Your creativity in coming up with lessons for your students has amazed us for the past century and a quarter—and it continues to impress us still! From imaginative approaches to math (what kid wouldn’t like getting “home runs”?) to “STEM” projects way before STEM was even a thing to deep discussions with kids about books, teachers have always found a way to make learning relevant and exciting. We searched through old issues and found a few we thought you’d enjoy seeing—and came across one that’s best left to the past!
Stocking Shelves With “Grocer Bill,” May 1952
Who: Frances B. Howe
What: First grade
Where: Raymer School, Toledo, Ohio
We started with a discussion of the many items found in a grocery store. These were listed on our first chart. Soon our grocery shelves were bulging with empty boxes, egg cartons, air-filled sacks of sugar, and even stuffed bread wrappers. Labels and price tags were made from gummed paper; sales signs appeared; a cash register, scales, and adding machine were set up. When the children realized they needed someone in their store all the time, the idea for making Grocer Bill was born—complete to bow tie and apron. Grocer Bill was so real to these children that they were polite in his presence. This awareness of good store etiquette led to a chart entitled “Good Manners in a Store.” We then visited a real grocery nearby. Our eight weeks’ project was completed with a “radio program.”
During their work on this activity, the children had found a need for learning. Numbers, reading, writing, language, social studies, art and music—all seemed worthwhile to them under the watchful eye of Grocer Bill.
The House That Jack Built, December 1964
Who: Wayne Herman Jr.
What: Fifth grade
Where: Charlotte Bronte Robinson Laboratory School, Bowie, Maryland
One day I asked my fifth graders to list some projects that would result in learning and also require mental and physical effort to complete. Many good ideas were submitted, but building a one-room house had the highest appeal for the boys.
Before they could figure out required materials, they had to find out how to build a house. My job was to encourage them to think. The boys used encyclopedias, interviewed carpenters and fathers, visited houses being constructed. Two boys visited local lumberyards to get unit prices. To reduce the cost, and show construction features, they planned to leave various areas unfinished. The 15 boys split into three teams. While one worked on the house, the others carried on research or more routine assignments. Six weeks later, the house was finished!
Brilliant Book Talks, May/June 1995
Who: Monica Edinger
What: Fourth grade
Where: Dalton School, New York, New York
It is last period and I am leading a book talk with half of my fourth-grade class. Although it is nearly dismissal time, the 11 children and I are still engrossed in a discussion comparing The Wizard of Oz to Alice in Wonderland.
I began the year by establishing an environment in which children could talk honestly and comfortably about books with me and their peers. The whole class and I would read and discuss a book together before breaking into half-class groups, heterogenous in ability. Balancing my taste in children’s literature with students’ choices and tastes was critical. Each conversation was full of possibilities, and I realized I had to be willing to ditch a wonderful question if the group was heading off in a different direction. For example, during our discussion of The Wizard of Oz, a child commented to me that she didn’t think the Wicked Witch of the West was really wicked—she and others argued that the witch was merely greedy, and we spent a fair amount of time discussing all the connotations of the word wicked.
Some other tips: Ask open-ended questions. Focus on character. Look at illustrations. And make thematic connections.
And one lesson you’re not likely to repeat…
Circus “Animal” Addition, June 1937
The following game for drill on the addition combinations to ten is a source of never ending delight. One child is the trainer and wears a paper hat and holds a whip. The other children are the trained animals. They wear paper collars, and each one has a number between one and ten on a cardboard hanging by a string around his neck. Two children wear plus and minus signs instead of numbers. The trainer cracks his whip and calls two numbers. These numbers take their places on either side of plus. Equals takes his place. The trainer then calls the number again and the child who has the answer takes his place after equals. The trainer cracks his whip, the numbers skip away, and the trainer calls other numbers, trying to get as many different combinations as possible.