On your mark, get set, GO!

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers!

I was talking recently with an associate, Alice Osborn, a talented multi-tasking independent contract writer and teacher who works under the umbrella: Write From the Inside Out. Alice manages a website –http://aliceosborn.com and blog – http://aliceosborn.com/blog and began serving as a writer-in-residence with North Carolina’s Triangle area schools in 2009.

We were discussing effective ways for K – 5 teachers to catch and keep students’ attention. Alice shared some tricks she’s used in the upper elementary grades for me to pass along:

  • Writing Prompts and Timed Writing Exercises – Create handouts ahead of time that present the writing prompt or prompts that students will use as story-starters. Be sure that students have adequate notebook paper and pencils at hand before you announce that the timed writing exercise is about to begin. Set a kitchen timer on the number of minutes you plan to allow for writing (Alice usually goes for 10 minutes) and then cue the class with a dramatic voice, “On your mark, get set, GO!” Pencils poised with purpose, students will begin to write furiously to finish a good start before the timer buzzes. As Alice reports, “The kids love the structure (as do the teachers) of the countdown clock.”


  • Multi-Media Exploration of Subject – Supplement writing lessons with music, video and reading materials that relate to the subject of the prompt you plan for students to use as story-starters. For example, if your prompt invites students to write a fictional story about traveling to an unknown place, you might show a clip of the movie, “Up” and open a discussion on where flight may take us. Related reading materials might include portions of a biography about the Wright Brothers and their first  flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Alice adds, “For the reading material, I read a portion and have the students read another segment so that they stay involved.” When you have helped students immerse themselves in the concept and experience of (in this example) flight, they will be better prepared to write about a journey of their own. This “trick” involves cross-curricular teaching because it incorporates learning through popular culture, social studies and reading to prepare students for writing. Engaging students in writing by using a cross-curricular approach to the planning and pre-writing parts of the process may help draw in reluctant writers. That’s a big benefit to this trick!

Your use of timed exercises and multi-media exploration is by no means limited to teaching writing. These tricks can be applied to many areas of the intermediate elementary school curriculum.

Catching anyone’s attention with a kitchen timer is a sure bet if the minutes are ticking because cookies are baking in the oven. It’s time to eat!

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in instructional settings!

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

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Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Students are having trouble writing connecting sentences between the beginning, middle and end of a story.

Solution: Show toy airplanes, pretending to make them "take off" across notebook paper. Explain to the class that stories, like airplanes, require clear "flight paths."

Related Posts: Become the Classroom of the Traveling Story!