The Joy in Play—Benefits of Unstructured Fun

The Joy in Play—Benefits of Unstructured Fun

In previous blogs, we’ve discussed the benefits of taking some time to slow down, relax, meditate, and focus on being more of a human-being rather than a human-doing.  For teachers and students alike, that all seems easy to do during the summer months, but how do you avoid getting sucked into the busyness of being that human that is always “doing” during the school year?  …“PLAYTIME” might just be the answer for both you and your students.

I recently read an interesting article in a local health magazine that focused on why children need unstructured fun in their lives.  Trust me, I don’t need to be convinced that playtime-fun is beneficial to human development, but I wanted to read what the experts had to say.  Play was described as

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Step by Step: The Value of Following Directions

Step by Step: The Value of Following Directions

For my birthday, I received a beautiful interior sliding barn door as a gift.  I envisioned that this hefty, rustic door was going to be a unique addition that would bring more style to my home.  With a few extra hands, how hard could this DIY project be if we just followed the instructions?  Right?

Well, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be!

Have you ever experienced a situation when you didn’t need to read the directions for a simple recipe or to assemble a new toy?  I’d venture to say that sometimes that works out, but not every time.  Even when you’ve read the instructions, they sometimes aren’t clear enough to get the final product you’d hoped for.  If that’s the case, you may end up with holes in your wall and a barn door that is now taking up space leaning against the wall. (Ugh!)  When it comes to reading the directions every time, I’m just as guilty as the next person—I don’t always do it. 

In the classroom, many students bypass the instructions and head straight to number one on the assignment.  Shurley English students are not immune to this; it happens all the time.  As a teacher, it’s frustrating and heartbreaking to see the defeat in a child’s eyes when they realize they haven’t followed the directions and must start the assignment over.

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Having Fun with Analogies

Having Fun with Analogies

An analogy is a way of thinking about how pairs of words are related.   It’s a special kind of word puzzle that lets a student have fun and exercises their brain at the same time!  If you need a language arts activity to help keep your students on their toes, teach them how to create analogy puzzles!  They can be done at any time, and kids seem to always enjoy the challenge.     

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Summer Learning: How to create a positive summer reading experience

Summer Reading with Shurley English.jpg

Summer vacation is supposed to be a break from the usual routine of school, but many parents worry their kid’s reading skills will digress without some sort of action plan.  According to the "Kids and Family Reading Report," a survey done by Scholastic, an American publishing company, those fears might not be far from the truth for some.

Scholastic’s most recent report showed that among kids ages 9-11, 14% did not read any books during the summer of 2018, compared with 7% in 2016. Among kids ages 15-17, 32% did not ready any books during the summer of 2018, compared with 22% in 2016. 

Now, before you hit the panic button, it’s important to let you know that the same report found that nearly 60% of kids ages 6-17 did have a positive experience reading books over the summer.  So, what can you do as a parent to help increase your child’s odds of having a positive reading experience during their time off from school? 

First, give your child permission to read as many books as possible this summer for pleasure.  Let them choose their own books whether they are easy or hard, long or short.  The truth is that it doesn’t matter as long as they enjoy them.   Also, let them know that you are not going to ask them questions to find out whether they understood the books or not.  If they can understand enough of a book to enjoy it and want to go on reading it, then let them!

Secondly, if a child doesn’t want to finish a book they’ve started, that’s okay!  They should give an author a chance to get the story going, but if they don’t like the characters and don’t care what happens to them, it’s perfectly okay to find a different book.

Lastly, you must keep in mind that reading is reading regardless of the venue.  Let your child select what they want to read from hard cover books and magazines to online versions.  Giving a child permission to read for pleasure will be the best thing you can do for them over the summer!  Too often, reading is associated with comprehension questions and vocabulary checks.  When you remove them, reading for pleasure becomes the focus!

Summer Learning: Taking a Brain Break with Meditation

Downtime with Shurley English.jpg

If you’ve been following our Shurley English Blog posts, you know we’ve been flooding you with creative ideas on how to continue supporting your students’ academic progress throughout the summer.  We are aware that with the high demands placed upon our children in today’s U.S. classrooms, it’s evident that children (and adults) have fewer opportunities to truly unwind and relax. 

Today, my suggestion is to remember to INCLUDE some “DOWNTIME” into your child’s daily summer schedule, and here’s why:

  • Research shows that time off-task is important for proper brain function and health.

  • The brain uses 20% of the body’s energy while on-task.

  • Napping 10-30 minutes can increase alertness and improve performance.

  • Meditation is a way to give the brain a break from work and refresh the ability to concentrate.

  • Resting mental states help us process our experiences, consolidate memories, reinforce learning, regulate our attention and emotions, and keep us productive!

Downtime will give the brain an opportunity to make sense of what has just been learned, and shifting off-task can actually help learners refresh their minds, gain insight, and return to the task with more focus.

Brain Break Exercise: Meditation with Mindful Breathing

I mentioned meditation as a way to give the brain a break, so show your students how to tap into their own superhero relaxation powers with this simple breathing exercise.  Teach your students that their breath is an amazing tool that can help them relax or calm down at any given moment.  It can help them manage the ups and downs of school and life—all they have to do is breathe.

The purpose of a breathing meditation is to calm the mind and develop inner peace.  We can use breathing meditations to reduce our distractions and feel a deep sense of relaxation.  Allow this breathing exercise to bring more calmness into your classroom while your students learn a valuable tool that helps them relax.

  • Mindful Breathing Exercise (2-5 minutes)

  • Students can stand or sit for this activity.

  • Ask students to put both hands on their belly.

  • Students should close their eyes, or look down to their hands.

  • Guide students in taking three slow deep breaths in and out to see if they can feel their hands being moved.

  • You may like to count “1, 2, 3” for each breath in and “1, 2, 3” for each breath out, pausing slightly at the end of each exhale.

  • Encourage students to think about how the breath feels, answering the following questions silently, in their mind.

    What is moving your hands? Is it the air filling your lungs?
    Can you feel the air moving in through your nose?
    Can you feel it moving out through your nose?
    Does the air feel a little colder on the way in and warmer on the way out?
    Can you hear your breath?
    What does it sound like?

Remember, time off-task isn’t always wasted time or a sign of laziness. I encourage you to create the balance between being a “human-being” and a “human-doing” this summer!

End-of-School-Year Activity: Creating a Summer Bucket List

End of Year Activity with Shurley English.jpg

As eager as your students are for the school year to end, it won’t be long until they are actually bored during their summer break.  Yes, I said “bored.”  Help your students stay focused and creative while they gear-up for that day with this fun and creative classroom activity.

In this blog, I will share an activity that will teach students a valuable lesson as they create their own Summer Bucket List.  The catch is that they will create it while working in small groups.  As always, you can do as much or as little as you like with this idea.  Here’s how to get started.

 

Lesson and Class Discussion:

First, start the lesson with the whole class by following these steps:

  1. Read aloud and discuss this story, Seven Captive Princesses

  2. Review the definition of the word boredom.  Merriam-Webster defines it as the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest.

  3. Discuss how boredom doesn’t have to be a negative or bad thing in their life.  The state of boredom can be an opportunity to tap into their creativity.  Allow students to share their personal experiences with boredom and their solution for it with the class.

  4.  Ask students if they’ve ever been bored during a vacation.  Ask them to describe what they will do when they get bored over their summer break.  Allow a few students to share their ideas. (Make popsicles, make a DIY costume, plant something, make a movie, etc.)

 

Group Work: Brainstorming

Next, divide your students into small groups (3-4 students per group).

  1. Allow 10-15 minutes for each group to brainstorm a list of activities they could do when they get bored during the upcoming summer vacation.                  

  2. Instruct them to write their list on a numbered sheet of paper. 

  3. When complete, have each group place their list in the middle of the table where they worked. 

  4. Give groups time to rotate around to each groups’ table. (3-5 minutes per table)

  5. Each group will review and discuss the other group’s ideas amongst themselves.

 

Then, when the rotations are complete, have students go back to their individual desks.  Explain the meaning of a “Summer Bucket List.”  In this case, you can describe it as a list of things or activities that someone has never done before but would like to do before the summer ends. 

 

Individual Work: Create a Summer Bucket List

  1. Pass out the “Summer Bucket List” worksheet.  (See Example.)

  2. Ask students to complete their list individually. Add some fun beach music in the background, or enjoy a popsicle treat if you’d like.

  3.  Have students staple their lists on a pre-made and ready to decorate bulletin board. (Be sure students take home their lists on the last day of school.) 

 

Again, go as big or small as you’d like to create the bulletin board.  It’s up to you! With their Summer Bucket List ready to go, your students will hopefully have a creative summer break!

Oh, and don’t forget about YOU!…what’s on your Summer Bucket List?

Writing Extension: Exploring Appreciative Inquiry

Shurley ENglish Writing.jpg

Spring brings longer days and more light into our lives.  It’s the time of year when flowers bloom and tree buds turn into luscious leaves before our eyes!  With everything outdoors transforming anew, it’s so hard to capture the attention of students experiencing spring-fever!  So, why not capitalize on the fresh change of seasons, using a writing activity that will inspire students to appreciate spring and ‘Carpe Diem’ at the same time! 

Carpe Diem is a Latin phrase coined by the Roman poet Horace to express the idea that one should make the most of each and every moment of life while one can. Latin scholars translate the phrase to mean “pluck the day (as it is ripe).”  In order to do that, a person must learn how to appreciate what’s going on around them.  Learning to appreciate can translate into a more positive approach to thinking that can last a lifetime if knowledge, skill, and practice are applied. That’s where the poetic principle of Appreciate Inquiry comes into play.  It simply means that what we spend time focusing on and studying shapes our interpretations, learnings, and inspirations!  (Do you focus on what you want or what you don’t want?  Whichever it is, you’ll likely find it.)

For this lesson, students will follow the poetic principle of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as they carry out the following steps: 

  1. Define the Topic,

  2. Discover (explain the best of what is),

  3. Dream (imagine what could be),

  4. Design (develop what should be), and

  5. Destiny (compose what will be). 

The topic should be written on the board for everyone to see.  Students will get out a sheet of paper and write it at the top of the page.  Topic: A Spring Day in (City/State)…Carpe Diem! 

Since the topic has been predetermined, students will learn to appreciate spring a little more by engaging in the steps of Appreciative Inquiry.  The initial step requires students to Discover.  In this moment, they will be asked to find, emphasize, and bring attention to any factors that are included in a spring day in (city/state)…carpe diem!   They will focus on explaining the best of what is! Often times, it helps to think about positive experiences from the past, or if possible, you can have students venture outside to witness spring taking place in real time. Some additional questions include: 

  • Is there anything surprising going on around you? 

  • Does anything touch your heart or move your spirit? 

  • What seems to be going well for you in this moment? 

As students generate ideas, they will list their ideas on the sheet of paper.

Once students have discovered the attributes of a spring day in (city/state), the next step in the AI process is to Dream.  Ask students to use their imagination to enter a state of dreaming and begin to daydream about what could be or needs to be included in the best spring day in (city/state)…carpe diem…ever!  The sky’s the limit, and no dream is too big!  Some questions to help students dream include: 

  • What could make this spring day even better? 

  • What would you add? 

Students will make a list of dreams, leaving room for details that will be developed in the next step of AI.

The next step in AI is called Design.  During this step, students will write concrete, actionable steps that could turn their dreams listed in the previous step into reality.  They will literally explain the steps that would have to take place for their dream to come true.

Last, but not least, Destiny is the final step in AI.  During this step, the student must decide on how they will personally contribute to the dream (Step 3) and the proposed design (Step 4) of a spring day in (city/state)…carpe diem.  Students will write their destiny statements beneath each dream and design statement.  (Example:  I will…)

After students have completed the 5-steps of AI outlined above, they will use the information to write a 5-paragraph essay.  Students will prewrite, write, edit, revise, write a final draft, and publish: ‘A Spring Day in (City/State)…Carpe Diem!’

Resources: Use the following link for access to various prewriting maps to aid your students in their journey!

Grammar Reinforcement: Creating Confidence Cards

Confidence with SHurley English.jpg

I love teaching!  I love the challenge of finding ways to teach children how academic content connects to their real life.  My love of teaching has carried over into the world of life coaching, and in this capacity, I can help teens feel good about who they are.

Let’s be real.  Life can be tough for many children these days, and many of them could benefit from a little more positivity in their lives.  For this reason, I found a way to connect my passion for helping teens develop a positive sense of self by using sentence patterns taught in Shurley English. 

Shurley English teaches seven sentence patterns.  All of the patterns include action verbs except for Pattern 4 and Pattern 5.  These two patterns include a linking verb (LV).  A linking verb expresses a state of being and shows no action.  Study the following chart to review the core parts of the seven sentence patterns:

Sentence Patterns with Shurley English.png

The core parts of a Pattern 5 sentence include a subject noun (SN), a linking verb (LV), and a predicate adjective (PA).  The linking verb links the simple subject to an adjective in the predicate part of the sentence that modifies the subject.  As students recite the Question and Answer Flow, a step is included to help them understand clearly that a predicate adjective modifies the subject.  Here’s an example:

Pattern 5 Sample with Shurley English.png

Now that I’ve refreshed your memory about the core parts of a Pattern 5 sentence, I’d like to share an idea that will focus on Pattern 5 sentences AND help your students develop a strong sense of self.  It’s called, “Writing Confidence Cards.”

To get started, you will need ten index cards for each student.  After passing them out, follow these steps:

  1. Review the core parts of a Pattern 5 sentence. 

  2. Write the words: “I am ____.” on the board. 

  3. Tell students that they will be choosing a positive predicate adjective to fill in the blank that will describe them.

  4. Model some positive word choice examples (SP LV PA):

    I am creative.

    I am beautiful.

    I am confident.

    I am intelligent.

  5. Tell students to write a different sentence on each index card.

  6. Review the sentences to make sure they have written appropriate sentences.

  7. Ask students to illustrate and decorate each card.

  8. When students have completed their set of Confidence Cards, they will be able to use them in a variety of ways.  (See below.)

Here are a few “Confidence Card” activities to utilize in your classroom:

  • Ask students to choose one card from their deck as their journal writing topic.

  • Create a class deck.

  • Choose a card from your class deck as the topic for a class discussion as part of your morning routine.

  • Make a duplicate card deck for a think-pair-share activity.  Pass out the deck, making sure two of the same cards have been handed out.  Have students with the same card pair up and discuss how their “I am___.” statement applies to them.

  •  Invite the school counselor to your classroom for a team teaching opportunity to discuss the benefits of positive self-talk.

As you can see, Confidence Cards provide a unique way to reinforce the Pattern 5 sentence and boost your students’ self-esteem. Do you have a unique way to reinforce grammar study in your classroom? If so, we would love to hear your ideas in the comment section below.

Spring Bulletin Board: See How We've Grown!

Spring Bulletin Board with Shurley English.jpg

It’s not always easy to see how much we’ve grown in one year, especially for a child.  Physical growth might be the most noticeable because we can feel it in several ways.  For instance, we can tell when our clothes are too big or too small; they don’t fit right.  We know when our feet have grown because our shoes are too tight, and our feet hurt.  Also, we can tell when our hair has grown when it starts covering our eyes and ears. 

Intellectual growth, on the other hand, is much more difficult to notice.  Other people, like a parent or teacher, seem to notice this type of growth before the individual realizes it!  Everyone enjoys being told how much they’ve grown intellectually, so here’s a way for you to do that in your classroom.

Image Source:  Volunteer Spot

Image Source: Volunteer Spot

Throughout the year, Shurley English students have spent a lot of time building their vocabulary skills to improve their word choice strategies.  They have created their own synonym/antonym booklet, a vocabulary notebook or notecards, and also learned how to use “Power Words” in their writing.  Now, they can use all of these learning tools to help create a spring bulletin board. This bulletin board idea gives your students an opportunity to reflect on the words they’ve learned  and written in their notebooks and to realize how their vocabulary word bank has grown. 

Below are the steps to follow in order to build a “See How We’ve Grown” garden in your classroom:

Step 1: Create a Synonym List:

Materials Needed:

  • Synonym/Antonym Booklet

  • Vocabulary Notebook/Vocabulary Notecards

  • Power Words (found in Shurley English Student Textbook)

  • Shurley English Student Textbook

  • Thesaurus

  • Paper

  • Pencil

To Do:

  1. As a class, create a list of basic words your students overused at the beginning of the year.  (e.g., good, bad, friend, happy, sad, etc.) 

  2. Allow students to work in pairs and assign basic words to each group. 

  3. Have each pair create a list of three to five synonyms for their assigned word(s). 

  4. Encourage students to use their Shurley English resources and a thesaurus to complete the activity.

  5. Monitor students’ work by walking around the room to assist each group.

 

Step 2: Create Vocabulary Flower:

Materials Needed:

  • Circles (pre-cut)

  • Long strips of colored paper (pre-cut)

  • Glue

  • Stapler

  • Black markers

  • Pipe cleaners

  • Green leaves (pre-cut or *create a pattern)

  • *Green construction paper

  • *Scissors

To Do:

  1. Write the basic word in the center of the circle with a black marker.

  2. Write the synonym for that word on half of the long strip of paper.

  3. Loop the long strip of paper so the half with writing on it is on top. (See example below.)

  4. Glue the two ends of the loop together.

  5. Repeat for each synonym.

  6. Once all leaf-loops are constructed for that basic word, glue or staple the leaves under the circle to complete the flower.

  7. Students continue to create flowers to fill your bulletin board. (You might even want to add a clothesline with a few writing pieces on them.)

Source:  IMGLabs

Source: IMGLabs

 Finally, use your own creative flare to build a beautiful spring garden that showcases your students’ growth!  Don’t forget to discuss and celebrate their growth as a class.  When our efforts and growth are recognized, the acknowledgement gives us the extra motivation to keep going.  This is a wonderful way to keep your students engaged and excited about finishing the school year.

 

Activity Time: Say goodbye to mental burnout

Verb Charades with Shurley English.jpg

In some of my previous posts, I have touched upon the importance of keeping kids moving in the classroom.  Physical movement wakes up their brains, gets their blood flowing, and it’s just plain fun. While many of us typically seek comfort and routine in our daily lives, students in a classroom don’t always need that kind of comfort.  Yes, routines can help people stay focused and build self-discipline, but too much routine can also turn us into rigid creatures of habit. In my experience, students are more focused when classroom routines are followed, but there are also great benefits when they step away from the daily grind, and get moving. This is the ideal way to help them avoid mental burnout. 

When you add something out of the ordinary to your classroom activities, your students liven up.  I have found that the key to success in the classroom is the right mix of consistency and novelty, which can add just the right amount of spice!  The rhythm of Shurley English lessons provides day-to-day consistency and routine to keep students fully engaged in learning Language Arts.  However, students need something fresh and new to avoid mental burn-out.  Adding some creative flare to your Shurley English lessons can help you meet the needs of all learning styles and keep the learning process alive in your classroom.  When teachers integrate a healthy balance of consistency, practice, repetition, and differentiated activities, all students can enjoy success!

Take, for example, a simple game of charades.  This super activity engages the brain and has a powerful impact on kinesthetic and visual learners.  If you love to see students having fun while learning, here are a couple of ways you can make it happen when teaching verbs and imperative sentences, using charades:

Verb Charades

Supplies needed:  note cards

To reinforce verbs, make a list of simple action verbs and write each verb on an index card. Next, divide your students into teams. Then, one student from a team will draw a card and act out the action verb while their teammates attempt to guess the verb. If the student’s team guesses his/her action correctly, the team receives one point.

Imperative Charades

Supplies needed:  paper, pencil, note cards

To practice imperative sentences, have each student write a list of imperative sentences that can be acted out. (Examples: Close the door. Open a book.) Next, divide students into pairs and have them take turns reading their sentences. (This is the time to ensure each sentence is truly imperative.) Then, have students write each imperative sentence on a notecard. Gather all the notecards and mix them up. Now, it’s time to form teams and play Imperative Charades. One student from a team will draw a card and act out the command while their teammates attempt to guess the command. If the student’s team guesses his/her command correctly, the team receives one point.

These activities are sure to ward off the mental burnout that can sometimes set in at this time of year. So, liven up your classroom with a game of charades; it might be just the ticket to restore focus and energy!