Author: Amethyst G.

Classroom Management: The Hunt for a Toolbox

When I first started teaching, how each day went depended a lot on how benevolent my students were feeling. It is embarrassing to admit that. It’s not as though I didn’t know a lot about classroom management; I just didn’t know how to make it work yet. The weeks went on and I learned every day, but I still had a few students who just had a lot of energy. You know, the ones who hate sitting down at all, who you check in with before class starts so when they need them, they will have that pencil and paper ready, rather than lurking at the bottom of their backpacks under missed assignments that are slowly being turned into pulp with the help of an old banana.

Often these kids had really great attitudes, and most days I was able to keep everyone on task using my limited mental toolbox of classroom management strategies. But there were days, usually days when something different was happening, like rain or a modified bell schedule, when my class was straining at the seams, led by these special, energetic students. I could feel the moment when things started to go downhill, when productive energy got that wild note and I knew it was going to be a long day.

Then one day, a student came into my classroom asking if I had the red toolbox.

“What?” I asked in utter confusion.

“The red toolbox. Mr. V said you might have it,” the kid answered helpfully.

I knew I didn’t have any red toolbox, but since the kid was already there, I looked through any closet or drawer where a toolbox could be hiding. Had there been after-hours repairs on my classroom? Finally, I had to turn him away.

“That’s okay, he said it might be Mrs. L who has it. He couldn’t remember.”


At lunch, I got the scoop. The red toolbox is the trick that drains that little bit of extra energy while you get the rest of your class back on track. You simply write a hall pass for a student, before anything negative happens but after you see what direction things are heading, and your very energetic student rushes off to do you an important favor. Teachers in the know will look for the box, then suddenly remember that a certain teacher on the other side of the school might have borrowed it. This has to be done carefully, or students can spend forty-five minutes wandering around looking for the red toolbox. It is important to find out where students have already looked, and if you think they’ve been out of class for more than a few minutes, it might be time to say, “Sorry. I just can’t remember who has it. You’d better get back to class.”

In this age of bell-to-bell teaching, I imagine this isn’t a popular strategy for everyone. The idea is that you keep the students exposed to content whether they’re able to participate meaningfully right then or not, right? I say, let them stretch their legs for five minutes and come back feeling good about themselves for helping and ready to learn.

The Olympics in Your Classroom

The Olympic Games are coming up! This summer, a very special global community will come together in London and make athletic history. And now, you have an opportunity to introduce your students to that community.

The Olympic Games are full of teachable moments. They’ve got it all: diverse cultures and traditions, opportunities to break down stereotypes, exciting competitions, connections to just about every curricular area, and a basis in real-life events. So are you looking for a way to spice up your springtime? Try some of these fun Olympic ideas.


Have your students measure out areas needed for track and field events. Then have them try out the sports and time each other in the races with a stopwatch. For more advanced students, this activity is a great opportunity to learn about the metric system. Have them measure the distances of track events in meters and yards to get an idea of the units of measurement, then explain how and where each form of measurement is commonly used. Another idea is to teach your students about nutrition and the healthy choices Olympic athletes make. You can also teach science concepts like friction, aerodynamics, velocity, and more by exploring the equipment athletes use. You can encourage your students to watch football live and buy tickets at Football Ticket Marketplace, Football Ticket Pad.

Olympic History and Customs:

Create an Olympic Map by marking a world map with the location of each past host city of the Olympic Games. Add historical information or create a corresponding timeline along your classroom wall. Have students add information as they learn more about the history of the Olympic Games and the countries that have hosted it. Or, you can have students act out key Olympic events and customs from both the Modern and Ancient Games. Teach about money or flags from around the world, or teach about Olympic symbols and customs. Have students research Olympic facts for a trivia game, then play the game as a class!

The Paralympic Games:

To broaden students’ minds about what human beings are capable of, teach them about the Paralympic Games and the amazing athletes who compete. To make the lesson more personal, have them research a specific athlete, learn about athletes who have competed in both the Olympic Games and the Paralympics, learn about some of the special equipment athletes with disabilities use, watch video clips (you can find some at, or write a story about someone competing in the Paralympic Games.

Creative Projects:

Have your students write a letter to a favorite Olympic athlete, write a news article based on a clip from a previous Olympiad (for video clips, go to, read about famous athletes, script a sportscast based on an imaginary competition, or design a new Olympic sport. Study Olympic vocabulary and hold an Olympic Spelling Bee with medals or olive wreaths for the winners!

For more fun, go to so students can learn about and play with the 2012 Olympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville. Hold a class- or school-sized Olympic Games and have students create mascots, medals, a torch, and more. Looking for a fun reward for your hard-working students? Let them make Olympic Sport trading cards.

And finally, have students make Keeping Track books so they can record their experiences following the Olympic Games over the summer.

Pandemonium With Purpose: Teaching Vocabulary and My Secret Weapon

Inevitably, as you get to know your students at the beginning of a new school year, you also begin to think of new activities and variations on existing lessons that honor their personalities and learning styles.  I know I did.  I was full of ideas.  What bothered me, though, was that when I was a new teacher, I often didn’t know how those ideas would pan out.  On top of that, I had heard that teaching a lesson doesn’t become natural until you have done it five times.  Understandably, I found this frustrating, until I found my secret weapon.

My secret weapon was named Maggie, and she had the classroom next door to mine. After school, I would visit Maggie and expound on the mysterious nature of the pre-teen. Maggie would sympathize, and then magically, a new color-coded graphic organizer or a vocabulary game would appear in her hands.  “It works great with my English learners!” or “My kids love it!” she’d proclaim. I’d seen her students’ shiny faces smiling up at her enough to know that anything Maggie gave me would be a winner.

Maggie continued to be my secret weapon all through my first year teaching.  Here is one of the vocabulary games Maggie taught me:

Fly Swatter Vocabulary: This game will be most successful if you wait to begin playing it until your class is comfortable with the class norms and boundaries.  You will need four unused fly swatters.  You will also need a list of eight to ten vocabulary words that your students are studying.  In class, have your students come up with sentences using the words, then send them home with the list of words and their definitions to study for the next day.  Let them know there will be a fun game using the words.  Print out four to five copies of each vocabulary word in a large font size, cut them up (one word per piece of paper), mix up the words, and staple them all over the walls.

When you are ready to play the game, have your students move their desks to the middle of the room and get into four large groups, one in each corner of the room.  These are their teams. Depending on your class size, each team (a quarter of your class) could consist of five to ten (or more) team members.  Each team has the same goal:  to be the first to find the given vocabulary word on the wall, give a correct definition, and give a sentence using the word correctly.  You may decide to separate some students out to become your judging panel.  These students must be impartial and must know the words well (or have notes to refer to).  Once you have done that, have the students in each of the four teams count off, so each team has a #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and so on.  Give each #1 a fly swatter, then call out a vocabulary word.  Now, you will have four students (your #1s) roaming around the walls as they search for the word. It shouldn’t take them long to find it since you have about five of each word up.  Have your judging panel help you keep track of who hits the correct word first.  That person’s team will then have the chance to try to come up with a good definition and sentence.  Here’s the tricky part, though; it is the team’s #2 who needs to give the definition and the team’s #3 who needs to come up with a sentence. If your judges decide that the definition and sentence are good, everyone on the winning team gets a prize or points toward a prize.  Then you start over, with the #2s swatting, the #3s giving definitions, and the #4s giving sentences. If time permits, keep playing until every student has had a turn with each role.

One great thing about this game is that students become invested in each other’s learning.  Since your students don’t know what number they will be or what word you will call first, this means that every person on the team needs to know the words in order to win.  To encourage this, you may decide to give each group five minutes to study vocabulary together every day for a few days before playing the game.  This game can also be modified for different content.  It can be used to teach vocabulary in any content area, and can also be used to teach word roots and affixes.

What’s on Your Walls? How My Classroom Helped My Students Learn

I decided I was going to be a teacher when I was in the second grade. At the time I believed that meant I would wear turtleneck sweaters and have blonde hair that was flipped up at the bottom like my teacher. Of course, I knew I had a lot to learn before I would be ready to teach. I can think of one lesson I was very slow in learning, even though all those years, it was right in front of my face.

All through elementary and middle school, I glanced, gazed, and even stared at some of the most powerful teaching props in existence, the walls. But I didn’t really see them because to students, it is as natural to find something useful on a classroom wall as it is to glance at the wall in the first place. As a teacher, when I first walked into my own middle school classroom and had to decide what to put on my walls, I was baffled. In a way, they were still invisible to me.

I started out with a small library on an old metal bookshelf, a couple of inspiring posters, and some class rules, then quickly added my state’s content standards and a corner for publishing student work. I added multiplication tables, math facts, and writing conventions. I made room for a student-created vocabulary wall.

By mid-year, my students had helped me redecorate. By this point, I saw my walls as some of the most important learning tools I would ever have access to. I began to think back to the many classrooms I had been in as a student teacher and observer. I started to mentally categorize the purposes I had seen classroom walls fill:

Organization—posted agendas, calendars, standards, and bookcases

Resources/Reminders—vocabulary walls, math charts, homework assignments, procedures posters, and class expectations

Recognition—homework, student artwork, and student illustrations of vocabulary words

Physical Props—scenery for readers’ theater, games like “pin the math term on the example,” and often a whiteboard or interactive whiteboard

Community Building—a birthday calendar, getting to know you projects, and both commercial and student-created decorations

The greatest part in my eyes was how involved my students were. They were interacting with their physical space in ways that helped them learn and feel recognized. And it was often my more disruptive students who would jump at the chance to hang out after school and help me add something to the classroom walls. As we’d work, they would talk and I would listen. My classroom walls helped me connect with my students and helped them develop a sense of ownership.

What about you? What do you think it is most important for teachers to have on their walls? What would you add to my list?