Month: October 2013

It’s That Time Again

Yes Folks, it’s that time again. The NAPLAN results are out and children and parents all over the country are either bragging about how their child is in the teeny triangle bit at the top of the scale or feeling very disappointed.  

When these tests were introduced, we (teachers) were informed that the purpose was to identify struggling students and provide the necessary funding to better support them.  

Sounds good, eh? Well, what has actually happened is that the results are now published like league tables and they being used by schools to tout for clientele and by parents to decide on the perfect school for their children.  The funding is still provided to buy extra teacher aide time etc. for intervention strategies that the schools decide to put in place but, it seems to me, that money has become the central issue to NAPLAN rather than the welfare of the students.  

These days, in many schools, the first term is spent “preparing for NAPLAN” in Years 3, 5 and 7.  My students at the tutoring centre also report that the Year 4 and 6 classes at their schools have already begun preparation activities for the next year’s test.  This horrifies me. Add this to the prescribed curriculum units which have to printed out and followed to the letter and you might just as well have a team of robots operating in our classrooms.

I know I couldn’t cope within this system.  I am glad that I am no longer a classroom teacher.  I enjoyed planning out my sequence of lesson plans, discussing plans with the children, differentiating for my students’ varying interests and abilities, integrating areas of study etc.  Couldn’t be doing too much of that now, could I?  

Here is a piece of a letter that was sent out by one principal to parents in an effort to explain to them that NAPLAN and other such devices are not the be all and end all of the teaching/learning experience.  It provides a healthy perspective for those parents to ponder. I applaud him.

 “We are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you– the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do. They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that you have traveled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends. They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best… the scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything. There are many ways of being smart.”


Movement, Songs and Stories by Steve Reifman

Steve Reifman is a National Board Certified elementary school teacher, author, and speaker with almost 20 years of classroom experience. He has a Master’s degree in education from UCLA, and has traveled to Japan as a Fulbright Memorial Fund Scholar. Steve has written several books, including an award-winning middle-grades mystery novel, Chase Against Time. His newest book for educators, Rock It! Transform Classroom Learning through Music, Songs, and Stories has just been published by Brigantine Media. Check out Steve’s website




7 Reasons to Incorporate Movement, Songs, and Stories into Your Teaching


Guest blog post by Steve Reifman

Several years ago I started reading about the results of recent brain research and its implications for student learning. The more books I read, the more my interest in this topic grew. Before long I came across a wide variety of recommended teaching practices, and I eagerly incorporated them into my classroom instruction. Without fail, three types of effective, brain-friendly strategies consistently stood out as unusually engaging and powerful – those involving movement, songs, and stories.

Children simply reacted differently to lessons and activities that included elements of movement, songs, and stories. In fact, the entire classroom environment became transformed and the learning gains immediately evident. Because of my belief in the promise of movement, songs, and stories as learning catalysts, I began a quest to find, adapt, and create as many activities as possible that incorporated these elements. In this post I describe seven reasons why these types of activities have such a strong impact on both student learning and the classroom environment.

I want you to have access to the activities I describe below, so I’m offering a free sampler of my new book that includes these lessons mentioned below. You may want to download the Rock It! Transform Classroom Learning with Movement, Songs, and Stories Sampler and refer to it as you read about the strategies.

  1. Forges an Emotional Connection
    Educator Jeff Haebig explains that emotions drive attention and attention drives learning. Activities that include movement, songs, and stories resonate with children on an emotional level, engage them deeply, and enable them to make a personal connection with academic content. As a result, they pay closer attention and remember more. One of my favorite examples is “The Story of Peri Meter” because kids love hearing about this unique individual whose personality helps them understand the concept of perimeter.  
  2. Builds Self-Esteem
    Students who tend to experience difficulty with more traditional forms of learning usually find greater success with activities that incorporate movement, songs, and stories. For example, I have found that participating in “The Synonym-Antonym Sidestep” and “The Jumping Game” (see sampler) will do more to help children learn synonyms and antonyms than several days’ worth of paper-and-pencil instruction on the same topic. With this greater success comes greater confidence and improved self-esteem. We, as teachers, can capitalize on these moments of success to create a carryover effect to other parts of the school day.
  3. Improves Team Bonding
    Many kids are fortunate enough to experience the happiness and satisfaction that come from being a valued member of a successful team – playing Little League baseball, performing in a youth orchestra, or acting in a school play. Our classrooms can provide the same kind of bonding experience with the addition of activities that incorporate movement, songs, and stories. Students feel a greater sense of “connectedness” to the class and to one another. I have noticed this to be especially true when we sing “The Book Parts Song,” and our other learning tunes.

  4. Adds Novelty
    As adults, we appreciate a clever turn of phrase on a billboard or a unique combination of ingredients on a restaurant menu. The same holds true with children and their classroom learning. Activities that include movement, songs, and stories score high on novelty value, and kids love it when their teachers present information in a way that is a bit out of the ordinary or off the wall. For example, my student love it when I wear a Hawaiian shirt and play Hawaiian music as I describe the “Multiplication Hula” strategy for correctly placing the decimal point when doing multiplication problems involving money.
  5. Involves Multiple Learning Modalities
    Typical paper-and-pencil schoolwork addresses only two of the “intelligences” popularized by Howard Gardner, the linguistic and logical-mathematical. Movement, songs, and stories also address these intelligences and bring into play the bodily-kinesthetic, musical, and spatial, among others. The more modalities we reach, the more successful students will be. We hit the “Teaching Grand Slam” when children participate in activities, such as “Place Value Jumping Jacks,” in which they see, say, hear, and move through the content at the same time.
  6. Creates Memorable Experiences
    Educator Dave Burgess says, “Lessons are quickly forgotten; experiences are remembered forever.” Infusing classroom activities with movement, songs, and stories turns potentially dry academic lessons into engaging, multi-modal experiences that kids will remember and talk about with their family and friends. For example, my students’ ability to locate ordered pairs on a coordinate grid increased dramatically when I stopped providing mere explanations and started taking the class on a “virtual field trip” to the local farmer’s market where they could walk through an actual grid and select fruits and vegetables of their own.
  7. Increases Enthusiasm for Learning
    In addition to all the other academic and social-emotional benefits I have described, these activities are an absolute blast. Playing active games, singing songs, and sharing stories puts smiles on children’s faces, enriches their days with excitement and joy, and helps make school a happy place for them.   

Teaching is a difficult, demanding job, and we need to find pleasure in our work to be at our best in the classroom. Movement, songs, and stories can really help our students learn, and what’s even better, we can all have fun along the way. These activities create situations where children are completely focused and well-behaved, work with purpose, and learn enthusiastically. I’m not sure how we can beat that.

Great Ideas from Rachel Lynette

Here are some terrific ways for students to show what they have learned.  Thanks for the list, Rachel.   Rachel’s blog is   Go and have a look, all you teachers and home schoolers.  You will find some really interesting ideas.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

72 Creative Ways for Students to Show What They Know


As we all know, students already get plenty of tests, so why not let your students show what they learned creatively? Whether your students are reading independent books or your class has just finished a unit on space or pioneers, a culminating project can really cement that learning. Here are 72 fun and creative ways for your students to show what they know:

  1. Create a poster
  2. Make a PowerPoint Presentation
  3. Design a model
  4. Make a shoebox diorama
  5. Use a three-panal display board 
  6. Make a timeline
  7. Create a board game incorporating key elements. 
  8. Write a poem
  9. Write and perform a skit
  10. Make a TV or radio commercial
  11. Make a collage
  12. Make a mobile
  13. Create a test about the topic
  14. Make a word search
  15. Make a crossword puzzle
  16. Write a report
  17. Create a flow chart or diagram
  18. Write an interview of a relevant person
  19. Ask and and answer key questions
  20. Write journal/diary entries
  21. Write a postcard or letter exchange
  22. Create a scrapbook
  23. Create a photo album
  24. Make an instructional video
  25. Give a presentation
  26. Create an interactive notebook
  27. Create a set of task cards 
  28. Make a pamphlet or brochure
  29. Write a newspaper article
  30. Perform a puppet show
  31. Hold a debate
  32. Hold a mock court case
  33. Create an episode of a reality show
  34. Create a game show
  35. Have a panal discussion of “experts”
  36. Compose a rap or other song
  37. Use a Venn Diagram to compare two aspects of the topic
  38. Design a comic strip about the topic
  39. Create children’s story about the topic
  40. Create a map
  41. Write a fable or myth about the topic
  42. Create a help-wanted add and a letter/resume to answer it
  43. Write a text message dialogue relevant to the topic
  44. Write a series of Tweets relevant to the topic
  45. Create a Facebook wall relative to the topic
  46. Create a Pinterest board relative to the topic
  47. Start a blog
  48. Decorate a box and fill with relevant objects
  49. Create a foldable
  50. Create a flip book
  51. Create a Cootie Catcher
  52. Create a cereal based on the topic (cover a cereal box)
  53. Assemble a time capsule
  54. Create several bookmarks about different aspects of the topic
  55. Write a recipe relevant to the topic (good for showing causes of an event)
  56. Do a newscast
  57. Write an acrostic poem
  58. Create an internet scavenger hunt
  59. Write an advice column with several problems related to the topic.
  60. Create flash cards or trivia cards
  61. Create a cheer relevant to the topic
  62. Make a short documentary film
  63. Create a museum exihibet
  64. Create a Top-Ten list relevant to the topic
  65. Create a video game
  66. Make a “Choose Your Own Adventure” 
  67. Create a mini book with one fact/idea per page
  68. Create a glossary of relevant terms
  69. Make a paper chain with a different fact for each link
  70. Make a flower with a different fact for each petal
  71. Write a handbook or instruction book
  72. Create a newsletter

From my days in the classroom – Alphabet Games

When I was still a classroom teacher, I liked to start each day with what I dubbed “BSA’s” – Beginning School Activities.

Because mornings tended to be a bit hectic, what with collecting permission slips, organising tuckshop collection, discussions with lingering parents etc., I liked to have the children come in to the room and have something to start on without needing direction from me.  The BSA’s ensured a quiet and orderly start to the day with no time wastage. 

BSA’s consisted of puzzle games or activities that the children completed in pairs or as individuals.  Only “30 centimetre” voices were allowed. Children could not work with the same partner more than once a week.  

Alphabet Games were always very popular BSA’s.  Given a category e.g. girls’ names or capital cities, the children had to come up with an example using each letter of the alphabet. The more examples they could think of, the more points they scored. If they managed to find an example for all 26 alphabet letters, their score was doubled.  At the end of the week, points were tallied up and were rewarded using whatever classroom system we were using at the time.


ALPHABET GAME:          Words that can be followed by ‘up’

A:    act, add

B:   beat, bob, build

C:   climb

D:   dig, dust

E:   eat

F:   fed, fatten

G:  grow, get

H:  hold, held, holding, high, hop


J:    jump

K:   keep

L:    lick

M:   mash, mix, mop

N:   neaten

O:   open

P:    push, pick

Q:   quicken, queue

R:   run, rip

S:   save, sweep

T:   take, throw, think, tidy

U:   use

V:   vacuum

W:   wash



Z:   zip


American readers, I think some of these examples are idiomatic Australianisms, e.g. queue up when queue would probably be more grammatically correct.

Time allowed for the activity depends on circumstances of course. Fifteen minutes was usually ample for my students.  Dictionaries or atlases are allowed for finding extra examples and checking spelling. (Extra skills practice too!)


P.S.  If you can come up with examples where I couldn’t, please let me know. and I’ll add them.