Blog Archives

Art For Students Who Can’t Draw (Guest Blog Post)

I am so excited about this guest blog post. Claire Hodgson has some simple, practical ideas for including art into our classrooms (even for those of us who may not be Picasso)! Thanks again Claire, for your fantastic post!
Art lessons can be a chance for everyone to have some fun in the classroom and show what they can do, but only if you ensure that every child feels able to create something, regardless of how much natural artistic talent they may have. When you are coming up with lesson plans, you should consider how you could provide art projects that don’t just inspire the most creative students.

Coming Up With Ideas

Some children struggle with art because they find it hard to come up with new, creative ideas. They look at a blank piece of paper, and all they can see is a blank piece of paper. Finding new ways to help these kids to unlock their creativity can ensure that they get to enjoy art class as much as everyone else. One of the reasons why art is so important in education is that it encourages students to express themselves and to come up with their own ideas. Giving the less artistic kids a little nudge of inspiration can help them all to become more inventive and imaginative. It can be particularly rewarding if you need to reach out to students with additional needs. Children who have ADHD or who are on the autistic spectrum can often surprise you with their dedication and creativity when you find the right subject or material for them to work with in an art lesson. The easiest way to make sure everyone can come up with a good idea is to plan a more directed art lesson, where you offer a particular source of inspiration or starting point for the class to work from, but you can also encourage more experimental creativity by helping your students to look at the world differently.

A good source of artistic ideas can come from linking your art class with a book that the kids have been reading, which can be a perfect opportunity to link in to the core curriculum for literacy, particularly when it comes to finding evidence in the text and understanding figurative language. Try getting them to draw a picture of a character or location from the story, thinking about what visual clues are provided by the book, and how much is left to the imagination, or ask them to draw both literal and figurative versions of things that have been described metaphorically.

A different way to inspire creativity is to encourage the children to find a new way of looking at the world. There are endless ways you can do this, but it can be as simple as getting your students to find a new perspective from which to look at the world, by turning upside down, looking at objects close up or through a mirror, or cutting out and decorating a picture frame that they can use to compose their pictures of a landscape or still life. If you thread string into a grid pattern across the frame, they can even use this as a tool to help them keep their drawing to scale. The grid technique can even tie in with math lessons and the core standards for understanding scale drawings, since it can be used to copy and resize pictures.

Techniques for the Less Artistic

Another issue for some children is that they simply lack the technical skill of some of their more naturally artistic peers, which can really damage their confidence. Introducing a variety of techniques can ensure that everyone gets the chance to express themselves, and it can also make teaching art easier for you, since you won’t have to be particularly artistic to demonstrate them.

1. Photography: taking photos can be the perfect way to allow kids who are less skilled with paints and pencils to learn about composition. If you can get your hands on a cheap, kid-friendly camera, this can also be a great homework or vacation assignment that you can use to get an insight into what is most important to each child. Ask them to come back with five or ten photos of people, places or objects that matter to them.

2. Computer Art: kids who might not come across as particularly artistic in more traditional art lessons can often be the ones who have the best computer skills. Allowing them to show you what they can do with computer drawing and painting tools can give them a big confidence boost.

Digital Art

3. Comic Book Art: a lot of artists start by copying other people’s work, and comic book art and cartoons use bold lines and bright colors, which can be easy for kids to copy and use to create their own stories.

4. Collage: this is the best medium for ensuring that every child gets the chance to do something creative, since it requires willingness to experiment more than technical skill, and it can make a great collaborative art project. You can provide a variety of materials yourself, but it can also be interesting to see what the kids will bring in if you let them collect extra material at home. Encouraging them to see everything as a potential piece of art can generate some really surprising effects.

5. Mosaics and Pointillism: if you want a slightly less messy lesson than collage making, then you might want to look at Roman mosaics or pointillism. This is an art history lesson that can easily merge into a practical art class. You can prepare plenty of little squares or circles of colored paper, like the remnants left over by a hole-punch, or get the kids to tear off tiny pieces for themselves, to glue down to create their own mosaics or dot pictures.

Paper Mosaic  
Claire Hodgson: After a decade in graphic design, Claire decided to combine her passion for writing and her family by being a full-time mother and freelance writer. On a more personal note, she says she also loves to take her English setters for long walks.

Say What? Guest Blog Post – Accountable Talk in The Classroom

I think you’re going to love this guest blog post, written by expert teacher, Julie Faulkner. Julie has been teaching English in TN for over 10 years. She has taught 7-12 English as well as composition and literature at the college level.  Julie has worked this past year as a common core trainer in ELA for TN to train teachers to implement common core. 

Take it away , Julie! 

Do you ever wonder why some students are so quiet during classroom discussions? Could it be because…They don’t have a clue what to say? Maybe they don’t want to be judged by their peers? Or maybe they don’t see the point?  This summer I spent hours training and preparing for common core.  In doing so, I realized effective speaking and listening are hugely significant and tied directly to everything else.  It became very apparent that effective communication, though, goes way beyond common core and the classroom – it is critical for college and career readiness.

To elaborate a little there – a short story – my husband works for a major business corporation in the US and takes conference calls daily. Never did I realize until I was thinking about how to incorporate talk into my classroom, how this practice actually does fit the mold for “college and career readiness.”  I will also say here, that up until this point, I was actually struggling for rationale as to why I should even “waste” my precious class time with discussions.  So, this summer I overhead my husband using what we call in the academic world “accountable talk stems.” After I asked him about it, he elaborated that effective communication was critical – maybe even one of the most important things his job requires. Thus was born my entire pedagogical approach and rationale for implementing thoughtful and structured academic talk. 

To me accountable talk occurs two ways in the classroom – what the teacher says and what the students say.  Teachers usually talk a lot in the classroom setting. After all, we are responsible for covering material, questioning, checking for understanding, and managing class time, right? While the former is true, I realized quickly that what I said and how I said it in my classroom could actually make or break student growth.  As a result, I began to change my questioning patterns to use “smart talk stems” myself.  But that wasn’t all – WARNING – this next part might be painful.  I began to wait on students to answer me.  Yes, crickets and all. And in the beginning there were lots of crickets.  I was so used to throwing out a question, and if the student couldn’t answer right away, I’d answer for him/her for the sake of time or fear of it looking like I hadn’t explained the topic clearly enough.  I might even let another student bail him/her out.  Students are used to be nurtured in that way, and it became very apparent to me that I was guilty of giving students an easy way out to the point of actually crippling them from being able to struggle and articulate their own thoughts.  Secondly, I realized that I had been allowing students to only answer half-way or maybe even incorrectly.  If they answered with a correct one-word response, I would drop it and move on. If they answered partially wrong, I would reword it for them to make it correct.  Suddenly, I realized I was doing all of the questioning and answering.  In that regard, sadly I had no true measurement of their understanding. I began to slow down- to ask students to explain in their own words. I asked other more eager students to wait and then elaborate on the prior student to teach listening and feedback skills. 

Additionally, to truly be able to express a thought and to be productive, there must be justification.  Students must be able to say why or how they know with credible reasoning.  In my ELA classroom, it is easy to correct a comma in daily oral language and move on. Or, we can fix a subject-verb error “because it just didn’t sound right.” That type of justification doesn’t truly do students any good the next time they encounter that same mistake.  I wanted my students to learn how to not only have the answer, but to have the answer and be able to say why.

Once I began to model accountable talk practices with my students, speaking and listening came more naturally to them when it came time for them to host their own talk time. I didn’t start out eating the whole elephant here, either, with this second leg of accountable talk.  This type of practices takes a long time to develop.  I began to put students in pairs for a “turn and talk” or “pair/share” type activity. We practiced with topics that were easy to discuss. Then we moved to whole group discussions.  Each time, though, students come prepared to talk with something they have written first.  Afterwards, we also write again to sum up the discussion or for reflection.  The talking portion of class is tied to the text and the task. Ultimately, we have a triangle of talk-text-task (and not necessarily in that order every time).

I am reminded of a country music song lyric (not surprising given my TN home) that says, “It’s all talk, talk, talk- talking in the wind.”  Unfortunately, a lot of times that can be true. We talk in circles; some talk too much, and others don’t speak up at all.  Some comments are useful and some derail the main point.  I think having a goal and modeling is crucial for the success of the discussion.  Students must be learning not only what is an effective way to listen and speak to each other, but they also must be gaining subject-area content knowledge.   And, I think that’s the ticket – this is just yet another tool in our deep and wide toolbox to help us prepare our students for the world in which they must eventually enter and be productive citizens.

 –Julie Faulkner


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Free Smart Talk Stems Poster 

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Bump It Up Boards (A Guest Blog Post)

 Welcome to Kristy, from 2 Peas and a Dog, my guest blogger for today. Thanks again for such an awesome idea, Kristy. Enjoy folks!


Need a strategy to improve student achievement? Have you tried Bump It Up Boards? They are a great visual way to help your students self monitor their achievement.

bump it up boards


bump it up


How To Get Started:

Choose a curriculum expectation or focus you see as a need in your classroom. I chose the 4 R’s [retell, relate, reflect, review] reading reflections strategy.

Collect many work samples of your focus. You can use previous student work, ask colleagues for their examples, create your own, use government standardized test exemplars or search the internet for examples.

Ensure your samples represent a range of student achievement levels – not just ones that meet or exceed expectations.

 Student Involvement:

Students worked in groups to read the responses and “grade or mark” each response based on their previous knowledge of what makes a good Retell, Relate, Reflect and Review.

A student in each group was the recorder and wrote down all of their ideas on what made the each exemplar a Level 2, (C), Level 3 (B) or a Level 4 (A).

We had a class discussion and compared our answers to ensure consistency among our expectations for Level 2, 3 and 4 work.

Final Process to Create the Board:

Type up student thinking under the appropriate curriculum expectation categories – this will become your Success Criteria.

Type up the assignment expectations and format the graded work samples to fit on to the display board.

Colour code your examples by level and attach to a bulletin board or poster board. Have students reference this board while working on their assignments to self monitor their progress.

Products to Support Bump It Boards

Free Signs and Labels

Free Four R’s Complete Support Package
2PeasAndADog Blog

Inquiry Based Math Lesson on Data Management (Guest Blog Post)

I’d like to introduce a guest blogger this evening,  AnneMarie, from Looking From Third to Fourth. She teaches grade 3/4 in Ontario. She’s written an excellent and detailed data management blog post. Enjoy!


This year I am part of my board’s Junior Numeracy Network, where I work with math consultants and other Grade 4-6 teachers from other schools to develop, implement and discuss inquiry-based math lessons. In between our sessions we have to have another teacher and consultant watch us teach an inquiry-based lesson to discuss at our next workshop.

As I was about to begin my data management unit I decided to do a formative assessment lesson to kick off our unit. Previously when teaching in primary classrooms I have always started by making a class graph based on a survey questions – to engage the junior students I decided to change it up a bit. Here’s what I did.

First we played a classroom minute to win-it like game. Students were giving some conversation hearts (left over from our Valentine’s Math!). They were given 1 minute to stack them as high as they could. Each time it fell they were to start over – but record the height of the tower before it fell.

Data Management, Inquiry Based Math Lesson, Guest Blog Post
Her stack just fell over!
Data Management, Inquiry Based Math Lesson, Guest Blog Post
Data Management, Inquiry Based Math Lesson, Guest Blog Post
Page to record data.

When the 1st minute was up I recorded their data (only at that point we were calling it scores) on our Brightlinks whiteboard.

Data Management, Inquiry Based Math Lesson, Guest Blog Post

I was purposefully recording their numbers in an unorganized manner. Once it was up I asked them a few questions: Which ones were Preston’s? Who made taller towers the girls or the boys? Which number is on the board the most?  The students all agreed that we could not answer some of those questions just by looking at the numbers, and when someone told me what number was up there the most and I asked are you sure they quickly said well no, I said can you prove it and they started to hesitate. So we quickly reached our first pieces of consolidation:
*you need to organize information so that it is easy to read
*information that we collect is called data (yes they actually remembered it from the year before – they must have had a great teacher : ) ).

We started again, they had another minute to build and record data. Before I collected it from them we talked about ways to organize it. Some students tried to apply multiplication since that is what we just finished but a few came up with a chart. I was supposed to use tally marks but didn’t in my haste to collect.

Data Management, Inquiry Based Math Lesson, Guest Blog Post
Next, I gave students paper strips (all the same length). They were given 3 minutes to create the longest paper chain they could. Some students worked in partners, 2 worked alone. I did this to help introduce fairness/bias later on. I got this idea from a measurement activity I found on Pinterest and modified for this activity.
Data Management, Inquiry Based Math Lesson, Guest Blog Post

They labeled their first loop and put them away. The first part of our lesson was over.

That afternoon I had the students get their paper chains and bring them to our carpet area. I did not give direction about how to put them down. They all started putting them down in the same direction and one eager student started to line them up – but I stopped him for a minute and asked him to let people decide where to put their chains.

Once we had all the chains we talked about how they were displayed – were they easy to compare. The students decided they all needed to line up at one starting point so we could compare them. Yes, consolidation point 3 – our display need to be organized – in this case with a starting line.
Now we could easily compare the chains and see which was the longest.

Data Management, Inquiry Based Math Lesson, Guest Blog Post
Next we decided that our display reminded us an awful lot of a graph (although first we said grid and could not come up with bar graph or pictograph). I then asked them to identify features that were missing – they again focussed on a grid (ugh!). Finally we got to a title – yes – then had to decide where to put it. There was much confusion about whether it could a horizontal or vertical graph – finally we decided both were okay!
After that we finally got to the fact that we needed labels at the bottom to tell whose chain was whose. Yes more consolidation – graphs need titles and labels!
Data Management, Inquiry Based Math Lesson, Guest Blog Post
Data Management, Inquiry Based Math Lesson, Guest Blog Post
Then I brought out my chain – and they lost their minds. I made it with 11 x 17 paper instead of their 8.5 x 11. They knew for sure that this was not fair. I asked a lot of questions about why they thought it wasn’t fair. I asked if they knew mine was longer than the rest – just by looking – could they really compare them. We came up with the idea that we needed to count mine to see if it was the longest – and it wasn’t. They were shocked. What did we learn – a graph needs a standard size or scale so that we can read it accurately. Yes, more consolidation.
Data Management, Inquiry Based Math Lesson, Guest Blog Post

Lastly, they were asked to make their own graph based on our data. They could choose a blank paper or one with a grid section in the middle. Many chose the grid paper – only to realize it was not big enough to count by 1’s for the scale – and some people were stumped. A few said “Oh, I know what to do” (yes, what a great teacher they had last year). And a few just added squares to the top of the grid (who the heck was their teacher last year!).

Our next steps are to use the paper chains and plot our data on a number line. Then we will find the median. We will also find the mode – we have 3 paper chains that have 19 chains and one that has 23 so we will focus on the mode being the answer the one that occured the most not the one with the most chains. Lastly they will make a model of their chain using paper clips and then we will find the mean by averaging out the paper clips from one chain to the next.

During our computer lab I plan on using this website to continue practicing our skills:

If you made it through that long post I would love to have you stop by and visit my blog some time!
Looking From Third to Fourth
Thanks for sharing such an awesome, and in depth lesson!  Any comments or questions for AnneMarie?
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