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 ( 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) 

Did you like this article?  Share it. 

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!

Did you like this article?  Share it. 

How comic books support literacy
A superhero lives within you!

Spring Cleaning is Done!

Relax in an adirondack chair this summer

Phew!  Spring cleaning is done, and summer is underway with our redesigned website. 

Feel free to explore and stayed tuned for more. . .

Spring Cleaning

5 Classroom Practices to Use at Home

5 Classroom Practices to Do at Home

When I was a classroom teacher, I often felt conflicted about time management. It seemed there was never enough time to incorporate the creative spontaneity of children. It was always difficult to align the students’ excitement for learning new things with instructional goals and responsibilities. The following classroom practices helped me shift from a time-pressured adult to a nurturing motivator.  Parents can use them at home too. 

1.  Laugh.
I often use humor to reduce stress. It’s good to share laughs together in the classroom because students remember things that make them laugh.  A classroom filled with laughter is a classroom with positive energy. 

2.  Take a quick movement break. 
Like children, I have trouble sitting still, so movement helps me focus.  We all need movement to perform at our very best.  Simple stretches, dancing to music, and tossing a ball while asking and answering questions are easy ways to integrate movement with learning. 

3.  Read aloud.
Reading aloud improves the classroom climate. Children love being read to, and research shows that reading aloud is the most important thing a parent can do to help a child prepare for learning. 

4.  Play a warm-up game.
In addition to fostering creativity and learning, play makes a child's life more fun.  I created plenty of quick game-based warm-ups that were fun for me too.  A warm-up is a short activity at the start of a lesson to jump-start students' thinking.  They have many purposes including:

  •     to introduce a new topic
  •     to reinforce skills
  •     to motivate students
  •     to prepare students to learn
  •     to assess how much students know

5.  Sing a song.
Music inspires.  It also enriches our brains and helps children control emotions.   

5 Classroom Practices to Do at Home

Jammin' with Five All-Star Jazz Selections

Explore jazz with these five all-star selections


April is a wonderful month – spring is in the air, trees are showing their leaves, birds are chirping, and everyone feels more energized.  It’s the perfect time of year for Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM).  Created at the National Museum of American History, JAM encourages everyone to participate in jazz.  You can celebrate by learning more about one of the jazz legends whose birthday falls in April:  Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Dodds, Lionel Hampton, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Shorty Rogers, Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Freddie Hubbard, Randy Weston, or Herbie Hancock.  How's that for an all-star lineup?!!


While it’s difficult to highlight jazz in just a few tracks, students can begin to explore jazz with the following selections, chosen by Bill McKemy, Director of Education and Public Programs at the American Jazz Museum.  Located in the historic 18th & Vine Jazz District in Kansas City, Missouri, the American Jazz Museum brings to life “the great American art form of jazz.” 

Louis Armstrong (with his wife Lil Hardin Armstrong on piano)
"Heebie Jeebies":  This recording is known as the first recorded example of “scat singing” a style of vocal improvisation with nonsense lyrics.

Mary Lou Williams
"Walkin’ and Swingin’":  Mary Lou Williams was known as the first great female instrumentalist in jazz. She was also a very influential composer, arranger and mentor.

Coleman Hawkins
"Body & Soul":  A classic recording by the first great tenor saxophonist in jazz.

Miles Davis
"Move":  A great example of the post-bebop “cool jazz” style.

Esperanza Spaulding with Gretchen Parlato
"Inutil Paisagem"

April is Jazz Month (JAM)!  Jam with these five all-star selections

The Benefits of Music Education

March is Music in Our Schools Month (MIOSM), an annual celebration to promote the benefits of music education programs in our schools. Along with the joy of sharing their love of music with children, music educators are also highlighting the many ways music inspires.  Music is an important subject for students.  In addition to the many ways music enriches our brains, playing a musical instrument may also help children overcome anxiety, focus attention, and control emotions. Music educators witness these cognitive and social-emotional benefits in students everyday.  Join them in singing the praises of music education. 

Embrace This Trait to Nurture Creativity

cherry blossoms

Cherry Blossoms in the Spring, Created by Joyce, Age 14, Grade 8, Oil on canvas, Art Teacher:  Ellen Shlayan


Creative children are often passionate about their interests and become absorbed in their artistic projects.  They engage their creativity with new ideas and perspectives.  Another important trait they embrace is persistence. They persevere in order for their ideas to become realities. 

According to creativity experts, Susan Daniels and Daniel Peters, “Persistence is a necessary trait to see the creative spark realized, to see the creative idea develop into the creative project.” 

The development of this trait is evident in the following middle school student’s reflection about her painting. She embraces her creativity with skill, passion, and lots of persistence. 

“Being an artist has taught me that people view things differently.  I learned that artists have many styles and techniques, and that we all should embrace our creativity.  Ms. Shlayan helped me become the innovative artist I am today.  She guides me to create artwork that demonstrates my skill, passion, and love for art.  Creating this artwork was mentally strenuous as I really wanted to focus on the details and developing the colors for this piece.  It was physically tiring too.  I took respites from time to time to allow my arm to rest.  I persevered through it all."

Embrace This Trait to Nurture Creativity

Contact Information

Debra Lemieux

If Then Creativity


Follow :