One Minute to a Clean Classroom

With a little time and planning, your classroom will sparkle at the end of each day.

The process begins with the students. Asked the open-needed question, “What are the many ways we can clean up our classroom at the end of the day?” Their hands waved. I listed the ideas on the board.

We then determined whether it would take one person or two to do the job. Some jobs were marked with a ‘2’.

My students had already been assigned numbers alphabetically. (A small jar held the numbers written on those little cardboard circles). On Monday, I pulled out a number. That person had the first turn in identifying the job they wanted for the week. Using clothespins with numbers and the list of jobs on large cardboard, let me quickly show who had that job. Each week, we drew another number to go first.


At the end of each day, everyone was asked to get ready – to think about their job and how they would do it in one minute.  I counted down…five, four, three, two, one Begin!

Watching the clock, I called out the last ten seconds – 10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1! Students tore back to their seats. Students who had finished early had called out, ‘Who needs me?” and another child answered.


They sat and basked in the praise. Shiny black/whiteboards were noted. Clean floors were admired. Empty pencil sharpeners were appreciated. Yes, we were ready for tomorrow and new day and a clean classroom.


I especially praised the children when parents were coming in for conferences. “They will be so proud of you.”

A lovely benefit. The custodian loved that our classroom was so clean. He spent more time on cleaning the floor and other items.






The ABCDs of Kindness

This activity began with a pure serendipity moment. A student had gone out of their way to help another. As a class, we were talking about it.   Suddenly, I recalled a military term – Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.

I wrote it on the board only to see blank faces across the room. Taking time to explain it, I noticed the first letters of the words were ABCD.  Using this, I asked if they would like to pay attention to ABCD moments. They bought the concept, and we were off and running. These were fourth graders.

First, they talked about ways to be kind and help others. I kept a list.

Next, someone suggested that we make something to hand out. They decided circles with numbers or points written on them would show the level of the kindness. As the teacher, I would determine how many points the child got for being kind. (Their list gave me direction.)

One computer literate student offered to create circles at home and put numbers on them. The class told her what numbers.  (They were about 5 or 6 inches across.) When she brought them in, I ran off copies on heavier paper. The students then took them home to decorate and color. After they brought them back, I laminated them. Then they cut them out.

Wow. It was a fabulous undertaking!


Once we had our stack of circles – and they were beautiful! – paying attention to kindnesses began…and the kindnesses increased. Picking up a dropped pencil, opening a door, letting someone else go first. For many, it was an art. Baggies were brought in to keep their ABCDs in. Students began giving them to each other.  Parents who dropped by mentioned them.

Then, the end of the year neared. What would be done with them?  An auction was decided. I cleaned out closets and checked Good Will.  Some student brought in items.

The day came, and everyone had their bag of ABCD circles.  The rule was only three bids per item. It was explained that we might run out of items, but fun held on.

Then, the surprise. One boy had no ABCD circles. I paused. I asked. The children told me. Every time he earned an ABCD circle, he gave it to someone.   The next step was a student suggestion and agreed upon by all – he would get first choice of the auction items. He was amazed. I was grateful.


The auction went on, they traded items and changed their minds. We had a good time.

This happened in the second half of the school year, so it hadn’t gone on for a long time.  But, I share this. It might work for you and your students. Or, something like it.

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!


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.


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!


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.

20105.23 download 345

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.



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.

A Writing Process for Beginners

For the young child or beginner, make writing an easily repeated process. Each day, one component is the focus. Illustrating adds depth of understanding.

Day 1   Introduce the theme with a short film, a slide show, reading from a book, or a discussion question such as, What do we know about dinosaurs? Keep the theme highly interesting, simple and focused. Next, ask for words they think they will need. Make a list. Post it where the children can see it.

Use a title that is the theme. For example, ‘Dinosaurs’.

Day 2   Organize for the Ideas
Draw a row of boxes on the board. (Three to six. You know them best and more can be added.)
Above the first box write the topic – ‘Dinosaurs’.  Inside the box, write ‘Fact.’
Ask for ideas that are general such as when they lived.
‘Lived long ago.’
‘Not here now.’
‘Only bones now’

The second box is for Looks. Students use the word list from the first day to describe the dinosaurs. List the words they suggest under the box.
‘huge’    ‘gray’    ‘green’    ‘ferocious!’     ‘scary’

The other boxes might have these words written in them.
‘Food’     ‘Home’     ‘Size’     ‘Name’
Under each box word, have the students choose the words that describe the detail. Allow words not on the list.

For the last box, use a closing idea. Put the word ‘Ending’ in the box. Ideas to put in the box.
‘I like them.’
‘Where did they go?’

Day 3   Once the boxes are done – With each box having its own topic, and the details listed underneath, the students are ready to think of sentences!  The word list becomes simple sentences.

Example for ‘Looks’ they had: huge  gray  green  ferocious
The sentences might be:  A dinosaur looks huge.   It can be gray or green.   It is very ferocious!

Encourage writers to add their own details. (For spelling ideas, use blog Improve That Spelling!)

Put the sentences on the board.

Day 4   Students write the title, and copy the sentences they like.   Some students may only have one or two sentences copied.  As they become familiar with this process and become successful, they will speed up.

Day 5    Finish writing and create a picture. Or, provide a variety of pictures for them to color.


This focus on a writing process gives your students a pattern for successful writing. And, you have a great set of papers to grade!  [See blog Grade Writing Fast!)

Awesome summer cabbage.

An awesome summer cabbage.  A great descriptive writing activity.