Workshop Wednesday: Wikki Stix as Learning Tools

Does your hands-on learner need a new challenge? Try using Wikki Stix as manipulatives. If you’re not familiar with them, Wikki Stix are thin, wax-coated strings that resemble pipe cleaners or chenille sticks, except that they aren’t fuzzy, and they will stick to each other. The sticking-together aspect makes them wonderful learning tools, because they will also stay where you put them, and you can put them just about anywhere: table, window, cookie sheet, poster board — this list can go on forever. Stick them on the glass patio door or the refrigerator door for a kinesthetic, standing-up lesson activity. The Stix are waxy, but leave very little residue, and it is easily cleaned away. Bonus tip: If they accidentally get dropped on the floor and collect a few dust bunnies, cereal crumbs, and pet hair, holding them under running water and air-drying will restore them back to good-as-new condition.

Wikki Stix come in a variety of colors, including neons, and I have also found knock-off brands — check your favorite stores for craft or school supplies. (Wikki Stix brand have a unique bumpy texture that is both tactilely and visually interesting.) Use them full length (8″ long) or cut them into small lengths with scissors, and start creating. Let your students make letters and words, make numbers and math problems, or just have fun making all sorts of fun art projects.

Your older students can combine letters and numbers into the latest complicated formula they are trying to memorize. Yes, Wikki Stix are a fantastic tactile and visual method for color-coding the components of a mathematic or scientific formula! The tactile process of assembling a complex formula from Wikki Stix, complete with color-coding, is a very subtle way of memorizing — once your student has finished this project, he may find he has it committed to memory without even trying!

How can Wikki Stix help with lessons? First of all, let your students use the Wikki Stix as their learning aids — the kids will learn much more if they do it themselves, than if Mom just shows them what she’s made for them. The extended process of building each letter, number, or shape keeps your student’s fingers involved in the lesson, and the child’s brain has to think the process through from a different perspective than if he was just writing normally with a pencil. (By all means, do help the child who needs help getting started with this activity, but encourage his independence once he’s understood what to do.)

Color-code certain parts of words (vowels, phonics patterns, prefixes & suffixes, etc.) or math problems (use different colors for positive and negative numbers, or x-components in one color and y-components in another color).

Make Wikki Stix flashcards with spelling words, vocabulary words, or formulas on a sheet of cardstock and insert the finished cards into plastic page sleeves. Works for spelling, phonics, math, science, geography, history, foreign language, etc. Using this method to “write” troublesome spelling or vocabulary words allows the student to focus on getting each letter and each syllable in the correct order.

Make geometric shapes on flashcards, just like the idea above, and use them for identification and recall drills, or use the shapes as tactile manipulatives for math problems. For a bigger challenge, let your students try identifying the shapes by touch alone, by feeling them with their eyes closed.

Cursive writing can be tricky to practice, especially for those who are just learning it. Stick several Wikki Stix together end-to-end and shape them into cursive writing. Using Wikki Stix for cursive slows the process down considerably and allows the writer to put the lines exactly where they need to go! (and no pesky eraser crumbs!)

Workshop Wednesday: Grammar with Giggles, Mad Libs Style

Do grammar lessons rank among the favorite subjects at your house? Would you like to make sure they do? Would you also like to incorporate other learning style methods into a subject that typically requires only the visual skill of reading?

Mad Libs are part party game and part puzzle book. They remove key words from nursery rhymes, letters, and simple stories, and replace those words with blanks marked with the appropriate part of speech that is needed to fill in the gap. The fun comes from asking your audience for the random words first, and then reading them the completed story, using their suggested words in place of the expected ones: (adj.) Phony Miss Muffet sat on a (noun) frog, eating her (noun) henhouse and (noun) giraffe. Most kids will be begging for more at this point! Reading the sentences aloud and hearing the crazy wording are both auditory components, and the sillier these sentences come out, the more likely your students are to remember them! “Phony Miss Muffet” may even become a permanent addition to your family’s vocabulary.

I was introduced to Mad Libs back in my elementary school years, along about the time my classmates and I were learning the difference between adjectives and adverbs. Someone in my family brought home a Mad Libs book, and the next thing I remember is that we were all holding our sides, laughing until we couldn’t breathe, and the tears were running down our cheeks. We had to take turns reading the completed Mad Libs stories, because the last person to read one could no longer speak from prolonged laughter. Anything capable of producing that much hilarity is guaranteed to stick in my mind, and I very quickly learned that adjectives tell what kind and adverbs tell how or when. Years later, I used the Mad Libs process to help my own kids learn parts of speech, and they had just as much fun with it as I did.

Go grab some index cards and some colored markers, and let’s get ready to add some giggles to those grammar lessons. Take turns around the family circle choosing the words, and write one word per card, nice and large. If you already use a color code for parts of speech (great visual method), continue it in this activity, writing nouns in color #1, verbs in color #2, adjectives in color #3, adverbs in color #4, and so on. Write NOUN on the back of all the noun cards, ADVERB on the back of all the adverb cards — you get the idea. Make as many of each kind as you’d like, but keep each kind in its own stack (you’ll see why in a minute). Be sure to include articles, conjunctions, proper nouns, pronouns, and prepositions, but keep the cards and markers handy so your students can add more words whenever they want to. As your students’ grammar knowledge increases, they can add more complex parts of speech: for example, linking verbs and participles. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

To play, I mean learn, shuffle each individual stack of cards and place them upside-down, so the parts of speech (on the back) are plainly visible, and select an appropriately ordered group of cards (without peeking at the words on the face of each one) and lay them out in the order of a sentence, such as article, adjective, noun, verb, adverb. Now turn them over one at a time to watch your silly sentence take shape: The fluffy elephant danced fiercely. It will probably only take one or two rounds of this for your kids to begin thinking up more words to add! Let them make new cards to change the existing sentence, or shuffle those cards back into the stacks and start over with a new sentence combination. All the shuffling and dealing of cards are good tactile methods to keep the hands and fingers involved in the lesson. As a bonus lesson, have your students copy each silly sentence into their notebooks, underlining the words with colored pencils, if desired, to reinforce the color code for the parts of speech.

Diagramming sentences is also a valuable skill for learning grammar, and the cards can be rearranged into the proper diagram, using yarn, string, or ribbon to form the diagram lines. Spreading all the cards out into long sentences or large diagrams on the floor or table brings a kinesthetic component to normally visual-only grammar lessons. Be sure your students copy each diagram into their notebooks, too — those notes become valuable reference material for future lessons, uniting the visual skill of reading with all the other learning skills used in the same lesson.

As their grammar knowledge grows, your students can add multiple modifiers, use conjunctions to create compound subjects and verbs, expand into direct and indirect objects, plop down some prepositional phrases, and giggle their way through learning to diagram introductory adverb clauses!

BONUS TIP:
Once you have made a few dozen word cards, a handy way to store them is in an index card file box. Add a set of divider cards marked for the parts of speech, and choose a student to become the Official Keeper of the Parts of Speech for the day, so he can sort them into the right categories to put them away again for next time. He’ll get the bonus activity of learning to recognize the parts of speech, and he’ll never realize that this fun activity is a great lesson in itself! (You’ll want to keep these word cards, because we’ll use them in more great grammar ideas coming soon!)

You can use the links below to find Mad Libs products or to play Mad Libs online. (No, I’m not getting a commission from this, I just love the product!)
It’s a Mad Libs World
Mad Libs
WordLibs Mad Libs Online game

See also:
Teaching Spelling (and Grammar) Through Reading and Listening
How Did You Learn to Write?

Workshop Wednesday: Tactile Learning Bag

Children benefit from learning through all their senses and through all learning styles. Visual, eyes-only methods leave out so much of what a child uses to learn: the small muscles of fingers and hands, the big muscles of legs and arms, hearing, smelling, tasting, and so on. By removing eyes from the learning process, even for a few moments, we can actually enhance our students’ learning abilities. Tactile (touching) methods provide many more details to the brain than can be taken in through eyes alone, something which is especially vital for those who have trouble learning or remembering things that have only been seen.

Take one drawstring bag, paper sack, wine gift bag, cloth shopping bag, pillow case, clean sock (all stretched out works best), etc. Dump in pattern blocks, foam beads, letter shapes, number shapes, or random objects. Challenge your students to reach into the bag, feel around, and find a certain shape or object. No peeking allowed, just feeling shapes with fingers to find the right one. It’s a good idea to begin with just a few objects in the bag and work up to more. Also, use only one type of items at a time, unless your kids are prepared for a really big challenge!

Tactile learners will do really well with this type of activity — their fingers are already well acquainted with gathering information, and their minds are already used to forming a mental picture from that tactile information. NON-tactile learners will benefit tremendously from these activities and expand their ability to learn from touching, which is why it’s good to start small and let them get accustomed to identifying shapes with just their fingers. Turning this activity into a game will help expand those tactile skills in a very fun way.

When my kids were preschool age, we had a Lauri Fit-a-Space puzzle set. They loved to pop the shapes out of the circular bases (Lauri calls them “faces,” but my kids called them “pizzas”) and put all the loose shapes into a paper sack. Then they would feel around in the sack to find the correct shape to fit into their chosen base. I also made very simple bingo-type cards by tracing around a few shapes on each card and coloring them in with crayons to match the pieces. My preschoolers got shape and color matching practice in a fun, self-testing activity, trying to find just the right square or heart or oval to go on the cards. (I let them search through a pile of pieces on the table for the color matching.)

A child who is having difficulty learning letter shapes or one who reverses letters can benefit from tactile identification activities. Frequently, a child who mixes up the visual appearance of certain letters is more of a tactile learner, so giving them touchy-feely activities with those letters will help their brains sort out the information and clear up their confusion. For example, let’s use 3-dimensional letters, such as the magnetic letters that live on refrigerator doors and put a single letter into a paper sack (not letting the child see which letter it is), and let the child reach inside and feel the letter’s shape with one or both hands (use a pillow case for ease of getting both hands inside). Now let’s ask this child to find the matching letter on an alphabet chart. I recommend using upper case letters only at this point — fewer opportunities for reversals, and much less confusion over shapes. Consider tracing around each letter to make your own alphabet chart, especially if another chart would vary slightly in the shapes of the letters you have. (Differences to look for: some R’s have an angled “leg,” and others have a straighter leg; some M’s have vertical legs, and others have angled legs; some M’s have an inner “V” that extends to the base line, others have a shorter “v” that only comes down halfway.) Let the child lay the letter shape on top of its matching letter on the chart, and then you can drop another mystery letter into the sack — lather, rinse, repeat. Advanced students can start with all the letters in the sack at once and pull out each one as it is identified. Very advanced students can search through the entire contents of the sack with their fingers to see if they can find specific letters as needed.

When your student has mastered upper case letter shapes, he will probably be ready to tackle lower case letters, even with their look-alike b’s, d’s, p’s, and q’s (not to mention the n’s and u’s that can also feel alike). This activity can be varied again by using number shapes, giving your student the opportunity to notice that 6’s and 9’s can often look and feel very much alike. Ditto for 2’s and 5’s, and sometimes 1’s and 7’s.

Whether the bag contains letters, numbers, geometric pattern blocks, geometric-shaped beads, or random objects, students of all ages can test their own tactile skills by feeling a piece, making a guess at what it is, and then pulling it out of the bag to check. Students with highly developed tactile skills may want to try identifying the letters carved into Scrabble tiles or the number of dots impressed into dominoes, but those activities will be much too difficult for the beginner!

A sack or bag can also add convenience to any games that use tiles or similar pieces. For years, we have kept a paper sack in our Scrabble game, to use instead of a “draw pile.” It takes up much less room on the table, passes easily around to each player, and flattens out fairly well to go back in the box for storage, even with the tiles still inside it. We have a designated cloth bag for our dominoes draw pile, and our Qwirkle game came with its own drawstring bag to draw from — game makers are catching on!

It should be our goal as parents and educators to teach our children how to learn in every possible situation, using every skill they possess. By starting with these simple tactile activities, we can improve skills they already have, provide them with new skills, and open up new realms of knowledge to feed their curiosity. And they may also be able to find their keys in the dark someday.

See also:

Tactile Learners

Math Awareness: Tactile  Counting

Workshop Wednesday: Pocket Charts (DIY)

Have you ever wished you had a pocket chart for use with your homeschool lessons? Letting kids insert flashcards into a pocket chart or rearrange them to suit the lesson concept can provide a tactile element to phonics, reading, spelling, math, geography, etc. If your cards are large enough (3×5″) or if the chart is on the wall or across the room, it can become a kinesthetic method, too. Sometimes you may have just a few uses for a pocket chart in your schooling, but not quite enough to justify investing your hard-earned funds in the fancy teacher-supply-store versions. Try these suggestions for making your own pocket charts.

Secure any of the following to a bulletin board or large sheet of poster board:

Paper envelopes (recycle some junk mail!); the front of the envelope (the side where the address would be written) will be attached to the poster board, so trim the back of the envelope (which will be the front of your pocket) to about 1″ high or enough to allow a card to rest inside but still show the information (I trimmed off the flap, too)


Photo album pages; these come in several sizes that can be carefully cut apart & taped down to poster board as needed  (Consider the variety of special album pages made for film slides, baseball cards, etc.) I turned a trading card page sideways and used a razor knife to slit a side of each pocket open (to become the new top edge) and trimmed it lower (with scissors) for easy insertion of cards, then used clear tape to secure the former open/top edge (now a side).


Plastic page protectors for 8 1/2x 11″ sheets of paper; can be cut down as needed

Clear Contact paper; stick to itself (sticky sides together) to make pockets larger or longer than album pages or page protectors

Clear vinyl zippered bags from sheets, blankets, or pillows; cut them up or use “as is” for jumbo pockets to hold large cards (imagine the possibilities: label the bags with parts of speech & toss a bean bag into the correct one when Mom calls out a word — oh, but we were supposed to be talking about pocket charts here)

Vinyl upholstery fabric can be taped, sewn, or stapled together (if not transparent, cut the front of the pockets low enough that the cards’ information can be seen easily, but the cards will still stay upright in the pocket)

If you don’t have a large bulletin board, you can use brass paper fasteners to secure the pockets to poster board or cardboard, or punch holes with a large yarn needle or awl and sew the pockets to the backing cardboard with yarn or string. Clear packing tape (2″ wide) can also be strong enough to hold the charts to poster board, but is not as easy to remove.

How to use–

  • Letter matching: upper/lower case
  • Letters forming words (use game tiles!)
  • Reading practice with phonics patterns or rhyming words

  • Reading practice with words forming sentences (see photo above)
  • Spelling practice (game tiles again!)
  • Math problems: Insert some numbers and operation symbols, and let the student complete the problem, or let students try to build their own problems correctly.

  • Illustrate place value, borrowing, and carrying (regrouping) for understanding. The physical act of changing ten ones into a ten and moving it from the ones’ column to the tens’ column is a very powerful transformation in a young mathematician’s mind!
  • Chore chart
  • Calendar
  • Matching states, capitals, & postal abbreviations (see photo above)
  • Match vocabulary words with definitions

BONUS TIP:

Once you have made a few dozen word cards, a handy way to store them is in an index card file box. Add a set of ABC divider cards and teach your student how to sort the word cards alphabetically. Your student can even become the Official Keeper of the Word Cards, so he can pull out only the cards needed for each lesson, and then put them away again for next time. He’ll get the bonus activity of learning and practicing alphabetizing, and he’ll never realize that this fun activity is a great lesson in itself!

 

 

Workshop Wednesday: Math Measuring Tape

Do you have a child who needs to see things for himself in order to understand lesson concepts? Have you used math manipulative blocks but he’s still just not quite getting it? Here’s a unique idea for a powerful math tool that you can make yourself from simple graph paper. By making a special measuring tape that exactly corresponds to the size of whatever math manipulatives you use, your students will have a customized tactile and visual learning aid.

Cut 1 or 2 sheets of graph paper into 1-inch wide strips and tape them together for the length you desire (make sure that no strips end in a partial square). Graph paper marked with five squares per inch (available in office supply stores) is compatible with the centimeter-scale Cuisenaire Rods that we used: 2 graph-squares = 1 centimeter, so marking numbers on every other line produces a centimeter measuring tape. (Yes, centimeter graph paper would have been easier to use, but I couldn’t find any in my area — so I improvised!)

To illustrate skip-counting by 2′s, accordion-fold the tape on every other number, and then say (auditory) the number for each fold-increment. Adapt and repeat for other skip-counting intervals. (The measuring tape in the photo only has numbers at intervals of 5, but feel free to write on as many numbers as your children need.)

Your students can lay Cuisenaire Rods on the tape to demonstrate addition & subtraction facts. Arranging different length rods to equal the same total (1+5, 2+4, 3+3, etc.) helps them see by yet another method that different numbers can add up to the same total. The measuring tape becomes a learning aid for memorizing facts as your kids line up blocks or rods on it and see the resulting numbers.

Repeat the same process for multiplication & division facts: 3×5, 5×3 — both measure to 15.

This method can also help students understand uneven division problems. For 15 divided by 4, start placing 4-rods at the 15 and filling in backwards toward 0, but fill in the gap with a “remainder” rod, in this case a 3-rod fits as the remainder.

We used this measuring tape by itself to illustrate multiplication and division facts by accordion-folding the paper tape into 6 sections of 8 centimeters to show 6 x 8 = 48 and other facts. My origami-loving son really enjoyed this foldable number line, and he would take a few seconds during a math problem to fold it back and forth, just to be certain of his answers.

The measuring tape can also be used as your kids run around the house, measuring everything in sight (kinesthetic) for practice at measuring and estimating how large certain objects will be, according to the scale used by your math manipulatives. For instance, my sofa may be 86″ long, but measuring it with a centimeter scale makes it 215 centimeters. My kids liked the challenge of guessing how many centimeters first, then measuring an object to confirm the answer. This is also a great way to compare inches and centimeters, and they can use a ruler, yardstick, or measuring tape in inches to confirm their answers.

If you use another form of math manipulatives other than Cuisenaire Rods, you can adapt the size of the measuring intervals on this homemade tape to coordinate with your own manipulatives.  Graph paper with 4 squares per inch (1/4″ squares) can be marked for 1/2″, 3/4″, or 1-inch manipulatives. Remember the sofa we talked about above? It would be almost 115 connecting cubes long, when measured according to a scale for these 3/4″ cubes.

P.S. — We stored our measuring tape neatly by folding it up and using a large paper clip to hold it in place. ;-)

Workshop Wednesday: Patterns, Part 2 — Number Patterns

Are you ready for some more patterns? How about making them a little trickier? Our previous article on Patterns focused on learning to recognize patterns of colors or shapes and reproduce them accurately. This article steps that up a few notches with patterns of numbers.

We all learn a very simple number pattern when we first learn to count to 10: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 — a series that increases by one with each step. Skip-counting is increasing each step by an amount larger than one, whether counting by 2’s, 3’s, 5’s, 10’s, or 87’s.

We could even select our starting point and then add by a set increment for another variation of skip-counting:

What if we varied the increments with a consistent pattern? Suppose we started at 0 and added 1, then added 2, then 3, then 4, and so on. Our number pattern would look like this: 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45, 55, and on and on. If our increment added only by even numbers, the pattern would look like this: 2, 6, 12, 20, 30, 42, 56, 72, 90, 110.

My kids loved to watch an old PBS television show called Square One TV that had a segment called Mathnet, where math “detectives” solved mysteries dealing with numbers. One episode of Mathnet (The Case of the Unnatural) involved a couple of friends who regularly challenged each other with a game they called “Guess My Rule,” where a player had to figure out what rule had been used to create a series of numbers and respond with the next four numbers in the series. The strings of numbers they gave were more complicated than simple skip-counting. For example, the series of 1, 3, 7, 15 is achieved by doubling a number and adding 1: starting at zero, double it (still zero), then add 1, gives 1 as the first number in the series; double it to 2 and add 1, equals 3; and so on. This rule is “double plus 1,” and the next number after 15 would be 31. To play it yourselves, have one player create a series of at least four numbers, and the second player has to determine the “rule” and give the next four number in the series. What number rules can you create to make interesting number patterns? Remember that the rule must be consistent throughout your series.

Another fascinating number pattern is called the Fibonacci series, in which the next number is created by adding the previous two numbers together, for as long as you’d like to keep adding.

Fibonacci numbers are found throughout nature in very intriguing places. You may already know that if you slice a banana and then break that slice apart, the banana will naturally separate into 3 segments. But notice the banana skin: there are 5 segments or sides to an unpeeled banana — 3 and 5 are adjacent Fibonacci numbers. Some very interesting Fibonacci numbers have been observed in nature — petals on some flowers, leaves and branches on some plants, scales on pineapples, bracts on pine cones, and seeds in sunflowers all occur in arrangements that use Fibonacci numbers. Just like the banana segments and the sides of an unpeeled banana, the numbers often show up as adjacent Fibonacci numbers. The Creator of the universe is not just an artist, He’s a mathematician, too!

Check out these websites for more fascinating info on number patterns:

Square One TV/Mathnet, The Case of the Unnatural

Fibonacci in Nature

Fibonacci Numbers, the Golden Section and Plants  — detailed site including do-it-yourself activity ideas

Who Was Fibonacci?  Leonardo of Pisa

See also:

Patterns

 

Workshop Wednesday: Patterns

Patterns are everywhere! Patterns can be small, large, or in-between. Patterns can be simple or complex. Recognizing patterns is a fundamental math skill that we use everyday, from sunrise and sunset to left and right shoes. Patterns are not just what keeps the peanut butter on the inside of our sandwiches, they are also what makes life fun and interesting. Let’s explore some designs, just to see if we can spot the patterns (hold your cursor over each picture for a hint). Looking for patterns sharpens your visual skills!



Create a simple pattern of colors or shapes using game pieces, beads, coins, buttons, or anything suitable you have on hand, and challenge your students to repeat it. Beginners may need a little help with recognizing what makes the pattern, analyzing when and how it repeats, and the logic of what comes next, but they will catch on quickly. Some students may repeat a pattern accurately the first time, but may not catch a mistake if they are repeating it multiple times. Help them learn to check their own work for errors.

Anne Sullivan taught Helen Keller using this method and stringing beads.

Beads can be strung in patterns on yarn, ribbon, shoestrings, leather boot laces, fishing line, pipe cleaners, toothpicks, etc. Use large wooden beads, plastic pony beads, Hama beads, tiny glass beads, etc. Slice pool noodles into jumbo beads to string onto heavy wire, garden hose, or a yardstick. Start a pattern, and let your kids finish it — or let them challenge themselves or each other in making patterns.
We make patterns when we set the table with plates and silverware. We make patterns when we match up socks in the laundry. We make patterns with our footprints when we walk through sand or snow.  Pattern recognition can be applied to all phases of life, from lining up toy trucks to analyzing when a machine can be expected to break down from wear. Yes, that’s another application of patterns! And now, just for fun, watch this crazy video from Weird Al, all about PATTERNS!  Want to grab some graph paper and colored pencils and make more patterns?

See also:
What Is the Missing Element?
100-Grids and flashcard Bingo