Idea Swap

Ideas From the Field!

School of Rock
I teach first grade at an all boys school, and I am also a docent at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. To help integrate music into our curriculum, I built a theme around the study of rock and roll. The boys get really into it! Here some of my students are “rockin’ out” during morning free time in our dramatic play area. —Danielle Dachtler, Cleveland, OH 

Reverse Psychology

To kick off the school year, I read aloud Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. Then I ask students to list everything we could do to make sure they have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year! They start out with some really silly ideas, but end up creating an insightful list. I write the list in a T-chart format so we can flip items to their opposite. For example, stay up too late becomes get enough sleep every night. It’s a fun way to set goals for a terrific, fantastic, no-sweat, very good year! —Leanne Bafus, LaCrosse, WA

We’ve Got the Beat
To help my students get to know each other, I get them moving. Each child makes up a movement that shows something about him- or herself. The twist is the movement must have as many beats as there are syllables in the child’s name! For example, a Patricia, who likes horseback riding, might pretend to bounce up and down in the saddle three times. As each child’s name is called, the whole group acts out the movements! —Kristi Troncin, Johnston, IA

The ABC’s of School Rules
I give the usual school-rules discussion a new spin by combining it with alphabet review. I ask students to come up with a good rule for each letter. For example, “B is for Bathroom pass—get one before you go” and “F is for Fire drills—move quickly and quietly.” I type up our rule alphabet and decorate it for all to see. —Ellen Javernick, Loveland, CO

Green is The Color of Fun
My fourth graders are helping to save the planet—but they’re having just as much fun stretching their imaginations and honing their artistic skills at the same time! We can start with anything, a soup bowl and four plastic forks or an aluminum take-out container, and transform this trash into an innovative art project. —Beth Cook, Commack, NY

Like Apples and Oranges
When fall arrives in Florida, the leaves don’t change and the temperature barely drops—but my first-graders still experience the joys of autumn with our apple unit! We learn about Johnny Appleseed, taste different varieties, make apple prints, and go bobbing for apples. The kids love it! Plus, it’s a nice break from all those Florida oranges! —Sarah Wilson, Casselberry, FL

Hello, Halloween!
We celebrate Halloween with all sorts of activities. To practice dialogue writing, students create cartoon strips using themed characters such as jack o’ lanterns and bats. For word study, I ask students to write Halloween on a strip of paper and then cut the letters apart, seeing how many new words they can form. To create literature connections, I have students come to school dressed as a favorite story character. And just for fun, we have a mummy wrapping contest using toilet paper! —Stacy Bex, Newport Coast, CA

Designer Acorn Caps
For a fun fall display, I have students trace an acorn pattern on brown paper, and then create a designer cap! I provide feathers, beads, stickers, buttons, wiggly eyes, pom-poms, and other collage materials to create fashionable “hats.” The results are terrific, and each acorn’s cap is unique! —Ann Marie Stephens, Manassas, VA

The Staff from the Black Lagoon
Our school building and staff are new to incoming third-graders, so we use Mike Thaler’s Black Lagoon series as a fun way to help put them at ease. We invite our music teacher, art teacher, school nurse, bus driver, and other staff members to introduce themselves to students by reading aloud the story associated with their job title. For example, our principal gets to know the third graders as she reads The Principal From the Black Lagoon. —Jill Lewis and Tarra Sims, Dyersburg, TN

Better Bulletin Boards
I used to cover my bulletin boards with butcher paper, but I found that when I removed displays, I was left with a patchwork of faded spots and countless staple holes. So I started using felt and fabric for the backgrounds instead. The fabric doesn’t fade as much, and staple holes are barely noticable. I also fold up the fabric to use again next year! —Shannon Caster, Portland, OR

Rights as Rain
To help students understand the meaning behind Constitution Day, I hang a map of the U.S. on an easel under an opened umbrella. I tape images that represent Constitutional rights on the umbrella. Then I explain that the Constitution protects the people in our country just like an umbrella protects people from rain. It helps kids grasp the concept, and it’s a great lead-in for creating our own Class Constitution. —Janice Thayer, Bristol, VA

Quoth the Pumpkin, “Nevermore”
My class celebrates Halloween with the “Master of Horror” himself, Edgar Allan Poe. First, I tape black butcher paper to the windows and have students bring in flashlights. Then I read Poe’s poems and short stories aloud as students follow along. The flashlights moving in the darkness makes for a very eerie atmosphere. It’s a fantastic introduction to classic American literature! —Nicole Hughes, Hoover, AL

Meet the Experts
To build students’ self-esteem, I have each child create a poster showing something that he or she is an “expert” on, whether it’s lizards or soccer or art. I attach the child’s photo and display the posters on the wall. That way, we all know who to go to if we have a question on a certain subject! —Laurie Foote, Clackamas, OR

Teaching by Numbers
Here’s a simple trick to help with classroom management all year long! At the start of the year, I assign each student a number. The numbers are sequential, matching the alphabetical order of students’ names. When students turn in a paper, they write their number in the top right corner—which makes ordering the papers and recording the grades a snap! —Erin Ryan, Pompano Beach, FL

What’s the News?
I keep parents informed of what’s going on in the classroom throughout the year by sending home weekly newsletters. What makes them special is that I write on the front, but each child writes on the back of his or her own newsletter! I provide fill-in sentences for students to complete: This week we read a story about ____. The best thing that happened this week was _____. Parents love reading the newsletter! —Jackie Howes, Weatogue, CT

Pumpkinheads
At our Halloween celebration, we have a relay in which runners need to keep a mini pumpkin balanced on their heads! It’s so silly that students forget to focus on the competition and just have fun. These two students were on opposing teams, and clearly it didn’t matter to them who came in first! —Marilyn Ruzick, Cincinnati, OH

A Tee for Me!
I cut T-shirt shapes from construction paper and label each one with a student’s name. Then kids decorate their shirts, writing their favorite subject on the left sleeve, favorite activity on the right sleeve, and any other information on the bottom. I attach yarn to a bulletin board and use clothespins to hang the T-shirts. It’s a great way for kids to express themselves. —Kerry Simi, South Jordan, UT

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