unfortunate because dramatic voices are deal-makers for entertaining and educating children!

All of us have more than our given voices to employ in teaching if we muster the courage to try something new. Go ahead…try out some new voices, in private at first, and when you find one that suits you, commit to trying it out in class.

Think of a lesson that you’ll soon be teaching and look for where a new voice might fit in the plan. If, for example, you’re planning to invite your class to write Halloween poems as I’ll be asking my upcoming students to do in October, consider using a sneaky witch’s voice like I do. Say a few words in a high-pitched witch-like voice; it’s okay if you try to sound like a witch you heard in a movie. Male teachers can drop their already lower voices even lower and sound like “monsters” looking for Halloween writing treats. Your students will love you as witches and monsters!

Good news…no theater education is required for you to set the stage for incorporating some drama to more fully engage your students and help them achieve academic and personal success. Have some fun trying out some of the basic drama tricks I’ve suggested in my blog and let me know how your “stage debut” goes.

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

All Aboard for a New School Year!

August 22, 2011

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

Elementary school teachers in many parts of the world are busy preparing their classrooms for the opening of the 2011 – 2012 school year.

Despite budget restrictions, educators are creating colorful learning environments – new bulletin boards to welcome students – bright books stacked on classroom shelves ready for readers – clean (at least as clean as possible) cubbies waiting for backpacks – table sets or desks in clusters or lines that will soon be centers of student activity.

Learning is a journey! You can help young children grasp this concept by inviting K – 2 kids to climb on a board an exciting (imaginary) train. Your class will enjoy the trip ahead through their new grade level if you help them do what Katherine Hepburn, a highly respected American actress, said theater can do best…offer “practice for living.”

All Aboard for Learning is a classroom-tested attention-getting trick. You can set up a train station, so to speak, ahead of your students’ arrival by buying or making train car shapes for a bulletin board outside your classroom door. Post a welcome headline that suits your grade level like the Kindergarten teacher did for the bulletin board in my blog pic.

All aboard for a new school year!

On the first day of class ask the kids to bring in photos of themselves to tape or glue to the train cars. With passengers in place , you’ve set the stage for a year of travel to all kinds of destinations!

Where can you take your class?  The possibilities are endless, especially if you have classroom technology like whiteboards that allow you to project web-based virtual train trips on them. Check out The Amtrak Unlimited Virtual Tour of America or trains that travel across Canada, the UK, Europe, Asia, South America and Australia.

There are also plenty of options for using the concept of All Aboard for Learning that are not technology-dependent. Try a train-related trick that I use with my classes. Invite kids to board The Poetry Train. I begin this activity by asking for a show of hands of anyone that has ever traveled by train. In grade 2 (and higher – I use The Poetry Train in grade 3, as well) we spend a few minutes with students telling where they’ve been by train. I always make a point to say, too, that “for students who have not yet been on a train – no worries – this is your moment!” Then I announce that the classroom has become our train car on a fast track to two stations…

The Wonderful World of Words – I use a board in front of the class that I can write on for this “station.” Teachers can use this “station” in different ways to help children master language skills. For students in grades K – 2, you can write words on the board that rhyme with each other like cat, hat, etc. You can use this “station” for something as simple as introducing a book you’re about to read to the class. Write the title on the board. You may even decide to dedicate a portion of your board to serving as “the wonderful world of words” for the whole year.

The Private Quiet Writing (or Coloring) Zone – I invite kids to jump back on board to visit the “private quiet writing (or coloring) zone for individual language arts activities. Attention-getting? Yes! These imaginary “train stations” are so engaging that teachers I’ve worked with use them year after year. Here’s something else that’s cool…once you introduce “train stations,” you can simply refer to them without “boarding”, and students will know what to expect all year.

Add surprises to catch more attention! For example, after school one afternoon, tape paper “train tickets” to the bottoms of your students’ chairs. Use clip art to make train tickets or create your own design. The next day, invite the class to peek under their chairs. They’ll be delighted to find train tickets. Where to now?

How about Math Mountain? Learning “stations” can suit a range of curriculum areas.  “Count with me…1…2…3…you get the idea! The Reading Ranch is another possible destination. 

Theater-goers may be required to suspend disbelief, but believe me, K – 5 students love opportunities to travel, with age-appropriate planning, any way they can beyond their classroom walls.

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

Teach with Puppets – Crafty Crowd-Pleasers!

July 11, 2011

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

Look at the little bear learning to read and speak Spanish in my blog pic here and see if you agree with me that a puppet can be a perfect teacher’s assistant!

“Bebe” needs help learning Spanish

Puppets have a fascinating history worldwide. You may have heard of the famous English puppet duo – Punch and Judy. Perhaps you’ve folded your fingers over your thumb to form a shadow puppet that looks like a biting crocodile against a solid sunlit wall. The most famous shadow puppets come from Indonesia. Pop up stick puppets are popular in Central and South American cultures and across the globe in Europe, stuffed fabric animals and doll-like characters have entertained children and adults for generations. In African nations and in other parts of the world, too, some puppets are the size of the people who operate them. And then of course, there are the world-famous round-faced residents of a certain street in New York City.

Here’ s the most important tip that teachers need to know about using puppets to catch and keep K – 5 kids’ attention…It’s easy to do! 

Why? Because all it takes to bring a puppet to life is a little bit of hand action and a voice that’s different from your own. No professional theater training required for this magical teaching trick!

I’ve used puppets successfully without even hiding my face from the audience. Look again at the way I’m holding the little bear behind the Spanish language book in my blog pic above. When I make this bear – his name is “Bebe” – talk to my students (or campers, or church school group, or…you get the idea that you can use puppets in any children’s program) I look at the bear, not at the class. When I’m speaking in my regular voice, I look directly at the children. The children follow my eyes so when “Bebe’s” voice is “on” the children are focused on the little fur ball; they don’t care that my mouth is moving to make the bear speak.

Of course, if you want to use a theater of some sort to hide yourself when you’re teaching with a puppet or two, you can do that. Let’s save theater design and simple puppet-making for other blogs; even simple stage settings can be effective attention-getting tools to use with easy-to-make puppets. For now, we’ll stick with how you can use inexpensive-to-buy puppets to help kids master a wide range of skills.

Be aware that puppets as teaching tools can be effective with a wide age range of children, depending on the puppets you choose to use and the “dialog” you create for interacting with your students. “Bebe” is obviously appropriate for the early grades.

One of the best tricks to use with puppets is to ask children to kindly help a character like “Bebe” with his learning. This approach is especially helpful to kids who need to build  skills, confidence and self-esteem. Why? Because when they discover that “Bebe” needs help learning Spanish, for example, they realize that they are not the only ones have difficulty with the subject. Puppets can be so reassuring! 

One teacher who attended one of my Puppetry for Teachers workshop some years ago was most impressed by the way puppets could reach his elementary level special needs students. Richard Labadia said, “Children with special educational needs should be taught in a manner that makes what they learn useful and part of the world they live in directly. This style of ‘functional’ teaching enables these children to grow and become an important part of today’s society.”

Labadia also described how effectively puppets beat boredom in educational settings that include special needs kids.  “Puppets can teach a concept over and over, and still get a response,” he asserted.

All elementary school-age children seem to feel free to communicate with puppets. Try one on your hand; pick a subject to teach with the puppet, rehearse a little bit until you’re ready to open the door for your class to interact with an attention-getting aid like “Bebe.”

Enjoy the satisfaction of watching your kids learn your curriculum more effectively, learn about themselves as they interact with your puppet, and have fun in the process!

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

Let “Listen Star” Work Magic for You

June 6, 2011

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

Take a deep dramatic breath; hold it; release the air slowly and as you do, push your hands out in front of you and then stretch your arms to your sides as far as you can reach without moving your feet or seat. Repeat. If you want to add variety, raise your arms high after you push them to your sides and then let them fall back down gently to close the exercise. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Congratulations! You’ve just engaged in a simple, healthy, effective attention-getting trick that works like a charm with K – 5 kids when you demonstrate first and then invite the class to do the breathing exercises with you.

Is it ballet? Not exactly, but professional ballet dancers incorporate similar moves in some of their dance movements and certainly include breathing exercises, like the ones you’ve just done, in their workouts.

Am I a ballet dancer? No, but the good news is that we teachers are not required to be practicing professional artists to successfully integrate the arts into activities that help catch and keep students’ attention. 

What are we required to do? One answer is to commit to learning new arts-related attention-ology tools and tricks and muster the courage to try them out in class! I’m convinced that teaching is a performing art anyway – meaning – you have to command your audience’s (the children’s) attention to help them stay on task and learn.

One arts integration activity I’ve created and successfully classroom-tested with students in the early grades is “Listen Star.” 

“Listen Star” has magical listening abilities

“Listen Star” is a large star on a long wand with bells hanging from the lower star points. I keep “Listen Star” upside down in a large bright party bag. When I first introduce “Listen Star” to young children, I pull the wand out of the bag and wave the star back and forth way up high where everyone can see it. I tell my classes that “Listen Star” has “magical listening abilities.” I say, “When you see and hear ‘Listen Star’ dance and fly across the classroom sky (in a little ballet of its own), that’s a clue, that’s your cue to hush – I emphasize the word H-U-S-S-S-H – so that you can hear me clearly and I can hear you.” “Let’s give it a try,” I suggest, and I wave the star playfully, as if it were alive, and make its bells jingle to delight the kids and test once again the star’s attention-getting skill.

Teachers of students in the early grades love “Listen Star,” especially because this engaging tool is so easy to make. (See below)


Materials You Will Need:

  • A dowel or, simpler still, a long straw
  • Light-colored card stock or pre-packaged large star shape (available at teacher supply stores)
  • Pencil, colored markers
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Optional: hole punch, 2 small bells, ribbon or string

Steps to Follow:

  • If necessary, draw a large star on cardstock.
  • Cut out star shape.
  • Optional: draw a face on one side of the star to personalize “Listen Star.”
  • Tape star to the top of the dowel or straw, leaving a long “wand” to hold.
  • Optional: punch small holes in the tips of the two lowest star points. Thread ribbon or string through the bell tips and the holes and tie to secure.

Voila! “Listen Star” is ready to fly and not just in school classrooms. Attention-ology tools and tricks like “Listen Star” also work in church schools, after-school settings, vacation stations, anywhere adults work with young kids. Let “Listen Star” help you.

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

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

Catch Attention with a Garden of Creativity

May 23, 2011

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

Here’s a quick way to catch and keep your students’ attention…ask them a question that poses an artistic array of answers about posies!

The question…When is a garden outside our classroom window more than a collection of colorful flowers? 

Look at the garden of creativity!

As students begin to ponder your question, invite them to gather with you near the classroom window that looks out on the garden.

Point to the garden and ask your class to silently observe the flowers. Tell the students that you want them to look for a garden of creativity.

Some may question what you mean by a garden of creativity. Reply that you’re looking for ideas on how students might see the garden through the eyes of a poet or storyteller, a painter, a dancer, an actor, or a music-maker. Now, what could the garden be besides the bed of pretty pansies (or other flowers) planted outside?

Allow some time for students to spontaneously offer thoughts and suggestions. Leave room for open-ended conversation to encourage creative thinking.

Then take the lead and tell the class that you have some answers of your own PLUS a choice of activities to follow, as detailed below. (Please note that these activities are age-appropriate for fourth and fifth grade students but may be modified for younger children.)


A garden is more than a collection of planted flowers when we choose to make it…

♣  a garden of wishes to write a poem or story about, beginning with the line: If flowers were wishes, each blossom in this garden is…

Distribute notebook paper to your class and ask students to brainstorm about how flowers might be like wishes before they begin their poetry or story writing. Help prompt their creative thinking with some ideas that your students can visualize. For example, dandelions are considered to be weeds by many people while others see beauty in the simple yellow flowers. Could a garden of dandelions be like dreams that others made fun of until the dreams had happy endings? Do puffy dandelion seeds blow away into dreams when the wind carries them aloft? Could a garden of multi-colored flowers be like a dream that people of different countries and cultures can live in a peaceful world? What flowers might have blossomed in the dream gardens of a famous historical figure, like Martin Luther King?

When students finish their poetry or story writing, give them time to illustrate their writing. They can return to the window that overlooks the school garden and illustrate it or they can create an illustration from their imagination.

A garden is more than a collection of flowers when we choose to make it…

♣ a subject for a landscape picture to grid, draw and color.

Most elementary schools, at least in the US, consider art to be “a special.” But, as any K – 5 teacher knows, budding artists abound in every class and almost every child loves to escape the classroom for time outdoors. Why not schedule another arts integration activity that connects picture making with math!

Distribute clipboards, graph paper and pencils to your class and lead them to your outdoor garden. Ask students to sketch out the flower bed by section on the graph paper, noting the proportion of flowers to flower box or garden plot, etc. When you return to class, invite the kids to color the garden they’ve drawn using color by sections to create an original picture of a flower garden, one that may or may not be true to life.

A garden is more than a collection of flowers when we choose to make it…

♣ the inspiration for dance, music and drama.

After your class has closely observed the outdoor garden, distribute colored construction paper, scissors, glue and markers for students to cut and assemble flowers that resemble those in the garden. When their flowers are complete, you can invite students to stand in a group and wave the flowers as if they were blowing in the wind.

In addition, over a period of time that you designate, you may invite students to form groups to create, rehearse and present their constructed flowers in small in-class productions, using a section of the room that you temporarily designate to be “center-stage.”

Let your student groups decide how they want to present their flowers, perhaps through movement, with music (students can sing a-capella or use simple and available instruments, like tambourines or some may choose to do a flower rap). Some of the boys in your class may prefer not to construct and present flowers but rather to create and dramatize weather elements such as the wind blowing through the garden.

It’s important to note that you don’t have to be a professional artist yourself to catch and keep the attention of K – 5 students with art-based instruction. When elementary school teachers link art activities with key curriculum areas, they open the door to focused learning. The possibilities for integrating the arts into your instructional goals are as endless as a beautiful circular border garden – the garden of creativity.

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

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet