Thinking "Outside the Box" Education


This is LadyBlogger's first guest post!  Yea!  I wrote this piece for Renae who has a wonderful website that I know you'll want to visit:  She homeschools her kids, but this is absolutely information for ALL parents and teachers!  

I believe teachers should always think "outside the box." This pertains to all teachers: Public School, Montessori, Homeschool, Foreign Language, Elementary, Middle School, High School, etc.  Regardless of the subject matter, the age, the environment or the mood that theteacher is in that day...Teachers owe it to their students and the parents of their students to think outside that box!

Teachers' Manuals can be helpful and so can many books on education, child development and parenting, but none of these resources will give you what you need to teach your group of students.  Think about the talents, hobbies and interests of your students. What do they enjoy doing?  What makes them happy?  Whatever came to mind when you answered those questions should be used in some way to teach that particular child.  This doesn't mean that a child who likes to draw should only experience drawing for every lesson of every subject, but it does provide you with a foundation for ways to help solidify learning.  

There are two lesson topics below (they are in red) and examples of how these topics can be taught in a few "outside the box" ways.   There are literally endless ways that you can teach and learn "outside the box."  The depth and breadth of the lessons are only limited by your imagination and what you know about each student.  It's fun way to teach and learn and will help your students gain a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the subject matter.

Multiplication Facts/Tables
Students often hear that they must memorize their multiplication facts and they are usually given a multiplication table and a bunch of flashcards to help them do it.  In reality, these tools offer little help to students and are boring to use.  Here are some alternatives.

Make a puzzle where one part is the multiplication problem and the other part is the answer. You can use the vocabulary factor x factor = product, as well.  The kids can make their own puzzles, and then switch with a friend and solve those puzzles.  (Cut up index cards and plastic Easter eggs work great for this.)  This activity can be used for any math problem, compound words, syllabication, capitals and states, etc.  Note: You can organize/separate the kids' puzzle pieces by having one student use only yellow index cards, another student uses only white cards, etc.  Keep puzzle pieces or egg halves in a ziploc bag. 

Schoolhouse Rock 

I watched a lot of TV as a child and Schoolhouse Rock is how I learned my "three's."  Clickhere and see what I mean!  There are lots of great videos from this company including "I'm Just A Bill," "The Preamble" and "Conjunction Junction."  I used these same videos in my fifth grade classroom and the students loved them!  By watching the videos and learning the songs, students will remember how a bill becomes a law, all the words to the Preamble of the United States Constitution and great examples of conjunctions and how to use them.  There is a 40th anniversary collection of videos out now, but many of them can be seen on or

Acting it Out 
(This activity may be done individually or in groups.)  Have different math problems written on index cards, one problem per card.    Someone from each group randomly chooses an index card.  Groups are responsible for acting out the math problem on the card they picked. They may NOT say the problem out loud in their skit and they cannot show the index card to anyone outside of their group.  Example: One way to act out the problem 3 x 2 = 6 is to have two friends (each one clearly holding up three paper cookies) walk up to each other and say hello.  The friends begin talking, notice that they each have three cookies and decide to pool their cookies so both friends get to taste each type of cookie.

Compound Words 
Compound words are words that are created from putting two independent words together, like "rowboat" and "firetruck."  Compound words are learned by every student, but they are not usually learned in fun ways.  Try these activities instead!

Pat-Clap-Snap-Snap (Pat your legs one time, clap your hands together once, then snap on the right hand, then snap on the left hand...REPEAT)  
Kids will enjoy playing this game as they learn about compound words.  Have kids sit in a circle facing each other.  Pass around a hat filled with words that can easily be used to create compound words.  Each person picks a given number of words (I would have kids choose either two or three for the first game.) but doesn't show them to anyone.  The student decides which word they will "play" first and places that card face up on the floor in front of them. When everyone has done this, the group begins the pat-clap-snap-snap rhythm in unison. The teacher needs to decide which student will go first, and s/he (at the timing of the snap-snap sound) says the compound word.  The next student follows, and the group continues doing this around the circle.  Once everyone has done a first compound word, the order repeats and each student thinks of a second compound word that can be created from their face-up word.  As long as a student can still come up with a real compound word during his/her turn, that student is still in the game.  When it is a student's turn and no word can be created, that student is out and stops the pat-clap-snap-snapping.  The game continues until only one student remains--That child is the compound king/queen for the day!  Here are some good words to use for this game: air, back, book, bull, butter, cow, door, rain.  Need more?  Just google "compound word."

Word Search 
Having students create their own word search is a wonderful way for them to practice compound words, contractions, spelling words and vocabulary.  They are easy and fun to make (download grid paper here).  Students really enjoy working out each others' word searches, too.

Write a poem or short story
You'll know if the kids really understand their compound words (or contractions or vocabulary words) by the way they use them in their writing.  Have them illustrate their stories/poems, too.  A fun spin on this activity is to have the kids draw nonsense compound words like "alligatorbow" or "rainhair."

I hope this helps you begin your journey into thinking about and implementing "outside the box education."  Give it a try.  I promise you won't regret it and neither will your students! 

Need help?  Bonnie Frank can help you with activities, lesson plans, implementation, fieldtrip/guest speaker ideas, etc.  Please email her at

Bonnie Frank (a.k.a. LadyBlogger) is a former elementary/middle school teacher and college professor with a Master's Degree in Education.  Bonnie is in the process of surviving two teenage sons and a husband she's been with for over 30 years.  Please visit her website for blogs on parenting, education, kids and the business of blogging.  

Bonnie L. Frank


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