Secrets from LeAnna Wolkis — the energetic National Board Certified Teacher shares her best classroom tips.


Keeping all my Fireside Elementary School kindergartners engaged is a continuous goal of mine. While students participate in activities that further their understanding and develop their skills, I continue to implement a framework that fosters an active learning environment. By monitoring how deeply children are engaged, recognizing whether or not they are thinking on task, and listening to their collaborative conversations, I determine what I can do to provide many opportunities for my young learners to excel. My role as a cheerleader for my junior learners leads me to not only notice when they are on task, but also measure the quality of their engagement.

Here are some tips to practice with your children as you guide them on the path for success:

  1. Have something that catches your students’ eyes the moment they walk in. My students see a quote on the wall by Dr. Seuss that says, “You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose!”
  1. Pad your classroom with music. Students hear inviting tunes when they enter, while they work, when they transition between activities, when they line up and clean up.
  1. Set up cooperative learning quads. In our room, we have tables set for four. In the middle of the table is a team table tub, which holds all community tools.
  1. Use team tablemats. At the table, each student is assigned a number: one through four. All students take responsibility for their own jobs. This fosters 100 percent engagement!
  1. Make attention grabbers a habit. My students could be anywhere in the classroom. When I call out, “Ready to rock?” they echo back with, “Ready to roll!” Then, they stop, look, and listen to what I have to say.
  1. Set out musical instruments. Kiddos in my classroom hear a special sound when they are in different parts of the room. For example, I use a xylophone when I am doing guided reading and math at the reading table, Ting Tang Tongs when we are reading on the carpet, spinning bells when we are learning from the document camera, and a train whistle when we are lining up. I also have a wind chime hanging from the ceiling when we are doing “Daily Five” throughout the room.
  1. Set up project-based learning labs around the room. These may include an art center, play dough station, game table, ABC center, mathematician center, writing center, book nook, listening center, science station, kitchen center, block center, puzzles, and iPad station.
  1. Use the website or app Sign Up Genius. This helps to get parent volunteers in your classroom and to help support your giving tree.
  1. Have various seat spots in your room to help your kiddos focus their attention while they are working. I use Hokki Stools, Wobble Seats, and Cube Chairs.
  1. Rub “Happy Chappy” on kiddos’ hands! What’s Happy Chappy? — Scented Chap Stick. Use it as a quick, smelly tool to cheer kids up, reward good work, or celebrate wonderful behavior.
  1. Set up a “safe place” in your room! Children can go there when they are over stimulated or need to regulate their behavior. Have a beanbag chair, exercise cards, pictures of their family or soft, cuddly tools to calm them.
  1. Create a basket for fidgets! I have this in my classroom so that when students need calming, alerting, focusing, concentrating, decreasing stress, hand strengthening … they can grab one of the many fidgets and put it back in the basket when they no longer need it.


Do these tips sound genius? Join us for LeAnna Wolkis’ professional learning event titled Dice, Dominoes and Decks of Cards for the Eight Mathematical Practices: Pre K-1 on April 16.

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