abcteach blog

Halloween Fun!

October 27th, 2014


* This week’s fun activity is great for Halloween parties, craft day or for a learning center.  

* Follow the easy instructions and create a Halloween or Autumn lantern.














Step by Step Instructions: 

1.  Leaving a one-inch margin on all sides, cut straight lines from the fold to the opposite side.  The lines should be about a half-inch apart.


2. Open the paper. Make a tall cylinder out of the paper so that the cuts are vertical.


3.  Take a strip of orange or black construction paper. Attach both ends to the top to make a handle.  Add eyes, nose and mouth.


4.  Staple or glue the cylinder together. Make colorful construction paper strips to hang from the bottom of the lantern for additional  decoration.


Fun Ideas and Links:

– For more Halloween craft ideas from abcteach, click on these links:  Halloween Crafts.  Halloween.

– Halloween Ideas: Make a bat, witch, jack o’ lantern, a ghost.

– Autumn Ideas:  Falling leaves, scarecrow, pumpkin with vines









September 18th, 2014

SurveyBill Gates gave a Ted Talk in May 2013 about feedback, and the lack thereof, directed at teachers. Gates cited a study that claims 98% of teachers only get one word of feedback, and that feedback is most often “satisfactory.” While it’s (barely) better than nothing, a single thumbs-up is about as useful for honing one’s craft as a lollipop.

Gates goes on to explain that 11 of the 15 top-ranked countries in reading comprehension have a formal system of teacher feedback– and the U.S. is not one of them.

In the meantime, we have to cobble together some sense of whether we’re doing a good job through test scores, student morale, administrator observations, parental input, and whether we keep getting asked to come back the next year.

There is one contingent of society that’s usually (quite) willing to provide copious feedback–your students. While student feedback must be kept firmly in context, it can be instructive.

One problem with feedback is that it’s typically given at the conclusion of a task or performance. There’s a surprising amount to be gleaned from preemptive feedback. While initial impressions, aspirations, and conjecture aren’t the most solid of foundations, they are psychological factors that impact performance. Giving your students the chance to provide feedback (or “intel”) at the outset of the school year allows you to judge the trajectory of your students’ experience when there’s still time to make adjustments.

In the same spirit as the premortem, traditionally after-the-fact phenomena–marshaled into service early in the year–can have a dramatic impact on goal-setting, expectations, mindset, and performance.

So how does one feed forward? By asking the right questions, early and often. Let’s use a basketball feedback scenario as an example.

Imagine I’m a poor defender. My coach watches my opponent, an adept ball handler, juke by me time after time. After some observation, my coach tells me, “You’re watching the ball. You should watch your opponent’s hips instead. Then he won’t surprise you, and the ball will follow his body.” I do this, and my defense improves. The only “cost” here is that the points scored against me cannot be unscored. (And I may feel silly in front of my teammates.)

If I am a mediocre athlete, but know how to acquire some preemptive feedback, I may ask my coach something like, “Coach, I’m not a very good defender. Do you have any tips for preventing nimble gentlemen from getting past me so readily?” Provided my coach knows a thing or two about b-ball, he can give me the same tip about watching the hips without ever seeing me play. This saves our team a loss at the buzzer, and me some humiliation.

Many teachers distribute a survey at the end of the year, but I suggest doing one toward the beginning. Many teachers also pre-test their students to establish a baseline of academic understanding. Applying this sound logic to a broad range of topics can earn us some much-needed credit and wisdom early in the year. Depending on your comfort level, you may want to ask some bold questions.

Questions like these may not be appropriate for everyone, but you may be glad you asked them later on:

“Is there anyone with whom you absolutely do not want to work?”

“What’s your biggest fear related to this class?”

“What have you heard about me as a teacher, good or bad?”

“Rate your fear of presenting in front of the class on a scale of 1-10. “

What are you hoping to learn from this class specifically?”

You may even want to have a two-part survey, in which the top is personalized, and the bottom anonymous. Anonymous feedback may seem of dubious value, but it can be some of the most potent. There will, of course, be comments that are unhelpful or worse. But knowing that you or your class has a reputation (especially unfounded) may be invaluable early in the year. Are you known as a harsh grader? Is the word on the street that you’re a pushover? Having your ear to the pulse of the student body allows you to leverage information in whatever way may prove helpful. It also lets you address student concerns directly, creating a relaxed, focused environment conducive to learning.

If you’re a new or recently-arrived teacher, knowing about pre-existing tensions between students doesn’t come with your employee handbook. Being tuned into these social problem areas may help you cut off an Incident at the pass. (I can speak to this particular point, as I unwittingly paired up two bitter-but-quiet arch enemies in the 7th grade during the first week of school. Moments later, there was bloodshed and a full-on Incident. It would have been nice to know about their history beforehand.)

Perhaps there is a project or a unit for which your class is infamous. If a student is feeling some trepidation about this, some preemptive feedback gives you a great platform to discuss how to properly prepare. Addressing this early with concerned students demonstrates your genuine concern for their success and helps them pace their learning. Such an approach can replace useless anxiety with pacing and preparation.

It’s likely there are troves of useful information in the heads of your students that will never see the light of day. They’ll be glad to share it with you, free of charge. All you have to do is find the right way to ask.

Post by Greg Teachout, abcteach staff

Don’t Be Letterman

August 21st, 2014

Cleared for release by Joint Staff Public AffairsI didn’t realize I had become Letterman. As in David Letterman, the soon-to-retire host of the Late Show. I did, however, realize that I was tired all the time, and my well of ideas felt close to running dry. There was an uncomfortable air of desperation in my teaching.

That’s when my vice principal revealed to me that I was working too hard. Not working too long, or too often, or planning too much, but simply exerting more energy in the classroom than was ideal.

Frankly, I thought this sounded insane. I prided myself on being an engaging teacher, a hip young guy who wasn’t afraid to use humor, ask tough questions, and be spontaneous. If anything, I thought I wasn’t working hard enough. Hence the desperation. I felt like a traveling comedian who had hit a slump, but was sure to find his groove again soon.

The truth is, I had set students’ expectations at the wrong level from the beginning of the year. In an effort to keep our profession’s mortal enemy, the wolf of boredom, at the door, I had taken too much responsibility for keeping the classroom buzzing with energy. I had morphed from an enthusiastic teacher into a ringmaster. I had become Letterman.

My VP saw this instantly. “You’re too entertaining,” he said with a smile. “You’re doing too much of the work. You need to put the onus on your students.” He couldn’t have been more right.

While being an engaging teacher is necessary to compete with the information onslaught our students are subjected to, being your own personal variety show is not. This wisdom is inherent in modern teaching culture’s embrace of discussion over lecture.

I relay all of this at the outset of the school year for one crucial reason: the pace and style of anything is determined right from the beginning. Veteran teachers may have their planning and routine down to a science, but even they are not immune to this timeless advice: start as you mean to go on.

Perhaps this all seems a bit vague. It is; self-perception is a cloudy, inaccurate affair, and yet it affects every decision we make. Success in the classroom is vague too; it is difficult to measure in numbers, though this is precisely how it is most often measured. The teacher must make her peace with the vague as well as the tangible, because so much of what we do is a matter of intuition.

My intuition was to be as entertaining as possible, reasoning that the respect, the attention, and the grades would come afterward. But this is not a sustainable plan. A single year is a marathon, and a whole career is many marathons, back to back. Burnout eats a lot of great teachers.

I’m not advocating you “take it easy,” in any sense. I’m gently reminding us all that our hearts may be infinite, but our energy is not, and our students have more of it than we do. It is our job to help them burn that energy in the brightest, most sustainable way possible. As much as we may direct the culture of our classroom, we are more stewards than ringmasters. Start as you mean to go on… and don’t start as Letterman, or your retirement may coincide with his.

Post by Greg Teachout, abcteach staff

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

August 13th, 2014

“What could possibly go wrong?” The phrase is rarely deployed without irony, and for good reason; we are all familiar with Murphy and his law. When we ask the question literally, we plan and innovate. “What could possibly go wrong?” has given us seat belts and parachutes. It has given us lifeguards and extra sets of keys hidden beneath conspicuous porch-side rocks.

It’s when we ask the question wryly and move on that the problems often begin. Dwelling on negativity and danger at the outset of an endeavor can make one seem like a real downer. Seeming like a downer often makes us less likely to voice legitimate concerns. What’s more, we’ve all been convinced of the power of positive thinking to a great degree. That’s good; it’s a powerful tool. But in the midst of envisioning success, we sometimes forget the virtues of the alternative.

Enter the premortem.

A postmortem is a procedure that the medical community performs to determine the cause of death. The term “postmortem” has long been used by project managers to signify a process of retrospective analysis. As Gary Klein, a scientist at Applied Research Associates and author of many books on decision-making, explains, a postmortem is useful to everyone except the deceased. (Much as examining the successes and failures of your school year at the end is beneficial for everyone—except the class you just had.)

This is why Klein is an advocate of the premortem. While it’s impossible to see every snag and obstacle that will arise, we often see more problems in advance than we admit—even to ourselves.

Klein’s company walks project teams and individuals through the thought experiment of analyzing a hypothetical future, in which their project has failed project. The focus on failure is not for the sake of dourness—it’s a means of thinking systematically about the weak spots in a plan or project while there’s still time to act.

Whether as a staff, or just by yourself, an honest and thorough premortem can bring the pitfalls of a school year into greater relief. Interview your future self, and don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions.

Did Future You tell you that the tension between Mike and Cory erupted into a confrontation, just like you feared? Is Future You disappointed that she didn’t do that Living Through History project because she just couldn’t find time? Did Future You wish she had chaperoned a field trip, or even gone to a staff picnic, instead of watching Netflix with a bowl of ice cream instead?

You have unique access to knowledge regarding your greatest personal challenges in a given school year. Some of them may be educational, some social, some financial. By allowing yourself the freedom to speak up about what could possibly go wrong, you may be able to ambush your fears.

The strength of the premortem is really evidenced in a collective setting. Social pressure often keeps us from voicing apprehensions. We want to be agreeable and positive. As teachers, we’re asked to do a lot with a little, and being “defeatist” is a serious social offense. Having a staff premortem creates a safe space for voicing concerns and addressing problems. When the entire purpose of the exercise is to outsmart your obstacles, people will open up and offer valuable insight that may otherwise have been suppressed.

Tips for a successful staff premortem:

1. Stress the main idea: looking at prospective problems early is smart. It’s not “being negative.”

2. Encourage people to share their thoughts, since that’s the whole point.

3. Encourage people to bring up concerns later on as well; everyone thinks of something they wish they’d said. Don’t make the end of the exercise a stone door.

4. Kick off the meeting by explaining the concept, then stating that your endeavors have failed completely. Then ask people to explain why, and keep a list.

If you conduct a premortem properly, it can be as fun as it is painful. (Just like any exercise.) Your fellows staffers will get to show off their insights, and you’ll have a collective sense of preparation.

An ounce of prevention still commands a favorable exchange rate, and the initial investment is free. It simply means asking, boldly and honestly—What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

coat-of-arms-145290_640Medieval heraldry sounds about as fun as a day of browsing antique shops to the few children who know what the term means. It almost sounds dusty. But you don’t need to look to (the decidedly kid-inappropriate) Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or Dune series to see that people love “houses,” heraldry, coats of arms, and sigils. You need look no further than your local school, where you will doubtlessly find flags, mascots and logos adorning the walls.

We human beings are tribal beings, and we simply love creating icons to engender a sense of collective identity. These may take the forms of house crests, declaring the traits and accomplishments of the family, if you’re royalty. It’s more likely that your family settles for wearing a sweatshirt with your local Panthers or Badgers on it.

Here are some free materials for creating coats of arms and understanding heraldry, from

Developing a House Crest for your family, classroom, or individual student is a great summer fun and learning activity. Why?

  • 1) Researching the meaning of your town’s or family’s name can provide fun historical insights.
  • 2) Distilling child’s interests into symbols inspires reflection.
  • 3) Making accomplishments and aspirations tangible inspires achievement.
  • 4) It can be as simple or elaborate as time and will allow.
  • 5) It’s a great way to make something original in which your child can take ownership and pride.


First, you and your child should decide whether you’ll make a crest (also known as a coat of arms, or sigil) for your family, your school, or for the student him/herself. These can be combined, of course, but it’s usually most fun to begin with the student as an individual, as it allows a great degree of decision making and flexibility.

It’s a good idea to research the meaning of your child’s name(s) of you don’t already know it. Behind the Name is a nice free resource for doing just that, with a wide variety of information on names from many cultures. A child named “Roger,” for instance, should have plenty of artistic options with a name meaning “famous spear.” Let’s say Roger’s last name is “Beck.” Looking up the meaning on the surname portion of the Behind the Name website, we learn that “Beck” could mean “brook or stream,” or “pickax,” depending on where his Becks are from.

It would be an easy thing to draw, cut out, or print out a spear and a pick ax, or even a winding stream. Next, Roger might pick out his favorite colors, and settle on what’s called a “division of field.” Instructions on how create a division of field, with plentiful examples, are compiled in this document from

Finishing Touches.Red Dragon Crest

  • 1) Feel free to squeeze in a lesson about historical heraldry.
  • 2) A frame, some velvet backing, and a glass cover can make a simple “craft project” into wall-ready art.
  • 3) Don’t be afraid to make your own alongside your child. It’s fun and they’ll love that you’re doing it too.

Assigning Beauty

June 18th, 2014

Flowerblade“We’ve been talking, and we’re tired of doing kid stuff,” said Andy, one of my favorite trouble-making fifth-graders. We were only a few days into school, and Andy had become the unofficial mouthpiece for student-teacher negotiations in my classroom. I found this half-amusing and half-terrifying. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for Organized Labor in my classroom just yet.

My assignment was of the fresh-from-summer, first week variety: we were going to make some artwork to hang on the wall. I’ve always enjoyed beautifying and taking ownership of my environment, like anyone who decorates his/her home, and I knew that students feel the same way. Studies support that filling the classroom with student-created artwork causes students to feel more socially and academically invested. Allowing people to see tangible examples of their own work and expression is a great way to instill a sense of ownership and pride, regardless of age group. (This is, in part, why local businesses sometimes “personalize” their environs with customer photos and artwork, I suspect.)

Everything was falling into place until Andy declared that these new fifth graders had talked about it, and they “wanted to make something cooler than sloppy paintings or whatever.”

Andy was a charismatic rascal, but I wondered if he actually spoke for other students. Had his protestations come out of real conversations with his classmates, or was Andy simply destined for politics? Either way, I suspected the opinions he presented as collective may indeed become collective.

Eager to wrangle this new energy before it turned chaotic, I fired up the projector and displayed some black and white photos I had taken of the moon over the ocean. The image was mysterious and powerful, swallowing the front of the classroom.

“Do you guys want to make things like this?” I asked. Clearly ecstatic that I had listened (and deviated from my lesson plan), the class became a chorus of affirmation.

Not Just For Art Teachers

Letting your students customize their environment is a great first week activity, regardless of what subject and age group you’re teaching. (Administrators can use this logic, too. We teachers aren’t immune to the charms of seeing our ideas on the wall.) Projects like this one communicate many things about you to your students: you care about their input, you’re tech-literate (even if you’re not), you value beauty for its own sake, and—most importantly—you’re not a square. (Also, don’t say “square,” lest you become one.)


That first week, I began what would be a monthly tradition for us—a themed photography contest where everyone won. (“Contest” sounds way cooler than “assignment.”) Cell phones and digital cameras are ubiquitous, and most of my students had access to one at home. But I had an alternate plan for those who didn’t.

I sent a note home with the students explaining that I wanted to display their photos in the classroom, and provided my school email address to receive any pictures taken. Parents loved this assignment, as it gave them something fun to do with their children. I gave the students a week to get their photos to me through email or by printing them out. I didn’t want to leave out anyone without time or access to the right technology, so…


This could be you.


Mini-Field Trip

I had our resident photography expert (and art teacher) give the students a quick primer on focus and composition. (Yes! Fifth graders are more than capable of understanding these basics.) We took a walk around the playground and into a nearby nature trail. A couple fellow staffers were kind enough to help and bring digital cameras as well. The students were assigned small groups and took photos (with adult assistance) of leaves, wood chips, (blurry) birds, the sky, flowers, and everything else we encountered. We adults trusted the students’ vision and care in handling the equipment (for a few supervised seconds). The resulting respect and good behavior on display were incredible!

After our field trip and the students’ home assignment, we had plenty of great photos to go around. As a Friday reward, we had a photo editing party on the projector. Some students had even used photo apps on their parents’ tablets and phones to create stunning visual effects. (A free online version of Adobe Photoshop is very helpful. Especially creative young artists can use apps like Juxtaposer to create some amazing results.)

I printed out at least one picture for every student and put them in inexpensive-but-classy paper frames, and hung up the results after school. On Monday, the classroom was filled with smiles, exclamations, and wild color. Even Andy had to concede that it was “awesome” that I let them make classy, adult-level artwork. When the principal visited my classroom and asked who took all the “lovely photographs,” I was indescribably proud to point to my students. I could tell my principle’s astonishment was genuine.

Assignment Quick Tips

  • • Don’t commit to a schedule. As the year goes on, such a labor-intensive project may not be the right fit. Spontaneous is best.
  • • Use themes. These can be tied in with whatever you’re hoping to teach, or simply fun: “Community,” “Growth,” “Hidden,” “Clouds,” “Autumn,” etc.
  • • Ask for help from your resident photography expert. A quick tutorial could inspire a lifelong passion.
  • • Tell your students why you’re doing this—because you care about their experience of being at school and in your classroom.
  • • Use photographic paper if possible. The jump in quality is noticeable.
  • • There are thousands of craft projects for students (such as these at What differentiates this approach is the attempt at bestowing agency upon the students to create genuinely impressive photographs.

We hope you enjoy this assignment idea. Summer is a great time to indulge in something similar for yourself. After all, it helps to know how fun and inspiring an activity is before you share it with someone else!

 Posted By Greg Teachout, abcteach Team






Mystery in the Classroom

June 12th, 2014

Bill_Bixby_The_Magician_1973Humans love mystery. It can be frustrating one moment (where are my keys?!), and great fun the next (just one more chapter…). We subject ourselves to mystery willfully for the pleasure it brings us, whether it be in the form of fiction, riddles, or magic. As you’ve doubtlessly noticed, the minds of children are especially attuned to wonder and mystery. This is partly due to the understanding and wisdom–and sometimes, cynicism–that comes with adulthood. But a child’s sense of wonder and love of mystery shouldn’t be interpreted as simplistic. In fact, children can outperform us as sleuths in some respects, and it’s not because they simply have more energy.

We already know that children’s minds are sponge-like when learning languages and music. But it may surprise you that they are also better at discovering the mechanisms of sleight-of-hand magic tricks. In an interview on the Freakonomics blog promoting his recent book, Fooling Houdini, magician and author Alex Stone touches on the difficulty of fooling children. Explaining why children are a difficult audience for magic, Stone had this to say:

“Part of it may have to do with the way children pay attention. As adults, we’re very good at focusing on one thing while ignoring subsidiary distractions. This is great for getting stuff done, but it also makes you susceptible to misdirection, because magicians are good at getting you to train the spotlight of your attention on one thing—the wrong thing—while doing something tricky in the shadows.”

Stone is a controversial figure in the world of magic, due to his love of disclosing the science and psychology behind famous tricks. In particular, he loves challenging classrooms full of students to determine how his illusions work. Oddly, it’s the adults who usually need a hint or a helping hand, while the children often deduce his techniques. Mind you, these are techniques they’ve never encountered before.

According to Stone, “Kids… tend to focus on more than one thing at a time—their attention is more diffuse—which may make them harder to fool. Moreover, kids are relatively free of assumptions and expectations about how the world works, and magic is all about turning your assumptions and expectations against you.”

Next time you’re strapped for ideas, or looking to inject some variety into your routine, try adding an element of mystery to your day’s lesson. The same principles that keep you turning pages or watching excessive episodes can engage your students. You may surprised that some of your students find solving mysteries…elementary.

Here are a few ideas:

Post a daily riddle. 

There are all sorts of puzzles and riddles activities on A riddle or word puzzle on the board will require no explanation or prompting for many students to begin solving on their own. These word cryptos are great bite-sized mysteries to tickle the intellect. Incentivizng the completion of crytpos within a time limit is a great way to encourage competition against the self, while still allowing students of different capabilities to work at their own paces.

Discuss a historical mystery.

Discussing a mystery from history can infuse almost any subject with intrigue. Take advantage of our materials on Stonehenge, an ancient site whose purpose remains mysterious. Perhaps you could discuss the myth of Atlantis, and why some people maintain that it is a real place. Here’s a brief article on the vanished colony of Roanoke–one of early America’s favorite mysteries.

Read a short mystery together.

Whether it’s a classic like a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery, or something newer and edgier, kids love a good mystery. Reading a mystery by chapter, while discussing character motivation and plot in between, can use suspense for the causes of reading comprehension and analysis.

Discuss a scam or con and discuss how it functions.

Con men and scammers can teach us a lot if we take the time to study them. Our experience is that students enjoy talking about unsavory characters. Whether you’re talking about snake oil peddlers, fortune tellers, or card tricks, dissecting how a deception functions is a great critical thinking activity–and it can be a good safeguard against getting swindled!

Have a small magic show. 

Have your students learn a simple magic trick and present it. Then discuss WHY each of the tricks fools the brain.

Have a magician visit. Make sure he/she understands that you’re teaching critical thinking and your plan to speculate about their methods. 

Your students might just blow your mind with their critical appraisal of even well-performed sleight-of-hand. If you can find someone willing to do some tricks (a staff member is often the best option) for your students who doesn’t mind eventually revealing his/her methods, the sense of discovery and empowerment among your class will be palpable.

Do you have any great ideas for bringing mystery to your classroom? We’d love to hear them. Tell us your secrets on Facebook or in the Comments section.

Posted by Greg Teachout, abcteach Team

Stepping Up Your Game

June 4th, 2014

Children_playing_video_gamesIt’s easy to see video games as an enemy. They compete viciously for free time, often coexisting on the same computer we powered on with the best of intentions. Everyone from CEOs to teachers to students to my dear own mother seems to have their time waylaid by video games now and again. Clearly, something that sponges so much time your students could be dedicating to their studies seems like an adversary.

But video games obviously aren’t going anywhere. The $93 billion video game industry long ago eclipsed Hollywood in terms of revenue. Many of the kids who grew up playing Super Mario Bros. now have children of their own.

While video games can be colossal time wasters, the concepts they utilize can also be our allies in education. The same creative, social, and deductive skills we seek to instill also exist at the core of gaming’s appeal. The sense of progress, the desire for competency, and the plain fun of gaming can be harnessed and put to great use in the classroom. And these traits are not unique to the video end of games.

“Gamifying” otherwise tedious or difficult tasks is nothing new: fitness trainers, foreign language courses, and the military have integrated gamification for ages. In fact, most teachers use some form of gaming in their classroom. But many teachers use gaming as a Friday reward, a catharsis, or simple test prep, instead of utilizing the entire bag of tricks neatly delivered to us by the digital age.

Classroom games can pit students in direct competition with one another, but this sometimes comes with social and developmental pitfalls. While there’s nothing wrong with healthy competition, here are some other other perspectives on gamification:

The Institute of Play is a nonprofit organization looking to “make learning irresistible” through integrating game design of all sorts with education. Here is an extensive and wonderful list of resources about learning, gaming, and children, from the folks at the Institute of Play.

Beyond making learning fun and fascinating, gamifying unpleasant tasks can actually help people overcome significant personal hurdles. This is a TED talk from Jane McGonigal, a game designer whose passion arises from conquering personal tragedy through gaming. (It is worth its entire duration.)

If you’re looking for something quick or easy to integrate, please take advantage of this selection of games from

For those of you with interactive whiteboards, abcteach offers a host of interactive games and activities. We offer puzzles and games for SMART Notebook and Promethean ActivInspire. In fact, we have a whole section dedicated to interactive activities. You don’t need an interactive whiteboard to take advantage of our great interactive offerings, either. If you’re new to interactive software, or just need a reminder, click here for our “Getting Started” guide.

In the mood for something more literary? The reemerging art form of Interactive Fiction is proving a delight to readers of all ages once again, and technology has bolstered the experience. What’s more, many of the tools this new community uses are geared toward education. There are many such tools, but “inklewriter” is our current favorite. With a very brief tutorial, inklewriter allows you and your students to create text adventures (technically video games!) about anything.

As teachers, we’ll do anything to spark a lifelong passion for learning in our students. There’s never been a better time to harness the enthusiasm your students have for gaming. We hope you enjoy the above resources!

Posted by Greg Teachout, abcteach Team


How boring is spelling homework? Well, ask any grade school student to rate spelling homework on a scale of 1-10 and you may see an average in the negative numbers. As a parent, I understand that spelling homework is a good skill builder. As an educator, I know the importance of homework, despite some redundancy.

But as an adult with ADHD, I have deep empathy for any child who has to take out their spelling book and write again spelling words over and over! I remember how much trouble I would get in by not focusing and completing this kind of work in a timely manner. The dreaded spelling list!

This is why I propose learning two skills at one time.  Why not teach the American Sign Language (ASL) alphabet, aka “fingerspelling,”  to help promote better spelling?!

Here is how it works:

First, teach the 26 manual alphabet letters. You can find them on abcteach

Next, give a list of spelling words to the child, with instructions to do the following:

1.   Write the word one time using a fun instrument, like a marker or crayon.

2.   Sign the word twice.

3.   Say the word aloud while spelling it in sign language again.

4.   Sign the word and say it aloud.

5.   Write it in a sentence, if able.

These steps are one example of something known as a multimodal method of learning.  Multimodal learning utilizes multiple techniques (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.) to obtain and achieve a skill.

Hint: Sometimes it is best to practice fingerspelling before introducing the homework assignments. Start with two or three-word combinations, then proceed to four.  Once the student can master four-word combinations, move on to the teacher-generated list.

Reinforce spelling by playing SCRABBLE, HANGMAN and other letter/word /sentence building games in sign language!  Once the child gets hold of the ASL alphabet, move on to vocabulary words and numbers. (This can help with math concepts, too!)

Sign language can clearly benefit the hearing child as a learning method. But it can also allow him/her to make friends with those in the school or community who are using ASL as their primary or secondary language!

For more information about the benefits of sign language please visit SIGNING FAMILIES.   


About the author:  Louise Sattler is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist, Educational trainer and consultant and, the owner of SIGNING FAMILIES

Earth Day

April 17th, 2014







Think Green – Earth Day is April 22nd.

Abcteach has a section titled Think Green, Teach Green  that includes fun materials to supplement your lessons for Earth Day.  We have a variety of reading comprehensions and fun activities. Including, games, bookmarks, posters and more.


– Make sure to check out our kid-friendly Earth Day clip art, made exclusively for abcteach.


Ways to use less paper and still enjoy abcteach.

– PowerPoint Presentations

– Videos

– Interactives

– Display PDF’s on a monitor

– Work in groups and use one print-out per group

– Print on both sides of the paper

– View on your Tablets and iPads

– Recycle paper


Related Materials:

Spring materials

April materials

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