Expanded Thinking

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Expandedunless it’s more items on our Need-To-Do Lists than we can manage or a waistline one’s seeking to slim down…not thicken up…is good, don’t you think. Add the word thinking and the opportunity channel is wide open for helping kids learn and “grow their minds.”

Introducing your class to EXPANDED THINKING can be as fun as it is functional. Play with toys; see familiar objects in unfamiliar ways; use wordplay. All of the strategies offered in this post are classroom-tested attention-getters. Try what you like…

TURN TOYS INTO TEACHING TOOLS – Metal and plastic magic springs, big ones and small springs, like the one shown in my blog pic below,

Magical spring toys have been popular for decades!

Magical spring toys have been popular for decades!

have been popular toys for decades now. (Look for coiled springs in dollar stores or toy stores.)

I saw a child playing with a toy spring recently and his actions prompted more creative thinking.

Instead of setting up the toy spring vertically to topple over itself down a set of stairs, the boy was holding the spring as if it were an accordion (musical instrument), like you see me doing in my blog pic.

Wow, I thought, what a great way to help kids visualize EXPANDED THINKING.

"Look, a closed coil is like your mind in place at the start of a school term."

“Look, a closed coil is like your mind in place at the start of a school term.”

Begin this activity by announcing that you’ve brought a surprise to school.

Hold up a magic spring with the coils closed at first, like you see in my blog pic here.

Tell the class that the closed toy is like a mind at the beginning of a school term. It’s in place, but ready to expand with new learning, especially for students that stay focused and on task in class.

When all eyes are on you, open the magic spring slowly, like you see in my blog pic below, and explain that the toy is expanding like a brain that is growing bigger, smarter, stronger, wiser.

"Watch how your mind can  stretch like this coil when you expand your thinking!"

“Watch how your mind can stretch like this coil when you expand your thinking!”

Walk around the room; let students take turns holding the magic coil closed and open. Invite everyone to hold up their hands together and mimic opening a closed coil to show how a mind can expand.

Reinforce the connection between staying focused and on task to help expand thinking.

Place small napkins with little seasonal treasures inside at each student's place. Fun and attention-getting!

Place small napkins with little seasonal treasures inside at each student’s place. Fun and attention-getting!

A NAPKIN IN PLACE ISN’T JUST FOR BEING TIDY – When is a folded napkin a door into a season?

When you hide small treasures inside it and invite children to unfold a season of fun.

Look at my blog pic here. One shows a napkin with a rabbit design to symbolize spring.

The other is for fall (and Halloween) in orange and black.

This easy, attractive napkin trick requires a few small, inexpensive purchases ahead of implementation.  

Buy small napkins that suit the season you’re in when you engage your class in this activity. Find or purchase little seasonal treasures, like cupcake shapes (shown above with a little chick in front of it in the springtime napkin. I bought cupcake shapes at a teacher supply store.)

Before children come to class, zip around the room and “hide” a few seasonal treasures inside folded seasonal napkins – one on each student’s desk or table space.

As students enter the room, invite them to “unfold the season.” They’ll be surprised and delighted, and happy to take your special gifts home!

A WORD ABOUT WORDPLAY – A friend of mine laughs every time he talks about entertaining his  elementary school-age children with this “brain teaser in English.” He’d ask them, “When is a door not a door?” Answer: “When it’s ajar.” 

In any language of the world, wordplay catches attention because it entertains and informs.

Here’s another wordplay in English that I made up…“When is an ing (i-n-g) part of a ring?” Answer: “When it’s a word that begins with the letter r.”

Select letter endings and other combinations that are part of your curriculum and challenge students to make up wordplay like I did with ing (i-n-g).

THE SCIENCE OF WRITING – When is a science poster not just a science poster? When it’s also an illustration for a poem!

A science poster can teach about a topic AND illustrate a science poem.

A science poster can teach about a topic AND illustrate a science poem.

A second grade teacher with whom I worked with last week was taking down science posters from a bulletin board outside her room as I was coming in to teach writing on Friday.

I admired the students’ work and offered the idea that she could invite her class to expand the science poster project by writing poems about the subjects they’d chosen to explore. 

Linda Griggs, the teacher holding one student’s poster titled, “Tuna – Underwater World” in my blog pic here, liked the idea.

Student reading his poem about his science poster, Tuna - Undersea World

Student reading his poem about his science poster, Tuna – Underwater World

We briefly introduced the option of writing science poster poems to the class when I took these blog pics. The one here is of the student showing his poster as he reads a poem (hidden from view on white notebook paper taped to the back of the poster).

Connecting poetry writing to a wide array of subjects, including science, is another example of EXPANDED THINKING.

A cool way to expand your thinking about ways to help students expand theirs is to browse around online, in bookstores teacher supply stores and toy stores with no particular search focus in mind.

Listen for ideas to pop into your ears as you take in the visual feasts. Be bold, be brave with ideas that amaze!

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Let’s grow together and remember that you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in any instructional setting!

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara The Lovable Poet

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Posted in Attentionology for K-5 Teachers
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!