Welcome To A Teacher In Your Corner

Before I began teaching,I spent my evenings tutoring my son who had a learning disability. I had no teaching material and so learned to use things out of my kitchen to teach the concept. When I began teaching,I continued to use household items to illustrate the lesson. This site will give you ideas on how to use everyday items to help your child master a difficult concept.

Whether you are home-schooling or just helping your child complete homework, this site will be helpful.

The ABCs of Spelling

I taught first grade.  In kindergarten they have learned the letters and sounds.  In first grade they are expected to use them to spell words.  More times than I can count I heard a parent say, "We work on spelling every night and he just doesn't get it." 

When I asked how they studied I usually heard something like, "I call out the words and he writes them."  Sorry parents--that's a test not studying.  I was recently contacted by a relative who was on the verge of pulling her hair out.  Her grandson is very intelligent, but is easily distracted and struggles with long term memory.  Spelling was, in her words, 'eating their lunch'.  She told me that his daddy usually gave him a bath and they used shower crayons to write the words on the wall around the tub.  Great idea.  Here are some of the suggestions I made.

Begin on the first night the list comes home.  Verrryyy important.  Don't wait until the night before the test.  On the first night call out the entire list of words--ONCE.  The words he or she gets right the first time should be put aside and reviewed the night before the test.  This allows you to focus on the words that were misspelled.  Don't waste time reviewing words that he already knows.  Now when you review the difficult words, do it in a fun way.  Break the difficult words into bite size lists.  
  • Focus on five or ten words every night.  Continue studying any word the student is still struggling with every night. The night before the test, review all the words.
  • Be sure the child is engaged in the activity, especially if there is an attention problem.   If he likes the computer, let him type the list.   Use Word which with underline misspelled words in red. 
  • If he likes chalk, use it. 
  • If he is a tactile learner, pour cornmeal in a plastic container with a lid.  Allow the child to 'write' the words with his fingers in the cornmeal.  As he writes in the cornmeal, you 'draw' the word on his back with your finger.  When finished, put the lid on the container and save it for next time.  
  • Use colored markers.  
  • Say the word the way it is spelled rather than the correct pronunciation. I taught my students to spell Wednesday by saying, "We say Wenesday, but it is spelled wed-nes-day.  When I say Wensday you think and write wed-nes-day."  It worked.  I had students tell me years after they left my class, they still spelled it by writing wed-nes-day.  The word friend should be taught as fry-end. 
  • If your child does all he can do and still struggles, accept it.  Not everybody can spell.  I tell parents "That's why God made spell-check".  The world will not come to an end because your child can't spell.  Do you work at it?  Absolutely.  But do NOT allow it to become a stumbling block for your child.  Correct spelling is not worth an ulcer for anyone.


Teaching geography can be one of the most boring episodes of your life.  It is difficult to convey to a child that the picture on the map or globe represents a country.  Asking him to memorize the position of the countries is about as enjoyable as a root canal.

One physical education teacher wanted to help the academic teachers.  He named different zones in the gym as continents and hung a picture to represent each. Then when sending the students to a zone, he would announce the continent.  Instead of saying "Go to the back left corner," he said, "Go to Africa."  The students not only learned the names of the continents, but also the shape of each.  

How can you use this in your classroom or homeschool?   What if you renamed different rooms in your house and placed a cut-out of a continent, country, or state on the door?   If you sent your son or daughter to New York instead of their room, they would soon associate the name of the state with the shape.  Try starting with the continents, then move to countries on that continent.  Be sure to couple the geography with the culture of the country.  For young children, learn games the children of the country play.  For all children learn about the food of the nation.  It is possible to combine geography, social studies, cultural studies, and science (cooking) into these lessons.  Most of all, make sure the children have a good time.

History Versus History

I receive email from several homeschool parent groups.  They share information and ideas about curriculum, teaching tools, and basically meeting the needs of their children in the homeschool environment.  Recently one parent asked about teaching History.  Who among us has not sat through a history class where we were forced to memorize the dates of explorations?  Boring!! In my opinion absolutely the worst way to teach history.  Some of us have been fortunate to have some really good history teachers who managed to make it interesting.  How?  The same way mankind did before he started writing.  They told the story.  No we didn't sit around a campfire like they did back then.  We were sitting in desks, but we were listening to a story.

It was suggested that the history channel on television would be a good resource for teaching history.  Then an email warned parents of the inaccuracies of the history channel. The writer suggested that the parents should watch with the students and discuss the accuracies of the report.  I am going to add to that thought.

I would suggest that the student make a chart for the subject being studied.  This could be done on the computer with excel so it can be changed when needed.  The student could watch the history channel and make a column of the information depicted in the show.  Using the computer and reference books, research that subject making a column of the information found.  By the end of the chart the student should be able to see which source was the most reliable.  I am giving an example below.  The chart is 100% fictional and intended to show how to make the chart, not actually information.

Texas Independence

History Channel                    www.website www.website2
Santa Anna came to negotiate with Texans Santa Anna came to discipline Texans Santa Anna came to defeat Texans
The first battle was at Goliad The first battle was at Anahuac The first battle was in Galveston
Santa Anna was killed in the war Santa Anna was taken prisoner Santa Anna was taken prisoner


At times we have to teach something besides academics.  How do you teach things like social skills and empathy?  Teaching those is harder than academics.  Why?  Because there is no grade.  There is no right or wrong answer.  It is very difficult for anyone, much less students, to recognize how their behavior was inappropriate.

When I taught Adaptive Behavior Unit, a special education class of emotionally disturbed students, we faced inappropriate behavior and lack of empathy daily.  There were constant remarks to intimidate and humiliate other students.  These were defensive tactics from student who were in pain.  They had spent years being disciplined for these behaviors with no progress.  They were simply unable to realize why their behavior was unacceptable.

The aide serving in the class with me at the time was completing her college degree with a teaching certificate.  She was required by one of her professors to view several movies about students with disabilities.  She was a busy wife and mother who worked full time and went to college at night.  One day when she was complaining to me about the lack of time to view these films, I replied, "Just bring the movies in here and we will all watch them."

I did not realize what would happen.  I was trying to help my aide and keep my students busy.  We began watching the first movie and as can be expected, the student with the disability was insulted, tormented, and harassed.  Suddenly one of the students turned to me and said, "Miss, that's not right.  They shouldn't do that to her.  She can't help how she is."

I thought, Excuse me.  You do exactly the same thing.  They were able to recognize inappropriate behavior on the screen, but not in person.  The same thing happened every time we watched a movie.  The difference was my students weren't emotionally involved in the movie.  It is easier to analyze a situation when you are not emotionally invested.  Those movies were valuable teaching tools.  We talked about the behavior and how the bullied student must have felt.  By the end of the school year, we hadn't fix the problem but we had made progress.  

Don't blow off valuable teaching moments that seem to pop up unexpectedly.  I tell  teachers that the difference between a good teacher and a great one is the ability to recognize those teachable moments.  The same thing goes for parents, the first teacher any child has.

Distracted Child

Have you ever tried to help a distracted child do homework?  It is maddening.  You finally get him to sit down, hand him the pencil, and the next time you look, he's balancing with the pencil on his nose.  You put the pencil back in his hand, pull the paper closer to him, and he tries to blow the paper across the table without touching it.  You threaten.  You plead.  You beg.  You scream.  You cry.  Nothing helps.  Why?  Because his mind is moving faster than yours and he is not interested in doing the homework.  

Here are a few strategies that might help.  
  • Homework must be worth his time.  How?  He needs to see the homework as a means to an end.  Before he can play his electronic games, he must finish his homework.  Before he can watch television, he must finish his homework.  (Do not turn program on in background.  He will find a way to watch it.)  
  • If you are helping him gain skills instead of doing homework, make it a game.  Make up games using cards, dominoes, or pennies.  Involved a sibling so the struggling student doesn't feel  targeted.
  • Use an old fashioned egg timer.  There is something about that tick, tick, tick, that keeps his mind on track.
  • Break homework up into bite size pieces.  If the project is due in three weeks, work on it a little every day.  If the Spelling test is on Friday, work on a few words every night, repeating only the ones that he has trouble spelling.
  • Some students get overwhelmed when the work looks too long.  If the math page is too long, fold it in half so the child is only looking at half as many problems.  If the reading page is long, use an envelope under the line the child is reading.  This helps his eyes track the line and hides the rest of the page.
I hope these simple steps help your child complete his homework and you maintain your sanity.

Liquid Measurement

 A concept that is really simple, yet made difficult by the way we teach it is Liquid Measurement.  We usually teach it by requiring students to memorize a chart similar to this:
2 cups = 1 pint
2 pints = 1 quart
2 quarts = 1 gallon

What's wrong with that?  We learned it that way didn't we?  It worked for us, why shouldn't our students or children learn it the same way?  Because there is a much easier way.

Buy milk in different size cartons.  Once milk (or juice) is consumed, wash and save carton.  When introducing the concept of liquid measurement, show and identify the different size cartons to students.  Allow students to fill the smallest carton with water.  Pour the water into the next size carton.  Repeat until the larger carton is filled.  Allow the students to complete the following chart:
? cups = 1 pint
? cups = 1 quart
? cups = 1 gallon
? pints = 1 quart
? pints = 1 gallon
? quarts = 1 gallon

Allowing students to discover the amount rather than memorize a chart is much more meaningful to them.  Other useful objects are measuring cups which are sold in sets.  Again using these objects to complete the chart.


One of the scariest things you can hit a kid with--as well as a large number of adults--is fractions.  Almost nobody likes fractions.  I once knew a carpenter who hated fractions, so when he told his helper a measurement, he said, "22 inches and 2 marks."  I have a friend who is an LVN and refused to try for her RN because she would have to use fractions in dispensing medication.

Take the fear out of fractions for your child by using objects familiar to him or her.  First teach your child the definition of 'fraction'. A fraction represents a part of a whole or, more generally, any number of equal parts.  

Order a pizza, allowing your child to determine the number of pieces.  When you open the pizza, insist that your child count the pieces before any are removed from the box.  Then teach that each piece is one of eight (or however many) pieces. Two pieces are two of eight pieces.  Separate the pieces as you teach.  After your child is comfortable with this concept, you can move into the concept of 4/8 is the same as 1/2.  Tread carefully here.  This is likely to start the tears flowing.  Be sure that your child can literally see that 4/8 looks just like 1/2.

A chocolate bar is a wonderful way to teach fractions.  Remember the first rule is 'no eating until the lesson is learned.'  Use the same methods as with the pizza.

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An orange is a  useful teaching tool.  Peel the orange and separate into sections.  Have the child count the sections.  Again use the same methods as the pizza.  With an orange have the child 'put it back together' in his hand to see that each fraction is needed to make a whole.

Layers of the Earth

Seismic waves help scientists study the Earth's interior.Teaching science can be difficult, especially to small children.  How do you teach something as untouchable as the earth's layers?  Here is a fun way to create a visual model for any age.  It is a five day process, but well worth the time.

You will need:
A large clear bowl (size will be determined by number of students)
Plastic wrap
Lime sherbet
Strawberry ice cream
Lemon sherbet
                                                      Chocolate ice cream

These flavors were chosen to represent the temperatures of the different layers, however, can be changed if desired.  The width of ice cream represents the thickness of each layer of the earth.  If you need to change the measurement, just keep the proportion for teaching purposes.

Day 1.  Place plastic wrap on inside of bowl to help with removal of ice cream later.  Soften lime sherbet.  Using the back of a large spoon, spread softened lime sherbet around the inside of the clear bowl.  Make sure layer is at least 1/2 inch thick and entire bowl is coated.  As you are spreading sherbet, discuss with students that the sherbet represents the earth's crust.  Place bowl back in freezer to harden sherbet.

Day 2.  Soften strawberry ice cream.  Using the back of a large spoon, spread softened strawberry ice cream around the inside of the lime sherbet.  Make sure layer is at least 1 inch thick.  This layer represents the mantle, the hottest layer of the earth.  Place bowl back in freezer to harden ice cream.

Day 3.  Soften lemon sherbet.  Spread around strawberry ice cream.  Make sure layer is at least 2 inches thick.  This layer represents the outer core of the earth.  Place bowl back in freezer to harden ice cream.

Day 4. Soften chocolate ice cream.  Completely fill remainder of bowl with chocolate ice cream.  This layer represents the inner core of the earth.  Return bowl to freezer.

Day 5.  Allow ice cream to soften for easy removal from the bowl.  Remove it by turning bowl upside down on plate and pulling the plastic wrap.  Discard plastic wrap.  Slice through 'earth' allowing each layer to be visible.  Review layers of earth before allowing students to eat the earth.