Easiest Elementary School Hack for Increasing Motivation


I love making learning happen through fun, inquiry-based experiences. However, as we all know, there are some things that students just have to memorize (math facts, letter sounds and vocabulary words to name a few). Try as we might to make them fun, they still take some grit.

Introducing the Master’s Charts

When a student of mine did really well on an algebra sheet, I wrote, “You’re an algebra master!” on the top of his paper. It made him so proud that he kept bringing it up for months. Any time anyone said the word algebra, he’d say, “remember when you said…” The word master is powerful to these kids, so why not take advantage of it?

You will need:

  1. a piece of paper
  2. a marker to write: (INSERT SKILL TO BE MEMORIZED HERE) Masters.

Then, when students have memorized whatever skill you are working on, they get to sign the sign! That’s it. You wouldn’t believe the extra motivation it gives kids to push themselves or how proud they are to see their names up on the wall.


The picture at the top of the page is for students who learned how to do all of their count bys (learned with lots of help from these songs). The one just above is from Zach’s class, where they sign the Champion Chart when they are able to do their repeated reading with few/no errors.

It may sound silly, but it works. Enjoy!

By @SGroshell

The CODA Perspective on Teaching and Learning

I am the child of a Deaf mother, emphasis on the capital D. CODA has been a term used by some to refer to a “Child Of a Deaf Adult”, aka me. American Sign Language is one of my two home languages – and the one that I spend restless night practicing to the ceiling.


My mom’s classroom of Deaf and hard-of-hearing preschoolers

It wasn’t until recently that I started to see my mother’s identity as a Deaf woman and a teacher of the Deaf as having a profound influence on my teaching practice. Let me explain.

For us CODAs. . .

Differentiation Comes More Naturally

My mom has to live in a world where many people prefer to communicate by speaking and hearing. While it’s easy to assume that most people have the decency to write their words on a piece of paper to explain something to my mom at a Jiffy Lube, I grew up seeing example after example of poor communication and a lack of differentiation from hearing people of all walks of life.

Maybe that’s why it always seemed like a no-brainer to me that teachers provide a variety of visual and audio cues for students, and to provide opportunities for students to produce work in the formats that suit them. Sometimes a whole class discussion can be intimidating; Use an online forum once in awhile. Some kids like to read by themselves; Create a balanced reading program in your classroom so that kids have the opportunity to read in multiple ways. There are many, many ways to get that “snapshot of learning”, and they don’t all have to be teacher directed or written by hand on a piece of paper.


Check out this wikihow on How to Communicate with Deaf People

Which brings us to. . .

Technology is Ubiquitous

If you just started reading here, my mom is Deaf, meaning that she cannot hear out of both ears and uses American Sign Language and English to communicate with people. The technology that I grew up watching my mother use has improved dramatically. I have to admit that I am a bit nostalgic right now thinking back at the old days of the TTY and the phone operators, and how that has now been replaced by the iPhone in my mom’s pocket.


Things have changed so fast, but let’s be clear: We were using that 1980’s device (TTY) throughout the nineties and well into the 2000’s.

While my mom would be first to admit that she is not the most tech-savvy teacher, I wonder if somewhere between the vibrating mattress alarm clock and the flashing doorbell did I start to conceptualize technology differently than if I had been brought up in a hearing household.

In my view, technology should be completely ubiquitous during the learning process. Why some teachers still see technology as a completely separate entity and subject that has no connection to learning is beyond me. In a 21st Century-minded classroom, a student’s device is as ubiquitous as a wall clock, and a teacher plans for ways to maximize learning without focusing on any one tool or device.

Noisy is Overrated

There’s definitely been a trend in recent years to focus on aesthetics more than on evidence of student learning. My Twitter Feed is always full of teachers and administrators professing a “new” messy and noisy style of learning. Now, while my classroom can get that way when the task fits the learning, you can also find my entire class sitting around with headphones while diligently completing a project.


They’re not flopping under tables with exercise balls and wearing beanbag hats, so they must not be learning!!

My mom’s classroom (which was also my classroom when I was in preschool) is an entirely silent place, but with a lot of language going on. Students are signing, sharing, playing and fighting in the quietest preschool you’ve ever seen. Whether or not you’re a control freak or a laissez-faire style teacher, a classroom shouldn’t always be noisy, and it should definitely never be deafening. Take a page out of a Deaf teacher’s classroom and have a silent day or hour to celebrate the inaudible sounds of learning.

Respect for Home Language and Language Minorities

Raised during a time when sign language has become increasingly threatened by the hearing folks that prefer an implant-only approach for their Deaf children, rather than learning a bit of sign language, I see home language as an important part of my students’ identities.


Loss of home language is especially an important issue in the international teaching circuit, where many students’ school language is interfering with the students’ retention of their home language. When a child loses their home language to the point that they are no longer comfortable speaking or signing it, it’s nearly impossible to see the transfer of home language to the next generation. It gets even worse for language minorities without a sizable population or community in a child’s host country that can help support home language acquisition.


Deafness is such a part of my life that it may have even found its way into my teaching. I hope you enjoyed this and other articles you have read at educationrickshaw.com, and I promise that I will keep on signing all of my ideas for blog posts to the ceiling on restless nights.

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5 Ways to Give Your Class Back to Your Students

Like many new teachers, I used to be uncomfortable giving up control. I saw a well functioning class as largely teacher-directed, and that if you gave students too many choices they would end up choosing poorly for themselves. How wrong I was.

The following tips are some strategies that I use to make my classroom more student-led. While there’s no perfect model, and gradual experimentation is necessary to find where your students are most comfortable, implementing some or all of these strategies can greatly increase student engagement and buy-in in your classroom.

#1 Put their menu in their hands and let them decide what’s on it

I used to write the order of my lessons on the whiteboard everyday before class started. I definitely didn’t do it as creatively as this guy. The kids didn’t tend to read it unless I read it to them, and it wasted a good portion of my whiteboard space.

Instead of doing that now, I use padlet to write up my lessons. I put it in “stream” format and part of our morning meeting consists of students looking at the schedules on their iPads. I’ve made a conscious effort to democratize the process so that students have a say in the order, or even the activity, that we are going to do during each class period. Padlet makes it easy to do so in that it allows you to add contributors. Just so that I don’t have too many fingers on their class schedule, I give this role out as one of my class jobs.


Padlet also has the benefit of allowing for multimedia, which comes in handy if you want to give a quote of the day, an “in the news” activity, or a flyer for a school event, for example.

#2 Use an Apple TV for wireless iPad projection

In my 1:1 iPad class, I was constantly changing between my MacBook Connector and my iPad connector to give students the chance to project their work. Because the connectors are the perfect combination of easily-breakable, expensive, and difficult to use for Year 5s, I wasn’t able to let the students connect and disconnect as they wished. I imagined a classroom where the teacher wasn’t in control of the tech, and that the students were freely projecting their work from all parts of the room.


The solution, I’ve found, has been the use of the AirPlay feature on Apple devices to wirelessly project iPads via Bluetooth to an Apple TV. It has worked with an amazing level of consistency, and students are now completely comfortable with connecting and disconnecting as they wish during lessons. I’m investigating other ways to take better advantage of my Apple TV in the classroom, but just the simple feature of wireless iPad connection has empowered my students to a surprising degree.

#3 Consider Flexible Seating

Students in my class chose their own seating chart, and are very comfortable with suggesting how and where they choose to sit. This can be inside or outside, beanbag, carpet, pillow, chair w/o desk and/or chair with desk, etc. In some cases, as in the picture below, we’ve chosen to eliminate the walls of our classroom in favor of a more free approach when it was necessary. The kids called it “University”, and spent much of their chosen time in the high school meeting rooms in our school.


This photo actually comes from a “Free Inquiry” experiment that really deserves its own write-up

I’m still not sure what’s in store for this year, but the amazing things that I am seeing on Twitter make me want to experiment more with how students best learn. I’m still not comfortable with giving up desks, as I appreciate their role in developing handwriting and good sitting posture, but who knows what these kids will decide for themselves?

#4 Let them be in control of their own behavior chart

I am a big fan of developing habits of mind, mindset, mindfulness and all of the other “minds” we have in education. It is also important for my students to set goals. While I still see the role of public group contingency plans in some cases, I have been experimenting with keeping these charts private and under the control of the individual student.


For their charts, I use StarChart.me, which they monitor and update on their iPads

So far, it has been working, and students are motivated to move towards their next goal once they have completed their chart. The only monitoring I do comes in the form of the e-mail that StarChart sends me everyday, but even then I try to put the responsibility on the student to be honest with their awarded stars.

#5 Use whiteboard paint to give students space to display their thinking


One of the things that we are pushing for in our primary section to be included in our latest round of orders is for every classroom to have an Apple TV, and for every classroom to have a “thinkspace” made from whiteboard paint. I already try to give them as much of the available wall space as possible for posting visual displays of their thinking, but it is hard to match the sheer awesomeness of a full whiteboard wall like my kids are using above.

I’ve also been begging for one of these lego walls (below), but alas, I don’t think it will make the cut. . a858d898f780b4658d0e1786f1da1699

If you enjoyed what you read, keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, and check out our TPT!

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Count By Songs Are Changing How Students Learn to Multiply

Learning Different Strategies

Every year, I teach my students a number of different strategies for how to solve multiplication problems and they come up with and show me a few more.

These include:

  • Drawing a Picture
  • Repeated Addition
  • Making an Array
  • And Count Bys

By far the favorite strategy for my students year after year is their count bys. This is probably because they are the fastest strategy (other than memorizing the answers) to use and they include singing (who doesn’t love that?).

Here’s a picture of my kids dancing with the crab in one of Have Fun Teaching’s Count by 9s video.


Memorizing Facts

I can still remember being in my elementary school years and sitting at the breakfast table or getting ready for school as my mom quizzed me on my multiplication facts. Some of them, like the 9s and 5s, have great tricks to help you, but most of them were all learned through straight memorization.

Don’t get me wrong – I thought it was really fun. I’ve always enjoyed math and I took pride in challenging myself to do multiplication. However, for those who don’t enjoy memorization or whose parents don’t have time to practice with them every day, multiplication can be a huge challenge.

In singing or rapping their Count Bys, students are memorizing all of the multiples of a number. When they have their songs down, they are able to memorize their facts significantly easier and quicker.

I’ve also put links to the videos on an elink to share them easily with students.

Below are my favorite Count By videos. I’m missing the 2s and 5s because they learn those in 1st grade before they come to me. Enjoy!

By @SEGroshell

Count By 3s


Count By 4s


Count By 6s


Count By 7s


Count By 8s


Count By 9s


Other math posts: Introducing Subtraction with Regrouping Through Inquiry, Happy Mathsgiving!, Why Your Students Need Xtramath Now, 5 Reasons to Do Number Corner Every Day, Keeping Kids Motivated With Dice

How to Gamify Your Class by Turning it into the “Survivor” Reality Show

I’m a big fan of the reality show, Survivor, which has a group of adults competing in a variety of challenges on an isolated beach. The drama of every episode ending with a vote and an eliminated contestant intrigued me to the point of wanting to bring it to the classroom. It was so successful that many students credited it as being the highlight of their year. I’ve been doing it ever since, having just finished my 4th season before winter break.

Here’s how I did it (and you can too!):

#1 Film an opening sequence (optional)


To make mine (click on the pics above and below), I just used a mishmash of old footage from the show and had my kids record a small dance sequence with a green screen in the background. It was a great lesson in how green screens work in both film and television, and it provided a great opportunity to introduce video editing.


#2 Split the students into teams and explain the rules

I try to pick the teams fairly, yada yada yada, but the most important aspect of this step is reinforcing the idea that there is only one winner in this game, and that is the person that gets to the end. Everyone else loses. For this game to be fun, we have to accept losing with dignity, and winning with humility.

Instead of having students vote each other out, which could turn into nothing but a popularity contest, I do it in a way that I feel adds a bit of random chance to the game as well as includes some of the values that we teach in our school. Before voting, I put students’ names into a random name picker to select the two students that will end up on the “hot seat”. Then, as we have a daily PYP attitude that we talk about during morning meeting, I ask students to vote for the student that best exemplified that trait that day. This way they are voting for a student to stay “in” based on the good things they saw from them that day, and it is less about voting somebody “out”.

In my Survivor, all students stay onboard to compete in all of the challenges for the duration of the season, even if they have been eliminated from the game. That way they understand that their role is not only self-serving, but also has an element of teamwork.

#3 Lead the Challenges

The most fun part of Survivor for the students are the surprise challenges that they compete in. These can be academic (i.e. Spelling Bee), Team Building, or just simple camp games (5 Ways Camp Makes You a Better Teacher). When a team loses, they can sit back and watch the final vote with a calmness that only comes with having won immunity.


#4 Hide Individual Immunity Idols

One little curveball that I throw into the game (once the game has progressed a bit) are the clues to a hidden immunity idol. A hidden immunity idol allows the finder to be assured that they cannot be added to the hot seat on the day that they play it. I just create a mini-scavenger hunt around the building and the students use their recess times trying to find them and the idol.

#5 Lead the Final Tribal Council

Once the teams have been whittled down to two, there is a final vote done by the entire jury (the rest of the competing students). These days, we have our annual camping trip correspond with the final challenges and tribal council so that we can have it around a real fire. The final two have to give their persuasive speech, and the winner gets a check for a million fake dollars, just as you see in the photo below.


The Sole Survivor

I hope you enjoy this idea, and that it inspires you to make school a fun experience for your young learners. If you haven’t already, follow me on Twitter and keep coming back to Education Rickshaw!

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5 Fun Idea Generators to Get Kids Writing

Before 1:1, I used to take lists of writing prompts or story starters that I found online and cut them out into small strips for the students. It was time consuming, and when they were all used up, I had to go find some more.

Nowadays, I rely mostly on online random generators to create these for me. While some of these are geared for adults, some are made just for the purpose of getting kids writing. Any of the following could be used for a writing center, or just as an exercise in promoting creativity during a lesson. Enjoy!


#1 Blog Topic Generator

Do you want students to just get going on their latest blog post? Send them the link to this nifty tool, and they’ll be off and writing in no time. The tool requires them to fill out three keywords, and the result is a list of provocative titles that could start their latest post. Great for teaching Main Idea, too.

#2 Letter Generator

I’ve used a lot of variations of letter templates in the past, but why not use one that is online, and ready to use on a student device? The results of these letter activities can lead to funny interactions, and great conversations about formal vs. informal language, as well as the requisite formatting required to create a letter from scratch.

#3 Story Starter

Do you have a kid that just can’t get going during free writing or narrative writing time? Give them this tool and away they’ll go. They can even pick what type of genre they wish to pursue – good for students with a variety of interests.

#4 Random First Line Generator

Sometimes all it takes for students to get going on their writing is for the first line to be generated. Why not give your students a leg up with a randomly generated first line so that they can get those creative juices flowing?

#5 Pseudonym Generator

Not really a writing tool, per se, but a fun way to start generating funny pen names to develop the writers’ identity in our young learners. Just have students click through this random pseudonym generator, and sort out the names that they like, and pass on the ones they don’t like. Who knows? Maybe one of them will end up in big, bold letters on a future best selling novel?

If you haven’t already, follow me on Twitter, and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com

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