Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fun Elementary Lessons - Use Surprises and Silliness to Motivate the Student

A fun way to motivate a student is to pack your lessons full of surprises and silliness. Positive emotions enhance learning and motivation. Your boys will have strong and lasting memories if they are experiencing strong emotions while they are learning.

If you can make something fun, exciting, happy, loving, or perhaps even a bit frightening, students will learn more readily and the learning will last much longer. Emotions can be created by classroom attitudes, by doing something unexpected or outrageous, by praise, and by many other means. Surprises and silliness make lessons so much more memorable for your boys!

Fun elementary lessons could begin with you teaching the class in period costume, acting like a mad scientist when you are doing a science experiment, or having everyone sing their answers. Don't be afraid to embarrass yourself to make a memorable point.

Try motivating your students by using these surprises and silliness techniques:

  • Be Energetic - Being energetic in your teaching is a motivating factor in itself; adding energy to the ideas you want to convey will further enhance learning and commitment to the ideas.
  • Catch! - Throw soft candy, like circus peanuts, into your students' mouths if they get the answer right.
  • Crafts - Let your kids have time to make a fun and unusual craft. This is good for their imagination as well as giving them a break from their traditional book work.
  • Dancing - Jump up and start dancing during a lesson. Your boys will jump up and join you - it's a great way to get the wiggles out as well as to get the blood pumping when the boys are acting lethargic.
  • Enthusiasm - If you become bored or apathetic, students will too. Typically, an instructor's enthusiasm comes from confidence, excitement about the content, and genuine pleasure in teaching. If you find yourself uninterested in the material, challenge yourself to devise the most exciting way to present the lesson.
  • Humor - Allow your boys to express humor in appropriate ways and at appropriate times. Acknowledge your son's skill at being humorous. Sometimes, you just have to have a sense of humor about a boy's sense of humor. Don't allow yourself to become annoyed at their antics - be in the right frame of mind and they will brighten up your day.
  • Mud - Let your sons put on bathing suits and roll around in a bunch of mud if they do their schoolwork well that day. And let them run through the sprinkler to get cleaned up again.
  • Music - Sing their lessons to them. You can also accompany yourself on a musical instrument that you have at home - whether you know how to play the instrument or not. Have your boys join you in singing the lessons as well.
  • Outside - Move their desks or table outside without them realizing you've done so and have them do their lessons outdoors for the day. This is a great spring or fall surprise!
  • Pies- Let students throw a pie in your face if they get 100% on a test.
  • Play Dead - Have a guest come in a play dead and let your sons solve a murder mystery. This will help to strengthen their reading and logic skills.
  • Strange Voices - Use strange voices when you are teaching the lesson. Or, allow your boys to use silly voices when they give their answers.
  • Stunts - This is a great way for Dad to get involved with homeschooling. Have him offer to have his head shaved or to run a marathon if they achieve a certain level of work.
  • Visual aids - Use silly pictures or cartoons to get across the point of the lesson.

Different approaches will motivate students differently. Use your imagination to continue to try new ideas out on your boys, until you discover which methods work best for them. Fun elementary lessons motivate students and help them to remember the information longer as well. Add surprises and silliness to your lessons and bring the fun back into your boys' learning.

Michelle Caskey has been homeschooling her sons for five years. Michelle graduated from the Western Michigan University with a degree in English and Computer Science. Read more of her homeschooling articles at

Tiered Activities - Give Students Choices

Give students a choice of literacy-related activities that each one can meet at his or her own level. To insure that you ask all students to think at high levels, invite students who choose projects that feature art, movement, or drama to make a class presentation and link their project to some of the big ideas you want students to understand. What follows is a list of choice projects my middle school students enjoy.

POSTERS. Students can design posters to advertise a completed book and its author. Have them include bulleted reasons why the book is a terrific read or why they disliked it.

GRAPHIC TEXT. Invite students to turn a scene from their book into a cartoon putting all the dialogue into speech bubbles. During their presentations, students explain why they selected this scene, and how it related to the genre, issues, or themes their class has been discussing.

ADVERTISEMENT. With students study ads for books in magazines such as The Horn Book and School Library Journal. Next, have students create an advertisement for a book you've enjoyed and share it with classmates.

BOOK TALKS. Each month you can ask students to choose a book they've completed and present a book talk. Book talks can focus on explaining a genre, showing changes in a character, making personal connections to a character, or explaining the importance of the information in a nonfiction text. Keep book talks short and focus--2 to 3 minutes.

TIMELINES. Have students select four to six key events in their book. They can focus on a specific character, several settings, or key plot events. In addition to illustrating the timeline, students can also write captions for each illustration. As part of their presentation, students can explain how their timeline showcases a theme or big idea they found in their book.

STUDENT-LED BOOK DISCUSSIONS. Organize students into small groups, giving each student a chance to talk about his or her independent reading book. Instead of having students retell the plot, ask them to choose an open-ended question such as: What did your book teach you about the issue we've been discussion? Did the book change your mind about the issue? How is the information in this book important to your life? To your community? To the world? Did a character in this book connect you to your own experiences? Explain. Explain how the main character solved a major problem? Would you have done this differently? Explain.

DRAMATIC MONOLOGUES. Have students choose a character and imagine what it is like to be him or her. Ask students to write about two important events in the character's life, including the character's thoughts and feelings, using the first person. Students can then perform their monologues for the entire class. Monologues are a great segway to whole class discussions for the student-audience can share their observations and and ask questions of the presenter.

INTERVIEW. This works well if both students have read the same book. Partners create interview questions based on the plot, characters, conflicts, decisions, and take turns being the interviewer and person being interviewed.

MOVIEMAKING. Have a small group of students choose a scene that they can act out and film with a video camera. Students get to know their characters as they translate them from the book to the camera and screen Groups share their videos with the class. Individuals can make movies of a favorite scene in a book by drawing movie frames on shelving paper. The presenter unrolls the scroll, frame by frame and discusses the event.

POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS. Ask students to choose four to five important events in a character's life and create a PowerPoint presentation to share with the class. Students can include both images and text. Allow time for presenters to field questions from classmates.

TEXT MESSAGING BETWEEN CHARACTERS. Invite students to choose two characters from their book or two people from a biography who interacted a lot. Using their cell phone, students can create a series of text messages that these characters or people might have exchanged based on the events the characters or people lived through. Ask students to explain how they determined what these characters or people would text about. Have students create a hard copy of these text messages.

CREATE A BLOG. Set up a blog with a character's name and write responses to questions classmates ask using all the knowledge you have about that character. Or you can react to a book and/or author that peers have also read and invite them to start and continue a dialogue about the book or author.

Laura Robb is the author of "Differentiating Reading Instruction: How to Teach Reading to Meet the Needs of Each Student". Published in January 2008, it is the natural "next-steps" book to Robb's best-selling Teaching Reading in Middle School, published in 2000, which received rave reviews and continues to sell in large numbers. This new book reflects and offers ways to deal with the fact that middle school classes include students reading at a diverse range of instructional levels.

To learn more about Robb's books, classroom libraries, books that Robb Recommends, teaching and parent tips, to view her speaking calendar, and to contact her visit her web site at

Resourceful Teacher - How To Reuse Worksheets For New Do Now Activities

Did you ever think about using those worksheets for Do Now Activities in the morning?

Those used worksheets can be utilized all week to teach or reinforce learned material or review. They can be used for different activities such as writing, reading comprehension, vocabulary building and more.

As teachers we have a tendency to copy lots of worksheets that are use only once. As I wrote in a previous article we know that Do Now Activities are very important in setting the tone of your class and establishing your class as one where students come to work and not waste time and goof off.

By utilizing used worksheets more then once it eliminates a lot of extra copy work and in turn saves trees. When teachers utilize used worksheets it enables us to show our class that even this small activity can impact the ecology by:

  • saving valuable budget money for paper
  • saving energy by not running the copy machine
  • saving money on repairs of the copy machine
  • saving money by not buying toner
  • setting an example to students on conserving resources
  • most important we are saving a very important natural resource trees

One of the easiest ways to start being a resourceful teacher in the area of reusing worksheets is to start using them for vocabulary building. Once a worksheet is used have the students make lists of nouns, adjectives, verbs or any other form of vocabulary lists from the worksheet. Once these lists are made you can do the following activities:

  • using a list of nouns have them divide the list into common nouns by person, place or thing. Using the same list have them divide them in proper nouns and give you the common noun that goes with the proper noun.
  • Using the list of adjectives have them partner the adjective with a noun to describe it.
  • using adjectives have them write synonyms, and antonyms for each one
  • using a list of verbs have them write the verb in different grammar tense then us in a sentence.

Even if you are teaching a foreign language these activities can be used:

  • if you teach Spanish have them use these lists for translation activities
  • then have them use the words in sentences
  • have them convert those sentences into the past tense or future test.
  • if you are using verbs have them write those verbs in the form of the eight pronoun for example hacer; yo hago, tu haces, el hace, ud. hace and so on.
  • if you are using a list of nouns have them divide the list into common nouns by person, place or thing.
  • Using the same list have them divide them into proper nouns and give you the common noun that goes with the proper noun.

Using the list of adjectives have them partner the adjective with a noun to describe it.

These are just a few activities to get you started there will be more to come. Just wetting your teacher whistle. Happy teaching.

Written by a veteran teacher of 32 years who hopes to give new teachers tried and true strategies that work. Come join me at and look for the educationfiary.


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