New Blog URL

On Saturday, July 8, 2017, this blog will move to a new address:  I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may give you, and I hope you move on over with me!  Thanks for all your support!

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Savanna Safari Sorting Mats and Cards


Boy–it’s taken me a long time to finish this newest piece of the Savanna Safari Maps, Mural, and MiniMuseum.  Life has interrupted things in a big way for the last few months, but I think I’m back on track and I’m happy to introduce this newest activity to help kids learn some pretty complex concepts quickly!

During my teaching decades I found that sorting tasks were really amazing tools for teaching some difficult things, and my students were always very engaged as they completed them.  Working in small groups of 2-3 students always generated a lot of discussion and helped clarify what they are learning.  These sorting mats and cards are based on these experiences.   There are five sorting mats (4 for PS-Grade 1), and 64 cards depicting plants and animals of the African savanna.  Students sort the cards according to different characteristics:45-set-w-cards-sm

  • Animal Classification
  • Plant Adaptations
  • Diurnal or Nocturnal
  • Wet Season or Dry Season
  • Where Does it Live?

The cards have information printed on the back so that students can use them to learn things they don’t know, or test themselves on what they do know.  Spreading the images out and arranging them on a mat allows them to make comparisons and distinctions.  This activity is very visual, auditory, and manipulative.  I recommend using the mats to introduce concepts you wish to present, teach the whole class how to use the materials, and then place them at a science center (a classroom minimuseum) or with a classroom aid for small group exploration.  The students don’t need to use every card on every mat, so you can get a lot of use out of printing a single set of materials.

It will take 1-2 hours to prepare the materials, but then they should last for life.  I always had parent volunteers prepare them for me.  They’ll need to be printed, laminated, and cut apart.  I often sent materials to be cut apart to parents at home who couldn’t volunteer in the classroom.

The ledger sized mats may be printed on a large format printer, but if you don’t have access to one you may use the letter size files.  These mats print on two pieces of letter size paper.  Then you must trim the inner margins and tape them together on the back before laminating.  They work fine, but are a little smaller due to piecing them together.

If you are interested in more information you may download the sample here:  Sample Savanna Sorting Mats and Cards .  You may also go to my shop at TeachersPayTeachers or Teacher’s Notebook for a closer look.

Happy safari-ing!

Posted in Inquiry Based Learning, Integrated Instruction, Learning, Savanna, Science Themes, Thematic Teaching | Leave a comment

Valentines for your Valentines


Looking for a quick, fun, and easy Valentine’s Day card to give your students? Here’s one idea—individual Conversation Hearts Bingo games. There are 32 different boards, and a message (page 10) you can run off on the back of each card, if you wish.

You may also download a programmable message card in Microsoft Word® so that you may individualize the cards yourself with personal note to each student. Just select the text you want to change, change it, and print!

My kids loved to play games with each other after opening up their cards. You’ll just need a handful of hearts for the caller to use, and some hearts or red-hot candies for students to mark their cards. (You can buy small boxes of conversation hearts at most dollar stores if you want to include them with your card. Otherwise, just buy a bag and pass out handfuls as needed. If your class is like mine, someone will give the boxes as gifts and your students will already have them with their Valentine goodies.)


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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Kaylee Rodgers sings a Christmas Hallelujah

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You Lift Me Up

Wow!  God gives us such amazing gifts!  If this doesn’t lift you up, nothing will!

Jeffrey Li, 10 years old, from Canada, and Celine Tam, 7 years old, from Hong Kong.  What an astounding talent and stage presence from two young children!

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Savanna Safari Mural


Turn a corner of your classroom into an African savanna!  Step-by-step directions show you how to make a beautiful background for a classroom center or mini museum.  Get a Sample Mural Savanna Safari or learn more.

I hope you are all having a relaxing and refreshing summer vacation!

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Memorial Day


Thank you!


Photo Credit:  Sleeping Soldiers:  Photo by skeeze, via
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Memorial Day Activities


Memorial Day gives us all a chance to remember and think about those who serve and protect us in some of the most horrific conditions imaginable.  Much of the time they are thousands of miles away from home, family, and comfort.  They serve in cultures vastly different from that with which they are familiar, and are asked to do things that would unhinge many of us.  Those who return home are all affected in many ways by their experiences, and some are scarred, or broken, for life.  Memorial Day is the perfect time to allow students to share their deployment experiences with classmates, and send a message of encouragement and hope to military personnel.  Deployed parents or friends of your students are great recipients.  Students could:

  • Make a video greeting which can be emailed
  • Create a card
  • Write a letter
  • Construct a poem
  • Compose a song
  • Design a banner with a small group

Simply giving the students access to red, white, and blue construction paper, and some star stencils allows them to make original, creative, and diverse products which can be easily sent overseas.  Younger students may finger paint and dictate short notes or questions.  I hope you’ll take some time this year to talk about deployment and how it affects families with the students you serve.  Stars and Banner Stencils

Books for Children about Military Deployment

Photo Credit:  Soldier:  Photo by skeeze, via
Posted in Art Themes, Holidays, Language Arts, Literacy Activities, Memorial Day, Social Studies Themes | Leave a comment

Student-Made Books


Classroom publishing has always been dear to my heart.  I first realized the power of publishing student’s work when I was working at a university lab school.  I was studying ways to teach students with learning and emotional disabilities.  One of the students I worked with was the first grade daughter of a professor.  She was having a lot of trouble with reading, but she loved to talk and was very capable of expressing herself.  After trying some of the new techniques I was learning, and having little success with them, I went back to one of my favorite reading methods:  language experience.  Together we wrote stories, revised and edited them, and printed them into little hardback books that we bound with fabric.  I quickly abandoned the flashcards we had also made, finding that having a “real book” was all that was needed for learning to recognize words.  We made lots of books and working from the whole text, began to explore the concept of an idea, a sentence, a word, a letter, and a sound, until she was able to sound and blend as well as other students in the class.  By the end of the year she tested at grade level and was able to keep up with her peers in the classroom, both in reading and writing.  The only materials I used with her were the books we created together, paper, pencils, and crayons.

The conditions I was working under were pretty ideal—I never had this type of situation in my “real” life.  She and I were working one-on-one for an hour a day.  I had complete control over what I did with her, how I did it, and where we worked.  Still, I’ve used student-dictated or student-written stories and articles for teaching materials throughout my career.  They are among the most powerful tools in my arsenal of tricks!  And the funny thing is, each year they are way better than the ones produced before!

Posted in Classroom Publishing, Integrated Instruction, Language Arts, Literacy Activities, Project Based Learning, Special Education, Thematic Teaching | 1 Comment

Savanna Safari Animal Puppets / Masks


I finally finished the first of many products celebrating life on the African savanna.  I am always looking for ways to get students to read where they don’t realize that they are actually reading!  (It helps a little to be a trickster if you’re a teacher.)  These realistic animal cutouts give students an up-close-and-personal look at the faces of some of the amazing creatures living on the grassy plains.  Although the sets overlap some, there are materials for students at different reading levels, from emergent to independent readers.

K-1 Set includes 10 animals and has simple paragraphs that may be printed on the backs of the images.

Grades 2-3 includes 10 animals, and has information included in outline form.

Grades 4-5 includes 11 animals, again with the information presented in outline form.

I prefer to use the images as puppets.  Just print and attach painters sticks to the back with packing tape and you’re ready to go!  I usually print classroom materials at draft or fast mode–it saves a lot of time and ink and the image quality is fine.  This time, however, I printed them at standard mode.  The images are really stunning!

  • The cheetah cub is sticking his tongue out!
  • The elephant is a wrinkly ole guy!
  • The hippopotamus opened his mouth to give a little look at his peg teeth.
  • The wildebeest has just come out of his mud bath.
  • The giraffe is licking his nose with his 18 inch tongue.
  • The vervet monkey can’t believe we’re looking at him!
  • The olive baboon has a lot on his mind.
  • The ostrich is showing off a big grin.
  • The crocodile displays ALL his teeth (well, almost all).
  • The little hyena cub looks downright sad.

Who knew animals could have such a variety of expressions on their faces!

You can also make the images into masks (just cut the eyes out and attach elastic to hold the mask on.  You can’t print the info on the back if you use them as masks.)  In addition to story telling, researching, report sharing, dramatic play, (and lots of other things included in the directions), you can use them to inspire descriptive writing, retelling of Aesop’s Fables, or character creation.

If you’d like a preview of the materials, click here.  (It includes a free hippo puppet and its information for all three levels.)  You can also check them out at Teachers Pay Teachers, or Teacher’s Notebook.  I just love it when children play to learn, don’t you ?


Posted in Animals, Integrated Instruction, Language Arts, Play, Savanna, Science Themes, Thematic Teaching | Leave a comment