Category Archives: Teaching Tips

Use Mr. B’s ideas for a smoother, hassle-free day at school.

Comparison Kills Community

In one of my favorite stories, There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom, Bradley Chalkers stares at a list of his classmates’ names, each one followed by a row of gold stars ranging from several to none. The space to the right of Bradley’s name is vacant. You can imagine how he feels, right?

Most of us understand the dangers of judging the appearances and abilities of other people against our own. It often leaves a hollow, uncharitable feeling of either resentment or superiority. I do it more than I should. Chances are you struggle with it too. It’s one thing to keep it within the confines of your head. Making it audible is another.

Worse, however, than contrasting your attributes to those of another is comparing one child to another…especially in front of the whole class. Posting grades and other performance-based outcomes in full view is not only tacky, it kills community. Why go out of your way to create an opportunity for some to gloat while others are left feeling like day-old tuna.

Then there’s the ultimate: Comparing the behavior of one student to one or more members of the class. This takes things to an even deeper, more disturbing level, typically ending in the embarrassment of the highlighted child. It might give you the immediate results you desire, but not without a price tag.

Comparison isn’t always a bad thing, especially when it comes to shopping. It does have its place, just not in your classroom.

Hope this helps,

Mr. B

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Posted by on February 21, 2017 in Teaching Tips


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I Killed a Book Today

I killed a book today. That’s right…I shot it…with a twelve gauge shot gun…to make a point. One slugdead-book through the front cover and right out the back. But it wasn’t the first time I killed one. I’ve killed books before- never with a firearm, though. No, I didn’t strangle or stab them. It wasn’t like that. I was much more subtle, and it was never intentional, either. Unlike today.

Assigning a trainload of mind-numbing activities and drills which take up enormous amounts of time and energy with bulky packets of worksheets for weeks on end is another way to slaughter a good story. Placing sticky notes in every crack and crevice, looking up mountains of unfamiliar words in the dictionary, assigning numerous essays comparing the book with the movie, and answering a slew of multiple-choice questions will surely do it too.

Don’t get me wrong…It’s okay to do some of that stuff sparingly, but not in heavy doses. So go easy, lighten up a little, and don’t overdo it. More time should be spent enjoying books, not dissecting them. Don’t be a book killer.

Hope this helps,

Mr. B

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Posted by on February 8, 2017 in Teaching Tips


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Don’t Be Rude!

So what exactly is a person (usually a teacher) supposed to do when a child shows up at the door with an armload of sugar-infused treats of which you have no interest? You can almost picture it, can’t you? You’re in the middle of a math lesson when suddenly you hear a knock at the door. You stop what you’re doing, walk towards the door, and open it to reveal a first grader with a runny nose and blue frosting smeared all over his lips and nose offering you a cupcake. A quick glance over the goods reveals a nasty choice between a thumb-indented chocolate cupcake with white frosting or a snot-coated vanilla with blue frosting. Unless you’re a cold, heartless son-of-a-motherless-goat, it’s just best to politely take one, even if it’s the last thing on earth you’d want to eat.  Refusing the offer is simply rude. Besides, in the long run, it’s in your best interest too. You don’t want to be known as the teacher who never takes a treat. Pretty soon kids will stop dropping by altogether and you might miss out on something you really want.

Nobody expects you to eat a rice crispy treat that tastes like an ashtray-but you still need to take one. This is where you must be careful, though. Pitching it in the trash too soon is risky. It’s worse than telling the kid no.

So what exactly are you supposed to do with undesirable treats? Well, wait until the end of the day before tossing it in the garbage, and to be safe, throw a few pieces of used notebook paper over it too.  Finally, avoid the generous child for at least a week. Why? Because if he asks whether or not you liked it, you don’t want to lie.

Hope this helps,

Mr. B

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Posted by on January 12, 2017 in Teaching Tips


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Do You Like Toast?

Let’s say you want to show a short video to your class, and even though it has really good information, it’s a little on the dry side. (I’m talking about ones that have educational value and are obviously tied to the curriculum in some way. What did you think I was talking about?) The internet is full of these things, and let’s be honest, some of them are pretty hokey. When I want to show a dry, hokey video with lots of good information, I also find another short one that is just plain fun. (Like the toast song.) I say, “I’m going to show two short videos, and I want you to tell me which one you like best.” Always start with the educational one. As soon as it’s finished, be sure to review important ideas and concepts-just like a real teacher would do. Then show the fun one. After the second video, say something like, “So, which one did you like best?” This way the kids learn what they need to and you won’t get a reputation as always showing boring videos.

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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Teaching Tips


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The Need for Speed

Looking for a fun, easy way to fill 15-20 minutes in your classroom? (Especially now that spring break has come and gone, right?) I’m not usually one for cards, but Speed is a fast and furious card game that’s really easy and fun to play. All you need is one deck of cards for each pair of students. The great thing about this game is that kids from kindergarten through middle school will love it. How do I know? I’ve watched kids as young as four play against teenagers. Even the “I’m-too-cool-for-school” seventh graders I work with enjoyed it.



The rules:


To be the first person to play all of the cards in your deck and say “Speed!”

Set up

– Players sit across from one another.

– Deal 20 cards face down to each player.

– Deal the remaining cards face down between the two players in 4 piles (two outside piles with 5 cards, and two inside piles with only 1 card).

Game play

– Pick up the top 5 cards from your deck and arrange them in your hand.

– Simultaneously turn over the two single face-down cards in the center.

– Begin playing the cards in your hand on top of the face-up cards in sequential order. (The number order can go both up and down. Either a King or a 2 may be played on an Ace.)

– Pick up cards from your deck, keeping 5 cards in your hand at all times.

– When neither player has a card that will play on the center piles, simultaneously flip one card over from the outer face-down stacks. (If these stacks run out of cards, turn the face-up piles over to face-down and start again using the top card.)

Winning the game

Once you’ve used all twenty cards in your hand and your deck, yell “Speed!”

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Posted by on April 13, 2015 in Teaching Tips


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Does that pencil taste good?

I recently discovered a way to get students to become more responsible. Or at least more resourceful.  It wasn’t intentional, it just sort of happened. A student showed up to class without a pen or pencil. Shortly after the assignment was given I heard, “Can I borrow a pencil?”

The only one I had available was a stubby, eraser-less pencil with teeth marks (not mine) all over it that I had  picked up off the floor a few days ago. I said, “Don’t put  it in your mouth, somebody else has already been chewing on it.” The student was, of course, grossed out and refused to use it. So I said, “Time to find out who your real friends are.” In other words, hopefully you can find someone nice enough to let you use one.

So, if you’re getting tired of the question, “Can I borrow a pencil?”, you know what to do. And…just for fun, you may want to put the teeth marks on the pencils while your class watches and say, “From now on, anyone wishing to borrow a pencil from me will need to use one of these.”

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Posted by on February 16, 2015 in Teaching Tips


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Aw, man!

Reading out loud to kids, regardless of how old they are, is about so much more than just a way to kill twenty or thirty minutes, right? That’s because it lends itself so naturally to “teachable moments” without sounding teachy or preachy. Connecting a story to personal experiences (yours and theirs), other books and stories, or even other academic subjects is pretty darn cool. Reading aloud is often a springboard for more meaningful discussions that might otherwise seem forced or phony.

But what I really want to know is this: When a kid says, “Aw, man! I want you to keep reading.” Is it because (a) the story is so captivating, (b) my voice, like a waterfall of liquid gold, is so pleasing to listen to, or (c) students know that the longer I read, the less work they have to do? Probably a combination of a and c.

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Posted by on January 29, 2015 in Teaching Tips


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