Decision Making. Cinderella’s Trip to the Ball

Decision making – a logical process or a fast flight by the seat of one’s pants!?

This is the logical process. From Choices to Criteria, let’s see how Cinderella uses decision making as she considers the best way to go to the Prince’s ball.

goat and cart : Goat and farm animals

A goat pulling a cart is one travel choice for Cinderella.

5 Steps to Make a Decision

State the Question

Identify the Choices

List the Criteria

Comparing Choices

The Result


STATE THE QUESTION  Her fairy godmother asks, “Cinderella, what is the best way for you to go to the ball?”

IDENTIFY THE CHOICES Cinderella thinks about the local transportation. “Well, I could take…

a wagon, a stagecoach, or a goat pulling a cart; or  ride horseback, or take a horse-drawn carriage.”

LIST THE CRITERIA Cinderella ponders…

a. Will people see me easily as I go by them?

b. Will my dress stay clean?

c. Will I impress the Prince?

COMPARING CHOICES Cinderella compares the five local transportation choices. She decides 5 ways to compare them. Be sure to rank them 1- 5 in each column, Cinderella. Then total the points.

1. means No Way     2. means Probably Not    3. means It Might Work

4. means It Will Probably Work Out     5. means Absolutely It Will Work


…………………..Easily seen ……………..Stays clean……….Looks impressive…………………..

WAGON                 3                                    3                                2             TOTAL:  8

STAGECOACH     1                                    5                                4             TOTAL: 10

GOAT CART         2                                   1                                 1             TOTAL:  4

HORSEBACK       5                                   2                                 3            TOTAL: 10

CARRIAGE           4                                   4                                 5            TOTAL: 13


FINAL RESULT Cinderella will be taking a horse drawn carriage to the ball!

Best of all – Her fairy godmother promised her four white horses and a footman! She will arrive in style.


horse and carriage : drawing carriage and horses. Silhouette on white background

Creative Thinking. Cinderella Cleans the Fireplace


Creative thinking is everywhere – from smart phones to photography – it’s our world and our future!

To insert a little thinking into an age old fairy tale, let’s find out how Cinderella might clean the fireplace.

Cinderella, the fireplace needs cleaning!

         4 Steps to Creative Thinking





THE SITUATION  Cinderella’s step-sisters want the filthy fireplace to look good – and fast!

THE QUESTION How many ways can Cindy get a clean-looking fireplace fast?

GUIDELINES Identify sensible answers and/or include fun/fantasy.

RESULTS  As students share ideas, write the key words or icons on the board.         (This gives them time to think of the next idea and honors their ideas.)

Sensible answers may include: – Use a big broom and a bucket of hot soapy water.     – Get lots of rags and scrub!

Imaginative answers may include.   – Ask the birds to go up the chimney with long pieces of cloth.  – Use white paint to cover the dirt.  – Hide the dirt with big flower pots and trailing vines.

NOTE At the end, compare the answers to the question. Some of these results work only if time is not a factor.  By allowing fun answers, better sensible answers are found.


-Have the students write a story describing how Cinderella cleans the fireplace.

-Draw and label  illustrations of the steps involved.



Other ideas for Creative Thinking.

Science. Identify ways water is used in our world.                                           History. Find ways for Columbus to deal with a mutiny.                                           Math. What happens if the measuring cups are the wrong sizes?

Real Life. Movies… shoes… vacations… all the many, varied and unusual options, please!

Remember. Use a clear question and set guidelines.                                 Encourage students to use one answer to generate another – it’s called piggy backing.

Note. There will be laughter! –  a sure sign that creative thinking is taking place.  If only sensible answers are needed, remind them the answers must be useful. Silliness can get in the way. You decide.


Creative thinking enriches teaching lessons – they make a great review, support other thinking skills, and keep school interesting.

A REVIEW QUESTION. To review the students’ understanding of the Arctic, I asked – What are the many, varied, and unique ways the Arctic would change if the temperature went up ten degrees?  They filled the board with answers!


Log Lines. Awesome Introductory Sentences

In five words, what is our book about?

Tell me the log line for our book.

A log line is found describing movies and books. As a summary of entire book in one sentence is makes an immediate connection to the entire story.  A friend said to compare it to speaking to someone while riding an elevator. When asked, “What you do?” you quickly tell what your book is about –  the log line. (If you teach writing, think ‘introductory sentence’. Learning to write log lines for books students have read, transfers well to writing introductory sentences for the book report.)

As I worked on my book’s log line, I found myself  in an analysis mode. My beginning attempt for my book Can Dragons and Frogs Be Friends? was  “Melville and Throckmorton learn to get along when they have to help each other  – a single event leads to a broken promise, burnt feathers and fur, and finally to friendship –   the war between dragons and frogs comes to an end when a dragon egg appears.”  Quite a log line, eh?…

My son, the movie goer, explained,  “You need to summarize the essence of the idea behind the story. You’re using too many details.”

I reread my book reviews.  I reread the ‘Hollywood Coverage’ project in which my book was laid out in five paragraphs. What essence?

My website design person chose quotes from the book reviews. “Friendship against all odds.”  “‘An epistolary fantasy.”   “A sweet narrative about dragons and frogs finding peace.”  None of them was a log line.

Perhaps this was it:  “An ancient rhyme of 3000 years is challenged by a dragon egg.”   No names.  No characters. No Great Forest nor Deep Pond. No broken promises nor rescue. Was this my log line? No. Too short.

Having a YouTube made, new ideas emerged as the film editor asked specific questions. The answer to the final question, “Why should someone buy your book?” was “Because this book teaches a child to forgive his enemy by having enough compassion to  forget the past.”

This was it! The quick ‘elevator answer’ I was seeking.  My log line at last.


VIGNETTE. A few days later, I had a meeting in a 30 story business building. I stepped into an elevator next to a young man. We nodded.  Before I could open my mouth, we had zipped up twenty-two floors. As he held the door, I stepped out,  reached into my purse, and handed my fellow traveler a postcard of the book cover with notes on the back, smiled and said, “Share this!”  It wasn’t my  logline….

Ah well. will tell more.


LOG LINE. Can Dragons and Frogs Be Friends? is about having the courage to overcome the fear of a bully; and the compassion to forgive and forget the past.




Individualize Students’ Worksheets

A future WALL-E world.

A future WALL-E world.

Teaching first grade for the first time, my experienced co-teachers offered to help. Each Monday morning, they left a stack of worksheets for the week. We’re talking of a stack at least eight inches high! The stacks of papers reminded me of WALL-E, a children’s animated film of our world covered in trash. Reading, practice printing, math, the seasons, the holidays, coloring, cut outs – no worksheet was left out.

I was worried. While teaching fourth grade, my principal had admonished me, “If you hand it out, hand it back the next day.” Were my evenings about to be filled with correcting worksheets?

As many teachers know, students can finish their worksheets faster than you can hand them out much less correct them. Why?  Because the usual worksheet directions are too simple.

Fill in the blank.
Circle the right answer.
Put an ‘x’ on the picture that doesn’t fit.
Write in the correct word.
Color the right answer.
Put a check by.


Looking at the coming week’s stack of papers, I thought: “How can the children learn, and I have my evenings free?”

The idea came: Let them create their own worksheets – let them individualize their worksheets!

For example: Learning Shapes. Each child receives a blank piece of paper, pencil and crayons. Samples of the shapes being learned are posted on the board with labels. Directions for their work might be: “What shapes are on the board? What makes that shape special? Today, you will use the shapes to draw a cat (Or an animal.) Use three different shapes.” Color? “Fill in your shapes with solid colors and designs – stripes, bubbles, even waves!”  There was no end to the possibilities! To make sure they knew the shape, I said, “Write the names of the shapes you used on the back of your picture and draw the shape next to it.”

Correcting them was a breeze. There were lots of great grades! We shared them with partners, posted them in the hall, and took them home.

My co-teachers? After two weeks of noticing that the stacks were untouched, no more were brought. Oddly enough, they never asked what my students did for practice work.



Vocabulary and Definitions. Are they writing sentences that focus on vocabulary definitions? Have them use part of the word’s definition from the dictionary in the sentence with the word.  Directions: “Look up each word. Choose part of the definition that makes sense.  Write a sensible sentence using the word and the part of the definition that makes sense.”  (This last note is so they choose a definition that fits what is being studied.)

Any Assignment. Let them choose a few of the options you offer. Or, use Creative Thinking and let them identify options and then choose.

Writing Sentences for Vocabulary Homework.  Combining a vocabulary word with a theme idea makes sentence writing go more quickly.  Before the students go home, use Creative Thinking and have them  identify themes.   For example: lunchroom, sports, the beach, zoo or farm animals. Directions: “Write one sentence for each vocabulary word and use the theme you chose.”

Fractions. You provide the list of fractions. They create their own examples of fraction pictures and share with others. ( For example: one fourth can be one fourth of a pie or a hubcap or a package of gum or the number of cars in a parking lot.) Directions: “Choose something to draw. Be sure it can be divided into equal parts.  Draw the picture. Divine it into ___ equal parts (The denominator.) Color in the parts that match the fraction. (The numerator.)

Illustrations. Move from words to pictures whenever possible as many students recall better from what is seen. Directions: “Draw a picture of the story with five details from the story.”  Option: “List the details on the back of the picture.”


Two benefits of individualized worksheets: No one can copy someone else’s homework. Students enjoy doing something that includes creativity.


Addition with 10’s


Discovering 10 Facts in Addition

Using analytical thinking, this three-part approach begins with how to find the 10 facts.

In the second part, the student discovers and practices the addition pattern of a 10 fact and a single number.

Finally, the student adds a number column that has a 10 fact added to a single number. 


                                                                                       Discovering 10 facts

To find the two numbers that added to 10, I put together baggies of plastic 20 bingo chips with a child’s name inside each one.*

To begin.

1. Each child took out ten chips.  They were asked, Can you make two groups with them? Count how many are in each group.

2. Then student was then told, “Write your number sentence.”

3. Then, I wrote their number sentences on the board. Examples included: 5+5 = 10  4+6 = 10  2+8 = 10  6+4 = 10 etc. ( I often put their work on the board to honor their efforts and to let everyone see a large set of examples.)

Then, we drew!

From rectangles to cat faces, we drew pictures to match the number sentences.  (6 cat faces + 4 cat faces = 10 cat faces)

To enrich this learning, they took turns at the board to see who could fill in the missing number of the teacher’s math sentence.  The teacher’s examples would say, 4 + ___ = 10    or ___ + 7 = 10   A worried student at the board was encouraged  to call on a friend to come up and confirm or whisper the answer. (This activity developed automatic responses in recognizing the missing number in a number sentence.)

We competed by putting two students together at the board.  Again, the teacher told a math sentence, and they wrote the math sentence including the missing number. (4 plus BLANK equals 10 became 4 + 6 = 10)  Sometimes, the missing number was the 10! (NOTE Competition is happier if everyone is good at the skill.)


Adding a 10 to one more number – a pattern

This time we used the chips to discover the pattern of adding ten to a single digit. “What happens when we make a 10 group, and put smaller amount next to it?”

1.Using their bingo chips, they built a ten group with a smaller group next to it.

2. Then they wrote down their math sentence: 10 + 4 = 14    10 + 7 = 17   1 + 10 = 11   7 + 10 = 17

3. They took turns writing their number sentences on the board.

Then, I put the math sentences on the board vertically. 10 + 4/ 14 so that the question could be asked, “Does anyone see a pattern?” (The students quickly saw that the digit in the tens place came down, and the digit in the ones place came down making a ‘teen’ number.)

We noted that ‘seventeen’ sounds a bit like, ‘seven ten’.  Hey!  Seven-ten means a 10 and 7 and that makes 17!

4. The students drew pictures next to their vertical math sentence.  (See the article: Individualize Student Worksheets).


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Adding a math column with a 10 fact and one more number


This activity combines ‘finding a 10 fact’ with ‘adding 10 to a number‘.

1.Write the following math problem vertically. A 10 fact is in each column

6 + 7 + 4 is recognized as 10 (6+4) + 7 or 17.

2. Do a several until the students say that they are ready to write their own examples.

3. Have the students work with partners to create their own addition problems. (Put a high level student with a high level student and low with low so they work at the same speed.)

4. Ask a team to come to the board and explain how to use the 10 fact in their example. Let them circle the 10 fact in color.

You will notice that the sum does not go beyond 19 at this time.


NOTE: For me, the key was my giving the students lots of examples in the early part of the lesson. Children learn naturally through patterns. (Which is why a young child will call a lion a ‘cat’.)   The next lesson(s) they worked alone with the bingo chips and writing and drawing their number sentence.  HOWEVER, set up partners if you see they need a support system.  (By forming partners with someone of the same ability, the students figure things out at the same speed. Faster students will write more examples, and may move on to the next level of thinking!)



* We counted the chips at the beginning of each class and at the end. I kept them in a desk drawer.

Productive Thinking. Hands Waving with Answers!

California poppies!


ANSWERS GALORE! Productive thinking is a great teaching technique that uses a single well-defined question to keep the students waving their hands to contribute answers. The question that brings this result is called ‘open-ended’. [The opposite question has a ‘one fact’ answer and is called a ‘closed’ question.] An open-ended question not only results in lots of answers , but sometimes unique ones.

Identifying this question takes time and thought. First, focus on the answers you want. Are the answers a list of vocabulary words? A list of project or writing ideas?  Or a list ideas that show the ideas learned for a unit just completed?  Next, write a question has lots of answers. For instance,  What words describe flowers? will result in a shorter list than What words describe Spring?  

Practice answering the question yourself.  If you can generate ten words quickly, your students will be able to do the same.

During the lesson, encourage students to use piggy-backing. This is when an answer already given is used to think of another answer. For instance, if Spring is described as ‘warm’ another student might say it is ‘rainy’ – both answers are weather related.

Put their answers on the board. Not only does this honor their effort, but it makes it easier to piggy-back.

A  follow-up discussion can determine which answers contribute best to a better understanding of the question.

Give a written assignment to encourage their use of the word list.


Which of the two questions in each sample work best?

  • Name the animals that live in the woods.  Name the land and water animals that live in the woods.
  • What happens to a polar bear if the Arctic temperature goes up ten degrees?  What happens in the Arctic when the temperature goes up ten degrees?


Productive thinking creates a learning environment that challenges, is fun – and most of all – is memorable. It increases the learner’s level of participation, and for the child, that’s a successful class activity that isn’t forgotten!


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!