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 Homework Woes.  Your child asks for help with homework.  Panic attack.  Then you remember The Homework Woes.  Resources for parents who don't have a clue what to do.

Fun Learning

Fun and Learning?  In the same sentence?  How can that be?  Yes, learning can be fun.  If you have been reading my blogs for very long, you know science is not my best subject.  However, there is one science objective I do understand and always enjoyed teaching in my class.  That objective is change.  Physical and chemical change.  I loved teaching the difference in a fun way.  Here are some fun ways to teach the difference.

How to Tell Chemical & Physical Changes Apart  About.com explains the difference like this: A chemical change makes a substance that wasn't there before. There may be clues that a chemical reaction took place, such as light, heat, color change, gas production, odor, or sound. The starting and ending materials of a physical change are the same, even though they may look different.

Physical change can be taught by making things like homemade ice cream. Here is how I did it in the classroom.

 Mailing tape
1 empty 3 lb coffee can with lid
1 empty 1 lb coffee can with lid
1 pint half and half
1/2 sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix half and half, sugar, and vanilla.  Pour into 1 lb coffee can.  Put lid on can.  Seal lid with mailing tape.  Place 1lb can in 3 lb can.  Put a handful of crushed ice around 1 lb can.  Sprinkle ice with rock salt.  Continue alternating ice and salt until 1 lb can is covered.  Do not put salt on top of the lid of 1 lb can. (It tends to seep into the ice cream and make it salty.)  Place lid on 3 lb can and seal with mailing tape.

Have children sit on the floor and roll the 3 lb can back and forth for approximately 15 minutes.  Carefully open the 3 lb can and remove 1 lb can.  Wipe lid to make sure it is clear of salt.  Open the lid and check to see if the ice cream if in soft serve stage.  Serve to the children.  (This ice cream will not become solid like purchased ice cream.  It will be in a soft serve stage.)

Chemical change can be taught by making fun things like Flubber. 
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon Borax
1 4oz. bottle of Elmer's glue
Food coloring

In one bowl dissolve Borax in 1/2 cup of water.  In a different bowl dissolve glue in 1 cup of water.  Add food color to desired color.  When glue is completely dissolved, mix the two mixtures together.  When it starts to solidify, use your hands to continue mixing the substance together.
Allow the child to help with every step.  This activity involves science and math (measuring). 

Summer Learning

Summer BreakYEA!  SUMMER IS HERE.  Summer--a time of relaxation, departure from the routine, stop what you did  in the winter.  Wait--do we stop everything?  Do you stop nourishing your body?  Of course you don't. 
Although summer is here, it is still important to nourish the brain.  Research shows that children who read in the summer have a better school year when summer is over.   But how do we get them to read in the summer?  We spend the entire school year fussing at them--oops, I meant encouraging them to readCan't we do something fun in the summer?
I would like to introduce you to my friend Cheryl Rogers.  She has created a fun summer reading program for kids called Where's Zack.  

Where's Zack
Here is what she writes:
Where's Zack? A Summer Reading Quest kicks off today at my online magazine, New Christian Books. There will be free, wholesome family-oriented content focusing on the fictitious character Zack throughout June. Readers guess where he disappears while on his family's summer vacation and win free faith-building ebooks. Check it out!


Hershey Bar 

I have been teaching a GED class at a crisis pregnancy center.  One of our students was an honor student in high school who dropped out of school her senior year to care for her grandmother who is blind along with many more health issues.  This girl took the practice test and blew the socks off of every test except Math, which she failed.  While analyzing her test, I discovered that she had missed every fraction questions on the test.  When I questioned her, she said, "I don't get fractions--at all."  I told her to come prepared to work on fractions at the next class.  What am I going to do?

I am going to buy a large Hershey bar which she will break apart and discover how many pieces are in the whole.  Then we can add and subtract the segments to demonstrate that we are still working with a part of the whole. 

Whole oranges are also a great tool to use.  Try not to use anything that you have to cut because it is too difficult to cut each piece the same size.

I hope this helps.  Thanks for stopping by.

Show the Characters

Metaphor of linked stick people symbolizing teamworkSeveral years ago I was teaching fifth grade reading.  We were studying a book call Quest For Courage, a novel about an Indian boy who is sent out to find his courage.  He rode away from the tribe, over many mountains, to find a herd of wild horses.  The main character was the thirteen year old Indian.  The minor characters were the horses which included Medicine Hat Stallion, Black Mare, Medicine Hat colt,White Stallion and the rest of the herd.

My students were completely confused.  They were unable to keep the horses straight in their minds.  Over the weekend, I had a revelation.  I'd make horse paper dolls to represent the different horses.  So I cut out a large spotted horse, a small spotted horse, a black horse, a brown horse and a white horse.  On Monday I 'introduced' the horses to the classes.  Everything went great until 6th period.  I went through my usual introduction.  As I introduced each horse, I laid it down on my desk.  I did the same thing 6th period, putting each horse down until I was left with the black horse and white horse in my hand.  I heard a student say, "I wonder which one is the black mare."  Another student said, "Duh?"  Now that was not allowed in my class.  We did not put other students down, but that one was deserved.  

If your students are becoming confused about characters, consider paper dolls to represent each character. 

Living History II

My apologies to my readers.  Two weeks ago I posted about facilitating Living History day for first graders.  I told you that last week I'd tell you about how I modified the activity for fifth grade.  I posted last week without checking the previous week.  So now I'll tell you about fifth grade.

There was no way I'd bring elderly people in to talk to fifth grade students.  I have more respect for older people than that.  I gave the assignment for each student to interview an older person and write a two page report on their life.  

Oh, did I hear the complaints.  "I don't know any older people."  "I don't know what to ask?"  (Although I had given them questions.)  "I don't like talking to older people."  After I had heard the complaints several times, I unleashed my anger.  By the time I was finished they knew that not doing the assignment was not an option.

There were still students who chose not to do it--and paid the price.  But the ones that did complete it thanked me.  More than one said, "I didn't know that about my grandmother.  Thanks for having us do this."  

I highly recommend that every student interview a senior citizen.  My husband's grandmother used to say that she had lived from the horse and buggy days to the jet age.  Think about how much the world has changed in the last one hundred years.  Do we want to lose that history?  Please take time to educate our children on recent history.  It is important.

A Small Tool For Teachers

There are lots of resources and products for teachers and parents who are home-schooling.  Some are cheap and deliver few rewards.  Some are very expensive and deliver few to many rewards.  Meaning some are worth what you pay for it and others not so much.

Most of the time I believe you get what you pay for, but there is one small, cheap tool or resource that very versatile and worth far more than you pay for it.  It is small enough to put in your pocket, doesn't require batteries or special training, and can be applied for behavioral or academic learning.  What is it?

View detailsA deck of cards from the dollar store.  What?  I said, a deck of cards from the dollar store.  Well how do you use it?  Here are some ways I have used the cards:
  • For behaviorally challenged students--allow the children to draw a card from the deck every time they are on task, polite, quiet, or whatever the desired behavior.  When the cards in their hand total 200, they will receive a reward such as free time, permission to refuse one assignment, or whatever works for that child.  Now this is not 200 cards.  It is 200 points.  How does he know it is 200?  He has to add the points himself.  (OMG, that means he will be practicing his math skills.)  Yes, and how many times do you think he will add his points?  Most of the students will add every time he draws a card.
  • Stop bickering about who is first by allowing students to draw cards.  The highest card is first working down to the lowest.
  • Teach math facts by allowing student to draw two cards and then using an application to discover the answer.  What is the difference in this and using a paper with the math facts on it?  Nothing, but don't tell the students.  They think they are playing a game and having fun. 
  • Teach writing by allowing students to draw cards then creating a story from the cards.  Say the student draws a queen, a two, a seven, and a three.  You might give the prompt:  The queen was riding along in her carriage pulled by two magnificent horses.  Suddenly three ________ jumped out from behind a tree.  Then seven....
Please add to the list for other educators or parents pulling their hair out attempting to teach.

Living History Dat

View detailsWhen I was teaching first grade, I mentioned to the students that I enjoyed listening to the stories my grandparents told about growing up.  The students looked at me like I was crazy.   I asked, "Don't your grandparents tell you about when they were growing up?"  They all shook their heads.  I was appalled.  These children were growing up believing their grandparents' childhood was the same as their own.  That was unacceptable to me.  Our history is important and every child should know what happened.  NOT memorize dates.  They should be able to tell you what life was like during a specific time period.

I decided that I had to rectify this situation.  Now how do you teach first grade students about history?  I decided to bring in 'grandparents' and let them tell their own stories.  This took a lot of preparation, but it was worth it.  Every first grade teacher asked four senior citizens to visit their class on 'Living History Day'.  We sat each 'grandparent' in a corner with four or five first graders around them.  Some of the 'grandparents' brought pictures of themselves as a child and their report card.  We rotated the children about every 15 minutes or so.  This allowed them to hear from four 'grandparents'.  The teachers of other grade levels--many of them with children in first grade--brought lunch for our guests.  After lunch we returned to the classroom for a few more minutes of questions.  By 1:00 the 'grandparents' went home and we continued our day.  The next day we asked the students to write a thank you note to the 'grandparents'.  Now first graders don't write very well, but I had each student read their note to me and I translated it at the bottom of the page.  Notes went out similar to this:
       Thank you for coming to my skool.  I'm sory you din't have lectrisity.
      Thank you for coming to my school.  I'm sorry you didn't have electricity. 

I'm not sure who enjoyed the day more, the students or the 'grandparents'.  Either way it was extremely successful.  

Next week I'll tell you how I taught it in fifth grade.

Reading Fluency

View detailsThe world we live in today is getting smaller and smaller.  We are becoming a blend of many cultures.  While that is great, it can be difficult when trying to pronounce names in reading.  As teachers we need to remember that comprehending the information is more important than pronouncing a foreign name.  Now I'm not advocating that we ignore the name.  I'm saying that if the pronunciation is an issue with the student, adjustments should be made. 
I have had interactions with people from all over the world and hearing them mutilate my name has never bothered me.  I understand that in their language they have different sounds than English.  Therefore my name doesn't always come off as Theresa.  I've been called Potresa, Tressa, and Tedessa, just to mention a few.  The important part wasn't the pronunciation, but rather the interaction we shared. 
The bottom line is--don't get so hung up on pronunciation of names or words that it impedes reading fluency.


Montage of school, teacher, and math principlesI just finished teaching a student to estimate.  It is a difficult concept because the students have nothing to look at.  I usually make a number line and lay it in front of the student.  For younger ones I require them to put an object (marker) on the number they are supposed to round.  This allows them to see if it is closer to 0 or 10.
Remembering which number to look at is the most difficult concept for students.  I usually ask them to use their hand to cover the number to be estimated and then look at the number they can see to the right of their hand. If they are estimating dollars and given the number $24.82.  I'd instruct them to cover up $24 and then look at the number seen on the right of their hand.  They would see the '8' in .82 and be able to round up to $25.  If they were to round to the nearest $10, they would cover the '2' in $24 and then look to the right at the '4'.  The four should be rounded down making the answer $20.00.  When I taught first grade, I created rhymes to teach the children things like this.  I do not remember what we said for this situation.  If anyone can think of something to teach the students to say when they are working the problems, please leave me a comment.  I'd love to hear it.
By the way, don't try teaching a student to estimate or round if they are not very grounded in place value.  It will be really confusing for them and frustrating for you.

Parts of Speech Nightmare

View detailsI can hear you screaming, "I hate learning the parts of speech."  "Why is this important?"  "I hated diagraming sentences when I was in school."
I am one of those weird people who loved diagraming sentences.  I saw it as a puzzle and approached it that way.  When I taught first grade, I drilled on two parts of speech:  Noun and Verb.  Why?  Because to be a complete sentence, it must contain both a noun and a verb.  When teaching small children to recognize complete sentences, it is important that they be able to recognize both parts of speech.
A few years later, I moved to teaching fifth grade reading and language arts.  The students who were in my first grade class, were now in my fifth grade class.  I remember the day I asked 'what is a noun?'  I received the most blank stares I've ever seen.  No hints seemed to trigger their memory.  I was frustrated.
Out of my frustration, I designed an activity to help them remember the parts of speech.  Every day when they entered the classroom, there were two sentences on the board.  They were required to copy the sentences and perform the task assigned.  When the bell rang, I closed the door and we went over the sentences together.  They were allowed to correct any mistake they had made.  On Friday, I checked notebooks.  They received a grade for simply having all the sentences written down.
When we started, they were asked to underline the nouns in each sentence.  After about two weeks, we added verbs to the sentences.  We labeled each noun with a small 'n' over the word and verbs were labeled with a 'v'.  Throughout the year, we continued adding parts of speech, never leaving the previously studied parts.
One day as a class was filing out, one girl looked up at me and said, "Thank you for making us find the parts of speech every day.  That's the only way I can remember it."

Not only did this activity teach parts of speech, it also cut down on inappropriate behavior before class started.  The students knew to come in the room, take out their notebook, and copy the two sentences on the board.

For home-schools, it might be a good idea to begin every class with this activity.  Remember to begin with ONLY one part of speech.  I chose nouns because they can be seen.  I made it a point to repeat the definition of the targeted part of speech each day.  Keep it simple- A noun is the name of a person, place, or thing.  *dad, home, dog* A verb is an action word. *run, walk, jump, go* (In the beginning focus on verbs the child can DO.)  An adjective describes a noun. *small book, red dresstwo hotdogs*  An adverb describes a verb. *walk slowly, jump high, think quickly*

Adjectives and adverbs can be confusing.  Remember to look at what the word is describing before deciding.

Pretty girls wear red dresses.  In this case, pretty is describing girls  and red is describing dresses.
 The first boy jumped higher than the second.  In this case, higher is describing jumped.

The child is able to comprehend the concept if it is broken down like this.  The best way to teach parts of speech is:
  • don't give too much information at once.
  • don't leave the previously learned part when you go to the next one.

Teaching Prepositions

View detailsRabbit coming out of a magicians top hatPrepositions are difficult to teach because you can't show them.  A student can't see them. The definition of the word Preposition doesn't fit all the prepositions.  Prepositions are the smallest words in the English language, yet they are very important.  Here are a few hints to help you teach them.
The word itself is a help.  Let's look at it.  Preposition.  Pre-position.  A preposition tells the position of one object to another. 

Teaching prepositions through activity:  Place a box, chair or stool in the middle of the room.  Then instruct the student to go: under, over, through, around, in, and out of the box, chair, or stool.

Visual model: Draw a simple house on the board.  Then write the positions in appropriate places of the house.  (Use arrows for words like in and through.)
Spider in the middle of its webAhhh--teaching in January.  The holidays are over.  Everyone has had a break from school and it is time to get back to the work of teaching and learning.  But what do you teach in January??  There just doesn't seem to be much to celebrate in January.  A question came to me the other day.  A teacher needed an idea on teaching  black history.  It reminded me of teaching units. 
I loved teaching units.  A unit is where you use a particular topic as the 'jumping off' point for teaching all of the subjects in class.  There have been many units developed.  Some use a topic like Black History Month or Spring.  Others use a book and write lessons based on that book.  Oh, writing lessons is hard.  That will take a long time.  Nonsense.  Let me show you how to do it.  Let's use a nursery rhyme as our focus.  Obviously this is going to be very short and aimed at small children, but the process is the same for novels or anything else you want to teach.
Little Miss Muffet
Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet
Eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider and sat down beside her.
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
Now let's design a lesson for each subject.
Reading/LA--Read nursery rhyme.  Discuss the rhyming words.  Define each one so that the students are more able to connect with them.  Hand each child an index card with one half of a rhyming set on it.  Instruct students to pair up with the child who has the rhyming word.  Once each child has found his partner, review the words emphasizing the rhyming syllable. 
Math--Use a paper spider for counting and grouping, i.e. Students should cut the legs off a paper spider.  Lay groups of 2 and then 4 on your table.  How many groups do you have for each?
Social Studies--Learn the story behind Little Miss Muffet. 
Little Miss Muffet was a small girl whose name was Patience Muffet. Her stepfather, Dr. Muffet (1553-1604) was an entimologist who wrote the first scientific catalogue of British insects. One morning while she was eating her breakfast of curds and whey, a spider sat down beside her and she ran away. This nursery rhyme dates back to the 16th century. The date associated with rhyme is Dr. Muffet's birthday. Unlikely story.
A goggle search brought me this information. However each nursery rhyme had its birth in real-life events. 
Science--Watch  http://urbanext.illinois.edu/insects/01.html an ebook discussing what is or isn't an insect.
If you like teaching units, be sure to check out edhelper.com for units to download and duplicate.


Social Studies--Learn the story behind Little Miss Muffet.  Little Miss Muffet was a small girl whose name was Patience Muffet.  Her stepfather, Dr. Muffet (1553-1604) was an entimologist who wrote the first scientific catalogue of British insects.  One morning while she was eating her breakfast of curds and whey, a spider sat down beside her and she ran away.  This nursery rhyme dates back to the 16th century.  The date associated with rhyme is Dr. Muffet's birthday.  Unlikely story. 
A goggle search brought me this information.  However each nursery rhyme had its birth in real-life events.