Posts Tagged ‘teaching tricks’

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


International Festival of Attention-Grabbers – Russia

October 17, 2011

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

News to report since my post last week…my Attention-ology blog is now on Twitter @attentionology. Hope you’ll tweet along with me about tools and tricks to catch and keep kids’ attention and help them achieve success in school. I hope, too, that more of you will add quick comments on my blog; just scroll down the page and “leave a comment.” Just like I tell all of my students and the teachers whose classes I visit…”I’m here for you!”

Got your passport handy? We’re heading to Russia to meet Elena Toshkar Ola who spent her elementary school years in a town near Kazan. Before I share Elena’s memories of her teachers’ science and math lessons in grades 2 – 4, let’s chat about the world map in my blog pic below. Maps large and small, are colorful eye-catching attention-ology tools themselves.

Let’s travel with our imagination!

When I announce to my classes (you can do this too) that we’re about to begin a poetry or story or _______________ (you fill in the blank to suit your focus subject) odyssey, traveling the world of learning, I hold up this map. It’s small, I acknowledge, (it’s actually a plastic placemat that I bought for a buck at a big box store) so…here’s the attention grabber…I tell the students, “you’ll have to watch closely to see where I’m pointing to show you where we are and where we’re going.”

I might ask the class a search question…for example, “Can you find the southern neighbor of the United States? and invite a student to come forward and point to Mexico. The other students watch to see if he or she gets it right. What color is Mexico on this map? I ask a second easy-to- answer question to keep the class engaged. “Green is correct!” I praise everyone with a smile and follow up with the phrase, “and for us, green also means GO!” This signals the continuation of my lesson.

Eyes on the world map, let’s take a (imaginary) trip to Russia. See if you like Elena’s teachers’ tools and tricks, ones that she remembers from many years ago. (They must have some attention-ology power.)

For Science in Grades 2 – 4, Elena explains that her teacher would introduce two characters at the beginning of the school year…

  • Znaika, (Znay-ee-ka) a very knowledgeable boy with a big desire to learn who wore eyeglasses but no hat on his head and…
  • Nee-Znaika, (Ney-znay-ee-ka) a boy who wore a big pointy hat and always got in trouble.
In Russian, the word znai means knowledge. Guess which character is hiding under the hat in my blog pic below.

Who’s hiding under this pointed hat?

Hiding learning symbols, like the science-instruction characters Elena describes, under something like a hat that you can suddenly lift to divulge is a little theatrical attention-getting trick that wins children’s hearts and minds.
For Math in Grades 1 – 3, Elena says that her Russian teachers would use characters from popular cartoons, constructed of cardboard so that they could stand up, to teach counting. Elena recalls a favorite television character named Burahtino (Boo-rah-tee-no) who was the Russian version of Pinnochio. Elena describes Burahtino as “the cutest boy who ran away from his father to get rich.” Elena’s teachers would show the class toy gold coins, beginning with four that Burahtino had in his possession, and ask the children to count more coins for Burahtino. “Children in the early grades loved this activity,” Elena reports, “and they also loved the Matroshka (ma-troysh-ka), the Russian stacking dolls. If you’ve shopped at cultural events or boutiques selling Russian crafts, you’ve likely seen these traditional hand-carved, hand-painted wooden stacking dolls. The dolls’ colors and designs are based on costumes from different regions of Russia. According to Elena, the dolls are still used to help Russian elementary school students learn basic math.
Looking at Elena’s stacking dolls made me think of something new to help K – 2 students focus, something that merges a vocal cue with a visual cue. Teachers who use the popular attention-getting chant…” One…Two…Three…Eyes on me” to which students reply, “One…Two…Eyes on you!” could call out this chant while un-stacking and stacking back Russian stacking dolls, doll eyes facing the class, of course.
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

Re-focus Attention with Loneliness Busters!

August 29, 2011

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

When you welcome students back at the beginning of a new school year, after a vacation, or following an extended time away from class due to any reason, including natural or man-made disasters, you have an opportunity to catch and keep kids’ attention by introducing what I call loneliness busters.

Let’s face it…the world can be a scary or lonely place at times. Most adults have developed strategies for managing feelings of loneliness, but many of us still need “a shoulder to lean on” sometimes. Experienced educators know that children are less skilled at dealing with negative feelings. They benefit from guidance we can offer, including the admission that we sometimes feel lonely too. Loneliness knows no age limit.

When teachers creatively break through the barrier that negative feelings, like loneliness, can create between adults and children, we create communication lines that can help students gain a more positive sense of themselves and the world around them. In the process, teachers help children re-focus on learning in school so that they can be successful.

It’s usually – not always, but usually – easy to spot kids who are struggling with difficult feelings – shyness, loneliness, anger, frustration. I’ve had success with a loneliness buster that helps students in grades 3 – 5 get past bad feelings by writing about them. I invite them to write on a computer, like the student in my blog pic below, when one is available, or with pencil and paper.

Focused writing helps students

To introduce this activity I read a poem about loneliness that I’ve written (see below) and I read it aloud as a surprise – almost always on a day when my students seem a bit downhearted or more distracted than usual.

When I introduce this poem I tell the class that the title asks a question. We talk for a minute or two about why questions attract attention. Everyone knows the answer…a question needs an answer – that’s why! Then I ask them to listen for the question and think about their answer to it as they hear my poem…

Am I The ONLY One?

Am I the only one

Who sometimes feels lonely?


You feel lonely, too?

You do?

Then, that makes two who feel blue.

It’s not always easy to say

What makes me feel this way.

What exactly spoils your day?

People who don’t seem to care?

People too busy to stop and see

How lonely you may be?

At least now I know

That I am not the only one

Who feels I miss out

On some of the fun.

Thanks for telling me

That I’m not the only one.

Maybe it will help

For us to learn

How to better share what we feel.


Finding ways to be happier,

Now, that’s a BIG deal!

After I finish reading Am I The ONLY One? aloud I offer the class a choice...we can talk more together to see what answers students have to the title question (strictly on a voluntary basis – I never force students to share personal feelings in front of the class) or we can “climb into our private, quiet zones” and write individual poems about loneliness to share later.

At the close of class, I challenge the students to think of loneliness busters in addition to writing and to – what else – write them down!

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

Tell True Stories About You

August 1, 2011

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

Have you ever had the experience of bumping into one of your elementary school students away from school – let’s say at a local store, for example – when the student didn’t recognize you? Some children have trouble seeing teachers as people with lives outside of their classroom walls. Why? 

One of the reasons may be that educators are restrained from showing our personal sides – restrained by professional codes of conduct, time restrained, curriculum-driven, over-worked (and many would say underpaid). When we and our students share the same space we are usually at center stage in the classroom, not shopping alone or with families of our own.

So, here’s a question to consider…can we enhance our positive impact on K – 5 students by bringing our personal selves into our professional settings? That is, of course, in ways that conform to codes of conduct we’re expected to honor.

I believe that the answer is YES – a carefully controlled YES – but a definite YES! One way to make our personal selves known to our students is by telling true stories about ourselves – at thoughtfully chosen times and with specific intent.

For example, when I introduce a writing assignment that challenges children to plan and draft a personal narrative – a story about something that actually happened to them in their (short) lives, I promise to share a story that’s true about me to help them get ready to write. One story I share is titled, Tell Me Again, Mom. It’s the true story of my daughter’s adoption. The fourth graders who hear this story each year really enjoy it. I know so because my narrative generates a lot of questions and more importantly, some excellent student writing.

Other teachers have endorsed this teaching strategy, too. One fourth grade teacher I’ve worked with for several years told me of the story she tells her class about how she hated to read until she turned age ten. That was when her fifth grade teacher at the time invited her to dramatize different storybook characters from books assigned. The freedom this teacher felt in bringing characters to life, she says, sparked her love of reading, a love that continues to this day. This gifted fourth grade teacher delights in telling this personal story just before she begins chapter book reading aloud at the outset of each school year.

Telling true stories brings me to a deeply personal moment this week…I just returned from a memorial service to celebrate the life of my mother; she died earlier this month after a long battle with emphysema.

Remembering My Mother

Other members of my family and I offered “remembrances” during the service, and as I wrote mine I was reminded that my mother’s love of knowledge and the fun she had with words were the early foundations for my career as a professional writer and teacher. A part of my remembrance…

A week or so after my mother died I was looking through her desk. I re-read a piece of my own writing that Mom had kept. It’s titled, Oh, the Meaning of Mother! It’s based on definitions in the Illustrated Oxford Dictionary, a new edition I’d bought with some birthday money from Mom. The edited version is, I think a suitable tribute to my mother. I know it’s filled with love…

In the Illustrated Oxford Dictionary

you’ll find Mother just after moth-eaten,

How biting…moth-eaten means damaged and time-worn,

but Mother endures!

Count the dictionary definitions…

a quality or condition giving rise to another,

as in Necessity is the mother of invention.

How inventive was the life of my mother!

All mothers are connected through seasons of life

to the tides of mother earth,

to the binds of mother country,

to the bidding of mother figures.

Oxford calls older women sources of nurture and support.

The dictionary definitions of mother end with mother wit

and common sense,

For my mother, that’s a perfect fit!

Not all K – 5 teachers are mothers or fathers to their own children, but when we share our personal stories with students who sit before us day after day, we invite them into our lives almost as if they were part of our family…and they usually respond with love and respect. That’s why telling true stories about you can be an effective way to catch and keep your K – 5 kids’ 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

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

Betcha! – An Attention-Getting Trick

June 27, 2011

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

If the end of June means the beginning of a long summer break from school for you, let’s face it, FREEDOM is the glory word, fleeting though it may be! FOCUS is an academic word…who needs academics in the first weeks of FREEDOM! So, focusing on tools and tricks to catch and keep students’ attention – what my blog is all about –  may be the last thing on your mind right now.

But…isn’t there almost always a “but…” you may be like many teachers are – always tuned in to new ideas that will benefit your students by upping your teaching skills.

Or, you may live in the Southern Hemisphere where school is in session – this is the worldwide web – or you may be a Northern Hemisphere-based traditional calendar elementary school teacher who is also a parent of  K – 5 kids, looking for activities to keep your children busy while preventing brain drain.

It’s also possible that you are a teacher, an assistant or care-giver who works in a year-round school that operates through summer months, a pre-school, after-school program, summer camp, day camp, daycare that includes older siblings of pre-school children, or some other program that involves a young audience of learners. If so, this blog is for you! Whew…our world educational community is HUGE.

The word “huge” also describes the impact of an American man named Frederick Douglass. And, according to his autobiography, FREEDOM was also his glory word, but in a very different way.

Born into slavery in 1818 along the eastern shore of Maryland, a state now described in the US as mid-Atlantic, Frederick Douglass became a free man, social reformer, orator, writer and statesman.

Douglass is credited for using a masterful trick to enrich his own education.

He wrote in his autobiography of learning to read by tricking the white children in his neighborhood into teaching him how to spell. The trick? He would lean over their shoulders toward a book and say, “Bet you don’t know that word!”

Bet you don’t know this word!

Naturally, his free young peers would shout out that word, probably spell it too, and maybe even brag about knowing the definition. “Betcha don’t know that” can getcha a lot of knowledge when you’re a kid.

Beyond the tricks Frederick Douglass employed, he built his beliefs and career around the basic concept that educated people would (and do) want to be free.

Douglass didn’t even learn the alphabet until he was twelve. His slave owner’s wife introduced him to this foundation for reading and writing. Her efforts were risky because the laws of the day prohibited teaching slaves to read. Historical accounts of Douglass’ life describe slave owners of his pre-Civil War days being afraid that if slaves learned to read they would become dissatisfied with their conditions and want FREEDOM.

No matter what pathway we take this summer, we can choose to apply the inspired words of Frederick Douglass to our own journeys. Douglass wrote that “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.”

As educators in the twenty-first century, we and our students may not literally need to seek to be free, but we teachers can seek to gain more knowledge – more tools and simple tricks like “Betcha!” that may help our students soar to great heights.

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

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet