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!


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.


Telling Time. Minute By Minute

Clocks are everywhere.

Clocks are everywhere.

 ‘Telling time’ comes with many experiences.

My second year of teaching was second grade. To keep me on schedule, I posted clocks on the board showing the time the class needed to be somewhere. Next to the paper clock was where we needed to be. Fairly soon, the children were matching the paper clock to the classroom clock. We were never late!

With higher grade levels, the schedule was posted with the digital times. An analog clock in the classroom, helped students learn to ‘translate’ the time to match the digital. Students had to ‘remind’ me when to leave the classroom so we wouldn’t be late.

My first grade had a classroom bathroom. Near the bathroom door, I put a clipboard of papers with four columns. To use the bathroom, they had to sign in and sign out. In the 1st column they put their name or initials. In the 2nd column, they put the bathroom entry time in digital format. When they came out, they put their initials in the 3rd column and the time out in the 4th column. The classroom had an analog clock.

To make it easier, asking for assistance was encouraged. Some students followed immediately behind someone else so their times would be written correctly. As needed, there were review lessons given by students.

A wonderful benefit. Many young ones were surprised when they were asked to clean up a mess they made! (The child who followed them was always quick to report the problem.) I’m not sure cleaning up one’s own ‘playfulness’ in the bathroom is allowed today, but it worked many years ago.  It took awhile for students to realize their own names had told me who created the problem.

For older students, passes were used to leave the room, and they still signed in and out. This was a nice lead in to ‘clocking in’ for a future job.

One last idea. Next to the electric pencil sharpener were posted the digital times to use it. The times were before and after classes began; and before and after lunch. Nearby were handheld pencil sharpeners and a wastebasket to be used in between the scheduled times.  But, they weren’t as much ‘fun’ as the electric. A nice benefit. This approach stopped students from sharpening pencils during teaching time and tests.


Another benefit. When the math lessons were on clocks and time, the students were solid in the basics.

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.

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.


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.