Sunday, July 20, 2014

5 Ways to Make Your Students Smile

Guest blog post by Molly Phillips of Classroom Confections

This post was inspired by a t-shirt. That’s right! While wearing a ‘smile’ t-shirt at the Vegas airport, a security guard came up to me and said, “Thank you for making me smile. I saw your t-shirt. It brought a smile to my face. Sometimes you just forget. It was a great reminder.”

WOW! I was so taken back by his comment. I couldn’t help but think about the power of a smile. Being a teacher, it was second nature for me to start thinking about the classroom and how important it is to incorporate smiles into the school day. There are many ways to accomplish that, but here are 2 easy tips you can begin implementing at the beginning of the year, and 3 more tips to keep your students smiling all year!

2 Ways to Start Your School Year with Smiles
  1. Send your students a ‘welcome’ postcard. Sending a postcard in the mail before school starts may seem old school, but it will help build community and a caring classroom before the year even begins. You won’t see their smile, but I can assure you that there will be one. It will make them feel appreciated. A feeling of appreciation makes anyone smile. Plus, your students will be more likely to walk in on day one of school wearing a smiling face.
  2. Give a special treat on “Meet Your Teacher” Day.  I love giving my new students a little something special when I first meet them in person.  It can be a pencil, a note, or a baggie of sweet treats with a special message. I have always felt my upper elementary kids like receiving a treat. For example, a peppermint with a message, “You were MINT to be in my class!” When kids feel special, they smile.
3 More Ways to Make Your Students Smile
  1. Talk to Kids at Recess. Yes, this is usually a time when teachers can grab a refresher too by getting in some adult conversation, but it’s also a time where kids love being kids. Get into the habit of giving up a few minutes of your teacher chit-chat time at recess to interact with the kids. Some of the most smiley faces come at recess when kids want to do their chants for you, sing you songs, play their recorder, or perform cheers with a group of girls. It’s so easy to tell the kids to go run and play, but this will only take a few short minutes, and with it comes lots of smiles. 
  2. Invite a small group to eat for lunch. Yes, I know. We all want our 25 minute lunch break with our co-workers, but you don’t have to give up your lunch break all the time. It’s nice though to invite a few kids to lunch every now and then, especially those that may need a smile. Kids tend to open up more, tell funny stories, and laugh when they are in smaller groups. You get to see a side of them you might not otherwise see. It’s a bonding time, which is a great way to work through behavior problems or emotional issues with kids.  If you know from the start of school that a student may need a smile, this is a great time to start inviting a small group to lunch. Plus, if you get into the habit of doing this at the beginning of a new school year, you are more likely to continue it. It will take some effort on your part, but the rewards of the smiles will be worth it. 
  3. Use humor in the classroom. I think humor is one of the best ways to build community in the classroom, and of course, with humor comes lots of smiles.  Look for opportunities to tell appropriate jokes, tell funny stories, to share your fun side. For example, on the first day of school last year when I was about to tell the kids they could bring a water bottle to drink, I introduced it with, “What do Ninjas drink at school?”  The answer being, “WAAA-TAAAH!” Throw a Ninja kick in there and the boys will love you from day one. I then went on to say that they could bring water and a healthy snack each day. That joke might be a little over used today, but when I told it, it was unexpected and the kids got a good smile out of it, even a laugh.
In the hustle and bustle of the classroom, it is sometimes easy to forget the important role of smiling. There are many ways to bring smiles to the classroom, but the most important thing to remember is that smiles help build community in your classroom. Community carries over to better behavior and a child’s desire to want to please. Smiling is a win-win for everyone.
When the gentleman at the airport told me that I brought a smile to his face, do you know what I did? You guessed it! I smiled. I was happy to know that I personally brought him a moment of happiness.  It was so unexpected to hear someone actually tell me that. I couldn’t help but think that there is not only importance to be found in making people smile but also in thanking others for the smile. Often times we see the actual smile we bring to someone and then we move on. There was something special about hearing him acknowledge the smile. Because of that, I thought it might be nice to start the year off with the attitude of not only bringing smiles but also thanking people for the smiles they bring.

To help with that, I made some very simple ‘smile tickets’ that teachers can give to students and even co-workers. Click here to visit my TpT store and download the this freebie. You can just sign your name or even write a few words. People will appreciate you thanking them for the smile they brought you. Try it! Here is to wishing you a year full of smiles!

Molly Phillips has been an educator for twenty years in metro Atlanta, Georgia.  She now creates fun interactive lessons for the classroom and sells them on TeachersPayTeachers.  She writes on her blog Classroom Confections

Friday, July 18, 2014

We Appreciate Bloggers for Caring Classrooms!

If you've been following my blog and Facebook page, you'll know that I'm a fan of and that I'm one of two administrators of the Caring Classrooms giving page. About a year ago Francie Kugelman taught me about DC giving pages and we started the Caring Classrooms Community together. To date, our community has raised over $72,000 to help complete the funding on more than 390 teacher projects! To learn more about giving pages and how they work, read last year's post on this topic.

Each week the Caring Classrooms Community hosts "Fund-day Sunday," a day when teachers can submit their project links for us to review. From these submissions we select new projects for our page. When we add a project to our page, we donate at least $20 to it to kick off our funding efforts. Teachers love to have their projects on our page because we guarantee that after those projects are added, they will be completely funded before the time limit runs out!

Where do we get the funds to support our page? Some of it comes from the two of us, but most of it comes from the generous teachers who are members of our community. In order to submit a project each week, members have to donate at least $1 to any project on our page. Those $1 donations really add up over time! We also accept donations to our giving page that we keep in reserve to help fund projects, including donations from educational organizations.  

Thanks to the Bloggers for Caring Classrooms! 
Unfortunately, our source of funds is diminishing and we need to replenish our funds before the new school year. I reached out to my blogger friends to see if anyone would like to support the Caring Classrooms giving page with a donation of $50, and the bloggers shown below have made generous contributions to our giving page!

If anyone else would like to make a contribution, go to and send your tax-deductible donation to All donations are welcome, even if you aren't a blogger! If you are a blogger and you donate at least $50 to Caring Classrooms, I'll add your blog to the link up below. In addition, I'll be happy to share one of your posts with my Facebook fans as a thank you for your $50 donation. Click here to learn more.

Francie and I really appreciate the support of the blogging community! We are excited about the upcoming year and the possibility to help even more classroom teachers get their projects funded. We are planning a special celebration contest on our one year anniversary which will be August 8th. If you want to join us, visit the Caring Classrooms Facebook page to learn how to become a member of our community!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Ancient Secret for Wise Decisions

Guest post by Chris Biffle
Director, Whole Brain Teachers of America

Note: This post is a part of the WBT's Classroom Transforming Rules series. To find all of the posts in the series, click here. To see Whole Brain Teaching in action, watch the videos on the WBT website.

WBT’s Rules 4: Make Smart Choices

Let’s review the first three Whole Brain Teaching classroom rules. Each will help solve one teaching problem. Implementing Rule 1, “Follow directions quickly,” will speed classroom transitions. Implementing Rule 2, “Raise your hand for permission to speak,” will produce orderly discussions. Implementing Rule 3, “Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat” will keep your classroom from turning into a playground.

Rule 4 “Make smart choices” is a much larger, even grander, guiding principle. Make smart choices is perhaps the fundamental rule for all human activities, in or out of the classroom. As I can testify after teaching philosophy for four decades, philosophers from Socrates in 5th century B.C. Athens to Jean Paul Sartre in 20th century Paris disagreed on almost everything, except one guiding idea: Humans should use their reason carefully… they should make smart choices.

Socrates believed smart choices involved self-knowledge; Plato argued that the smartest choice was to study mathematics in order to learn to think abstractly; Sartre held that the smartest choice was living authentically, never blaming others for your life situation. Despite their disagreements, philosophers have believed the good life was found through exercising our reason in wise decision making.

Whole Brain Teachers have discovered that Rule 4 is wonderfully powerful. The rule covers every area of a student’s life at school, at home, out with friends, on the Internet, engaged in a sport or hobby, dating, Everything. From childhood to adulthood, we need to make smart choices. Teachers have found that Rule 4 is especially powerful in covering every kind of disruptive student behavior, in class and out.

After reviewing the first three rules with your students, introduce Rule 4, “Make smart choices,” and the gesture, tapping the right temple with a forefinger three times. You can choose from a host of opportunities to share how it works. Discuss the smart and foolish choices made by characters in a story, famous historical individuals, kids in the lunchroom. Before beginning a science experiment or art activity, ask kids to talk about the wisest and goofiest decisions that can be made.

To clarify Rule 4, and introduce excellent, wide ranging, critical thinking discussions, create a list of sentence frames. Here are three samples:

  • When writing your essay, smart choices would be _________.  Foolish choices would be ________.
  • Some smart choices characters make in "James and the Giant Peach,"  are _______.  Some foolish choices are _______.
  • When we are in the library, a smart choice would be  ________  because _________.  A foolish choice would be _______ because ________.

Note that by including "because" in your sentence frames, students have the opportunity to add evidence to back up their answer. Selecting appropriate evidence is, in itself, a smart choice!

Here’s a key point.  If a child claims, incorrectly in your view, that one of her choices was smart, you respond, “Okay. But what would be a smarter choice??” Teach your kids that smarter choices are always available.

Using Rule 4 to Help Students Make Smart Choices
As I write this, I realize I’ve never talked about how to improve student behavior on the playground. Shame!

Try saying something like this to your class (with WBT techniques, of course):

“We’re going to talk about Rule 4, making smart choices, on the playground. To make this entertaining and clear, we’ll use two finger action figures. Using two fingers on each hand, walk your action figures around on your desk."  (They do so.)

"Good! Now, imagine your desk is the playground. Pretend as if your two finger action figures are making foolish choices while playing tetherball. Show your neighbor what that would look like and what each action figure would say." (They do so.)

"Good! Now, show your neighbor, using intelligent two finger action figures, what smart choices playing tether ball would look and sound like.”

Virtually every wacky behavior that goes on during recess can be acted out, and corrected, with foolish and intelligent two-finger action figures … and nothing gets scraped except imaginary knees.

Another idea strikes me just now … oh, I’m rolling!  Junie comes up to you during recess, very upset about what happened to her on the slide. To lower Junie’s emotional temperature, ask her to show you, using two finger action figures, Martin’s foolish choices and how she reacted. Then, using your action figures, show Junie the smartest choices available to her, should a similar situation arise. Finally, if necessary, take yourself over to Martin to see if your action figures can teach his action figures to follow Rule 4.

To download the free classroom rule posters described in this article, click here or on the Rule 4 poster image above.

For more information on Rule 4 and WBT’s other classroom rules, look at Chapter 7 in “Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids” on

Chris Biffle
Director, Whole Brain Teachers of America
Facebook | Twitter | Youtube | WBT Bookclub | Webcast Archive

Chris Biffle, a college philosophy professor for 40 years, is the author of seven books (McGraw-Hill, HarperCollins) on critical thinking, reading and writing. He has received grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the last 15 years, Chris has been lead presenter at over 100 Whole Brain Teaching conferences, attended by 20,000+ educators. Thousands of instructors across the United States and around the world base their teaching methods on his free ebooks available at

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Active Engagement Strategies for Success Webinar

Join Me for a Free Webinar!

When: July 31st at 8 pm EDT

How would you like to participate in a FREE professional development session in the comfort of your own home ... wearing whatever you want? Just call it PD in your PJ's! Read on to find out how to receive an attendance certificate for attending my next live webinar, Active Engagement Strategies for Success.

Believe it or not, it's been almost a whole year since I presented a live webinar. Last August I hosted Sowing the Seeds of Success: Creating a Caring Classroom, a collaborative webinar with four other terrific bloggers. If you missed it, you can watch the recording from my Caring Classrooms page on Teaching Resources.

This year I'm building on the "success" theme by presenting a webinar on strategies for academic success that will keep kids actively engaged during instruction. While it IS extremely important to create a warm and supportive atmosphere during the first weeks of school, creating a caring classroom won't necessarily lead to academic success for all students.

So this year I'm tackling that academic component by sharing strategies that will make EVERY lesson more engaging and will also boost achievement. It's like having a collection of teacher tools in your toolbox - when you know what tool to use for each situation, you'll be able to build success into every lesson.

I'll be sharing cooperative learning methods, team formation tips, how to use dry erase boards effectively, classroom management ideas, and more. You are also invited to share your own strategies via the online chat during the webinar. I learn so much when everyone participates!

Attendance Certificate
Those who attend the live session on July 31st will receive a certificate of attendance that they MIGHT be able to use for professional development credit if their school systems accept it. If this is important to you, you may want to check with your administrator before the session to find out. Why not invite a few colleagues to attend, too?

Special Giveaway
I love doing giveaways in my webinars, and this time I have a special treat! I'll be giving away the active engagement products below that were donated by some of your favorite teacher bloggers. Check out the links at the bottom of this post to find all 12 products worth a combined total of over $100! ONE lucky participant will win the entire collection at the end of the session! Be sure to log in to the webinar with your real name and you must be present to win.

Register Now
The session is free, but you do need to register which will ensure that you receive a reminder with the online classroom link. If you can't attend the live session, register to receive the link to the recording. It won't be quite as much fun as being in the live session, but the information will still be helpful. Click here to register now. I hope you'll be able to join me for this special event!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Creating the Tallest Cup Tower: A STEM Challenge

Guest post by Tracey Graham 
of Growing a STEM Classroom

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is one of the current "buzz words" in the world of education today even though the STEM philosophy of teaching has been around for a very long time. STEM is all about students learning in a student-centered, question-based, subject-integrated classroom. Hence, what I consider to be good teaching. Remember teaching with cross-curricular themes? STEM is like thematic teaching gone wild!

As a teacher in a STEM school, I utilize STEM challenges regularly in order to initiate student creativity and critical thinking. I am constantly impressed with the way my students solve problems and work collaboratively. Students who are reluctant to participate in the standard curriculum are consistently engaged, and many times emerge as a leader, during a STEM challenge. STEM challenges give every child the opportunity to be a successful contributor in the problem-solving process. These STEM problems can come from the teacher, the students, and the world we live in. The possibilities with STEM are truly endless.

My class always begins the year with the seemingly simple challenge of stacking small cups to the tallest possible height. Student groups must work together to create the tallest stack of cups in a time period of 30 minutes. Although it sounds easy, trust me, it isn't! I am continually surprised at the different ideas students generate to solve this problem. Students, by nature, are creative thinkers and the STEM challenges tap into this creative vein. This allows amazing things to happen!

Some of the best teamwork and "aha" moments come when the stack of cups crashes to the table. At first, students feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do, but they are able to quickly figure things out with the support of their classmates. STEM is such an empowering way of teaching for the students! The key is for the teacher to allow students to explore possibilities and become problem solvers. It can be intimidating for educators to give up some of that "control," but it is definitely beneficial to the students.

All you need to complete this challenge are tiny plastic cups from the dollar store! We used two packs of 24 cups per table. Students were also required to present their idea(s), data, and final solution to the problem in their own way.

Feel free to click over to my TpT store and download your own free set of STEM Challenge Student Role Sheets to get you started using STEM Challenges in your classroom!

Tracey Graham is a 5th grade teacher at a STEM school in a large, urban district. Visit her blog, Growing a STEM Classroom, for more STEM ideas to use in your classroom! 
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