Names with Numbers

Student numbers…it may sound rather strange, but as many times as it has come in handy. I shall share the idea.

Student lists enter the class alphabetically. Ever after, the teacher is putting their information in alphabetical form.

Once the year has begun, and most late comers have arrived, I assign a number to each child.

Using the alphabetical list of names, I assign beginning with ‘1’ – or ‘001’ for fun.


Whenever the child does a worksheet or an assignment, they put their number under their name. That lets me alphabetize them quickly and record their grades on the computer.  If there is a reason I don’t want the name of the children on the paper, I ask them to use their number at the bottom. This helps if I am hanging their papers in the hallway and want a bit of privacy. The number can even be put on the back.

I keep a small jar with circle tags with their numbers. At the beginning of the week, I pull tags out to give turns for answering questions. If asked, I put it back and pull another number. (Sometimes, the child is allowed to go and ask someone for the answer. They then return to their seat and give the answer. They do think that is fun!)

I have a set of ‘mailboxes’ in the room to put papers in that are going home that night. By putting the papers in number order, I can quickly put them in the alphabetized boxes.


Numbers are helpful, but I do not forget that using their names is loving.

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.

Expand a Lesson from 15 to 45 minutes!

Have you ever faced a lesson too short for the time allotted?  This technique involves the students from the beginning and to the end of the lesson.

Begin by challenging the students to contribute to the overview. Next, present the topic/show the film/read from the book, or have the students read the assignment. At the end of the class time, the students share the ideas that relate to the overview. Summarize what is learned. The following is an example of how this process works.


VIGNETTE A substitute for the music class found there was only a 15-minute video on Bach for a forty-five-minute class. “What do I do for the rest of the time?” she pleaded. I knew next to nothing about Bach. This teaching process was shared.

I suggested that she put the words ‘Bach’s Life’ in the middle of the board. Then put a key question at the top: “What can be learned about Bach’s life?” *

Next, I told her to ask the students to contribute key ideas – write them evenly spaced around ‘Bach’s Life.’ The ideas included – where born; when born; parents; marriage; famous for; problems; when died. The open-ended question kept them focused. About ten minutes was enough time to so this.

While watching the video, she asked the students to record keys words/facts.

At the end of the video, she asked for their answers and recorded the keywords on the board. As time ran out, the students just said their answers.

With three minutes left of the class, the substitute teacher asked a summary open-ended question, “Why do we remember Bach today?” and that was the end of the lesson. When the class was over, they still had ideas to contribute.

Success was in the process, and by using this process the teacher succeeded.



  • This diagram has many names. ‘Concept map’ and ‘mind map’ are two.

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.

Gratitude and Praise

Happiness is knowing you are doing a great job!

Happiness is knowing you are doing a great job!

What makes a student happy? A teacher happy? Anybody happy? For me, praise and gratitude.

VIGNETTE   My daughter, a manager at her business, called a few days ago. She had recently noticed that the focus for improving at work had become a forum for criticism more than compliments. Good people were finding themselves unhappy. We talked. She decided that the team would improve when compliments were given in a way that was fun. “Hey, everyone, I feel like a 10! Thanks, Bob, for helping out!”

I have learned though, that compliments can build up or take down. (See the last paragraph.)

As teachers, we teach students how to give compliments. (See blog  The ABCD’s of Kindness.) Praise also contributes to growth. This is what I have learned – Keep it light and easy. What we do, they do. Give it to the whole class and no one specifically. Pay attention to the ‘running smoothly moments’. “You are all awesome and right on target!” You know that you have the process for praise right when everyone nods and smiles.

VIGNETTE   Rewards
I didn’t tend toward treats/food/stickers for good behavior. [Although at one point I put out a bowl of stickers and told the children to put them on their papers when they wanted them. At the time, there were free stickers that came with book orders.] However, if the class as a whole received a compliment from another adult, everyone received an M&M.  Example: Everyone is walking quietly in the hall. A teacher passing by and compliments them. Big smiles from the students! Returning to the classroom, a student stands by the door and holds out a box of those little chocolates. Each child takes one. Two compliments? Two chocolates. For the children, those compliments really counted!

One principal in my teaching career visited at least once a week. We had open space classrooms so his jaunt took him from one room directly into the next. His smile was broad, his compliments for all. “You are great class!” he would boom out.  “Learning is important. You have a great teacher! Listen to her and learn.”  He made a difference to all of us. Thank you, Mr. Rich!

An exception from my point of view.
One thing I would like to make clear. A compliment is not meant to control others. I have heard ‘compliments’ given to make other students feel guilty or superior. For me, this is not useful praise. Example: “I see Mary is sitting with her hands folded. Good job, Mary. Look, now Joey is sitting with his hands folded. Good job, Joey.”   I have also heard compliments that are backhanded ways of saying, ‘You are not doing this right.’   Neither of these is good or helpful.

For me, a nod of the head and a smile tells a child he/she is on target.  I also disciplined the same way: a raised eyebrow and shake of the head let someone know they were pushing the limit.

I love finding ways to love my students.

Happiness and smiles contribute a lot to learning.