Build a Sentence Pyramid

Amanda Morin, a Maine teacher and author of The Everything Kids’ Learning Activities Book helps to break the ice by having students create “sentence pyramids.” She starts by asking students to write a simple sentence about themselves, centered at the top of a sheet of paper. She then has them add to it on each subsequent line. For the second sentence, she may ask students to add a preposition to make it a compound sentence, then continue to extend it with verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. “Continue until you either exhaust the parts of speech you want to assess, or until you have eight to ten sentences,” Morin says. “If each sentence is centered, it ends up looking like a pyramid,” as in photo above. For example: I am Luca./ I am Luca and I like baseball.I am Luca and I like throwing pitches in baseball.

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Subject Matter Experts

Former Mississippi teacher Pamela Rinehart often brought in a large blank poster or banner at the beginning of the school year. She would divide the banner into sections, each labeled with a school subject. Sprawled across the floor, students took turns writing in each section. “If you let them be honest and tell what they really feel, it’s fun for them,” Rinehart says. Let students use different-color markers and pens, and even add to their narrative by illustrating things like science experiments, memorable characters from books, and themes in social studies (e.g., George Washington on horseback). Added bonus: You learn about students’ interests and the lessons they remember from the previous year—and they get practice writing about their opinions.

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Make a “Me” Poem

To help students practice creative writing and expression skills, ESL teacher and education blogger Shelly Sanchez Terrell recommends acrostic name poems. Consider launching the lesson by reading a book such as Animal Acrostics by David Hummon. Once students understand how an acrostic poem works (they’re likely familiar with the form, but a refresher can give them ideas), ask them to write their own acrostic poems, using each letter of their own name to start each line describing themselves. Challenge older students by having them use first and last names, or by writing a more extensive entry for each letter. Another way to make the activity more rigorous is to require students to write each entry in rhyme or meter. When the writing is complete, allow time for sharing. Post the poems on your freshly made bulletin board.

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Sharing Opinions

In an effort to go beyond simply having students learn their classmates’ favorite colors and sports teams, Anthony Garcia, a third-grade teacher at Dr. Edward L. Whigham Elementary in Cutler Bay, Florida, engages his students in a game of “What Do You Think?” to elicit their ideas and opinions. Using Edmodo, Garcia posts links to high-interest articles and videos (usually from Time for Kids or YouTube) and requires students to respond with their opinions and provide additional digital resources that “piggyback” onto previous responses. By facilitating this ongoing digital conversation, Garcia gives students practice in real-world digital skills, as well as critical thinking and expressing opinions. And the whole class learns more about what their classmates really think about things.

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Match Me

Terrell has students create their own memory-card games. She gives each student 20 index cards and asks them to think of 10 items they can draw to represent something about themselves. (Write questions on the board like Do you have a pet? What is your favorite food/movie/sport? What do you like to do in your free time?) Each student must make two of each card to create 10 exact matches. Students then swap them with a partner to play. When someone makes a match, he or she must guess what the matching pair represents about his or her partner. Afterward, give students time to report what they learned about their partners.

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Blog Together

Garcia set up a classroom blog in a few simple steps with iBlog ( He says the blog helps students get to know one another and practice writing for a real audience. “One student is chosen weekly and they have the opportunity to blog about their personal interests,” Garcia explains. “Besides having to write complete sentences and correctly use punctuation and spelling, they are required to include pictures and links to websites, articles, or videos related to their specified interest.” Besides getting practice in publishing their writing with digital tools, it’s engaging. “Classmates are able to chime in with their opinions, praise, or related links,” says Garcia.

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Image: Roger Hagadone