Is It Fair? Lining up.

It isn’t fair! The theme song of the world. It is true. Many things aren’t fair. Yet, whenever children can be shown a fairer way of doing something, they begin to get the message that – We can make an effort to be fair.

This idea is for the classrooms that line up to go places – lunch, recess, gym, music, art, assemblies, etc.

I used each idea for a week just to be consistent for myself. To be fair, short weeks have to get an extra day in somehow. You will find more and better ways.

For fun, have the children identify ways to be fair about lining up –  so everyone has a chance to be near the front..or back..or middle. 🙂

OPTIONS they may give or you can use.
1. Line up according to the rows: left to right, or right to left; front rows first or back rows.
2. Start with different corners of groups. If you are teaching cardinal points: north corner, south corner, east corner, and west corner.
3. Line up according to heights. (Don’t use this if someone is exceedingly tall or short. No point to making someone uncomfortable. I never used weight!)
4. Line up by birthdays, either the month or the day. Go backwards and forwards.
5. Line up alphabetically – first names or last names.
6. Surprise line ups.  Colors of shirts or shoes – black, blue, green, pink, purple, red, white, yellow.


Being fair is a teaching lesson in itself.


2006 March 1 download 288

Improve Writing with Student Critiques


It can look like a hodgepodge of ideas, but with direction writing improves.

All together - beauty.


NOTE: Find a way to put written work up front so all can read along. (In the olden days, I made a transparency and used the overhead. 🙂 )

To begin, I wrote my own piece and put it up– no editing, some proofing.  I casually asked the class to read it.

Then I read it to them and laughed at some of my mistakes. (This was to encourage them not to turn mistakes into ‘I can’t write.’)


I then stated that this piece needed some work, and I was going to critique it.

(NOTE: A critique is different from criticism. The purpose of a critique is to discern what is good and why; and what could be improved and why. Criticism, however, does not tend to focus on improvement and can leave a person feeling helpless.)


First, I posted a list of sentence stems that pointed toward compliments. After reading them aloud, I used them to talk about my piece.


“The topic was worth reading because…”

“The title fit the piece because….”

“The beginning was clear/good because….”

“This (phrase, sentence, word) was good because…”

“The ending was clear/good because…”


Next, these sentence stems were posted, read aloud and applied to my writing.


“The topic needed to be…. (clearer, more interesting, more focused) …because…

“The title didn’t fit the piece because…”  “I think that this title is better…”

“The beginning would be better if…. because…”

“If you add this (word, phrase, sentence) it will be better/more interesting because…)

“The ending would be better if…. because….”

At this point, I rewrote my piece with everyone watching and my talking my way through the update. (Students did not do this when they had their turns.)

After the next class writing activity, I asked if anyone wanted to critique their own paper. As a guideline, only three compliments and one improvement was allowed. (This was to encourage their willingness to share.)

As their comfort level increased, they were allowed to critique each other’s writing pieces. But only if! the student who wrote the piece, asked for class input.


VIGNETTE. Elise’s work was short and plain. As she listened to the other students’ critiques, I noticed that her writing was improving.  One day, she excitedly raised her hand and volunteered her paper.  She said, “I want to hear what is good about my paper, and get some help to make it better.”

Elise, you made my day!


1 Week = 1 Writing Assignment

At the beginning of the school year, students need time to process their thoughts so they can write them down.                   As the year progresses, they’ll have time during the week to find quotes or research information to enrich their work.

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MONDAY   Introduce the topic. Discuss it. Read aloud from books with that information. Show a video! Show images from the Internet! Fill their thoughts with ideas!  As you share, have them identify vocabulary words.  Post this list.

TUESDAY  Ask the students to give phrases that enrich the vocabulary. Record their phrases on the board.   (‘Tree’ might become ‘a forest of oak trees’)      Have the students suggest sentences. Write them down.

WEDNESDAY   Opening and closing sentences. Have the students look over the vocabulary and writing ideas and identify a main idea. Create opening sentences with them using that idea. Have them copy one or create their own opening sentence. LEAVE A SPACE/LINE FOR A TITLE! (For a younger group, have one opening sentence and everyone copies it.)

Discuss the role of a closing sentence. (It helps the reader know that you are done writing.)  It usually relates to the opening sentence.  Have the class suggest some examples. Write them on the board. They do not write/copy one yet!

THURSDAY   Talk about the topics they might use. They pick their favorite sentences – or write their own – and copy them after their opening sentence. Have the students choose and write a closing sentence – or write their own.

FRIDAY    Identify titles.  Because they have chosen their own sentences, their titles may be different. Have them read their sentences and then have class help the reader to decide a title. List different suggestions on the board.  Now, have them write the title. Some children can make a final copy.  Others may ‘fix or finish‘.  Anyone who is done early, can draw an illustration or read the related materials you made available. (Let them share new ideas that they find out.) (NOTE There were times when a student was allowed to make a final copy at home and illustrate it. Be sure you have a copy before it goes out the door. 🙂  )

NOTE   Because so much of their work is being copied each day, encourage the students who are done quickly to add their own sentences.  Have them share their results with a partner who is doing the same thing. Partners are someone of their own ability level.

As weeks go by, the writing pattern becomes clearer.  Encourage using their own vocabulary and sentences. With the repetition of the same pattern and enrichment from sharing their sentences and the related materials, you will produce a classroom of grand writers.



Improve That Spelling!

IMG_2250 pink flower

SPELLING.  Add it to the grade?  Ignore it to encourage writing?

What do we do to have better spellers!

How can we teachers keep spelling a success story?  These ideas I’ve used or observed other teachers use.

See what works for you.

1. Post the basic words on a chart – alphabetized. This teacher had it just below the ceiling where everyone could see it.

2. Before the next ‘topic-based’ writing assignment, create a word list.  Alphabetize it and post it in plain view.

3. As they are writing, allow them to say aloud a word that they need. Either you spell it out loud or write it on the board. Sometimes another student will spell it! I saw this used in a first grade classroom.

4. Put a paper strip on the edge of each desk. As you walk around, read their work over their shoulders. Record any misspelled word on the slip. Put a pencil dot on the line where the word is found. Be alert to those students who are distracted by this process.

5. Each student has a theme notebook. Writing about spring? Put the word ‘Spring’ on the top, generate on the board a list of words that might be used. They copy. Maybe a picture, next to the word? Thematic lists work best in a notebook. An alphabetized notebook means they have to stop writing and search  – which they often won’t do.

6. Enhance that confidence! When beginning a writing assignment, ask the students to suggest any words that they think they might need. Put their words on the board.

7. Allow the great spellers to review another student’s writing and put the words on a separate list. The writer can now fix their own words. This great speller could be you!  The writer can staple the list and the name of their great speller at the bottom. Then you know who helped. The list tells you what words they needed.

8. Tell the students to lightly circle a word they need to spell correctly, so you can write it on their ‘word slip.’ Note: It reduces a sense of ‘I can’t write because I can’t spell’. Plus,they are analyzing their work for mistakes as they write!

9. The student puts the first letter and a line where the word is needed. As you go by, tell them or write down the spelling word.

Spelling is important. Keep it part of the writing process and keep them writing.


Open-ended Questions Focus the Class

Lilies wide open!

An open-ended question expands the students’ thinking and captures the class.  Use this type of question to-

Begin a lesson. It will focus the students’ thoughts on what you are about to teach.

Review the end of a lesson or a unit. You will find out what they know and don’t know before the test.

Identify ideas for assignments in: writing/science/research.


To begin, construct a question that has multiple answers and is related to the theme of the lesson or the unit. I highly recommend trying this question yourself. A question with two or four answers will not work!

For instance,

How many ways… [do animals move?]

What are all the… [adjectives for the word forest?]

What are the items… [ in a Conestoga wagon?]

What are the combinations of… [the elements…the colors…or the digits from 1 to 5?]

Which [African animals] can we research?

What do we know about [water]?


Put the question on the board, and let them begin! Record their answers on the board, to honor their ideas. Plus, it helps piggy back to new ideas. Keep it positive and upbeat. If an answer seems a little wrong, let it go – the goal is lots of answers! They will notice later that the answer didn’t work.

VIGNETTE.  I was practicing this teaching technique with another teacher’s class. They had finished studying the arctic, and the open-ended question was to help them review what they had learned.    I asked, “What would happen to a polar bear if the arctic temperature went up twenty degrees?”  Their basic answers were: “He would be hot. His hair would fall out. He would move away.” That was it!    I looked over to the teacher who immediately provided a better question: “What would happen to the arctic if the arctic temperature went up twenty degrees?”  The answers flew!  I couldn’t write their responses fast enough on the board.   The question had needed a larger theme.

VIGNETTE: As an introduction to WWII, the students were asked two general open-ended questions, “What causes people to get into arguments?” and “What happens when people argue?” After recording answers to the first question on the board, they were asked to discuss the second question with a partner. For homework, they were to interview anyone they knew who had fought in a war with the question, “How do disagreements escalate into wars?” [These were high school students.]

Participation: Keep it positive and upbeat. If an answer seems a little wrong, let it go – the goal is lots of answers. During the followup discussion, items can be dropped – with a smile of course.