The power of a mistake maker

Last fall my family took the mini-cruise from Copenhagen to Oslo and back.  This trip was all about our then seven year old twins and we basically spent the entire trip in the children’s section and on the childrens’ activities schedule.  The cruise line cleverly had created a story  with four main characters that guided all of the activities.  You could also purchase merchandise of these characters.  (Yes, we were those kind of parents who did buy the character stuffed animals.) One of the characters was a wizard who could never get his spells right.  His magical attempts always backfired with hilarious results.  I watched as my shy kids after hearing one of the wizard’s stories decided that they could try to make a balloon sword because they thought they could do better than the wizard had.  I later saw them running all over the ship as part of the kids’ scavenger hunt and reading difficult clues, even though they weren’t very confident readers yet.  My son told me, “I can try to read it because if I mess up, I’ll only be like the wizard and I like him.”

Boom.  I had an epiphany.  They were more willing to try things that were new or hard for them because somebody had already made a mistake and made mistake making ok.  Hmmm.  How to translate this into the classroom? I always tell my students that mistakes are welcome but as humans we have an innate need to succeed and do things in a way that we can be proud of.  How can I translate that pride not into the outcome but instead a pride in the journey of learning that might involve mistakes?

power-of-mistakesI always focus on praising the process and not the outcome but I decided to introduce a mistake maker into my classroom.  I bought an extra wizard stuffed toy on the cruise and brought him to my class.  I introduced him to the class and told him that this wizard was there to help our class but that he might make some mistakes.  We had a class discussion about welcoming him to the group and what we would do if he or anyone made a mistake in learning.  I then let him (the wizard)  try to sound out and spell some of our target words for the day.  Wouldn’t you know it; he made a few mistakes but he kept trying.  I made sure to make his responses to his mistakes humorous.  The kids were laughing and shouting out encouragement for him to try again.

I kept the same format up for a week and quickly saw my students in the subjects I had modelled mistakes in … willing to make mistakes.  If they realized that they had made a mistake they generally laughed about it and tried again immediately.  They often wanted to share their mistakes with the whole class at the end of the day.


Here he is counting Danish coins as a challenge for my kids.

I use the wizard all of the time now.  Any character you create will work.  I suggest letting them model common mistakes your students make or will make and then letting them work through those mistakes.  I eventually let the wizard model behavioral mistakes or friendship mistakes to aid my students in their social learning.  It is also nice that they feel they can educate the character about the right thing to do.  This makes every student in your class an expert and that may be a new role for some kids.  They love finally getting to take that role on.

Give your students the chance to as Ms. Frizzle would say, “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.” They may be more willing to do it if a kind but hapless stuffed toy models mistake making for them.

Little Vikings




A right way to learn English?

I just had a baby so I’m not currently in my own classroom.  I am however, still a mommy and I just went to the parents’ information night at my kids’ school in Denmark.  I think that parents who are teachers have the hardest time accepting academic decisions of other teachers and they live in a constant struggle to support their kids’ teachers and yet wonder how they would of done something differently.  This describes my relationship with my kiddos’ school in a nutshell.

At the meeting, they pointed out that English is now taught from the earliest grades but there isn’t really curriculum to help them teach effectively.  Now when they mean curriculum, they mean workbooks.  In Denmark, teachers do not search for their own materials, they are not expected to ever buy products to use in the classroom, and they do not print, laminate, and cut things to be used in their classroom.  I teach through games and dramatic play at all grade levels and use worksheets as a reinforcement only.


This leads to a dramatic cultural clash but, every Dane under 50 speaks fluent English – I struggle to think that their system is wrong if it works so well.  I’m currently partnering with the English teacher at my childrens’ school and not only am I creating resources for her but I am slowly coaching her on international teaching methods of center based learning and how to use games as both instruction and repetition.  Yet, even as I mentor her in my methods, I’m learning that there is something to be said for the boring but thorough slow workbook method.

I will still advocate for getting students to talk to each other and feel like they are in real-life speaking situations in a safe dramatic play environment.  I still believe that games do what worksheets do but in a more engaging way.   However, grammar is a beast and worksheets and their repetition are blessings to help grammar become more automatic.  Perhaps there is merit in old school methods.  Do other EAL teachers struggle with this intersection of ideals?

Little Vikings


What do your students need? Back to School Management Tip



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I adore pinterest for classroom arrangements and decorations.  One year, I diligently searched and figured out how to make an enormous Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Tree.  Another year I decorated in Truffula trees and Dr. Suess themes.  My fellow teachers and parents raved about the room but I eventually began to ask the question of what the students actually thought of their classroom.  Their answers surprised me and changed the way I both set up my classroom and ran it for the rest of the year.

If I just asked, “Do you like this room?” They answered, ” Yes” until one brave soul said, “It is really pretty but we didn’t make it so it doesn’t feel like our classroom.”  That is a huge statement.  I realized that even though I had strived to have a student centered classroom, I had made a beautiful-to-the-adult-eye classroom and not necessarily what my students needed.

To change the classroom, I started asking lots of questions.  “Do you like it when the walls have lots of colors?  How do you like the lights in the classroom; should we use the light from the windows only or the overhead lights? What kind of areas should we have in our classroom?”  This opened up a whole new world of information to me.  My students didn’t all have the same opinions so we would survey them and then talk about the results.  How can we make these preferences work for everyone?

Getting to know me learning edition (2)

Examples of questions to survey your students on.

What ended up happening was that the class as a whole began to develop empathy and understanding for the different preferences or needs that were in the classroom.  We also began to mix up our day, using the light from the windows for writer’s workshop and listening to background music while we did math.  It also made the discussion of how to make our classroom community the best that it could be a regular part of our classroom culture.  Kids felt free to talk about things that bothered them and then the other students would work on solutions for them.

My room may not look as pinterest ready now, though sometimes the students hit on an idea that we can go all out for, but I’ve gained a caring, peaceful class culture that I would never change.  Parents often tell me that their students feel safe and cared for by both me and their peers.  I couldn’t ask for a better learning environment than that.

You can ask your students a question a day or you can take some class sessions and let them survey their peers.  This is a freebie that lets kids tell you about their learning preferences.  It also includes some follow up activities to let them tally the results of the class as a whole and then form class agreements based on that information.  Just click on the picture below.

Back to School

Little Vikings

Follow the blog hop to get more beginning of the year classroom management and organization ideas.  Keep following through all the blogs – there are lots of brillant ideas being shared!



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$25 TPT Giveaway starts today!

summer is over

Back to school has well and truly started.  Meetings, classroom decorating and trying to get those first lesson plans down are all in swing.  It is HARD to come back but maybe this will make it a little bit easier.

August 12 2016 $25 TpT giveaway

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Prize: $25 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card
Giveaway Organized by: Kelly Malloy (An Apple for the Teacher), 
Rules: Use the Rafflecopter to enter. Giveaway ends 8/19/16 and is open worldwide.
Are you a Teacher Blogger or Teachers pay Teachers seller who wants to participate in giveaways like these to grow your store and social media?  Click here to find out how you can join our totally awesome group of bloggers!

You can also use this link to be sent to the rafflecopter.  a Rafflecopter giveaway  Let’s start this year off right!

Little Vikings


A Common Language?

americanversusbritishenglishI have been making classroom resources since before I became a teacher. I started making display lettering and clip art when I worked as a classroom assistant and continued with scheduling cards, calendars, posters, worksheets, etc. during my university teaching placements and moving into teaching in my own classroom. While I have always been happy to share my resources with my colleagues at school, the things I created were the things I wanted and needed for my own classroom. Since I have chosen British as my mode of English, that is what I used when creating my resources. (As a Swede taught a mix of British and American in school and exposed to both in all areas of life, it’s not always easy to keep the two apart but I do try to stick with British English, especially when writing.)

That’s why, when Jenny encouraged me to upload my resources to TPT, I just did what I have always done – I shared the resources I made for my classroom. It honestly never crossed my mind to edit those resources more than changing some fonts to commercially licenced ones. That is until last week, when two different TPT buyers asked me if I could ‘translate’ the resources they bought into American English. In retrospect, I wonder why I never thought of that before!

I have gone through all my PYP resources and added American English versions where needed, so if you prefer these to British please re-download (or purchase!) them. I think I caught all the differences, but please let me know if you find any I’ve missed and I will re-upload them for you.

Anya's PYP Adventures


Unit Overviews

During my first year as a PYP classroom teacher I kept parents informed about our unit of inquiry by posting some basic information and classroom photos on the class webpage. I put the central idea, lines of inquiry and learning outcomes up the week before we started a new unit and added photos and short descriptions of our classroom activities at the end of each week. I did have a fair number of parents let me know that they really appreciated the posts, though I quickly realised that many parents never logged in to the website and missed out. While I certainly felt that I had done my job and provided the information and that it was up to the parents to keep up to date, I still felt a need to improve the reach so that all the families got to see what we were doing.

Example 1

Unit Overview for our PYP3 Human Body unit.

That’s why, in my second year, I added a display in the hallway outside our classroom with a unit overview. I picked a good sized display board and created a Unit Overview to post in the middle, leaving the rest of the board empty. As the unit went on, I printed out photos of our activities and added them around the unit overview.

The students began each day with looking at the display board to check for new photos, dragging their family and friends over to show the new pictures and discuss the activity. I realised that only using the online method had not only not reached all the parents, it had not reached the students! They were incredibly proud and engaged with the display, often asking if they could take certain photos home when the display came down.

Unit Overview 2

Unit Overview and photo display.

As for the parents, those that waited with their children in the morning, or waited for them in the afternoon, began to use the display to pass time, looking at the photos and reading through the Unit Overview. They would discuss the photos and Overviews with each other and point out the display when grandparents and family friends came by. I even observed parents photographing the display to send it on to other family members!

The combination of the display and the web page, now implemented as standard across the school, meant that the information reached a wider section of the class community. I even added the Unit Overview to the webpage to allow parents to download and share.

Unit Overview 3

Class webpage with Unit Overview.

I also used the Unit Overview as section dividers in the students’ portfolios, keeping them organised and ensuring that if a teacher, student or parent ever looks back at the old portfolios they have a context for the items kept in it.

The Unit Overview is a great addition to my classroom and is definitely here to stay! If you think it could be a good addition to your classroom, head on over to my TPT store where the Unit Overview Handout Templates (including mini Key Concept Keys clip art) is available as a flash freebie until 5 August.

Unit Overview 4

Anya's PYP Adventures