Every year, someone forgets their Valentine cards. In my experience, this has occurred much more frequently since we slipped into this recession. I expect to have lots of “forgotten” Valentine cards this year.
Fortunately, I have an “Emergency Valentines” supply—multiple boxes of deep-discount Valentine cards I bought after the holiday last year.
Discreetly, I send the student to another classroom to address their Valentines. In my opinion, this is a much better system than having students make their own emergency Valentines at school the day of the party. Distributing hastily made Valentines is embarrassing for the giver. Why do that to a student when you can buy a box of Valentines for a dollar?
If you don’t have an emergency Valentine card supply, start one now by picking up Valentine cards at your local dollar store. Great idea: buy several boxes so you have enough for Valentine’s Day emergencies in other classrooms. E-mail teachers at your school about your emergency stash. You will make friends with teachers and their students you rescue.
After this Valentine’s Day, buy your spare valentine cards for a quarter!
P.S. Don’t forget to pick up paper bags for holding Valentine cards your students receive!
Groundhog Day is a fun, low-stress holiday for the elementary classroom.
Teach your students about the history of Groundhog Day using my Groundhog Day Worksheet. You will find vocabulary definitions, think and respond questions, and a fun tongue twister about woodchucks. (Did you know a woodchuck and a groundhog are the same creature?)
Visit Groundhog.org, the official website of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, for pictures, articles, and resources for teachers. (I like the songs to the tune of “Winter Wonderland” and “Up on the Housetop.”)
“Punxsutawney” [puhngk-suh-taw-nee ] originally was settled by the Delaware Indians.
The name derives from a Native American term which translates to “town of the sandflies.”
The town is located in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, 84 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
Here is a quick brush-up on Groundhog Day history from my worksheet:
Groundhog Day is a holiday celebrated on February 2nd. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when the groundhog emerges from its burrow, the groundhog will leave the burrow, signaling that winter will soon end. If it is not cloudy, the groundhog will see its shadow and retreat back into the burrow. Winter will continue for six more weeks.
Groundhog Day began as a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition in the 18th and 19th centuries (1700s and 1800s). In Pennsylvania today, you can see official Groundhog Day early morning festivals. You can enjoy special food, hear speeches, and even watch a g’spiel (play or skit). You might find that only the Pennsylvania German dialect is spoken. Those who speak English at the event pay a penalty, usually a coin per English word spoken, to a bowl at the center of the table.
Students love to learn about Martin Luther King, Jr., but his achievements seem inaccessible to them. For kids, Dr. King was a fully-formed civil rights leader who always knew just what to do.
You can inspire children by teaching them about Dr. King’s school days. Then they will understand that he had to face obstacles, study, and learn. Kids feel so powerless sometimes—it’s good to show them that famous people were once children, and that everyone was a beginner at some point.
In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, you may want to show the “I Have a Dream” speech to your students. I have found that this speech is captivating for elementary school students, but it is absolutely necessary for you to teach them about the speech before they listen.
I’d like to share my teaching notes (pdf) on MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech with you and your students. I hope it helps you teach the historical context, allusions, and rhetorical techniques. If you copy my teaching notes for your students, I suggest you read the speech with them and explain the context. Then, listening to Dr. King give the speech will be an unforgettable experience for your students.
Why are teaching notes so important? The “I Have a Dream” speech is rich in allusions: historical, biblical, and even financial. Your students will appreciate these allusions—if they know about them.
Take the first few paragraphs: will your students understand the significance of the speech’s setting, the Lincoln Memorial, and the phrase “a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today” if you don’t explain these details? Will your students understand how the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution compare to a promissory note? My teaching notes explain these details clearly.
What about the famous part of the speech, at the end? For example, knowledge of geography is essential to understanding the “let freedom ring” section. Dr. King begins it with “let freedom ring…” [in famous landmarks of northern and western states]… “But not only that. Let freedom ring…” in famous landmarks in the southern states.] The sequence will be more memorable for your students if they understand this distinction. Without teaching notes, your students might miss much of the meaning.
I recommend you buy the Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream speech on DVD rather than listen to the speech through the Internet. This DVD introduces the speech with real footage of events leading up to it. You can also watch a featurette about the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. Your students will enjoy seeing the marchers and will be impressed with how well-dressed the marchers are. (Every year, this is the first thing my students notice.)
“…December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
If your class is like mine, you will find that students know next to nothing about this tragic and important event.
I have taught the following lessons to both third and fifth graders. Students are eager to learn about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and I never have any trouble keeping their attention.
First, I describe the event to students, and place it in the context of World War II.
Here is a good reading comprehension worksheet with a short passage about Pearl Harbor. This passage gives American embargoes on Japan as the reason for the attack. I think that children should know that destroying the Pacific Fleet was another Japanese goal for the attack.
I read President Roosevelt’s famous speech and explain it to the students. I give students a copy of the speech. You can print the speech and listen to it at AmericanRhetoric.com Students are fascinated to hear this address from so long ago. They listen much better if they can read along.
After students understand what happened, I tie the lesson into writing by showing a first draft of FDR’s speech, from the National Archives. It’s interesting to see how he developed the most famous phrases.
InstructorWeb has a nice packet about the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s appropriate for students in 5th grade and up. The packet features a passage to read, a chart, and questions: multiple choice, short answer, matching, and essay.
Mouse on the Mayflower is a time-honored Thanksgiving movie. Your class will enjoy the cartoon story told from a mouse’s point of view.
For older students, you can use this FREE comprehension worksheet to increase the educational value a little. The questions are easily completed by a fifth-grader who pays attention. This worksheet is perfect for grades 4-6. In my experience, third graders just stress out and interrupt each other asking for the answers because they missed them.
FREE online debate game: The Icivics Cast Your Vote game lets kids run the debate! Two fictitious debate important (but not too controversial) issues. Students choose which question to ask and then decide which candidate they agree with. At the end, they get to vote. A printout shows how often they agreed with that candidate and how strongly. Students will probably find that no one candidate reflects all their views; voters have to make a judgment call on what’s important to them.
Your judgment call: will you make your students write an essay about their debate game? Why or why not?
Learn about voting rights: who got the vote and when? What are barriers to voting? This Icivics lesson packet gives you everything you need to teach the topic of voting rights at the elementary level.
The classic site for teaching elections and government: Ben’s Guide to Government: this extensive site gives you materials to teach government to students in grades K-12. For branches of government to the Electoral College, all the information you need is here.
Classic election night homework: give students this Electoral College map coloring page that they can fill out as they watch the election returns. You can also do this the next day at school.
Teacher Tip: the day after a presidential election can be a rough one in the classroom. Some students internalize their parents’ politics. If their candidate didn’t win, kids can be very depressed or angry. Likewise, students whose candidate did win can be insufferably smug. You can talk with students about how after the election, the president represents everyone. Then you might want to move on to a new subject, fun art activity, learning game—anything but elections and government!
During the first week of school, I used to have to do a lot of cleaning after dismissal each day. This is because I hadn’t set up a clear job system right away and train my students. Then, I got smart and made it a priority. Setting up a class jobs system gives students a sense of competence, community and cleanliness all at once.
Let me share with you a brilliant class job system that keeps the room spic-and-span. (Many of the ideas came from my students—the best solutions always do.)
Before this brilliant system, I had what most teachers have: a rotation system for jobs. The problem with this is that kids forget what their job is, and you constantly have to train students in a new job. Plus, kids slack because they know you can’t keep up with who is supposed to do what.
My students and I developed a job system based on efficiency, not fun. (It turned out to be fun anyway.) We created an Excel spreadsheet listing all the jobs we thought we needed. Then we began to assign jobs. By the end of the year, everyone had at least three jobs. Some kids had more.
You can download and view this sample Excel spreadsheet. You can sort it by job to assign one job to several students. You can sort it by student to see how many jobs each student has. You might not recognize some of the jobs—delete them! Feel free to add your own. Please post your best ideas for jobs so we can all learn.
Each job earns income: five table points for doing it in the morning, and five table points for the afternoon. (Jobs that don’t fit this schedule are assigned table points that seem fair.)
First thing in the morning and at the end of the day, the class becomes a beehive of activity as students complete their assigned jobs and mark their table points. Our classroom always looks great!
I know it’s not feasible to assign all 90 jobs during the first week. I usually identify my 30 most important jobs and assign those. When the kids ask if they can switch jobs later in the year, I’ll tell them no. I’ll cheer them up by saying that we can start assigning more jobs as people show how well they can do their assigned jobs.
Some kids are particularly good workers and may have more jobs than others. I also let kids invent jobs and then do them. The deal is that if you invent the job, you get first dibs on doing it. (Aren’t elementary kids great? They want to help in the classroom.) The kids think of very clever ways to keep the classroom looking nice, and that makes it a better place to learn!
Some students are at risk of going hungry during the first days of the school year. Kids who might qualify for a free or reduced price lunch may not be in the program yet, and they might not have anything to eat. As a teacher, you can save the day by watching out for these kids.
Walk with your students to lunch during the first days of school. Stay and watch them go through the lunch line and/or take a seat at the table. You might notice a student who has neither a hot nor a cold lunch. Or you might notice a student who gets to the front of the lunch line and is confused when asked for payment. You can swoop in and save the day.
How you save the day depends on a lot of things. In one situation, I just paid a student’s account for a few weeks until the school sorted out the situation. (I did it on the quiet; the student and parent did not know.) The student was an English Language Learner and the parent was new to the country. It took a while to explain that there was a program in place and to enroll the child.
You might also be able to speak with the cafeteria manager, social worker or principal. Someone is going to help make sure that the child gets a lunch. You will be glad that you noticed the problem and were able to make a difference in a child’s daily life.
When you brand your classroom, everything becomes more fun. Branding builds community because it makes your class feel more like a club.
My last name is Green. When I taught third grade, I branded my classroom G3 and created a logo with an interlocking G and 3. On the first day of school, I taught the kids how to do a class huddle and congratulate ourselves. (I say “Go, us!” and the kids reply “G3!” in their deepest and most macho voices.) We also created a logo that we proudly displayed on our door.
The picture at right shows the G3 version of the Roman testudo (tortoise) formation. This was our class’s entry into the Social Studies parade. Our curriculum included Greek and Roman history, so a testudo formation was right up our alley. The G3 posterboard shields look nice, don’t they?
The G3 brand belonged to everyone in the class. Students proudly decorated folders, notebooks and even backpacks. Our PTSO created signing shirts for end-of-year autographs, and the kids all wanted G3 on their shirt.
I knew a teacher whose classroom was in the basement, Room B-6. She renamed her classroom “The BOG” as wordplay on B-o6, then she used frogs as a theme for everything related to her class.
Another teacher chose ladybugs for a theme. She called her students “Lovebugs,” as in “Lovebug, could you have made a better choice than hitting Tommy?” Everything sounds sweet if you add “lovebug.”
I highly recommend that you create a brand for your classroom. It can be a play on your name or grade, the school name, or a theme that you can use to decorate the classroom. Make it unique so that it only applies to your class. The “insider” feeling will be well worth the effort.
I learned the “offer a choice of two” tip from a mom volunteer, who smoothly distributed about 5 flavors of popsicles with all students feeling like they had a choice in the treat they were given. I realized that offering a choice of 2 has many classroom management applications:
— It speeds up questioning that’s intended to keep the lesson going, not spark deep thought. “Should we put the apostrophe before or after the s?” instead of “Where should we put the apostrophe?”
— It gives students options without overwhelming them with choices: “Would you like to use markers or crayons?” instead of “What would you like to color with?”
— It offers students a pseudo-choice: “Would you like to calm down and do the activity with us, or refocus in another classroom?” instead of “Shape up or ship out.” (also a choice of 2, actually)
— It teaches kids to make a decision, then stick with it. Most decisions in life are not worth over-thinking. Your mom’s birthday card will look good whether you use red paper or pink. Just pick one!
Teachers, here are FREE Leap Year worksheets written by a National Board Certified Teacher. I hope you and your students enjoy them!
Here is an enjoyable reading comprehension worksheet called “Fun with Leap Year and Leap Day.” The passage and questions are indeed fun. What other worksheet challenges you to figure out what Pope Paul III and Ja Rule have in common? (Answer: they were both born on Leap Day.)
You and your students will enjoy learning about Leap Year luck (or lack thereof), Leap Year marriage proposals in Ireland, and the quandary posed by a Leap Year birthday in The Pirates of Penzance. The questions are all opinion based—and in my opinion, you shouldn’t grade them! Give students credit for completion, then go home and kick back to enjoy the rest of Leap Day.
Next is my fun “Was it a Leap Year?” worksheet that lets students apply their knowledge of divisibility by 4. Hints for determining divisibility by 4 are at the bottom of the page. The worksheet teaches a special case: century years. Because a revolution around the sun does not quite take 365.25 days, only century years divisible by 400 are Leap Years. The worksheet gives a student-friendly explanation and challenges them to determine if a century year was or wasn’t a Leap Year. I also have provided an Answer Key as a separate download.
Teachers, here are FREE Leap Year worksheets written by a National Board Certified Teacher. I hope you and your students enjoy them!
The first one is a reading comprehension worksheet about Leap Year. It’s a good, basic introduction to the concept of Leap Year that is appropriate for third grade and up.
Next is a writing worksheet about how and why Julius Caesar created Leap Year and rearranged the calendar. To shake things up a little, this worksheet challenges students to write a newspaper article about the event. The article gives “notes” our fictitious reporter took at the press conference—in a handy who, what, where, when, why format.
Stay tuned for Free Leap Year Worksheets Part Two: Leap Year trivia reading comprehension and Leap Year math!
“Ballad of Birmingham” is a famous poem about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 in which four girls were killed. Of all the lessons I present in connection with the Civil Rights movement, this is the most emotional and memorable.
You can use materials from BalladofBirmingham.org to teach your students about the poem. You will learn the story of the bombing, the story of the poem, and the story of the song. I recommend that you read the poem with your students. The song should be a separate experience, but it is one worth sharing.
Here is a video with the song and news footage. I recommend that you view it yourself and decide if it is appropriate for your students.
You can also see a clip about the church bombing from the History Channel. This explains the context of the bombing in a powerful, visual and concise way. Again, view it yourself and decide if this is appropriate for your students.
**I discovered the poem “Ballad of Birmingham” as a child, when I won a Dr. Martin Luther King Day essay contest at the US Navy base in Naples, Italy. There was a ceremony in honor of Dr. King. I read my essay, but by far the most memorable part of the day was when my friend Keisha’s mom recited “Ballad of Birmingham.” She ended by singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” This powerful performance is one of my most cherished memories.
My essay compares Dr. King’s dream to the international community at the NATO base in Naples, Italy. Read my essayat the About the Author section of my CoreyGreen.com website.
Ballad of Birmingham by Dudley Randall
“Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?”
“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren’t good for a little child.”
“But, mother, I won’t be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free.”
“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children’s choir.”
She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.
The mother smiled to know her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.
For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.
She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?”