abcteach blog

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

Reading RaceReading Awareness Month is beginning and abcteach is here to help! Our graphic organizers and templates are a wonderful resource (most of which are FREE!) to use with any of your lesson plans. They help students to organize thoughts, comprehend ideas, and understand the authors’ purpose. Whether you are reading individually or as a class, use these printables to visualize and hypothesize the meaning of each story. It is very important to read and keep your students motivated throughout this month. Therefore, we have organized a few resources that should be helpful in your classroom curriculum and achievement goals.


 Research/Report Forms-

Main Character – Choose one character from a fictional book and answer the questions about appearance, personality and role; also requires a personal opinion response.  Book Report: Main Character 

Reading an Informational Text – This nine page writing prompt asks questions upon reading any informational text. Requires written response regarding main idea, interesting facts, and purpose of the story. Correlated to the Common Core standards: RI.1.1-3   Shapebook: Informational Text

Characterization Chart – Answer targeted questions about how the author builds character appearance, actions, thoughts, speech, etc. 

Story Summary – This simple story map asks questions after reading about setting, characters, conflict, and conclusion. 


Comparison Templates-

Venn Diagrams are a great way to compare and contrast ideas, concepts, and character traits. Can also be used as a pre-writing activity.

Double Venn Diagram

Triple Venn Diagram

Column Chart

Don’t limit yourself to just books; we have a wide variety of Venn Diagrams for all sorts of themes and you can find them here:

Venn Diagrams 


Reading Comprehension-

KWL and KWHL – Use these charts to organize Know, Want to know, How I will learn, and Learned material, in each story. These charts are great to use when introducing a new concept.

KWL Chart

KWHL Chart

Fact or Opinion Form – This blank organizational chart is for writing facts and opinions on any topic.

Flowchart – This template was created in Word, which is ready for you to type your own text. Includes 5 fields in a downward flow.

Web Organizer – Brainstorm Vocabulary and Ideas

Graphic Organizer – 5 W’s :  – Who, What, Where, Why and When. This graphic organizer is apart of our Clip Art and ready for you to add to any of your own lessons or worksheets.


Reading Strategies-

Reading Strategies Form – A set of three graphic organizers that outline each of the three reading strategies: making connections, predicting and visualizing.

Literature Circles – These are excellent resources to use in groups or as apart of the classroom. Look for important words during a reading that may be difficult, confusing or unfamiliar. Write them down on this organizer and look up afterwards in the dictionary. Great vocabulary-building tool!

Here are a few more literature circles on abcteach that assign students a job during each reading; such as discussion director, connector, summarizer, and illustrator.

Enjoy !

Posted by Laura Bida, abcteach Team

Sochi Winter Olympics 2014

February 4th, 2014

The 2014 Winter Olympics are about to begin! We would like to share some popular and educational materials to help your students learn about this year’s host city, Sochi and the winter games.  The following activities and worksheets can be used throughout these Olympic games. Enjoy!


landmarks_sochi_ssReading Comprehension: 2014 Winter Olympics – Landmarks of Sochi

Member Document – This reading comprehension includes six pages of interesting facts about Sochi, Russia. It is a great way to learn about this year’s host city.  It has basic background information, fun facts, and historic landmarks of Sochi. Did you know that the Friendship Tree was a part of an experiment that started in 1934? It symbolizes international unity and friendship. Find out more by becoming an abcteach member.




mascots_ssInteractive: Notebook: 2014 Winter Olympics – Mascots

Member Document – In the Smart Notebook section, you’ll find an Olympic theme unit that includes engaging and interactive materials for this year’s Olympic games. Discover interesting facts about each mascot and report your findings. This year there are five mascots; Ray of Light, Snowflake, Polar Bear, Leopard and Hare. Learn more information about each character with this simple interactive template. This is great for group discussion, classroom research or as individual assignments.



Here are more member interactive materials:

Decipher the Olympiads

Countries of the Olympiad 

Olympic Word Searches

Olympic Crossword Puzzles 

Barefoot Olympics



Report Form: Olympic Rings

This report form can be used with any Olympic activity. It requires some research and has students answer questions about the Olympic Rings and what each color represents and symbolizes. Complete the worksheet by coloring the rings correctly. Try it out today!





Certificate: Olympics

Get students involved by holding your own Winter Olympic Games! Reward them with printable certificates and place them on a bulletin board of Olympic Achievement. There are so many creative resources for you to use, so don’t hesitate to explore and have fun.



chart_ssChart: 2014 Winter Olympics – Medal Stat Sheet

Who is your favorite athlete this year and what sport do they play? This ten-page medal stat sheet can be used to keep track of the medal winners in each winter sporting event. Print two pages of each to represent male and female athletes. Keep track using tally marks or writing in event titles in order to complete each chart.



You can find more Olympic materials here:


Written By:  Laura Bida,  abcteach team

National Soup Month

January 16th, 2014

This month is National Soup month, and I would like to share a hearty soup recipe to celebrate. Vegetable based soups are healthy and packed with vitamins.  The best part about most soup recipes is once you add the majority of the ingredients; the pot does the rest of the cooking.  You don’t have to be a master chef to make good food.  Cooking is always fun, educational, and I encourage you to try it.

Cooking is just like life, in that there is always something new to learn.  We all have trouble finding time to cook, but make time once a week to cook a meal with a friend or family member.  Cooking involves so many subject matters, including; Math, science, nutrition, organization, reading, culinary arts, all of which are good for our mind and body.  The best way to make cooking fun, is to choose recipes that you like, and that you can execute easily.  Try out this butternut squash soup recipe. Abcteach has more fun recipes in our functional text reading comprehension section.


Butternut Squash Soup – “Real, Easy, Healthy”


–       Two packages of already chopped butternut squash.

–       Two sweet potatoes peeled and cubed.

–       One medium white onion.

–       3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

–       Celery (4 stalks, cubed)

–       Bag of carrots

–       16 oz. chicken stock

–       Dash of salt, pepper, and sugar.

–       2 tablespoons olive oil or butter.

–       Teaspoon rosemary (optional)

–       Garnishes (Fresh parmesan or toasted pine nuts)


In a deep pot, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil for a minute.  Add sweet potatoes, squash, celery, and carrots.  Stir all the ingredients and continue to sauté for a few minutes.  Add the chicken stock and bring the pot to a boil.  Once the pot has reached a boil, turn the temperature to a low or simmer.  Cook vegetables for 20 – 30 minutes or until tender.  After the vegetables are cooked, take an emersion blender or anything that will breakdown the vegetables to gain texture in the soup.  The soup will become creamy and delicious without any salt, pepper or sugar added.  I suggest that you add a dash of each just to give it a little seasoning, a little sugar works well to bring out the natural sugars in the squash and potatoes.  Serve with crusty bread for dipping.



















Enjoy !

Posted by David Kemsley


Happy Holidays from abcteach

December 13th, 2013

Happy Holidays from abcteach

Happy Holidays from abcteach. We hope you have a wonderful holiday season with family and friends. Enjoy your traditions and making new memories. We are looking forward to the new year with new ideas and materials to meet your teaching needs. If there’s something you’d like to see on abcteach, we welcome you to leave your comments and suggestions below.

Thank you for using abcteach!

Sandy Kemsley and the abcteach team

As you’ve been hearing about the last of couple weeks, abcteach’s Foreign Language Section has a diverse, comprehensive supply of materials for learning and reinforcing new languages. The first Eye on Curriculum article explored our Spanish resources in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. We then went to the French section and toured the many subcategories to help students learn about French language, history, and cultural traditions.

Today, we are delving into two beautiful European languages: German and Italian. Similar to our other sections, these categories are filled with an abundance of creative materials to make learning (and teaching) both fun and easy. Take a look below to find a sampling of free and member-site links for everything from grammar, to conjugation, numbers, vocabulary, and other linguistic expressions.


german Free

• German Crosswords – themes include animals, time, seasons, sports, the body, and others
• German Picture Sentences – topics include colors, food, seasons/holidays, and family
• Das Essen / Foods – basic foods, the food pyramid, and food pairs
• Der Sport/ Sports – sports word walls, flashcards, and picture sentences
• Klassenzimmer/ Classroom – word games, classroom items, bookmarks, and matching
• Zahlen/ Numbers – word games, addition, flashcards, and board games


• German Color and Write Prompts – topics include pets, birds, buildings, chores, and the body
• German Glyphs – themes include holidays, months, animals, the family, and shapes
• German Picture Sentences – topics include animals, food, holidays, clothing, and music
• German PowerPoint – interactive reading games
• German Reading Comprehension – themes include houses, the weather, food, seasons, and professions
• Das Haus/ The House – bookmarks, glyphs, crosswords, games, and picture sentences
• Das Wetter/ Weather – matching, flashcards, word games, and word walls
• Der Mensch/ The Person – bookmarks, card games, word searches, and reading comps
• Die Emotionen/ Emotions – picture sentences, word games, flashcards, and coloring pages
• Die Familie/ The Family – glyphs, word walls, flashcards, board games, and crosswords
• Die Kleidung/ Clothing – cloze sentences, matching, color and writes, flashcards, and word games
• Die Musik/ Music – bookmards, crosswords, flashcards, matching, and more
• Die Zeit und die Jahreszeit/ Time and Seasons – seasonal word scrambles, flashcards, crosswords, bookmarks, and charts

Did you know that October is Italian Heritage Month? Here are themed materials to help you celebrate!



• Italian Coloring Pages – topics include pets, wild animals, birds, and insects
• Italian Flashcards – themes include colors, professions, animals, and parts of the body
• Italian PowerPoint – interactive vocabulary games
• Corpo humano/ Human Body – includes hands, the head, legs, the mouth, and other body features
• Numeri/Numbers – vocabulary exercises for learning numbers 1-20


• Italian Color by Number – fun coloring games for beginning speakers
• Italian Grammar – includes verbs, tenses, and conjugation
• Italian PowerPoints – topics include colors, the house, conversational speaking, and more
• Cibo/Food – word games, matching, writings prompts, and more
• Colori/ Colors – posters, color forms, word searches, and interactives
• Ora/Time – telling time puzzle
• Professioni/Professions – types of professions and careers
• Scuola/School – flashcards, posters, school items, and games

We hope you enjoy these materials and find them to be a helpful (and fun!) addition to your foreign language curriculum. If you don’t find something that you need, please let us know. We’re here to help!

Posted by Lindsey Elton, abcteach Team

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