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Activities for Keeping Students Engaged the Last Few Weeks of School

The end of the school year rush isn’t for the faint-hearted.


There are year-end events and activities to coordinate, supplies to order for next year, grades to finalize, cumulative record forms to complete, media materials to return, student portfolios to discuss with next year’s teachers, displays to remove from classroom walls and bulletin boards, boxes to pack, reviews of test data...the list seems never-ending.  


It takes endurance and patience to survive the last few weeks of school.  It also takes a toolbox of activities for keeping students engaged.


At the same time that the teacher end-of-year-rush is on, students start losing their focus, dreaming of summer days free of classes and homework.  


They have worked hard all year, and many are ready for some well-deserved time off.  Everyone is tired.  

To keep everyone engaged down the home stretch of a long school year, use the following activities to motivate your students and to help you survive the last few weeks of school.  


End-of-Year Top Ten Lists

Kids love making top ten lists because they are fun. Teachers like them because students have to think critically about the order and reasoning of their responses. Add a written component in which students justify their top three choices.  Students can choose from the following ideas or generate their own.  

  • Top Ten Things I Learned This Year
  • Top Ten Books for (Insert Grade) Graders
  • Top Ten Ways to Succeed in (Insert Grade)
  • Top Ten Adjectives That Describe This Year
  • Top Ten Things That Make (Add Teacher Name) Happy
  • Top Ten Things I Will Remember About (Insert Grade)
  • Top Ten Things We Accomplished This Year

Final Feedback Report Card

Teachers spend so much time giving constructive feedback to students, but students like to provide feedback about your teaching, too.  


Have them create a final feedback report card for you with sections detailing teaching techniques, lesson delivery, classroom environment, what they liked most/least about the year, commendable comments, and suggestions for how to be a better teacher.  

Their expert educational advice will offer you new perspectives and ways to improve.  


Embellished Nursery Rhymes

Expand your students’ vocabulary skills by having them write a sophisticated book of nursery rhymes. They will enjoy embellishing and revising traditional nursery rhymes by replacing words in the original rhymes with synonyms chosen to entertain, amuse, and educate readers.


“Take Ten” Dance Countdown

Brain breaks are especially important this time of year. 

Why not create an end of the year dance countdown? “Take Ten” would incorporate a new dance movement for each of the final ten days.  Start with a conga line and build from there.  Did students learn about plants and seeds?  Add a “sprout and grow” sequence.  Students crouch low to the ground as small seeds and slowly stretch upward to sprout and grow.   Let students continue the countdown by suggesting other movements that integrate curriculum topics.  


Flag Etiquette

Prepare students for summertime’s patriotic holidays (Memorial Day, Flag Day, Fourth of July) by having them learn more about our flag’s history, symbolism, and etiquette.  The National Flag Foundation lists rules for honoring our flag.  Students can write a poem, speech, song, or create a poster that highlights how our flag should be respected, used, and cared for.


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Quotes in the Classroom

Quotes in the Classroom

Inspirational quotes are abundant on social media. As we scroll though our lives, they offer wisdom and motivation.  Recently, a “quote activity” caught my attention with its ability to create and maintain online conversation.  Engaged participants were thinking about, discussing, and interpreting various quotes.  It was introduced as follows:

“Post a movie quote that gives away the film without saying the title.”

For example, “To infinity . . . and beyond!” is a quote from the movie Toy Story. “There’s no place like home.” is from The Wizard of Oz.  “You’re going to need a bigger boat” is from . . . 

Like a great classroom prompt, friends eagerly responded and began challenging each other.  They posted movie quotes, debated the quality of the movies, and enlivened the conversation with obscure movie facts. 

Their online conversations made me wonder how and why certain movie quotes become memorable.  Do only classic movies have memorable quotes?  Are some quotes more significant to those of certain generations?  Doesn’t everyone agree with Ferris Bueller’s quote, “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”?

My friend’s movie post could be adapted for the classroom as a device for a lively literature activity and discussion.  Working in groups, students compile and/or ask others for their favorite book quotes.  After the quotes have been compiled and shared, each group selects their top ten quotations to share with the other students.  Can students name the titles of the books based on the quotes? Extend and enrich the activity by discussing the following: 

  • Do any of the quotes inspire you to read (or reread) the book?  Why? 
  • Explain what the quote tells us about the character or the situation. 
  • How do these quotes connect to our own lives? 
  • Is there a particular quote that resonates with you?  Why? 

Encourage the students to use their creativity to create a collaborative quote journal/collage, or an inspirational bulletin board.  The quote journal/bulletin board can be used for future activities that promote engaging conversation, personal reflection, and a love of literature. 


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Using Visual Data to Engage and Inspire

Visual Data Postcard of Email Usage

McDaniel College student's data postcard

One of the defining features of 21st century life is the prevalence of data.  Whether it is the complexity of Google algorithms or the simplicity of a Fitbit’s measurements, data is everywhere.  Standing at the center of this data vortex is . . . you.  The activities that comprise our daily lives are what give meaning to the data.

Visual information designers Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec see data as a creative material like paint or paper. Their engaging book, Dear Data, depicts how they became friends by revealing to one another details of their daily lives. Every week, for a year, they sent each other postcards describing the details of their lives. But they didn’t write about their lives, they drew it.  “Every Monday we chose a particular subject on which to collect data about ourselves for the whole week:  how often we complained, or the times when we felt envious; when we came into physical contact and with whom; the sounds we heard around us.  We then created a drawing representing this data on a postcard-sized sheet of paper, and dropped the postcard into an English post box (Stefanie) or an American mail box (Giorgia). 

Dear Data:  A Friendship in 52 weeks of Postcards

Inspired by the book, students at McDaniel College collected and visually presented data associated with their “ordinary” lives and created a visual data timeline.  Like the book, their depicted activities capture patterns and creativity in even “the smallest details of our lives.” 


Finding and visually displaying data is an excellent project for students of all ages, from elementary students to graduate students. Using data to quantify the self will interest students because they can choose which data set to explore and collect.  Critical and creative thinking skills combine as they consider the best way to visually represent the information.  It’s an excellent project-based learning activity because students learn more about themselves as they explore the world around them.  To learn more, visit dear-data.com

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Finding Signs of Spring

Finding the Signs of Spring

Despite the snow on the ground, spring is on the way. Celebrate the new season with the following spring-themed scavenger hunt.  It builds vocabulary and creativity and helps young children enjoy the beautiful signs of the season. 

Finding the Signs of Spring:  An activity to build creativity and vocabulary with primary-aged children.
Signs of Spring.pdf
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Finding the Signs of Spring

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March Into Healthy Eating During National Nutrition Month

March into Healthy Eating During National Nutrition Month

We all know that what we eat is vital to good health, but it’s often hard to convey that to children.  We say, “eat your vegetables” and and they think, “stop nagging me.”  Learning about nutritious fruits and vegetables can be fun when we get creative

Fruits and vegetables come in many colors including, red, blue/purple, yellow, green, and orange.  Once children know a balanced diet includes foods from each of these colors, they start looking for vibrant colored food at the grocery store and during mealtime.  They can list the new foods by writing the fruit and vegetable names in their corresponding colors.  For example, they would write “lemon” with a yellow marker or crayon.  

In the classroom, I would share my “favorites” within the various colors.  For example, I might mention that my favorite orange food is a kumquat. Of course, the students had many questions about kumquats (excellent mini-research opportunity) and wanted to see me eat one. 

Sometimes, the students and I did not know if a certain food was a fruit or a vegetable, such as peas. Our uncertainty was another great opportunity to consult the computer or the dictionary to build our vocabularies and food knowledge. Invariably, students were interested in why foods are a certain color.  This is when I would introduce my Nutrition Question Board with “Why are foods certain colors?”  More questions followed such as, “Why are vegetables different shapes and sizes?” and “How are seedless fruits made?”

At this point, I did not have to tell them about the healthy benefits and nutrients in colorful foods.  They were well on their way to harvesting their own healthy habits.  All I had to do was provide the resources for them to begin their independent research. 

Fruit or Vegetable?  March into Healthy Eating During National Nutrition Month
Fruit or Vegetable?.pdf
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Research in Brief:  Rethinking Stress

Rethinking Stress to Help Young People Excel

Life is filled with stressors big and small.  For example, today I am stressed about my refrigerator.  It has been making strange sounds.  We cannot always predict how life is going to unfold, and incidents beyond our control change our daily lives.  (The fridge just made that strange sound again!) 

Like adults, young people experience stress too.  Making friends, doing well in school, and wearing the “right” clothes are just a few of the pressures young people face. 

Fortunately, new research shows that changing our minds about stress can make us healthier and happier.  In her engaging book, The Upside of Stress:  Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, Kelly McGonigal, shares information about why our beliefs about stress matter along with strategies to change the way we think about stress.

Many of the studies she shares are from the new field of mindset science.  (Mindsets are beliefs that shape your reality.)  She highlights successful mindset interventions, including one conducted at a low-income high school in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Researcher, David Yeager, wanted to teach freshman a growth mindset – the belief that people can change in significant ways.  He had students read an article that introduced the following ideas: 

“Who you are now is not necessarily who you will be later in life; how people treat you or see you now is not necessarily a sign of who you really are or who you will be in the future; people’s personalities can change meaningfully over time.”

Students also read upperclassmen’s accounts of change and wrote about their own experiences of how people could change. 

This thirty-minute intervention resulted in “students who were more optimistic and less overwhelmed by the problems in their lives. They had fewer health problems and were less likely to become depressed than students who had been randomly assigned to a control group.  A full 81 percent of the students who received the intervention passed their ninth-grade algebra class, compared with only 58 percent of students in the control group.” 

Learning how mindsets can affect student performance helps both parents and teachers provide ways for young people to excel. The Upside of Stress shows how rethinking our beliefs can change aspects of our lives – for the better.  


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Recent Reads

Newbery Medal Winner 2017:  The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Barnhill, Kelly.  The Girl Who Drank the Moon.  Algonquin, 2016. 
Winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal

A witch lives in the forest, and the people of the Protectorate fear her.  They have taken steps to never see her, with terrible consequences.  But the witch in the forest is kind, as is her child, Luna, whose magic is more powerful than anything.
Ages 10+

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell

Hruby Powell, Patricia. Pictures by Christian Robinson.  Josephine.  Chronicle Books, 2014.  
Coretta Scott King Book Award, Illustrator, Honor
Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, Honor
Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, Nonfiction Honor

Overcoming racism and poverty, Josephine danced and sang to her own beat.  Audiences clapped and cheered.  In Paris, she became a star!  This incredible woman even became a spy for the French resistance and adopted 12 children – all from different countries. 
Ages 10+

As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds

Reynolds, Jason.  As Brave as You.  Atheneum, 2016. 
Schneider Family Book Award Winner
Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book

Brothers Ernie and Genie must spend a month in rural Virginia with their grandparents.  As they learn more about their family and the new surroundings, it becomes clear “they’re both in for big surprises.” 
Ages 10+

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Wenzel, Brendan.  They All Saw a Cat.  Chronicle Books, 2016.
2017 Caldecott Honor Book

As a cat walks through the world, many sets of eyes see the cat.  Perspective shapes what they see in unique ways.

Ages 3-10

This is the Rope:  A Story From the Great Migration

Woodson, Jacqueline.  Illustrations by James Ransome.  This is the Rope:  A Story from the Great Migration.  Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013.


For three generations, a piece of rope is passed down to serve many purposes –  a jumprope, a clothesline, a means of tying down suitcases, etc.  Linking family memories, the rope retains the past while embracing the future. 
Ages 5-10. 


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For more recent reads, click here. 

Notes on How to Encourage a Child's Music Abilities

Notes on How to Encourage a Child's Music Ability

We all know the importance of nurturing children’s strengths and interests.  Whether it’s praise for reading or a conversation about their artistic creations, encouraging a child’s self-expression, creativity, and excitement is important.

For example, I have watched many children develop an interest in music.  Some liked creating silly songs or singing in our classroom.  Others discovered a serious passion for an instrument and would practice daily. Whatever their capabilities, nurturing their enjoyment of music was as important as nurturing their skills.  Students enjoyed building their musical creative expression with activities such as: 

  • Leading the class in a song to start or end the day.
  • Performing in the cafeteria or library.
  • Writing songs to help others learn something such as state capitals, foreign language words, math facts, directions, etc. 
  • Listening to music from other countries to learn words in another language.
  • Using song lyrics as writing prompts for short stories, journal entries, poems, or even other songs.
  • Creating learning contracts that combined their musical interests with other subjects.
  • Writing songs about favorite books or book characters. 

The enhancement of cognitive abilities occurs when children have learning opportunities that encourage creativity and self-expression.  Music can play a role in expanding your children’s interests and motivation.  


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Field Trips Make Memories

("Hahn/Cock") by German sculptor Katharina Fritsch

Throughout my teaching and museum education career, I have visited numerous museums.   One year, while teaching fourth grade in York County, Virginia, the students and I visited eight museums! We immersed ourselves in awe-inspiring, active learning. Like all successful learning experiences, we spent time building our background knowledge prior to the visits.  This allowed students to make connections and understand the central ideas within each museum’s program. 

Convincing administrators of the value of a museum field trip was occasionally difficult.  Factors such as funding, transportation, time away from instruction, testing, etc. became barriers.  Fortunately, findings from a study conducted by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art support the many learning benefits of a museum visit, including critical thinking and tolerance.  One consistent result is how “the benefits of a school tour are generally much larger for students from less-advantaged backgrounds.”  The findings also show how field trips spark interests that can remain with children for the rest of their lives.

Family field trips are also beneficial.  They provide opportunities for family members to spend time together and to bond.  The trips introduce children to new worlds and teach them there is much to learn outside of school. 

When I think back on all the field trips I have taken, I recall a world of seeing, hearing, imagining, and discovering.  Whether it was a walk to the playground to look at trees or a visit to the National Arboretum, I hope my former students remember our trips as special occasions filled with wonder and discovery. 


Read more about touring museums with teens here. 
Read more about visiting museums with young children here. 


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The Wonder of Snow on a Forever Stamp

The Wonder of Snow on a Forever Stamp

Ezra Jack Keats’ joyful picture book, The Snowy Day, will be honored on a set of postage stamps later this year.  The U.S. Postal Service will showcase four stamps of “main character Peter exploring and playing in his neighborhood while wearing his iconic red snowsuit.” 

The Snowy Day remains one of the most beloved and influential children’s picture books.  It is a Caldecott Award-winning classic that transports readers into a snowy world of wonder.  Published during the 1960s civil-rights era, the story focuses on Peter and his adventures in the season’s first snowfall.  Although Peter’s race is never directly addressed, his portrayal is recognized as a milestone in racial representation, and he becomes the first African-American protagonist in a full-color children's picture book. 


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Ornament Games

Using ornaments to build perceptual skills

Whether you like white or multicolored Christmas lights, both look magical when viewed with Holiday Specs.  These holographic lenses are a “surprise for your eyes” because they transform Christmas lights into holiday images such as stars, candy canes, angels, and snowmen. 

Our pair of Holiday Specs enables us to see snowflakes on every bulb of our Christmas tree turning it into a snowy kaleidoscope of Christmas.  The beauty of these twinkling snowflake lights inspired me to create the following eight activities to use with the decorations on a Christmas tree (the ornaments).  Most of the activities build perceptual skills.  Visual perception helps a child make sense of what he/she sees and is useful both within the classroom and in everyday tasks. 

Using ornaments to build perceptual skills
  • Gather ornaments from the tree that look similar in style.  Give each person an ornament, and have him or her write a description that distinguishes the ornament from the others.
  • Display an assortment of ornaments.  Ask each person to select one.  Group children into pairs and ask each pair to find three ways in which their ornaments are the same and three ways in which they are different.  Switch partners and continue.
  • Gather ten or more ornaments and ask the children to sort the ornaments into two or more categories.  Have them describe how they defined the categories.  Compare and discuss the different classification systems. 
  • Select an ornament.  Ask each person to write a simile for the ornament.  A simile is a figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared using the words “like” or “as.”  For example, a shiny ornament might be described as “shiny as sparkling sapphires.”  Share the similes, and have each child illustrate his/her simile for an ornament themed display. 
  • Play “I Spy” ornament.  Each person selects an ornament and describes it to the others in “I Spy” terms. “I spy something blue, I spy something with 5 points,” etc.,  until the others can guess the “spied” ornament.  
  • Discuss what makes an ornament valuable.  What determines its value?  Are some ornaments more popular than others?  Why?
  • Make a list of clues about ornaments, and ask the children to find each ornament that fits each clue.  Create some clues that can be answered by different responses and others that are specific.  For example, you might have them find an ornament that is green and man-made (or natural) or find an ornament that has a shiny red nose that glows. 
  • Place children into groups and have them create funny captions, names, or short stories for selected ornaments. 
Using ornaments to build perception skills

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How Would You Market Your Favorite Toy?

What are your favorite toys?

As King Moonracer tells Rudolph in the classic Christmas special, “A toy is never truly happy until it is loved by a child.”  Classic toys, like Lego, inspire creative play and have been loved for generations.  Other toys, such as Beanie  Babies, achieve fad-like status only to fade away in popularity.  Regardless of how long a toy remains popular, marketing is a key part of a toy’s success.  How would you market your favorite toy? 

Sixty-two classic toys have been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, which is part of The Strong, a wonderful “interactive, collections-based educational institution devoted to the study and exploration of play." Comparing these classic toys to Ebates’ recent listing of the most desirable children’s presents since 1983 would make a fascinating research project for upper elementary/middle school students.  They could investigate toy trends, target audiences, and toy marketing strategies. Teaching students how companies sell products is an invaluable skill that builds critical thinking skills.  For example, nostalgia marketing builds excitement for this year’s retro-styled classic Nintendo system:  “Play the system that started it all.”

To add a social history component to the toy project, students could interview/survey people of different ages and cultures about their favorite childhood toys.  This would build engagement with parents, grandparents, and other community members. Students could plan an awards ceremony for the favorite toys through the ages.  The ceremony would showcase the toys with the biggest impact and include information about why/how they were significant. 

My favorite childhood toys were my Matchbox cars and trucks. I spent hours creating road systems for them. I really liked the snowplow – I still have it!

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How would you market your favorite toy?

The Sounds and Colors of the Pathless Woods

Anne Patterson’s captivating installation, Pathless Woods references a line from a Lord Byron poem – “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore. . . "  The interactive experience, currently at the Ringling Museum, encourages visitors to find their own path through a forest of ribbons.  Each ribboned path takes you on a different journey of sounds, colors, and light.  Patterson describes the feeling as, “swimming through color.”  Consisting of over 24 miles of hanging, satin ribbon in 14 different colors, the piece enables visitors to experience art in a unique way. 

Anne Patterson has synesthesia.  When she hears music, she “sees shapes and colors.”  In this installation, visitors leave one reality – the museum – and enter into a new one “where the senses are encouraged to overlap, producing a type of constructed synesthesia.”  Visiting the exhibit reminded me of the wonderful children’s book, The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock in which a young Vasya Kandinsky paints the sounds of the colors and eventually finds his own path to creativity.

May we all find paths to access our creativity. . . 


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The Power of Picture Books

The Power of Picture Books

Recently, I read an article about what books do for the human soul.  The author explained how good literature makes us nicer because it allows us to consider someone else’s point of view.  Good literature also allows us to consider our actions on others and provides us with examples of being kind and generous. 

Good picture books also enhance our lives.  With their wide array of topics and vivid artistry, these books play a key role in fostering a child’s imagination, creativity, and interest in reading.  Because they are often read aloud, they provide opportunities for togetherness and connection.  Since November is Picture Book Month, now is the perfect time to share your favorite picture books with children.  Why not head to the library to find new favorites too.  To help you get started, The New York Public Library compiled this list of 100 picture books everyone should know.  Happy reading!


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The Power of Picture Books

Animal Classification is the Conversation

Each animal on the planet can be classified –thanks to Carl Linnaeus

With trick-or-treaters still categorizing Halloween candy, it is a good time to introduce students to Carl Linnaeus.  He liked putting things into categories too – especially plants and animals.  In the wonderful children’s book, The Right Word:  Roget and his Thesaurus, Jen Bryant describes Carl Linnaeus as a man who “put the names of animals and plants in categories, and that made nature much easier to study.” His classification system has seven levels, and each animal on the planet can be classified within his system. 

Carl Linnaeus, "The Father of Taxonomy"

Linnaeus in his Lapland dress, Library of Congress Image


The University of Michigan’s online Animal Diversity Web (animaldiversity.org) provides a wealth of information about animal classification, natural history, distribution and conservation. Prepared by professional biologists, the Animal Diversity Web includes thousands of species accounts.  Students can put in names of animals, learn their classifications and find the genus and species names of their favorite animals (southern right whale dolphin = Lissodelphis peronii). 

Students can then use genus/species names to make a “What Am I?” game.  Generate a list of animals for students to classify.  In small groups, have students research the animals' habitat, food, appearance etc. and their classifications.  Students will use their research to devise clues for the “What Am I?” game.  For example, I am a marine mammal.  I am a carnivore that eats krill.  My tongue can weigh as much as an elephant.  My scientific name is Balaenoptera musculus.  What am I?  (Blue Whale) 

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The Cucurbit Family's Colorful Characters

Autumn's colorful icons:  Pumpkins

Photo courtesy of Frey Farms

Cinderella, Fairytale, Lumina, Aladdin, Baby Bear, and Sugar Pie.  When you read these names, perhaps you think of Disney or fairy tale characters. However, you might be surprised to learn that they are characters in the Cucurbit family, which includes cucumbers, zucchini, melons, gourds, squash, and pumpkins

From the orange Jack-o’-Lantern to the ghostly white Lumina, pumpkins are autumn’s icons. While we often use them for decorations, they are also delicious to eat and filled with the important antioxidant, beta-carotene. No one knows this better than “America’s Pumpkin Queen” Sarah Frey.  She has developed a new line of tasty pumpkins called “Pumpkins of the World.”  She also grows a range of unique varieties with interesting shapes, sizes, and colors.  (The beautiful pumpkin photos are courtesy of her business, Frey Farms). 

Colorful Fairytale Pumpkin

Fairytale pumpkin

Photo courtesy of Frey Farms

Pumpkins’ unique attributes make them an excellent choice for educational exploration.  This time of year, I always had a pumpkin or two in our classroom.  Part of the fun was selecting  names for them. Students would make a list of each pumpkin’s attributes and submit suggestions for a class vote.  Displaying different varieties yielded the most creative suggestions.

Pumpkins make perfect research projects too. Topic ideas include: growing techniques, nutrition, measurement/statistics, historical origins, recipes, and creative pumpkin uses.  For example, student groups can research pumpkin varieties, share the information, and devise/conduct a survey to determine the overall favorite pumpkin. They can also design a brochure or promotional campaign illustrating the many varieties/uses of pumpkins. For pumpkin-lovin’ artists, Pinterest is filled with ideas.

So, what are you waiting for?  There are countless types, shapes, textures, sizes, and colors.  Go pick your pumpkin(s). 

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The Captivating Power of Comics

How comic books support literacy

Comic book fans at the National Book Festival, 2016


My friends’ creative, college-aged sons are comic connoisseurs.  My visits with them always include engaging stories of diverse superheroes and the writers/artists that create them.

Two years ago, they were thrilled to meet MacArthur “genius grant fellow” and comic/graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang at the National Book Festival. His novel, American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award.  Yang believes “both graphic novels and comics can be used effectively as educational tools in the classroom.” 

Comic books can be used as educational tools to support literacy and language skills and to motivate reluctant readers. Organizations such as Reading With Pictures “get comics into schools and schools into comics” by providing educational resources for teachers and parents. 

The Library of Congress believes comics support literacy by:

  • increasing readers’ confidence.
  • providing complex stories that are accessible to older learners.
  • increasing reader comprehension and vocabulary.

Above all, comics remind us how we are all ordinary superheroes sharing our gifts and talents with the world.  As Batman once said, “You only have your thoughts and dreams ahead of you.  You are someone.  You mean something.”  BAM!

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How comic books support literacy
A superhero lives within you!

A Young Giver of Kindness

A Young Giver of Kindness

A small act of kindness can brighten someone’s day. Simple gestures such as a smile or lending a helping hand can be transformative.  There is also evidence that giving or receiving kindness is healthy for us. Treating others with kindness yields positive feelings, which can lift our moods and increase resilience and resourcefulness.  These healthy benefits also apply to children.

One book that exemplifies these positive feelings is the beautiful picture book, Sidewalk Flowers.  In this wordless book, a young girl is a giver of kindness for its own reward.  While walking in the city with her distracted father, she collects sidewalk wildflowers.  “Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter.”  The girl’s sense of wonder reminds us how beauty is all around as long as we take time to look for it. The illustrations encourage storytelling and offer young readers the opportunity to share how their acts of kindness can make the world a better place. 

Conceived by poet JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith, Sidewalk Flowers “is an ode to the importance of small things, small people and small gestures.” 


A Young Giver of Kindness


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Kindness brings happiness.

Building an Independent Project

Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright

All children have interests or hobbies.  Whether it’s a favorite sports team or a passion for photography, individual interests are excellent opportunities for personalized learning.  Not only does independent study allow students to learn more about topics, it also teaches them how to problem solve and present knowledge in creative ways. 

When supervising student projects, it’s important to help students focus their research with a specific guiding question.  For example, if a student wants to research photography, we might discuss recent innovations that have improved photography.  The student’s guiding question might be, “What digital photo enhancements are most beneficial, and what are the best software programs for editing and enhancement?”


Recently, I came across a great independent study project idea for students interested in engineering, architecture, historic preservation, or history.  To commemorate their 125th anniversary, Architectural Record chose 125 of “the most important works of architecture built since the magazine’s founding in 1891.”  What a wealth of material and history to investigate!  From the Chrysler Building in New York to Shanghai Tower in Shanghai, students have 125 options to  select from.  They could investigate why a building was built, who designed it, and why it was designed it a certain style.  They might focus on physical features such as form, size, materials used, color, design etc. 

Other investigations might include research into the “forms of value” attached to the buildings.  Author Graeme Talboys has written about researching a building’s forms of value such as the following:


Symbolic value – For example, a castle is a symbol of power.  The way it was built and sited can increase or diminish that role.

Sentimental value – The building you live in may have more sentimental worth than monetary worth.

Social value – Hospitals are buildings of great social value.

Economic value – Factories, airports or railway stations.

Historic value – Any building where historical events have occurred or buildings that are outstanding examples of their type.

Spiritual value – A church, mosque, synagogue, temple or a place of peace and contemplation.

Cultural value – Museums, arts galleries, gardens etc.

Whatever topic your students decide to research, it is important that they express their own ideas about how they will gather, organize, and present their information. While teaching independent research skills is quite an undertaking (and worthy of another post), the skills students learn lead to success in school and in life. 

Woolworth Building, Cass Gilbert
Woolworth Building

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Create a Whimsical Fairy House

A Leaf-Roofed Fairy House

If you and your children love the outdoors, walks in the woods, and playing make-believe, then you must create your own whimsical fairy house.  These small dwellings are filled with wonder, fun, and creativity.  Best of all, they can be made from things found in nature.  There is no need to purchase store bought materials.  Simply gather leaves, grass, acorns, rocks, shells, petals, pine cones, bark, sticks, etc. 

Build a dream house for any tiny creature, it doesn’t have to be a fairy. How about a little friends of nature headquarters, a cricket condo, or a  ladybug lodge?  Create the floor with leaves or pebbles.  Use small twigs or pine cones for walls and bark for the roof.  The possibilities are endless. 

The following houses were made at Mackworth Island, Maine.  The island trail offers beautiful views of Casco Bay and plenty of pine cones, tassels, driftwood, shells, and seaweed for fairy house inspiration.

At Mackworth Island you, “. . . may build houses small and hidden for the fairies, but please do not use living or artificial materials.  The best materials are found in the landscape of the village itself, but if you chose to bring in natural materials, please return with those that you didn’t use. . . This helps keep the fairies coming back.” 

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Debra Lemieux

If Then Creativity



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