Posted in Miscellaneous

How the Teacher Stole Christmas

‘Twas the week before Christmas break, and all through the room, not a student was on-task, the teacher felt doomed.

As the holidays approach, it becomes increasingly difficult for students (and often teachers) to want to be at school. Instead, they are excited thinking about what presents they are giving and getting, the trip they might be going on, caroling, eating cookies, and lots of other fun holiday baubles.

However, academic work still needs to happen that week before break. Many teachers end up feeling like the Grinch as they struggle to have their students do even the most basic academic tasks.


Is there a solution to this?


Since students are so excited about Christmas, why not integrate it into your academic work?

To further explain, let’s use that mean old Grinch as an example.

At the beginning of the day, read Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas to familiarize all students with the book. Then, have the rest of the day themed around the Grinch.

Reading: Besides just reading the book yourself, why not let your students perform in some reader’s theater? This is a great way for your students to practice fluency and comprehension. The best part is, students will be having so much fun, they probably won’t even realize they’re learning.

One reader theater’s script for the Grinch:

Science: Can hearts actually grow three sizes? If not, what can?

Learn a little bit about the human body. Is it actually possible for hearts to grow three sizes?  See what you and your students can discover.

As we know, hearts don’t actually grow three sizes, but maybe there are other materials that can. Have your students experiment with different materials such as sponges, the instant-grow towels (you can usually find these at dollar stores), potato pearls, and more. Just add water and see what can grow three sizes.

Math: We all know that the Grinch lives just north of Whoville, but do your students know their 3-dimensional shapes? Do students know that a Christmas tree is basically a cone and that homes are actually pentagonal prisms?

Depending on the age of your students, they could learn the names of these 3-D figures and actually create them. Using all of these newly made 3-D figures, you can create your own “Whoville.” Or maybe even find the volume of a Christmas tree.

Writing: As Dr. Seuss famously wrote, “‘Maybe Christmas’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas means a little bit more!’” This a great springboard into a journal prompt.

Besides journal prompts, students could also learn to imitate Dr. Seuss’ famous rhyming style. Talking about rhyme, and even writing your own Christmas poem, is another great academic activity that you can derive from the Grinch.

Perhaps academics can include a little bit more?  Although the book example and activities in this post are for elementary school teachers, teachers in secondary settings can still use this same principle. If you’re an English teacher, why not discuss Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol?  Or if you’re a history teacher, you could discuss the Christmas Day truces during WWI?  There’s tons of cool dry ice experiments you can use in science classes as well.

Although all of your teaching shouldn’t focus on the holidays, utilizing them can be a very engaging and academic part of December.

Posted in Miscellaneous

What I wish I had known then

As an incoming freshman, I knew that I wanted to study Special Education.  I knew that Special Education is a program you have to apply for, and I planned my class schedules carefully so I could enter into my major as quickly as possible. Now that I’m graduating in a month, there are a few things I know now that I wish I would have known before I was accepted into and started my program. Even though I can’t share these lessons with my younger self, hopefully they can be helpful to someone reading this blog post.


1) Plan breaks into your schedule.

I’ve been in classes since Fall 2011 without taking a single semester or term off. Most of those semesters, I was also working (usually 2 jobs) and taking an average of 15 credit hours. Though I loved my classes, I’m now dealing with major burnout and exhaustion. Just taking one term off would have helped A LOT.

My last first day of school.


2) Don’t over-stress about the Praxis.

I still would tell myself to study hard for the Praxis, but when I took it at the beginning of this year, I was so stressed out that I literally grew some gray hairs. I did not need all that extra stress in my life. I wish I would have known to be more confident and realized that as long as I studied, it was going to turn out well.

3) Education is collaborative, so have a good attitude about it.

Previous to entering the program, I didn’t study with others unless they were quizzing me. Group projects were torture because of many unfortunate grade-school projects where the other members of my group didn’t care and didn’t do anything. So, when I entered the program and we were immediately assigned a bunch of group projects, you can imagine my reaction.

Eventually, I was happily proven wrong about group work (even though coordinating schedules is still a challenge), but it took awhile to break down my negative attitude. That made my first semester in my program a lot more negative than it needed to be. I wish I had known that group work can be really positive and even better than working by myself.

4) It’s okay to not know everything.

From elementary school through the first part of college, I knew that if I came to class, did my homework, and studied, I would know all the answers I would need to in order to be successful.  It was a pretty straightforward process for me (minus Calculus. That took some extra help—thank you mom!).

However, when I started teaching actual students, I quickly realized knowing all of the book answers didn’t always cover every situation in my classroom. I wish I would have known that it was okay to not know exactly how to deal with every problem. Not knowing gave me the chance to build on the foundation my book learning gave me, get creative, and problem solve. This has been much more challenging, sometimes frustrating, and intensely satisfying than straight book learning ever was.


5. “It is better to look up.”

Several years ago, Elder Carl B. Cook shared a story in General Conference.

“At the end of a particularly tiring day toward the end of my first week as a General Authority, my briefcase was overloaded and my mind was preoccupied with the question “How can I possibly do this?” I left the office of the Seventy and entered the elevator of the Church Administration Building. As the elevator descended, my head was down and I stared blankly at the floor.

The door opened and someone entered, but I didn’t look up. As the door closed, I heard someone ask, “What are you looking at down there?” I recognized that voice—it was President Thomas S. Monson.

I quickly looked up and responded, “Oh, nothing.” (I’m sure that clever response inspired confidence in my abilities!)

But he had seen my subdued countenance and my heavy briefcase. He smiled and lovingly suggested, while pointing heavenward, “It is better to look up!” “

I found President Monson’s advice to be particularly poignant throughout the program.  There were so many days that I felt a lot like Elder Cook.  I was weighed down by projects, reading assignments, students’ behavior problems, the endless slew of lesson plans, attempting to spend time with my husband, earning enough money, and more.

Sound familiar?

We all have struggles that can feel like a million pounds of bricks teetering on our shoulders alone. So, I wish I had written this advice down in a place I could see every morning. When I remembered to look up, be optimistic, pray and ask for help, get help from family and friends, my life was so much easier and so much happier. Even though I wish I had known these things then, I’m glad that I know them now and hope to be able to apply them to my life after graduation next month.

Posted in Miscellaneous

An ELL-friendly classroom

A year and a half ago, I found myself in a Parisian sandwich and pastry shop tripping over my words.  I was with two of my friends and neither of them spoke any French.  I had studied French for five years in school, but it had been almost a year since my last class.  I still had my basic French intact, but I had forgotten quite a bit.

One of my friends only wanted a half sandwich since she wasn’t very hungry.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t used the French word for “half” in about 2 years.

I rummaged through my memory of French and pulled out, “Un sandwich coupé, s’il vous plaît!”  (If you know French, you know that this was the wrong choice.  I asked, with questionable grammar, for a cut sandwich, not a half sandwich). After wild gesturing on my part, attempting to clarify my mistake, and even more confused looks from the employee, my friend decided to buy the whole sandwich because it was easier.

That employee probably thought I was just another dumb American who butchered their beautiful language. Really, I knew the difference between a whole sandwich and a half sandwich (I even knew how to say it in French!), I just couldn’t remember how to communicate it.

I wonder how many students experience something similar in the classroom.  Perhaps there are students who are trying to learn English who know more than they know how to communicate, or who can only understand parts of the lesson because of language barriers.  With an estimated 10% of students classified as English Language Learners (ELL) in 2010-11 (, this is a very real concern.

In my CPSE 480 class (Educational & Multicultural Issues in Special Education), we learned some really simple techniques to make your classroom more ELL-friendly.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a linguist to be able to teach ELLs effectively.  To quote an old insurance company commercial, “It’s so easy a caveman could do it.”

Here’s 3 of my favorite ideas:


Why do they have instant replays (in slow motion) when you watch football?  Because it’s easier to understand what’s happening when it’s slower.

The same concept applies to a new language.  Students can understand more of what you’re saying if you simply slow down when you’re talking.

2. Don’t let your words do all of the talking.

Any college student sleeping during class can tell you that it’s hard to pay attention to lectures.

Now imagine listening to a lecture in a foreign language.

Even if you’re trying your hardest, it’s hard to understand what the person’s talking about.  After 15 minutes of frustration, it’s hardly worth the effort to pay attention after a while.

However, if you add pictures, text, or even real-life objects, these can help give context to a lesson.  This context can help a student understand more than they would have previously.

For example,

“J’aime beaucoup mon parapluie blanc à pois rose et orange.”

What did you understand from this?  Probably some of the colors.

Now, what if I added this picture to it:

It suddenly makes a whole lot more sense.

3.  Bridge the gap

Learn a couple of words in your student’s first language.  This both helps them feel welcome and more comfortable in your class and can even help you in instruction.  If you can find a list of keywords for the topic of your lesson in their native language, it will help increase your students’ comprehension.


Good luck!  Buena suerte!  Bonne chance!


Posted in Miscellaneous

Rules aren’t made to be broken

When I was elementary school, some of my classmates would tout the motto, “Rules are made to be broken,” right before doing something they shouldn’t do. Depending on the rule they were breaking, I would sometimes nod my head in agreement.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized rules aren’t meant to be broken, even if they are frustrating at times.

For example, imagine if you’re already running late and have to stop at a red light at a deserted intersection. Even though it’s frustrating, I realize that having traffic lights helps decrease the number of car accidents. So, I stop at the red light anyway.

In schools, rules are meant to keep people safe and create a good environment for learning (even though some of them can feel like red lights at deserted intersections at times). But, as you’re creating your own classroom rules, it can be a daunting task. You want your students to be safe and be able to learn, but at the same time, you don’t want to be the Trunchbull from Matilda.

So, here’s some tips I learned from my Social/Behavioral Strategies class (CPSE 443) about creating effective class rules.


1. Have 3–5 rules for your class.

Any more than 3-5 rules and it’s really hard to keep track of all of them. You don’t want your students to feel like Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who didn’t even know that he had broken a rule because there were so many rules in fine print.

See Charlie finding out about the fine print:

2. Use only positive language.

Don’t think of blue pancakes!

Honestly, what did you just think of? I know I thought of this:

When you state a rule using negative language, such as, “No running in the classroom” or “No talking when the teacher is talking,” it automatically puts that negative behavior in their heads. It also doesn’t tell them what they are supposed to do (or in the earlier example, what to think of besides blue pancakes).

Instead, if you use positive language, such as “Walk in the classroom,” or “Listen when the teacher is talking,” your students know exactly what is expected of them. It also doesn’t give them ideas of how to misbehave (they can do that on their own).

3. Use clear language.

C’est très important des règles sont clair donc tes étudients comprennent.

Unless you speak French, that probably made little to no sense. From reading that last sentence, you know that something is important, but past that, it’s hard to understand.

So, make sure the rules are written in language your students can understand.

If you’re an elementary school teacher, use words that make sense to your students (for example, using the word clamorous wouldn’t be a good idea). If you’re a secondary teacher, use words that are appropriate for their age group (for example, the word “potty” should not be included).


4. Make sure rules are observable and measurable.

Imagine it’s the first day of school and this is one of the rules, “Nice hands”. Automatically, you look down at the dirt smudged under your nails and take a deep gulp. You didn’t mean to break the rules. With eyes now glued to the floor, you don’t hear what this rule actually means and spend the rest of the day trying to hide your hands.

Contrast the rule “Nice hands” with “Keep your hands and feet to yourself”. Both rules are about the same target behavior.  They are even both positively stated; however, one is observable and measurable, while the other is really vague.

Vague rules are hard to follow and hard to enforce. Do yourself a favor and stay away from the trap of vagueness.


5. Have specific positive and negative consequences attached to the rules.

Most of us are familiar with negative consequences at school, like detentions, suspensions, and expulsions. However, many people are not familiar with having specific positive consequences.

Can you imagine that if you got some kind of reward for following the rules, besides not getting in trouble?

It’s a powerful idea.

Positive consequences could look like earning five minutes free time at the end of the period, five minutes extra recess, earning a sticker, or many other ideas.

Just like you will always have more people at a meeting if you advertise that there will be refreshments, you will have more positive behavior if there’s some kind of positive consequence attached.

For more information about rules and consequences (both positive and negative) check out this website.