Entertain, Amuse and Educate

How to use nursery rhymes to expand vocabulary


Are you looking for ideas to expand young students’ vocabulary skills?  While the thesaurus is an excellent source for helping students learn new words, it can also be used to generate laughter and fun.  One of my creative colleagues developed many engaging activities to extend speaking and writing vocabularies.  One of my favorites was the highly sophisticated book of nursery rhymes.  Students enjoyed embellishing traditional nursery rhymes with synonyms chosen to entertain, amuse, and educate readers. 

Our class made a big book of revised rhymes and folded each page of the book into thirds.  One-third contained the original rhyme.  One-third contained an illustration, and one-third contained the “highly sophisticated” revised nursery rhyme.  They even included a glossary for others to learn the new words. The students had so much fun creating the books, they incorporated many of the words into their written and spoken vocabularies. 

Humpty Dumpty perched on a barricade,

Humpty Dumpty had a stupendous plunge;

All the monarch's horses and his assemblage

Couldn't fasten Humpty intact again. 



Jack and Jill went up the mound

To obtain a container of aqua;

Jack blundered and cracked his crown,

And Jill came plummeting after. 


How to use nursery rhymes to expand vocabulary

Arcimboldo-Style Portraits

Summer at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art by Phillip Haas

Artist Phillip Haas’ 15-foot-tall sculptures on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art are amazing.  Entitled The Four Seasons, they are 3-dimensional interpretations of Giuseppe Arcimboldo's portrait series of the same name.  Arcimboldo was an Italian Renaissance painter best known for creating "composite head" paintings.  These paintings were composed of items such as tree roots, flowers, and vegetables. 


Exploring these sculptures with children inspires fun and creativity.  Children love to search for the things that remind them of each season.  Summer, shown above, includes leaves, fruits, vegetables, a gourd nose, and a pea pod smile. 

As part of an educational program at the Nelson-Atkins, students learned more about how Haas was inspired by Arcimboldo.  During the program, the students created still-life portraits by using oil pastels on construction paper.  After drawing an assortment of fruits and vegetables, they cut them out and arranged the cut outs into facial representations. 


For more ideas for creating an Arcimboldo-inspired portrait, visit the Denver Art Museum’s Creativity Resources, Composite Picture of a Leader (for secondary students) and Food Face Fun (for primary students). 

Arcimboldo-Style Portraits
Arcimboldo-style portraits
Arcimboldo-inspired portraits

Toys in the Hall:  Which One Gets Your Vote?

12 Classic Toys:  Which One Gets Your Vote?
The National Toy Hall of Fame


The Etch A Sketch, the Hula Hoop, and Lego are three toys that have inspired creative play and enjoyed great popularity.  They are also members of the National Toy Hall of Fame. To date, 56 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."  It is one of the largest history museums in the United States and one of the leading museums serving families and children.
Toy lovers can participate in this year’s National Toy Hall of Fame selection process by casting their votes (once a day) through November 4, 2015.


The twelve 2015 toy finalists are (drum roll, please):

American Girl Dolls
Coloring Book
Super Soaker
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Wiffle Ball


The voting process also offers a variety of engaging learning opportunities.
Students can:   

  • Nominate a toy for 2016 consideration by reading the Hall of Fame’s criteria for induction and writing a persuasive essay that details the reasons for nomination.   
  • Use the 12 toy nominees to create a school-wide poll/experiment that also measures the impact of age, gender, favorite subject, etc. in the selection process.
  • Compute the probability of which toys might be inducted by analyzing the submission data. The percentages, the number of votes, and the total votes are shown after you've chosen your favorite finalist.
  • Graph each toy’s weekly percentage change. 

Related posts:

2014 Toy Finalists

Object of the Month:  Tickles the Monkey

Make Your Own Portrait

Make your own portrait!

Museum visitors seeking to engage with exhibits appreciate the hands-on educational opportunities museums provide.  Many of these programs include both aesthetic and emotional experiences. One example of an effective aesthetic activity was recently offered at The Phillips Collection during their American Moments exhibition.  The exhibit highlighted examples of Modernism, documentary expression, photojournalism, and street photography. 

In a room featuring portraits of artists, a simple prompt encouraged visitors to notice how each photographer used pose, setting, lighting, and props to reflect each artist’s character. After observing the photographs, visitors could make their own portraits with the following directions for guidance:

1.  Find someone in your own life you’d like to draw. It could be an artist, friend, family member, or even yourself.

2.  Select a frame.

3.  Draw a portrait.  The portrait could be realistic or abstract.  Think about the subject’s personality and include details that help tell his/her story.

Visitors of all ages participated in this informal activity

that promoted active learning and engagement with the collection.  

Make your own portrait
Draw a portrait!
Make Your Own Portrait
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Draw a portrait!

National Book Festival 2015

Get ready for another chapter of the National Book Festival!
Get ready for another chapter of the National Book Festival!

Image adapted from the 2014 National Book Festival poster

Get ready for another chapter of the National Book Festival!

Begin Again with Wishes and Dreams

Use wish rocks as inspiration for the new school year.

I’ve collected wish rocks for as long as I can remember.  Finding a stone that has a line wrapped around it always makes me happy.  The smooth wish rocks discovered along beaches or lakes are the most exquisite.

Wish rocks also make good birthday presents.  In addition to making a wish while blowing out the candles, there is another wish to look forward to.  They are useful at the beginning of the school year too.  Give students wish rocks as a way to enhance creativity.  Ask students to think about what inspires/motivates them to learn.  Do they have goals to fulfill?  New things to try? Creative ideas and dreams? Have students elaborate upon their dreams/wishes in stories, journals, collages, mind-maps, or illustrations. 

Peer Selected Books Create Student Led Discussions

Peer selected books create student led discussions
British Library/adapted children's book illustration

Book lovers appreciate the recommendations of other readers.  My friend Nikki is an avid reader, and I often ask for her “must-read” books.  She is familiar with my interests and rarely lets me down.   

Children are no different. When asked how they find new books, they often mention their peers as motivators.  This peer choice results in a wonderful opportunity for children to engage in critical and creative thinking based upon book choice. In flexible informal groups, children can develop discussion topics/questions to help them better understand the book such as:   

  • Why a character does or says something.
  • Why something happens the way it does.
  • The meaning of a word, phrase, or sentence. 
  • Connections between the book and their lives.

Peer selected books and student led discussions enable children to guide their own learning. After books are finished, new groups begin based on new selections.

Good readers are inspired to read.

Exploring Big Ideas Through Blogging

Blogging allows students to consider other viewpoints


Last week, I wrote about “big ideas” in stories and how students can discover these ideas through a discussion of evidence.  Another way for students to build upon ideas is by interacting with others through blogging.  By practicing the skills of critical thinking, elementary (and older) students can explore questions, collaborate in groups, and give or receive feedback.  

The practice of blogging with elementary students might require a bit of scaffolding.  Assess students’ prior knowledge via a class discussion, or introduce the concept of blogging with the following “paper blog” activity.  

While reading a book or story aloud, have students write down questions to share in a small group discussion.  The discussion will foster the exchange of ideas and interpretations.     

After the small group discussion, devise a focus question for an in-depth “blog discussion” and subsequent written response. Students answer the question using evidence from the text, their own understandings, and the interpretations of others.  Students can answer the question directly or extend another student’s response by adding supporting details.  By answering the blog question, students create meaning from the text, support interpretations with evidence from the text, and consider other viewpoints. 

After the blog discussion session, students practice “commenting” about each other’s responses with sticky notes.  

Discuss student examples of “quality blog posts” via their sticky notes. This is also a good time to introduce what is appropriate to post on an actual blog. 

If you’re interested in starting a blog with students, KidBlog.org provides a user-friendly platform to create a class blog, manage user accounts, and control posting/viewing settings.

One way for students to build upon ideas is through blogging.

Why Evidence is Important

Good stories encourage metacognition.


Good stories keep us thinking.  They encourage metacognition and enable children to think critically about the "big ideas" within the details.  One way for children to discover these “big ideas” is through a discussion of evidence. 

For example, after reading Jack and the Beanstalk, you might:    

1.  Present the following question:  Since the giant wanted to eat Jack, was it okay that Jack stole the giant’s goose and harp?

2.  Have children reread the story to mark passages (the evidence) that justify Jack’s actions (or not).

3.  Have children write their answers (using evidence from the story).

5.  Discuss the question by encouraging them to share the evidence they accumulated. During the discussion, children listen to each other's interpretations which leads to new questions and ideas.

6.  In small groups, have children record their ideas and evidence using the headings:  Yes, it was okay for Jack to steal.  No, it was not okay for Jack to steal. 

7.  Discuss how people often change or improve ideas after evaluating the evidence.

Use Jack and the Beanstalk as a springboard for deeper philosophical questions (using evidence from life) such as, Is stealing ever justified? and Why do we believe what we believe?

Why do we believe what we believe?

Name Your Rose

Of all flowres metinks a rose is best.  William Shakespeare

Amadeus Mozart is an award-winning, bright red, climbing hybrid tea rose.  The healthy, large, yellow flowers of the Charles Darwin rose appear throughout the summer and autumn with a lovely scent of citrus and tea.  Anna Pavlova is a fragrant rose with pointy petals and straight sides.  The rose is considered the “Queen of Flowers” and comes in a variety of colors, scents, shapes and has a multitude of uses.  These distinct qualities make it the perfect flower for attribute-based writing activities.  For example, a child interested in history might research a historical figure’s life, then describe the attributes that person’s rose would include.  The same could be done for other well-known people (artists, authors, athletes, musicians, scientists), people the child knows (family members, friends, teachers), or places (national parks, monuments, cities).  Another idea is to have a child name a rose after herself, and describe its attributes.    

What attributes would a rose named after you have?  (The “Debra” would NOT have a “delightful arching” quality.  I am not the most limber person!) 

How to Use a Penny to Practice Basic Computation Skills

"Top Five" Biography Prompts

Top Five Biographical Prompts

I have been reading a few picture book biographies in preparation for an upcoming nonfiction unit.  A good biography has the ability to foster new interests and can be inspiring to children. They especially enjoy reading information about a subject’s childhood.  After reading a biography, many children love to share their knowledge about the person with others.   The following “top five” prompts can be used as a choice menu for children. Have them select their favorite prompt to identify, summarize, and highlight the person’s significance and life experiences.  

Biography Top Five

List the top five. . .

  • Important events in the person’s life. 
  • Ways the world would be different if the person had not existed.
  • Questions you would ask the person.
  • Challenges the person faced.
  • Accomplishments of the person.
  • People you would introduce the person to.  
  • Things people should know about this person.
  • Ways this person’s life was same/different than yours.
  • Pieces of advice the person might give to others.
  • Words you would use to describe the person.  Why did you select each word? 

An Earth Day Acrostic Poem

Happy Earth Day

To celebrate Earth Day and National Poetry Month,

environmentally responsible third graders remind us (via an acrostic poem) to: 

conserve what we have, reduce what we consume, and recycle what we finish.

Earth Day Acrostic Poem

An A+ for Creativity and Humor

Crayons talking via The Day the Crayons Quit

The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt and illustrator Oliver Jeffers, gets an A+ for creativity and humor.  The hilarious book is about disgruntled crayons who have plenty of reasons to quit coloring.  Red crayon needs a rest, Blue needs a break, and Purple demands precision.  It’s up to Duncan to find a creative way to solve all their problems.  He wants all his crayons to be happy! 

The Day the Crayons Quit is a wonderful selection for promoting higher-level thinking and fun.  The following ideas will get you started, but the possibilities are endless.

Children can: 

  • Compare and contrast the crayons’ points of view and create their own interpretations and perspectives.
  • Write similies or metaphors for each crayon and explore metaphorical meanings of idioms . . . “Purple Crayon is as neat as a pin.”
  • Describe future crayon behaviors by making predictions.  “What will the crayons do in the future?”
  • Analyze cause and effect.  “If Yellow Crayon and Orange Crayon stop speaking again, what will happen?” 
  • Use paint color sample cards to create color synonyms for a selected crayon.  (For example, paint sample names for shades of green include, avocado, chartreuse, emerald, olive, and teal.)  Add adjectives and imagery to further describe the crayon’s feelings and emotions with poetry
The Day the Crayons Quit is a wonderful selection for higher-level thinking and fun!

Over in the Reef in an Ancient Blue Zoo

Beautiful wildflowers

The song, “Over in the Meadow” is a traditional sing-a-long song that allows young children to sing, count, rhyme, and make animal sounds.  The song’s rhythmic pattern also encourages musical experimentation. A group of third graders revised this happy song by rewriting the lyrics. We also spent time discussing why the rhyme pattern appeals to young children. The excited third graders decided rewriting the lyrics was a great opportunity to introduce preschoolers to a few new animals  They even recorded themselves singing their lively composition (with Audacity) to share with younger siblings. 

It's also a fun song to welcome spring and to celebrate Music in our Schools Month

       Over in the Meadow Rewrites

Over in the ocean in a warm tropic sea,
Lived a spiky mother lionfish and her little lionfish three.
“Swim,” said the mother, “we swim” said the three,
And they swam and were glad in their warm tropic sea.

Over in the forest in a green humongous tree,
Lived a strong mother squirrel and her little squirrels three.
“Run,” said mother, “we run” said the three,
And they ran and were glad in their green humongous tree.

Over in the ocean in an ancient brass crate,
Lived a huge father T. Rex and his little T. Rexes eight.
“Roar,” said the father, “we roar” said the eight,
And they roared and were glad in their ancient brass crate. 

Out on the lawn in a huge, worn tree,
Lived a furry mother chipmunk and her little chipmunks three.
“Chirp,” said the mother, “we chirp” said the three,
And they chirped and were glad in their huge worn tree.   

Over on the shore in an old hollow oar,
Lived a poisonous father snake and his little snakes four,
“Ssssss,” said the father, “we ssssss” said the four,
And they ssssssed and were glad in their old hollow oar.   

Over in the reef in an ancient blue zoo,
Lived a tiny mother nurse shark and her little nurse sharks two,
“Swim,” said the mother, “we swim” said the two,
And they swam and were glad in their ancient blue zoo.

Creativity in Motion with OSnap


Creating an animated short film is a process that requires patience, imagination and problem solving.  Most of all, it involves lots of creative fun. 

I had plenty of fun making “Creativity in Motion” with OSnap, which is an easy to use app that features time-lapse and stop motion photography.  Using an iPad and lots of buttons, I was able to create my first animated film! 

What I liked about the process was figuring out the layout of the buttons for each shot. Pre-planning problem solving included calculating the size of the display area (and the letters), figuring out how to photograph the button jar spilling buttons, and understanding the nuances of stop motion movements.  I had a tendency to move too many button at once.  I also used a tripod to hold the iPad steady. 

Most children enjoy animation, so they will love creating their own projects.  OSnap is quite user friendly.  Children of all ages can immediately start snapping photographs, experimenting, and learning! 

What Does Music Mean to You?

Music Makes Me . . .


There's nothing like playing music to make me feel alive.  According to music professor Dr. Anita Collins, "When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout."  Studying music develops skills in listening, reading, self-expression, and creativity.


You can celebrate that creativity in March during Music in Our Schools Month.  Embrace the benefits of music by engaging children in a discussion about what music means to them. 

music makes me feel alive

7 Calendar Clues to Extend Math Concepts

spring is on the way!

In many primary grade classrooms, the school day starts with a morning calendar activity.  Calendar time is the time to share birthdays, announcements, the lunch menu, and the daily schedule. It’s a wonderful time to build community and reinforce a variety of social skills.

Calendar activities can also extend academic skills.  The following calendar clues extend math concepts such as time sequencing (before/after) and adding/subtracting the dates of special events. 

These clues can be used with primary-aged children to learn more about upcoming dates in March, April, May and June.  Using a shared calendar and a search engine such as KidRex, primary students can team up with upper elementary “buddies” to answer the questions.  At home, parents can guide children to find the answers by teaching them about keywords and search terms.  Once children are familiar with the activity, have them make their own calendar clues. 

Calendar Clues to Extend Math Skills
Creative Calendar Clues.pdf
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The Language of Friendship

Everyone needs friends

Everyone needs friends, and we all want to feel connected and valued by others.  Some of us may have a few close friends, while others have a wide range of friendships.  Among children, peer relationships can be a challenge.  Some children may worry about being part of a certain group or have a hard time fitting in. 

In addition to nurturing imagination and discovery, books can help children address struggles they may be experiencing in their lives - especially friendship issues.  (I’m planning a separate post with suggested titles, but feel free to email me if you have specific questions.)

The following discussion prompt can be used to introduce books with friendship elements and to build insight about the meaning of friendship.

Brainstorm the term “friendship” by having children list the qualities they look for in a friend.  Discuss what qualities are most important and why.  Elaborate on the concept of “best friend” by discussing how a best friend differs from a regular friend or an acquaintance.  Inquire about the benefits of having friends who are different from you.  Can friendship change over time?  Can you be mad at or jealous of a friend? 

Share the following quote by Henry David Thoreau:  “The language of friendship is not words but meanings.”  Discuss what the quotation implies about the nature of friendship. 


Lovable Prompts

book heart

The following prompt options encourage children to apply their knowledge of a book character.  Children select one of the following choices to answer (and support with elaboration). This activity can be used for class discussions, writing activities, student-generated questionnaires, games, question cubes, or any format that promotes creativity.  Better yet, have children add their own options to the list.  

Which book character would you “love” to . . .

create a playlist of songs for?
have on your sport’s team?
help you with your homework?
ask a question?
take to a movie?
play video games with?
cook a meal for?
have in your book club?
play a board game with?
design an app for?
tell a secret to?
have as a sibling?
trade places with?
travel with?
send a valentine to?
paint a portrait of?
be stranded on an island with?
buy a present for?
have as a teacher?
create a comic strip about?
play outside with?
go to Disney World with?
have as a best friend?

P.S. Generally I would use the word “like” instead of “love.”  However, since it’s February…

sidewalk heart

One Man's Castle


Some creative people learn to work anywhere – alone in a room facing blank walls or seated in a cubicle with lots of interruptions.  Artist Howard Solomon works and lives in a castle he built in a central Florida swamp (in the middle of nowhere). Made from discarded aluminum printing plates, the castle is filled with Solomon’s “junk art” metal sculptures, stained glass windows and wood carvings. Each piece makes a comic statement -– often sarcastic.

Like Howard himself, the castle is filled with imagination, humor, and creativity. It may not be your ideal place to work, but it's a great place to visit for some quirky fun. 


Howard Solomon

Solomon a la Modigliani a la Solomon

Howard Solomon 2006

Check Out Our PSAs

Children reading

jdurham photo

Public Service Announcements (PSAs) created by students are a great way to promote reading and creative expression. Students advocate for their favorite books and/or authors and highlight the many benefits of reading for pleasure.

Better yet, students can create PSAs to bring awareness to social issues found within books. For example, the book Wonder served as the inspiration for an anti bullying campaign.

First, share a few PSA examples to emphasize the impact they can have on changing people’s behavior (persuasion). Next, share child friendly news sites such as Here There Everywhere or Time for Kids to explore current issues and to brainstorm topics.

Finally, have students work in groups to select a book that contains a behavior, issue, or message they want to use as a PSA. Using storyboard presentations, each group pitches their idea to the class for feedback, and then begins the collaborative process of creating a 30 - 60 second PSA.

Share the PSAs via the school’s closed circuit video system. Also, consider an ongoing slide show within the media center to create enthusiasm about the finished projects and to encourage others to read the books. Evaluate the project by calculating the circulation numbers of the presented books. Additionally, a child centered Likert survey could assess the effectiveness of the PSAs.

Pledge to choose kind.

Bilingual Benefits


Exposing your children to a variety of activities helps them discover their passions and talents, and I'm sure your child likes to try new things.  Perhaps s/he would like to learn a foreign language.  If you are fluent in a foreign language, you probably already speak it at home.  If not, try the popular website and free mobile app, Duolingo.  While there are many features that make Duolingo easy to use, I like how children can start speaking the language immediately, using food and animal names and basic phrases such as hello and thank you.  Your children will love saying these new words and phrases!  The interactive game-like format appeals to kids of all ages.  For those who already know the basics of a language, there is a placement test to skip ahead. 

Try Duolingo for yourself.  (On ne vit qu’une fois.) There are many advantages of being bilingual.  According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), learning a second language at an early age . . .

  • Has a positive effect on intellectual growth.  
  • Enriches and enhances a child's mental development.
  • Leaves students with more flexibility in thinking, greater sensitivity to language, and a better ear for listening.  
  • Improves a child's understanding of his/her native language.   
  • Opens the door to other cultures and helps a child understand and appreciate people from other countries.
  • Gives a student a head start in language requirements for college.
  • Increases job opportunities in many careers where knowing another language is a real asset.
That's great!

Contact Information

Debra Lemieux

If Then Creativity



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