Start the new year with back-to-school lesson plans, book lists, printables, and learning activities for all grades.
11 Fresh Classroom Ideas
Why not Skype with a class in another country? Have students write stories based on famous artwork? Or combine a math lesson with a real-life school safety issue? Check out these teacher-recommended, creative tips and activities.
PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
The Art of Suspense
In language arts class this fall, my middle school students wrote suspense stories. They based their stories on famous pieces of artwork (like Picasso's The Old Guitarist), which they recreated in three different mediums. They also matched their artwork to a soundtrack chosen from dark classical music. This "Art of Suspense" project was a true multi-media effort!
–Andrew Fersch, Epping, NH
A House for Hermit Crab
This project helps students retell Eric Carle's A House for Hermit Crab. First, glue large shells for the "house" onto cardboard. Then, bunch up colorful tissue paper to make the seaweed and coral, and Play-Doh to mold 3-D starfish. Students will have houses Hermit would be proud of!
–Jeremy Brunaccioni, Conway, MA
My students made seahorses out of recycled materials. They each decorated two paper seahorse shapes with colorful squares from cutout magazine pages, then painted the head and tail. Next, they stuffed the seahorse bodies with old newspaper and stapled them together. I cut out paper "bubbles" and attached all of the pieces to long strings. The students wrote facts about seahorses on the bubbles, and then we hung them together in our classroom.
–Elizabeth Kennedy, New York, NY
After reading about conservation, my students create instruments using recycled materials found in our classroom or brought from home. I give them the option of "going solo" or forming a band and collaborating with their peers. They write a song incorporating at least ten conservation points, then practice and present the song to the class. The creativity of the students always amazes me!
–Sandy Arendt, Princeton, WI
When picking out books from our classroom library, my students frequently just scan the spines without giving them a second thought. So, to give books some "face time" to spark kids' interests even more, I bought an over-the-door shoe rack to display them in. It is inexpensive, colorful, and saves space!
–Nicole Hughes, Pelham, AL
My students play "Delicious Doughnuts" as a short and long-vowel review game. Each student is given five small paper plates, each with a vowel written in the center. They are then given "doughnuts" — or larger paper plates with the centers cut out — with different letters written on each side of the doughnut hole. To make words and practice vowel sounds, they place the "doughnut" over top of a small plate, read the word they've formed, and write it down. They proceed for each vowel plate and switch plates with other students to review new words. This activity is great for centers!
–April Clark, Hampton Cove, AL
Craft a Cell
My seventh- and eighth-grade science students were learning how to tell the difference between plant and animal cells. To reinforce the lesson, I placed a ton of arts and crafts supplies and items from nature (like rocks and sand) on my desk. The only direction I gave my students was to replicate their plant or animal cell in what they thought its shape, texture, and characteristics would be. They did the most gorgeous work labeling the cell parts and functions! Students used marbles and cotton balls for the nucleus, streamers for mitochondria, golgi bodies, ribbons, and toothpicks for cell membranes, and colored pasta for ribosomes.
–Allison Wiesel, Highland Park, NJ
I use a great lesson with my middle school students that teaches mathematics, transit safety, and citizenship, and it came to me in an unexpected way! One day at recess, my students noticed that many cars at the intersection in front of our school either rolled through the stop sign or didn't stop at all. We decided to address this safety issue. First, the students created a frequency table for three categories: complete stop, roll-through, and non-stop. We watched for 30 minutes each day for one week, then converted the data into percentages and made graphs. My class concluded that most drivers did not stop, so we wrote a letter to the local police explaining the need for more coverage at this intersection, and used the data and graphs as convincing supporting evidence.
–Beverly Arndt, Temple, PA
From New York to China
The students in my third-grade class took a virtual field trip to China! First, I displayed a 3-D image of Earth on our SMART Board and zoomed in on our classroom in New York. Then, using the program Skype, our newly installed videocam, and a microphone, we connected with a classroom all the way in Hong Kong, China. The students introduced themselves by saying hello in Mandarin, and shared with us tidbits of their life. My students were ready with a plethora of questions: "How different is it in China from the USA?" and "Is it warm in China now?" The conversation lasted about 20 minutes before we said our goodbyes. Afterward, we e-mailed our friends in China, thanking them for Skype-ing with us. Then, the children wrote about their experiences of talking to our friends in China and how it fits into our study of cultures around the world. This was a truly authentic and wonderful way for the children to become aware of a place so far away, yet so close.
–Amy Rosenstein, Ardsley, NY
Spin to Win
Here's a quick math game to play with students when you have extra time. Make circular spinners out of thick stock paper and divide them into small sections (like a pie), each labeled with a different coin value. Then, punch a hole in the center of each spinner and insert metal fasteners to make them spin. In groups, students can take turns spinning and should write down the money values they personally accrue, adding the values together along the way. It helps to write a designated amount on the board that students can race to. They love the excitement of this game, and I have found it a very engaging way to review money.
–Beth Vanaman, New Castle, DE
Playing cards (and the boxes they come in) get lost easily in my classroom, so, I bought travel soap containers at a dollar store to store the cards in! They are colorful, durable, and easy to label.
–Nicole Hughes, Pelham, AL