School Sparks Brings Us Observation Skills

Hello everyone, I’d like to introduce you to this week’s guest blogger: Renee Abramovitz of School Sparks. She has some great tips for you on increasing observation skills . If you like what she has to say, please feel free to stop by her website and check our her cool worksheets.signature_thumb1  Also, stop by Mrs. Miner’s Monkey Business tomorrow for my guest blog post on puzzles.


Strong observation skills are important for children for many reasons. Lessons in school are often taught through demonstrations that require children to observe. Interactions with peers on the playground require children to observe what others are doing so that they can make decisions about joining in the game, for instance, or understand what game is being played. And of course, recognizing letters and numbers for reading and math work depends on keen observation skills.

Some children seem to have a natural knack for noticing details while others seem to be oblivious regarding the finer points of things they see. But whether your child appears to be a natural observer or a one who isles aware of details, there are ways to help him hone his observation skills.

Visual discrimination games
Children can be taught to be more observant by playing visual discrimination games. These can be short, spur of the moment activities that take place when you have a few spare moments, or they can be part of a more formal learning session. Either way, practicing looking at details in visual images helps children understand its importance and hone this critical skill.

1. ) Play “I Spy” and add detailed information about the hidden object to prompt your child to look for those details. For instance, you might spy a book on a shelf that is a certain color with words written in a specific color as well.

Use Magazines Trips to Teach Observation Skills2.) Look at detailed pictures in storybooks and magazines with your child. Ask him to point to specific parts of the picture. Begin by asking your child to find more obvious items and then make the game more difficult by requesting that he find smaller items, partially hidden objects or items with a specific design or detail.

3.)  Give your child an empty box and ask him to help you find that item Use Shoping Trips to Teach Observation Skillswhen you are shopping together in the store. Tell him he must find the exact box with the same design and size.

4.)  After taking pictures with your camera, print out two similar pictures that were taken in sequence. Often there are only slight differences between the two shots. Ask your child to point out how the two pictures are different.

5)  When cooking dinner, allow your child to pull a chair up to the counter and give him some challenging compare and contrasts worksheets to complete while you are busy. This way he will fee close to you and you’ll be available to answer any questions, but you can both complete your separate work.

6.)  Write a letter or number boldly on an index card. Ask your child to carry the card with him when you are shopping together and tell you when he spots the letter or number on store signs. 

7.)  When setting the table for dinner, turn one spoon or fork upside down or move one water glass to the opposite side of the dinner plate. Ask your child to spot the error. 

8.)  Buy two identical Memory games. Place three of the same picture cards in a row and add a different, but similar card to that row (such as three cards that show a banana and one card with a picture of a pencil). Ask your child to find the picture that does not match the others.

9.)  Using the same Memory game cards, find three pictures that belong in the same category (foods, toys, the same color, or vehicles, for example). Then add a fourth card that does not belong. Ask your child to find the odd card.

Strong observational skills will benefit your child is all areas of life. Best of all, they are fun to practice so consider starting with your child today.


schoolsparksblog.buttonRenee Abramovitz is a retired kindergarten and preschool teacher and she is passionate about helping children start school prepared to succeed. Visit her at for hundreds of free kindergarten worksheets to help children develop critical skills and begin school prepared to succeed.


What Are You Doing for Earth Day?

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Top 10 post, but with Earth Day coming on April 22nd, I thought it was time to get back into the tradition.  So, here are 10 ways you can celebrate Earth Day with your students:

1.)  Watch Magic School Bus – So many of the Magic School Bus movies focus on taking care of the earth, but there are two in particular that I love for Earth Day.  One is the Holiday Special and the other is In The Rainforest.  My son has them both on one DVD, which I will be borrowing for my students on Earth Day!  They give you a great, kid friendly way to look at Earth Day themes – including recycling and protecting the rainforest.

2.)  Take a Trip to the Trash – Our society today has a habit of “hiding” the trash, and so kids don’t generally know what happens after they put the trash into the can.  Take a field trip to a landfill or a recycling center so kids can learn first hand where the trash goes.  Seeing all of the trash together can be a good realization for kids who only see their one little bag as not a big deal.

3.) Get involved in a local Earth Day project – Most communities host activities on, or around Earth Day to “beautify” the earth.  Get your class involved in picking up trash or planting trees so that they can get their hands into Earth Day.

4.)  Connect with other schools online  – Get yoGetting Rid of Plastic Bags Collaborative Projectur class involved in an online project where they can work with other schools around the globe to recognize that protecting the Earth is everyone’s responsibility.   Global Teaching Connect is hosting a Getting Rid of Bags collaborative project that you might want to check out.


5.)  Read the Great Kapok Tree If you’ve never read this book – it’s great for talking about the interdependent web of life in the rainforest, and why it is so important to not cut down trees in the rainforest.  Mandy Neal of Cooperative Learning has a great freebie to go with this book, that you can read about HERE.

6.)  Make do this,not that posters – Talk about the things we should do Earth Day Posters for Kidsand the things we shouldn’t do, then let your students create Do This, Not That posters where your students promote good habits for taking care of the earth.  Have students hang their posters in the hallway to share what they have learned with others.

7.)  Persuade others to act green – Earth day is a great time to work on persuasive writing.  Choose a topic – carpooling, bringing cloth grocery bags, taking public transportation, recycling, even something as using reusable napkins could be a great topic for a persuasive writing piece.

8.)  Look at Living Locally – If you haven’t read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – it’s completely worth the read (adult read, not a kid’s book!).  In this book, she talks about living locally – eating food and buying products from within a 50 – 100 mile radius of where you live.  This concept has not been explored fully with kids, but it’s a great seed to plant, as a way to reduce oil expenditure (trucks burn a lot of gas when they move those oranges from California to New York).  A trip to a local farmer’s market would be a great addition to this type of topic.

9.)  Watch Captain PlanetDo you remember Captain Planet?  It was a great cartoon series where superheros saved the earth.  Pull out this great series to get your kids involved in Earth Day.  I can’t find them on DVD – but Amazon has VHS and you can find them on YouTube.

10.)  Go Paperless – During Earth Day, it’s a great time to Ecology Paperless E Quizmodel paperless activities – such as using your blog to submit homework, creating digital presentations instead of making posters, sending E-mails over letters, and doing E-Quizzes instead of written tests.  Grab an E-Quiz for Ecology from my TPT store.


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Looking Through a Kid’s Eyes

I have been using the addition fact quizzes and subtraction fact quizzes with my students for months now.  Most of my students are doing fine, but I have a few who are having trouble, and I couldn’t figure out why.  Then, I gave the quizzes to my son and his first was was, “Mom, why is 2.5 + 2 ?”  I explained to him that the first 2 was the question number, and not part of the problem.  Then, I looked at the quiz harder and realized it did look like 2.5, hmmmmm…..

So, of I went back to my computer to make it more clear.  I fixed the Addition Fact Quizzesquizzes with a simple ) and some spaces, and then gave the new versions to my students – what do you know my struggling students can see the questions better now!  Some are still struggling, but there were definitely some who were getting tripped up on that dot!  Isn’t it amazing what can happen when we look at our resources through the eyes of our students? 

By the way – if you purchased any of my fact quizzes (addition, subtraction or multiplication), from my TPT store, they have all been updated with the clearer problem numbers.

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Roll Up Some Math

I LOVE to play board games at home, but I also enjoying using them in my classroom. In addition to encouraging cooperation, turn taking and a variety of other social skills, I find I can often use the games to work on math and literacy skills. So, every Friday, I am going to post a Friday Game Night post, giving tips on how to use a particular board game in your classroom. Here’s this week’s Friday Game Night Tip:

Dice – Part 1 (Math)

After two weeks of looking at playing cards, I decided to try one more cheap “board game” – dice!  Just like cards, dice can be used in so many ways to increase both math and literacy.  Here are some ideas on how to use dice with math.  Check back next week for some literacy ideas.


For all of these ideas, you can use regular six sided die, or specialized die with more or less sides.  Specialized die make it much easier when working with bigger numbers and older students.


1.)  Roll & Add (or Subtract, or Multiply)  – One of the easiest way to practice basic math facts is with a couple of dice.  I start my students out with a six sided die, and then move them up to a ten sided die after they have mastered most of their facts.  Students take two die, roll the die and then add (or subtract, or multiply – depending on the skill needed).  I let my students work with a partner when doing this, and they race against each other to see who can call out the correct answer first. 

2.)  Make a Number Bigger than This – For this activity, use multiple six sided or eight sided die.  Depending on how big of a number your Use Dice to Compare Numbersstudents can handle, each student will need one die for each place value place (ie. 4 die for a number with a thousand’s place).  Students will roll all of their dice.  Give students a number (either write it on a board, or have cards available for students to draw from if you want to put this into a center) and then challenge them to use the numbers they rolled to make a number larger than the number you have given them.  I generally give the students on “re-roll” if they don’t have any digits that will help them make a number bigger than the given number.

3.)  Skip Count on From Here – When practicing skip counting and multiples, an easy way is to give students one die (six sided or ten sided work best) and have them roll the number.  Students should then skip count to one hundred.  For example, if they roll a 2, they skip count to one hundred by twos.  I generally do this in small groups or partners, rather than put individual students on the spot.

4.)  Make a Word Problem – I love giving students a chance to make their own word problems, but they have a tendency to make work problems with numbers they will know, which can defeat the purpose.  Kids Make the Problem Solver FreeInstead, hand the student two (or three) die and let them roll up their numbers.  Different die makes this easy to differentiate – your struggling students can roll up numbers 1-6, while your extension group uses a 20 sided die.  Grab this free template from Google Docs to help guide students through creating their own problem solvers.


I hope some of these suggestions will help you use dice to teach math in a new and interesting way. Click HERE for more suggestions on how to use board games in the classroom.

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Why Should We Be Creative?

In this current age of standardized testing, we often do not give students a chance to be creative.  Our focus is on having the right answer, and we – the teacher – know what that right answer is.  However, in real life, we rarely know what the real answer is, so why are we setting our students up for failure in this way?  I know what you’re saying – “Because they have to pass the test Heidi – or it could be my job.”  Well, I’m going to stay out of the politics of this, but I would like to address some ways we can build in creativity and critical thinking, while still teaching what is needed for students to “pass the test”.

1.  Let them illustrate. In the upper grades and sometimes even the lower grades, we often focus so hard on writing, that we leave illustrating out all together, because it’s “just” drawing.  Every once in awhile – reverse this thinking.  Let students illustrate first – and use it as a brainstorming tool.  Hand your students a blank piece of paper, give them a topic and an entire writing period (30 to 40 minutes) to draw a picture of that topic.  Tell students they have to keep working for the entire time, adding as many details as possible.  Then, when it comes time to write, use all these visual details they came up with to add depth and detail to their writing.

2. Let them be the teacher.  We know first hand hKids Make the Test Question Sheet Reading Comprehensionow much creativity and critical thinking it takes to be a teacher.  Why not give the kids a chance at this type of thinking?  Let students write their test questions for those awful reading passages – or whatever else they are reading.  (Grab a pre-made sheet for this from my TPT store.)  Have students write their own word problems, and challenge other students in the class to answer them.  Give them a chance to create the review game for centers.  By being the “teacher” they will look at their curriculum and their thinking in a whole new way.

3.  Challenge them to a puzzle.  Everything you teach can be Self Correcting Puzzle Templateput into a puzzle of some kind.  I use puzzles constantly in my room (to see how – check out my guest blog post on Mrs. Miner’s Monkey Business April 17th).  My students Multiplication Tiling Puzzle - Critical Thinkinguse jigsaw puzzles, self correcting puzzles and critical thinking puzzles.  (Grab a template for self correcting puzzles from my TPT store and a multiplication tiling puzzle for FREE.)


4.  Use projects.  Project based learning always give students the Black History Project Matrixfreedom to be more creative and think in new, critically different ways.  Cover all those science and social studies topics with project matrixes that allow students to choose their own way to express what they have learned.  Let’s face it, kids would rather create an “interview” of a famous person than write a report about that person – and how much more knowledge are they showing if they have to add personality and style to their project? (Grab a matrix for Black History Projects from my TPT store.)



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Shel Silverstein Site

It’s time for the Wednesday Website suggestion!! For two years, I was the Technology Specialist at a school in Georgia. During that time, I amassed a large collection of websites that I use with my students. If you want to search through some of them, you can check out my IKeepBookmarks site. Or, you can check back here each week for the Wednesday Website suggestion.

April is National Poetry Month, so this week’s website suggestion Shel Silverstein Website - Raki's Rad Resources Reccomendssurrounds around my absolute favorite kid’s poet – Shel Silverstein. I have all of his books in my class – and we regularly read from A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. In honor of this amazing author, my kids are going to spend some time this month at his official website. There are games, free printables, lesson plans and information about Shel Silverstein. It’s such a great sight, I wish I had time for an author study!

If you are looking for more activities for National Poetry Month – be Poetry Writing Journal on Teachers Pay Teacherssure to check out the Linky Party over at the ESOL Odyssey. I’ve linked up my poetry journal over there with her, and there are tons of other ideas and resources available.

Hope you enjoyed this Wednesday’s Website suggestion – check back each Wednesday for a new Wednesday’s Website suggestion and click HERE to view previous Website suggestions.

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Twenty Tips for Teaching ELL Students

My class consists of 19 students, of which only 1 speaks English only in his household, and even he began his life in a bilingual environment. The other 18 speak at least one, if not two other languages in their homes. Most of my students speak Arabic, but many also speak French. I have 3 who speak French and not Arabic, 1 who speaks Spanish, and 1 who speaks a Philippine dialect. All of my students speak SOME English, but to varying degrees. My job is to teach them English, while also teaching them everything we normally teach in school (reading, writing, math, science, social studies etc.) Fortunately, I am certified to teach ESL and have some experience with English Language Learners. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. So, for the last 5 months, I have been writing a Teaching Tip each week that is specifically to help you teach your English Language Learners. Last week, I wrote Tip #20 and my follower number went over 100.  So, I realized some of you may have missed some of the first tips.  For this reason, I decided to give you a review this week of the first 20 tips. Keep checking back as I have 20 more for you! Scroll down for the first 20 tips I have written.

Do you enjoy the weekly TESOL Teaching Tips? Do you want to know Heidi Raki at the Everything's Intermediate Expo - Presentation on English Language Learnersmore about teaching English Language Learners? I will be speaking on this topic at the Everything’s Intermediate Expo, and I’d love to have you “join” us. It is a virtual expo, which will help us connect no matter where we are! Click HERE for ticket information.

20 Tips for Teachers of English Language Learners

Twenty TESOL Tips:

20.  Use Peer Tutors

19.  Understand Each Child Learns Differently

18.  Understand the Silent Period

17.  Teach Grammar Explicitly

16.  Teach Social Expectations

15.  Use Technology to Its Fullest

14.  Communicate with the Family

13.  Utilize Background Knowledge

12.  Teach and Understand Body Language

11.  Understand Inferencing

10.  Understand the Cultural Effects on Language

9.   Know Key Words in the Home Language

8.   Know Your Students’ Literacy Levels

7.   Teach Kids to Listen

6.   Repeat Yourself

5.   Teach Vocabulary

4.   Correct their Mistakes Correctly

3.   Give Them Time to Talk

2.   Speak Slowly

1.   Use Graphics

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Teachers Around the Globe Connect on Facebook

Calling all teachers!  Global Teacher Connect now has a Facebook page and we’d like you to be a part of it.  globalteacherconnectfacebookFor those of you who haven’t found Global Teacher Connect – it’s a collaborative blog with teachers from 11 countries, all sharing our perspectives on education.  Now, we are adding Facebook to our ways to collaborate.  Here’s how:

On this page, teachers from around the globe will ask and answer those questions that will give us insight to what is going on in other classrooms around the world. 

On this page, teachers from around the globe will have the chance to discuss what’s really working in their classroom. 

On this page, teachers from around the globe can share resources and websites with one another. 

On this page, teachers from around the globe can “meet” and find partner classes from other countries to enhance their writing units with pen pals, their social studies units with skype internet pals, their science with interactive projects – the sky’s the limit on what we can do when we connect.

On this page, teachers from around the globe will be able to truly collaborate.

Please come on over and like the Global Teacher Connect Facebook page, and while you’re there tell us where you’re at and how you’d like to collaborate!

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I’m Learning How to Read

I’m 29 years old and I’m learning to read…………………………………… in Arabic.  I know how to read in English (of course) and French & Spanish (kind of), but learning how to read in Arabic means learning a whole new alphabet and learning to read in a whole new direction.  I truly feel like I’m learning to read all over again, and it’s really helping me understand how my students feel when they are learning how to read.  Since most people don’t remember the cognitive processes they used when they were learning to read, I thought I would share some of my experiences and insights. 

I am only beginning to learn (I’ve been at it about a month.), so I have a long ways to go – but here’s what I’ve already learned about reading by learning how to read all over again.

1.  Different variations of a letter don’t look the same until you train your brain to see them that way.  When I began working on the alphabet, my husband pointed at two letters and called them both the same letter – Ghayn  – he couldn’t figure out why they didn’t look like the same letter to me.  I couldn’t figure out how they looked the same to him.  (In Arabic, there are no Capitols aArabic Letter Ghayn Initial, Medial and Endingnd Lowercase, rather the letters look different depending on where they are in a word.)  Then, it occurred to me that a capitol A and a lowercase a really don’t look like they belong together at all.  The only reason we know that these letters are the same is that we have train our brains to see them both as the same thing.

2.  I can sound out words very well, but have no idea what that word means.  I know we have all had word callers in our class, and know that this phenomena is common, but I never understood it in the same way as when I sounded out this great, long word in Arabic and realized that it head no meaning to me whatsoever.  Now, when that word is next to a picture, or written in a place in my notebook that helps me remember what it means, I’m good, but written in a random place in a book, and I’m lost!

3.  Handwriting is important.  In English, my handwriting stinks, and I’ve never really thought it was all that important, as long as it was legible.  However, I have realized that different handwritings can be like different fonts.  Just like the capitol A and the lowercase a don’t look like each other – different people’s a’s might also look different.  I know that the pretty, neat writing that my teacher uses doesn’t always reflect my husband’s quickly written Arabic, or the fancy Arabic fonts that can be found on cereal boxes and billboard signs.

4.  Environmental print encourages reading.  Now that I can sound out Street Sign in Moroccowords, I am starting to make more sense of all these Arabic words that have been surrounding me for the past 9 months.  I see Arabic everywhere here in Morocco – street signs, billboards, packaging, books, etc.  However, much of the time, the Arabic words have corresponding French words, which are MUCH easier for me to figure out, so my eyes have pretty much skipped over the Arabic writing as a whole.  Now that I know what the letters are, my eyes are beginning to search for the Arabic and trying to sound out words everywhere.  (It’s actually driving my husband a little crazy – lol!)

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International Day Was Exhausting!

Wow – I knew that International Day was going to be a lot of work, but I didn’t realize I’d be too tired to type!  I got home from the “fun” of International Day yesterday, and was too tired to do anything.  So, I apologize for missing Game Night Friday, but I promise to be back with new Board Game suggestions next week.  BTW – If you have a board game lying around that you’d like suggestions for – please feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll add it to our collection soon.  Scroll down for some pictures of the “fun” we had at International Day – it was actually really fun, all of the parents came, my kids remembered their information, did good in their play (Never Cry Croc – the DRC’s version of the Boy Who Cried Wolf) and looked super cute in their outfits.  Then, we ended it all with a rendition of We Are the World.

In addition to the International Day craziness – I’ve spent all day Everything's Intermediate Expo - English Language Learners Webinarputting the finishing touches on my presentation for the Everything’s Intermediate Expo.  That was something else that was “fun”, but a whole lot of work!  Thankfully, it looks like it’s all coming together well and I think I got in all the information I wanted.  If you haven’t bought a ticket yet – you still have 13 days to pre-order and save $5, so grab your ticket soon!

After all the “fun” I’ve had lately, I’d like to spend the next week in bed, but my kids have convinced me to put a few days at the beach, a trip to the zoo and a trip to the movies on our Spring Break itinerary – so I don’t think that will happen! 


Buffet of Foods from the Democratic Republic of Congo     Student Presentations on the Democratic Republic of Congo


Student Presentations on the Democratic Republic of Congo     Student Created African Masks for Project on the Democratic Republic of Congo


African Savannah Classroom Display     Rainforest Classroom Display with the Congo River

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