Posts Tagged ‘K-5 teachers’

Show Off “The Big E”

November 7, 2011

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

Here’s a new attention-ology trick…at the beginning of a school day ask your students to name their favorite letter of the alphabet. Then announce that one of your favorite letters is E…The Big E…the letter that stands for ENERGY and EYES and EARS and EFFORT…the list can go on as long as you like!

BIG E for ENERGY– When I show off “The Big E for Energy” to students, like I’m doing in my blog pic below,

Show me “The Big E!”

I tell them that ENERGY is a “must-have item” that you draw it from within yourself to get good work done. No slouching in my classes; I’ve got to see “The Big E” in all of my students!

Make a “Big E” to use with your class. I promise it will get the kids’ attention when you show it off; present it to your class as if “Big E” has a personality of its own! You can shop for large cut-out letters (I found my big blue E in Target’s dollar section.) If you don’t have any luck shopping for alphabet letters it’s easy to make them. Draw and cut out a large flat letter E from poster board or carve out a 3-D letter E from a styrofoam block.

Want more teaching magic with “The Big E?” Extend the attention-getting value of this simple tool by cutting out enough poster board letters so that you can give one to each of your students. Ask them to keep their cut-out letters in class for future use. If a student acts off-task, suggest that he or she pull out “Big E”  as a reminder to get back on track. 

BIG E for EYES – In many K – 5 classes I’ve visited, teachers use a catchy attention-getting slogan that features “The Big E for Eyes.” You may know the slogan. It goes…“One, two, three, eyes on me!” When students hear this phrase they’re instructed to reply…“One, two, eyes on you!” I’ve noticed that teachers use this quick trick to help make transitions from one class activity to another throughout the school day.

BIG E for EYES and EARS – Here’s another idea for showing off “The Big E.” I picked up this trick from a trainer at my gym – a reminder – sources of strategies that teachers can apply in the classroom may come from many places outside of school! Nick and I were talking about trying out new approaches to fitness. He told me that he learned a long time ago to question everything. He described himself as a master at opening his mouth and asking why whenever he discovered something new. Then he made the connection for me (and you) to “The Big E for Eyes and Ears.” He said that he tells his students this memorable adage…”We have 2 eyes, 2 ears and only 1 mouth for a reason. We need to look and listen twice as much as we speak. That’s how we learn.” Don’t you love it!

BIG E for EFFORT – Once you’ve introduced your class to this letter with multiple meanings, you can use “The Big E for Effort” as a reward for good work. You’ll need to create a different “Big E” icon for this trick, maybe a big blue ribbon with a giant letter E in the center of a white circle at the top.Tell your class that when you spot a student focused

Ready for “The Big E for Effort Award”

and on task in class, like the boy in my blog pic here, you might be stopping by with a “Big E for Effort Award.”

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet


Make Magic!

October 24, 2011

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

Grab a magician’s black hat, a wand and a (stuffed toy or puppet) white rabbit to kick off your very own magic show in class. Today marks the beginning of National Magic Week in the United States and Canada – a perfect time to engage students in learning activities framed around magical tools and tricks.

Step right up to my Make Magic Blog Show…I have a few new teachers’ tricks to share, but first a bit of history… (You can share this history with students in grades 3 – 5 and a little bit of it with younger children.)

Magic is as old as the hills. It’s generally defined as “the art of manipulating aspects of reality through illusions” and it’s practiced around the world. I’m guessing that nations other than the US and Canada have their own magic-related celebrations. In the northern two-thirds of North America National Magic Week recognizes the anniversary of the death of world-famous Harry Houdini whose grave is in New York City. Here’s a spooky fact – he died on October 31, 1926.

The roots of National Magic Week go back to Houdini Day in 1927, started by Mrs. Houdini, to honor her husband’s legacy as a nine-year president of the Society of American Magicians. The organization adopted the idea and continues to spend the last week of October promoting the magic arts through free programs and exhibits at venues including public libraries and schools. The Society also encourages budding magicians…I’m adding teachers in that mix. We work magic every day to help students achieve academic and personal success!

MAKE MAGIC BLOG SHOW. Choose from a menu of tricks that are adjustable to suit different K – 5 grade levels…

Bulletin Board Magic – Create a bulletin board like my blog pic below inside or outside your classroom that features student work, including writing, related to magic.

My Magic Story

Writing Magic – Invite your class to write a story about magic. You can introduce different themes children may work with such as:

* Imagine if you had a MAGIC BALL or wore a MAGIC NECKLACE or ate a MAGIC COOKIE or traveled to present a MAGIC SHOW of your own. Write a story in the first person.

* Create two characters who have a MAGICAL ADVENTURE together. Write a story in the third person.

Reading Magic – Check your school or public library for books about magic that you can borrow and share with your students or encourage them to borrow and read themselves.

Math Magic – Using a magician-like hat and a stuffed toy or puppet rabbit, give your class tickets to a fun, funny Math Magic Show. How to play? One option is to get or make a set of flash cards with addition problems such as adding different numbers to arrive at the same number. For example, there are 5 number pairs that can add up to the number 8. Make one flash card for each number pair and make 5 flash cards that show only the number 8. Put all of the number 8 flashcards in your magic hat. Give five students one of the number pair flashcards face down. Play magician. Tell your class that your rabbit will guess the answer to each math problem. Pick up the rabbit; point to one student at a time and announce that the rabbit will “pick a card” from the hat with the correct answer. Of course the answer will be correct! Once the kids catch on to the trick, they may call out the answer amid the laughter. You can make up other math “tricks” to match your curriculum.

Science Magic – There’s a certain school bus series that takes kids on magical journeys into the world of science. Look for it with key words online. Speaking of online resources related to magic, they’re out there. See what might interest your students.

Cooking Magic – Young children are fascinated (as are some older folks) with the power of a hot oven to transform little balls of dough dotted with dark morsels into flat and delicious chocolate chip cookies! (Another science lesson for older elementary school students?)

MAGIC COOKIE is one of my suggested titles above for a story your students can write. Here’s a great way to end your or your school’s Magic Day or Magic Week (You and other grade-level teachers can plan ahead and partner to present special magic-related teaching activities and events)…

Ask students if they’ve ever helped make chocolate chip cookies or watched cookies bake. Point out that an oven’s heat does work like magic. Then pass around some REAL cookies to eat. Magic makes for smiles.

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

Catch Attention with Giant Picture Posters

October 9, 2011

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

We’ll pick up our passports again next week and continue our travel to the informative International Festival of Attention-Grabbers. Last week, my blog featured stories from Dr. Ozturk who attended elementary school in Turkey.

This week, while the October weather offers a pleasant interlude between the hottest and coldest days of the year, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, let’s head outdoors to a popular children’s play space…a sandbox. Look closely at the photo below. They’ll be a quiz about it later!

What do you see?

Catch Attention with a Picture Poster – I took this shot outside one of the elementary schools where I taught last spring. It was a sunny day, the sand in the box was warm and inviting in a corner of the playground, but the bell had rung and all of the children had returned to their classes when I snapped the picture. I knew that I would use this sandbox photo as an attention-ology tool; I just didn’t know how at the moment I clicked the camera. I took the shot because I found the sandbox intriguing. The toys had been so busy in the young children’s hands at playtime. Then, in the children’s absence, the toys were still. I decided to enlarge the photo and turn it into a picture poster.

Here’s an invitation for you…Find or take a photo that catches your attention, enlarge it to poster-size at a local copy/print center if it’s not already the size of a poster, and use it to catch and keep your students’ attention in class. How?

Hold the poster up proudly and ask your students to study it for a few minutes. You can mount it on a bulletin board or easel if you prefer so that your hands are free to discuss it with the class. A giant picture poster is bold and commanding. It asks its viewers a discussion-opening question, “What do you see?” Help fourth or fifth grade students (recommended grade levels for this activity) explore answers to that question and you will help them become more observant, more thoughtful, and better able to stay focused longer on tasks.

How do I know? I’ve spent time talking with a masterful teacher of photography, Fred Schreiber, now based on the rugged coast of the state of Maine. Fred read my May 23, 2011 blog, Catch Attention with a Garden of Creativity that offered ideas on how to challenge K – 5 students to view a photo of a garden as MORE than just a collection of flowers. From that blog (check it out) Fred suggested that I blog about ways to use large photos as attention-ology tools themselves.

Fred credits John Szarkowski as a source for the suggestions below. Szarkowski (1925 – 2007) wrote The Photographer’s Eye, a book based on an exhibition by the same name at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Szarkowski was Curator of Photography at MOMA.

FOCUS ON FOCUSING – With the giant picture poster at center stage, open your class discussion with the question, “What do you see?” You may hear a few snickers as students answer with obvious observations. Tell them that there may be more to see than first meets the eye. Ask students to hold their focus longer and consider the ELEMENTS numbered below. Form questions about each element that relate to your picture poster, like I’ve formed questions about my sandbox photo. You may want to pop a quiz. Answers to my “quiz” questions are below.

1. LIGHT – What time of day was the sandbox photo taken? What besides sunlight adds to the lightness of the picture?

2. COLOR & FORM – What colors and forms are in the photo? What colors catch the most attention?

3. COMPOSITION – Is all of the sandbox visible in the photo? How are the toys inside the sandbox arranged? What single toy is (still) upright?

4. FRAME – What forms a frame in the photo besides the edges of the full picture?

5. ENVIRONMENT – Where is the sandbox on the (school) playground?

6. CONNECTION – Have you had personal experiences that connect with the photo?

Sandbox Photo Quiz Answers: 

1. The photo was taken at mid-day when the sun was high. The whitish sand itself adds to the light in the photo.

2. Colors and forms include red brick, light brown ground, green tufts of grass, blue sandbox, whitish sand, toys in green, aqua, pink, blue, yellow and red. The red and yellow toy truck and bright blue sandbox are the most eye-catching.

3. The lower left corner of the sandbox is out of the picture. The toys are scattered and all are on their sides except for the toy truck that is upright. Note that the truck is the largest toy.

4. The four sides of the sandbox itself form a frame inside the photo, inside the edges of the whole picture.

5. The sandbox is an enclosed environment placed against a brick school wall in a corner. The wall appears to be protecting the play area.

6. Fourth or fifth grade students might laugh at a picture poster of a sandbox because they’ve outgrown that kind of play. Still, intermediate kids may have fond memories of time in a sandbox that the photo helps them recall.

In-depth exploration… of objects like a giant picture poster, of school subjects, discussion topics, etc… may be more readily associated with students in upper grades. But, many teachers I’ve talked with believe as I do that elementary school students today are ready, willing and able to take on investigations that don’t stop with a single answer. Embracing possibilities and applying the ability to focus are critical skills in the twenty-first century. 

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

International Festival of Attention-Grabbers – Turkey

October 3, 2011

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

Globe-trotting doesn’t require an airplane ticket, not if you check your local convention options and find an International Festival to visit like I did this past weekend.

Most festival-goers had their sights set on culinary treats, crafts, music and dance performances from around the world. My focus was meeting festival presenters who attended elementary school in countries other than the United States.

American teachers’ observations about trends in education and my own experience working with thousands of K – 5 kids in the US are the foundation of my blog. But, world news suggests that catching and keeping students’ attention is a growing challenge in many developed nations. 

So, it makes sense to learn about and share strategies that teachers use in countries like Turkey – featured country in this blog – the first in my International Festival of Attention-Grabbers series. Passport ready? It’s time to visit Turkey!

It’s time to travel the world!

GIVE A CALENDAR QUIZ – Dr. Ozturk, a delightful dark-haired woman with quick brown eyes, clearly remembers her second and third grade teacher, Mr. Bozturk in Istanbul, Turkey. When she was an elementary school girl in the 1960’s, Mr. Bozturk began each school day with a barrage of questions that he shot out when he first entered the classroom. 

Dr. Ozturk describes Mr. Bozturk’s attention-ology trick as a Calendar Quiz. “What day is today?” he would begin, his eyes set on a student in the back of the room. Turning to another kid he would ask, “What number day in the week is today?” Then Mr. Bozturk would demand a third child to reply to the question, “What month are we in?” “How many days are in this month?” The quiz continued every morning. “Which season is this?” Mr. Bozturk would ask. Finally, he would demand a student to answer the question, “What number month is this month in the season?”

Mr. Bozturk’s Calendar Quiz sent an unmistakable message…it’s time to learn!

Dr. Ozturk likes to point out that in addition to “bringing the students into the present to begin the school day,” Mr. Bozturk’s Calendar Quiz also served as a math lesson with the inclusion of students counting numbers.

“When I was a student in Turkey,” Dr. Ozturk recalls, ” hearing your name called while simultaneously being told to be quiet was considered to be humiliating.” “Teachers were strict; that was accepted practice.” “But,” she muses, “because of Mr. Bozturk’s strictness, I learned a lot and went on to become an electrical engineer and university professor.” Dr. Ozturk says that she’s been waiting a long time to tell the story of the remarkable Mr. Bozturk and his effective attention-getting quiz!

MAKE UP A TIME QUIZ FOR YOUR CLASS – Glance back at my blog pic above and you’ll see a simple cardboard clock with moveable hands – a common tool to help children learn how to tell time. Why not also add a clock to your bag of attention-ology tools and tricks?

You can use a clock in a time quiz to do as Mr. Bozturk did, bring your students into the present at the beginning of the school day. When you hold up the clock like I’m doing in my blog pic, you’ll create a focal point for your kids’ attention. Clock in hand in front of your class, fire off questions related to time and date until you have all students’ eyes on you, ready for your first lesson.

SET UP YOUR OWN INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL – You may have discovered as I have that elementary school students love to travel the world through any means available to them. Inviting children to be part of your own classroom international festival can be as easy as sharing stories from around the world. Sources abound in libraries, bookstores and online. Dr. Ozturk gave me a funny short story from Turkey that your class might enjoy…

It’s titled Playing the Saz. All you need to tell it is a print out of my blog and any stringed instrument – an attention-getter itself.  Playing the Saz is about a popular Turkish character named Hodja, an old man with a white mustache and beard who wears a red coat and a giant white and red turban. Here’s how the story goes…

One day Hodja’s friends handed him a saz, a stringed musical instrument like this one (hold yours up for the class to see), and asked him to play a song. Hodja was not musically inclined but nevertheless took the instrument in his hands, placed his index finger on one of the frets and started strumming. 

“Is that how you play the saz?” complained his friends. Saz players play different notes by moving their fingers up and down the neck. You are playing a single note!

Hodja laughs, “They are moving their fingers like that because they are looking for this note. I have already found it!”

Finding and sharing effective resources to help students stay on task and become well-educated citizens of the world – that’s a goal of Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers.

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

Contract to Worry Less!

September 19, 2011

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

Worry got ya down? There’s a question on a lot of minds, one that relates to children as well as adults.

Ask your class one morning when the day is just getting underway if worry has a hold on anyone’s heart and watch the hands fly. You have their attention; now the key question is what can you do to help ease the distress? Check out some options I’m posting here. Then, please share your own attention-getting ideas on how to help students deal with worry by posting a comment below.

Power a Flower with Sun Power – Only through our imagination can we bring the sunshine into our classrooms on rainy days. Here’s a trick that will put sunny smiles on the faces of K – 2 kids after they’ve endured a difficult instructional or other school activity, such as taking a test. Show the students a bendable flower like the one in my blog pic below. (This one is made of felt with wire underneath on the stem, available in dollar stores or toy stores.) Tell the class that you found the flower in your “pretty pretend garden” and you picked it because it looked sad and worried.

“You look worried, pretty flower.”

Explain that you’re hoping that you and the class can brighten the flower’s day by bringing the sun inside to give it warmth and care. Continue your hold on the class’ attention by asking the children to help you make the magic of the sun shine on the flower. Invite one or two kids to come to where you’re standing with the flower in hand and hold the stem with you. Count in a loud voice with the class…”One, two, three, little flower, listen to me, the magic of the sun’s warmth and care will chase away your worries and make you happy!” If you want to add to the dramatic importance of chasing away worry, you can request that the class repeat the “chant” to the flower and then, with the flick of your hand bend the stem so that the flower stands tall, the way it looks in my second blog pic below. “Oh,” you can ask the class, “don’t you agree with me that now this flower looks much more worry-free and happy!”

“Ahhh…now the flower looks worry-free!”

The best tools to help students focus offer teachers multiple applications. My “flower-power” attention-ology tool can do more than help children manage worrisome feelings. You can use it in a similar manner (bending the stem from slumped to standing tall) as part of an early grades science lesson to demonstrate the effects of sunlight.

Hang up a Worry Wash Line Third and fourth grade classes will enjoy washing away worries with this clever classroom clothes line. Stretch a cord above a section of your classroom and clip clothes pins with blank note cards to the line. Tell your students when you first hang the line that you’ve added a Worry Wash Line to your room. Announce that it’s open for anyone to pull off a card, jot down a worry, write one’s name or not, and clip it back on the line to wash the worry away. When your students are not in the classroom with you, you’ll have an opportunity to get a greater sense of your students’ concerns by reading the notes they clip to the line.

Find Friends for Dennis B Fifth grade students may be willing to take on the challenge of helping a fictitious character named Dennis B become more worry-free. Find a large funny face or full body of a guy that you can name Dennis B and post him with a name tag on a classroom bulletin board or wall. Post blank sticky notes all around the new class character. Invite students to use the replaceable notes to offer Dennis B an idea on how to be worry-free. Introduce Dennis B with a poem written in his honor…


Dennis B vowed that he would live his life worry-free.

When problems tested his resolve, Dennis B said problems can be solved.

“Look,” Dennis said with poise, “let’s find solutions, not make noise.”

“Nashing teeth ’til jaws are sore will only make us worry more!”

“Simply put,” said Dennis B, “I feel much better worry-free.”

Create a Contract to Worry Less Individual contracts between a student and teacher and/or a student, teacher and parent are popular classroom management tools. Why not write one that deals specifically with helping children control worry-related feelings and behaviors. You can format the contract any way that suits your needs, but it’s important to include a line for the student to write his or her name, age, and points of agreement, including a promise to bring persistent worry to the attention of a trusted adult.

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

Look what I found!

September 5, 2011

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

Today is “Labor Day” in America; different countries recognize their workforce on dates other than the first Monday of September. Across the world, though, it’s fair to say that many adults, including teachers, spend part of their national “Labor Day holiday” fixing something up.

I was reminded of this last week on the heels of Hurricane Irene – a storm that spelled disaster for a huge chunk of real estate first in the Caribbean and then in the US, from North Carolina up the east coast to New England and upstate New York.  For victims of Irene, Labor Day this year will be remembered, not as the last weekend of summer vacation, but rather as post-Irene clean up time.

Nothing like a hurricane to catch and keep the attention of children and adults! Most of the attention, of course, is on the destruction and resulting emotional and economic heartache. But one Irene story in the news last week caught my attention because it featured a joyful discovery after the storm.  The story was about the amazing quantity and variety of shells that wash ashore in hurricanes. A photo with the story showed two young children and one adult bent over something special in the sand. I could almost hear the younger child saying with delight, “Look what I found!”

Now look at the boy in the middle of the group of third grade students in my blog pic below. Doesn’t he look like he could be saying, “Look what I found!”, too? He and his classmates were on their school playground last spring, digging for rocks and other gifts from “Mother Nature” to bring inside and write about with me.

“Look what I found!”

Pleasantly commanding your class to stop and check out what you have in hand when you shout out, “Look what I found!” is a fun and functional attention-getting trick suitable for grades K – 5. As you express excitement about found objects or found information or found items that had been lost, or…the list goes on…you model the joy of discovery for your class.

Here are a few specific applications of “Look what I found!” that you might try with your curriculum:

Science – You can focus on the importance of reusing found objects as part of a unit on Environmental Education by bringing in something you found that you’ve figured out a way to reuse. For example, I picked up a big round piece of cardboard this weekend at a home improvement store. It was on the ground near the pine straw truck and the store employee nodded his okay when I inquired about taking the big circle home. I plan to turn it into a giant clock to use for storytelling time. Before I do that, though, I’ll show it to some K – 2 grade students and say, “Look what I found on the ground in an unexpected place!”  

Reading – Share the pleasure of tapping into one’s family history by bringing an old book to class – maybe one that you found hidden in an old box in the attic or a loved one’s home. I have my grandmother’s book of poetry on a shelf next to my desk. It was a gift to her from my great-grandfather. My students’ eyes grow big when I tell them how old this book is before I challenge them to find the oldest book in their own home. I ask the students to write down the title, author, publisher, year of publication, and if possible, borrow the book to bring to school. This book-based activity is a great way to help third, fourth and fifth graders make a new connection with history and social studies. 

Game of Discovery – Turn “Look what I found!” into a game for your students. After you show the class something special that you’ve found, invite the children to do the same. You might call this a variation of “Show and Tell” but the focus is on the joy of discovery, so it becomes “Find, Show and Tell” and you can plan the game to suit your grade level.

In a world full of  distractions, it sometimes seems that children today (and adults) are too busy to pause as much as we could to savor simple but special discoveries. As teachers, we have the opportunity to help children do just that by looking, finding, thinking about discoveries together. In the process we can help students develop a better ability to pay attention.

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

Bring a Dog to School!

August 15, 2011

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

The start time of every new school year varies from community to community, but effective welcome-back attention-getting tools and tricks work pretty much year-round. In fact, as the school year gets underway, any break in the calendar such as vacation time, teacher workdays, early release, etc. offer opportunities to create a sense of newness in your classroom.

Here’s a tried and true attention-getting trick that’s based on best friends forever…bring a dog to school! You know that K – 5 kids treasure their “BFFs, ” their “best friends forever!” Dogs, cats and other pets certainly qualify as “best friends” in the minds of children and many adults.

Okay, maybe you can’t literally bring a dog to school, because school rules usually disallow pets on campus premises. No problem, though, because you can share pics and poems and stories about your four-legged furry friends of the canine variety. (Cat-lovers can simply substitute meows for barks and go for the purr-fect attention that cats attract, instead of dogs!)

So how exactly do you bring a dog (or cat) to school to help students focus on learning? Here’s how…you stand in front of the class at the beginning of the school year, or the week ahead…you get the idea…and announce that “Mr. Perfect or Ms. Perfect will be watching as class gets underway.”

The kids will of course quickly ask, “Who in the world is ‘Mr. or Ms. Perfect?” to which you reply…”My dogs.”  That’s when you show the class a large picture of your pup or pups and you circulate around the room so that everyone gets a good look at the furballs. Thousands of students I’ve taught are familiar with my dogs, shown in my blog pic here.

Mr. Perfect and Ms. Perfect Rosie can’t wait to go to school!

While the students utter sweet responses to the pics (guaranteed!) I like to tell two short stories about how Mr. and Ms. Perfect came into my family’s life. We’ll save the stories for another time – the key is that you HAVE A STORY TO TELL that draws in the class. I like to also read aloud the poems I’ve written in honor of my dogs. In abbreviated form they are…

Mr. Perfect

What comes with the talent

To speak without words,

To make any day better,

Likes to chase after birds?

What comes ready to play,

Ever so eager to please,


(that means I’m going to get it no matter what) LOVE?

It’s my dog, Mr. Perfect!


Ms. Perfect – Rosie

Rosie has a funny, furry, curly tail

that wags whenever

we walk through the door.

You’d think that tail’d get tired

but no, Rosie barks

for biscuits and wags some more.

This is the moment that you announce that your dogs have volunteered to become class mascots and they’ll be cheering for good work throughout the school year. You say in a perfectly normal voice that you’ll be keeping Mr. and Ms. Perfect updated on how well your students are doing. You can even invite the class to write letters to your pups and this is where the trick takes off…you can specify types of letters you ask the class to consider. For example, as the school year gets underway, you can offer an opportunity for your students to send notes to the dogs you’ve brought to school that tell about any problems the kids are having. It’s amazing what children will share with animals that they withhold from human adults!

Another related attention-ology trick is to schedule a day for your students to bring their own dogs or cats or hamsters or other pets to school via pics. Set up a pet show on a classroom bulletin board and invite your students to pick a pic and write a poem about their own pet or another animal in the “show” that they’ve chosen to feature.

Bark (or talk) about attention-getting can also pack up little plastic bags of inexpensive dog biscuits or cat treats to give your students to take home at the close of your classroom pet show. The kids will love this!

All the while, your pet tricks offer the opportunity to motivate your students to do good work in school so that you and they can report positive news to the dogs or cats you’ve brought to school. Hope you agree that these ideas are dog-gone good or the cat’s meow for your class this school year!

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

Pop Out a Pop-Up Book!

August 8, 2011

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

Check out my blog pic below and see if you agree with other teachers who have “ooohed and aaahed” at this pop-up peacock book that it was a bargain at the dollar store where I bought it! True story…I paid one buck for a big bang of an attention-getting tool that’s perfectly suited to K – 2 students.

and the peacock said, “I’m so proud of my feathers!”

I already had in mind to write about using pop-up books like the one above when I read a related Associated Press (AP) article last week. The story featured an adventurous peacock that had flown away and then returned to home-base — the Central Park Zoo in New York City. The proud peacock was the talk of tweets worldwide and its popularity gave me the idea for another attention-ology trick to share…

…sometimes you can choose to connect the tools you use to catch and keep K – 5 children’s attention to world news. That is, of course, when you find stories online or elsewhere that are age-appropriate for your students and the timing of the news release works for what you’re teaching.

For example, I’ll be able to take the peacock news story and the peacock pop-up story book with me to the first schools I visit in the 2011 – 2012 school year. The news will still be fresh. I usually share the peacock story book when I present day programs for K – 2 classes to develop language appreciation and help kids learn to love to read and write.

Picking up again on the peacock pop-up book and the AP article I’ve described above…how could YOU use them? Before reading the pop-up story aloud, you’d do well to hold up a print copy of the news piece about the renegade peacock and start a brief discussion about why news is special. “Why is news important?” you might ask your class. “What does news help us do?”

One obvious answer is that news puts people in touch with the world community and there’s no question that (filtered) global awareness is an asset for even the youngest members of our global community today. Even young children can be encouraged to look for news in school, at home, at medical offices, etc. For grades K – 2 you can announce that it’s time for NEWS once a day, or once a week to catch the class’ attention. You can use a variation of this concept – NEWS FLASH – with students in grades 3 – 5. The key word for older students is “flash.” It’s happening right now!

Can pop-up books work for upper elementary level kids? I say yes, but only when you present pop-ups that are sophisticated in their construction and writing, or better still…when you invite students in grades 3 – 5 to make their own!

Talk about amazing pop-up books to create…check out Robert Sabuda’s website. You may have heard of this world-famous engineer turned children’s book designer/author. What a great way to introduce engineering to third, fourth and fifth graders – show them books that have been engineered as well as written and illustrated!

Here’s another idea for grades 3 – 5…coordinate with the K – 2 teachers in your school and challenge your upper level students to make pop-up books they can read to help younger students learn basic skills. One student, for example, could design a counting pop-up book. Page 1 would have a pop-up of the numeral 1…and so on – fun and functional!

Some upper elementary students may even aspire to make pop-up pictures that rival Robert Sabuda. It’s unlikely that you’ll find Sabuda’s amazing books at a dollar store, but we frugal teachers will keep checking anyway. In the process, who knows what other tools we’ll find on the cheap that we can use with teaching tricks that are worth their weight in gold.

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

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet