Saturday, August 30, 2014


You deserve a break this weekend because something exciting is happening!  It's the beginning of college football season!!!  Whether you like the game or not, it's the perfect springboard for engaging children in some of these learning activities.  This is a repeat from last year (Remember how important repetition is!), but as I read over these ideas it was clear how they connected with brain research and standards.  So, choose your favorite high school, college, or NFL team and get ready to kick off a great fall!

College Goals – It’s never too early to plant seeds of attending college in your students.  Give them a dream and a goal!  One school I visited displayed pennants of the schools where the teachers graduated from in the front hall.  Have the children brainstorm all the colleges and universities in your area.  Talk about why it is important to go to college.  Encourage your students to think about where they would like to go to college.  Give them paper shaped like pennants to decorate with their college dream.
Math – Let children do surveys of favorite college teams.
Graph favorite teams.
Predict who will win the game.  Who was right?  Who was wrong?
Predict what the score will be.  Who was closest?
Let children choose a favorite player and write their number on a jersey.  How many math facts can they think of to equal that number?

Social Studies – Use a map of the United States and locate where games will be played.

Internet Search – Look up team mascots and colors.  Listen to college fight songs.  Do exercises to fight songs.

Art – Cut pictures of players out of the newspaper or sports magazines.  Challenge children to write creative stories about favorite players.  They could also write letters to favorite players.

Guest Readers – Invite a local high school football team and cheerleading squad to visit your school to read books.  There’s nothing more motivating to a young child than to see someone in a uniform model how “cool” it is to read!

Teacher says:  How do you feel?
Students bend over like they are hiking a ball and in a gruff voice say: We feel good.  Huh! 
You're A - W - E       S - O - M - E  (Clap on letters.)
Awesome!  Awesome!
Totally!!!  (Hands on hips with an attitude.)

Team Mascots
This game can be adapted to any school mascot, action hero, or seasonal character.  Since I graduated from the University of Georgia, UGA was my first choice.  This is a quick, simple game that can be played with any age level or any skill that needs to be reinforced.  It’s the perfect game if you’ve got a few minutes before lunch or a few minutes at the end of the day.
WHY?         shapes, colors, letters, words, numerals, math facts, etc.
WHAT?       flash cards, picture of a favorite school mascot
HOW?         Have children sit in a circle and encourage them to identify the
information on the flash cards as you place them on the floor.  Tell the children to turn around and hide their eyes.  Take “UGA” and slip it under one of the flash cards.  The children turn back around and raise their hand if they think they know where UGA is hiding.  One at a time, have children call out a word, letter, shape, etc., and then look under that card.  The game continues until a child finds UGA.  That child may then be “it” and hide the mascot.
*Use a pocket chart to play this game.  Arrange the flash cards in the pocket chart and then hide the mascot under one of the cards as the children hide their eyes.
More?              Make a concentration game using various college mascots.
Make a matching game where children match mascots to college names.
What characteristics do you need to dress up and be a school mascot?
Have children write which mascot they would like to be and why.

Friday, August 29, 2014


Get rid of wiggles and learn at the same time with these kinesthetic activities. 

Sports Spelling
Act out different sports as you spell words.

Football – Pretend to hike the ball as you say letters. Throw a touchdown pass as you say the word.

Basketball – Bounce the pretend ball on letters and throw a basket as you say the word.

Soccer – Kick slightly on the letters and then score a goal as you say the word.

Baseball – Swing on the letters and hit a homerun and turn around on the word.

Hint! Let children suggest different sports and movements.

Cheering Words
Children stand and step from side as they clap and cheer words:
Give me a B. B! I’ve got a B, you’ve got a B.
Give me an E. E! I’ve got an E, you’ve got an E.
Give me a D. D! I’ve got a D, you’ve got a D.
What’s it spell? BED! Say it again. BED!
One more time. BED!
Spell out words or count as you do toe touches, jumping jacks, march, box, and make other motions.

Karate Writing - For letters that start at the top dotted line, punch up high. For letters that start at the middle dotted line, punch out in front. For letters with a tail that go below the line, give a little kick. When finished, fold hands together, bow, and say, “the alphabet.”
            A – punch from waist
            B – punch up in the air
            C – punch from waist
            D – punch up in the air
            E – punch from the waist
            F – punch up in the air
            G – give a little kick…etc.

*Use karate writing for spelling names, word wall words, vocabulary, etc.
*Do “ballerina spelling” by placing hands over the head for tall letters, in front, or down low. Turn in a circle as you say the completed word.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Do you think I’m making all this stuff up?  The truth is you know what works for children.  They tell you if they are making the connections in their brains by their behavior – eyes light up, faces are animated, bodies are attentive.  I had taught for decades before I was introduced to “brain research” about 15 years ago.  I remember reading everything I could get my hands on and thinking, “I know that!  Yep!  I know that!”  If you are a teacher you intuitively know what works!

I thought it might be interesting to do a brain break on two of my favorite “brainy” books for you today.  It validates and reaffirms the necessity of games, singing, movement, and best practices.

Here are some of Jensen’s rules for strengthening memory:
            Foster attention
            Ask questions
            Use novelty
            Use movement
            Group and regroup
            Use rhyme and songs
            Use repetition
            Rehearse, review
            Use error correction with feedback

John Medina BRAIN RULES (Pear Press, 2008)
Take a look at some of Medina’s principles:
            Exercise – Exercise boosts brain power
            Wiring – Every brain is wired differently
            Attention – We don’t pay attention to boring things
            Short-term memory –Repeat to remember.
            Long-term memory – Remember to repeat.
            Sensory integration – Stimulate more of the senses

See, you already knew those things, didn’t you.  We’re on the same page when it comes to things that work in the classroom.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


I was doing some web research and I came across this tip for learning a new skill:
            1st   Repeat it out loud.
            2nd  Repeat it as you visualize using the skill.
            3rd  Repeat it with a partner.

It’s a simple formula that could be adapted to many things that our students are expected to master.  Having students say things out loud or visualizing them in their brain is something I know you all do.  Isn’t peer teaching (repeating with a partner) something that you might do a little more often?
Each week pair children up to be “study buddies” for the week.  (This will eliminate the confusion of finding a partner.)  If they need help with an assignment, they can go to their study buddy.  They can also do the activities below.

Partner Teach – One student pretends they are the teacher and demonstrates or explains something to a friend.  Then they switch places.

Partner Coach – One student demonstrates a skill while the other student “coaches” (corrects, makes suggestions).  Switch places.

Partner Retell – After listening to a story children get a partner and retell the story.  After a lesson they can explain two new things they learned.

Partner Recall – Before children go home at the end of the day have them recall something they learned and something they did that made them feel proud.

Back Writing – Study buddies take turns making letters, shapes, numerals, spelling words, etc. on their partner’s back.  After the partner guesses correctly they can change places.
*Hint!  Pass out pictures of ears and mouths.  The student holding the ear listens while the student with the mouth speaks.  Switch cards.
Buddy Sticks - You can also put like stickers or matching letters or numerals on the ends of craft sticks.  Child match sticks to find their partner.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Children have different learning strengths, so these ideas might be especially beneficial to your kinesthetic learners.

Rainbow Writing
Write letters, numbers, shapes, words on a sheet of paper.  Children trace over the figure many different times using different colors of crayons or markers.  Encourage them to repeat what the figure is as they trace over it.
Body Writing
Let children make shapes, letters, words, etc. in the air with different body parts.  They could use their invisible finger, elbow, foot, or write on a friend’s back.  Tummy writing where they lay on the floor and then extend an index finger and write is another powerful technique.

Palm Pilot
Children hold up one palm and then use the index finger from the other hand to write on it.  Model for the children as you explain:
            Show me your palm pilot.  Let’s write letter, number, shape, word on it.
            Take it to your brain.  (Pretend to run fingers up your arm to your head.)
            Let’s write it again.  (Write on palm.)
            Take it to your brain.  (Run fingers to brain.)
            Better write it one more time just to make sure we remember it!
            (Write and then take it to the brain once again.)

Sign Language
What could be more sensory and engaging than sign language!  Use sign language to introduce letters or teach signs for words. is an excellent free website with manual signs for the letters as well as videos that demonstrate words and phrases.

Good Teaching Is Good Teaching
I will close today with something I learned over 40 years ago in a book called “Teacher” by Sylvia Ashton Warner.  One of her successful strategies was to write a word with a crayon.  She then asked the child to trace over the word as they said it.  That way the child could “see” the word and “feel” the word. 
Talk about multi-sensory!  How many of you have taken the ice bucket challenge?
My husband took the bucket and I wrote the check!!

Monday, August 25, 2014


Whatever the age or activity, repetition is key to learning a new skill. You have to practice until you learn what works and what doesn’t work. Most research suggests you must repeat something 7 times and possibly as many as 12-15 or more times. With children you often have to use encouragement to motivate them to want to practice. 

Purposeful Practice for Automaticity

Now, that’s a phrase that will impress others! Basically, it means when teaching children a new skill they have to practice it until it becomes automatic. Some students with good visual memory skills can remember a sight word after one time. Some students with good auditory skills can remember the tune to a song after singing it one time. Some students with strong motor skills can remember dance steps after doing them one time. Students learn in three main ways: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. This highlights the importance of providing different learning experiences to meet the needs of the different learners in your classroom.

That’s Boring!
Worksheets and repetitive drill can be boring to children, so take a look at these ideas. They can be adapted from preschool to primary grades by changing the content from colors and shapes to letters and words and math facts.

*The more senses you activate, the more likely the message will get to the brain, and that’s why you’ll find at least two senses (eyes, ears, or motor) in each one. These ideas are simple, quick, and FREE!

Hands Up
Each week cut out 2 hands and write skills you want your students to practice on the hands. Every time they go in and out the door they “high five” the hands and repeat the information. For older students use five hands. The teacher stands at the door and calls out a word or math fact and the students touch the appropriate hand. 

Write a letter, word, shape, math fact, etc. on an index card each day and tape it to a visor. One student is the “super” visor of the day. The supervisor stands at the door and does not let friends go out until they say the information on the visor.

Name Badge
Again, write letters, words, numbers, etc. on paper cut to fit in a name badge. Children wear the name badges and walk around the room and greet friends referring to them as the information on the badge. For example: “Hello T.” “Hello M.”

Cut construction paper 1 ½” x 7”. Write skills on the paper and then tape to children’s wrists like a bracelet. During the day frequently call attention to the bracelet by saying, “Show me___.” “Shout out what’s on your bracelet?” “Tell your parents 3 times tonight what is on your bracelet.”

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Thank you for giving me something to do! If I didn’t write this blog and you didn’t read it, I might have to take up golf or bridge! This is a whole lot more fun, so I am grateful to you for keeping me an intentional learner!!! I thought I’d do a few posts on intentional teaching, but I’ve been sitting in front of the computer for two weeks really putting my brain cells to the test. (It just might be my next book, but it’s yours for FREE!)

Have you ever watched the Food Network show “Chopped”? They give the chefs the ingredients and they have to figure out what to do with them to make something that tastes delicious. Isn’t your job as an educator similar? They give you the ingredients and you have to figure out what to do with them so they “taste” good to children.

INTENTIONAL LEARNING is one of the current buzz words in education. There is actually a website dedicated to intentional learning ( Intentional learning means you act purposefully with a goal in mind. Intentional teachers set up activities and the environment so the students can accomplish those goals. This is nothing new – we’ve always made games, songs, and centers to help children master skills.

In early childhood we have traditionally encouraged more incidental learning where children can explore and discover on their own. Intentional learning just seems to be a little more focused. It’s not an either–or, but a both–and. There’s a place for intentional learning (teacher-directed) as well as incidental learning (child-directed) in the classroom and in life.

Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned on my web research. (It’s basically what I learned in Curriculum 101 forty-five years ago.)
Set your goals.
Choose content and activities to accomplish those goals.
Motivate and engage with your students.
Evaluate student performance and then set new goals and the cycle starts all over again.

Explicit instruction is a key component of intentional teaching. Explicit instruction is structured, systematic, and direct.
1st Provide students with the reason to learn the new skill.
2nd Introduce skills in small steps using examples and modeling.
3rd Use a variety of teaching strategies.
4th Give students guided practice with feedback.

I was visiting with some teachers recently and we were discussing the fact that in some districts focus goals must be displayed in learning centers. One teacher remarked, “If you ask a child who is playing in blocks what they are doing they will say, ‘I’m playing in blocks.’” They might be sorting blocks, measuring with blocks, building a house for the Three Bears, cooperating with a small group - but to them it’s playing in blocks.

Intentional instruction is important, but the “hidden curriculum” (social, emotional, and physical) is also critical! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

                              Balance, balance, balance!

Over the next few weeks I will attempt to put theory into practice with games and activities to make intentional learning more meaningful and FUN. Let’s see what I can find in my box of ingredients!!  I hope you're hungry!

Here are a few websites if you want to learn more: