How can a piece of cardboard become an inspiration for students?  Read on…

I finally got the big package in the mail: a large book that I can use to teach some reading strategies and skills to small groups. It looked like a good fine in the Scholastic catalog, so I used some of my bonus points to get it.

But I felt more like a little kid than a teacher when the book finally arrived. Why? I was more intrigued with the box than what was inside.

It’s a great box, really.  It is large, but thin; a tri-fold, much the size and shape of a presentation board you’d buy at staples, with a flap on the top and bottom which, when folded in to create the box, protect what’s inside.  I couldn’t bring myself to recycle it, so I held onto it for a few days trying to figure out what to do with it.  But, like so many things I have kept over the years, the box was starting to collect dust and get in the way.

At one point this week, during the famed elementary rug/meeting time, I decided to just get rid of the box, but I enticed my students first.

“Check out this great box,” I said. “It opens up, it can act as a display, is has fun pieces hanging down. Who wants this great piece of cardboard?”

Many hands went up, some faces got excited and others looked around in disbelief that a box could elicit such excitement.

Knowing that I had but one box and a dozen interested kids, I upped the anty. “If you would like this box, please submit your proposal in writing before lunch tomorrow.” …more disbelief…more excitement… (Fourth grade can be fun.)

I got my first proposal in minutes: “I want to make a display for immigration.  ~Rose”

“Oh, no, no, no. That is not going to cut it,” I exclaimed to my class. “One sentence is not going to get you this fantastic piece of cardboard.”  So, we talked about proposals for a few minutes.  We discussed the importance of presenting your ideas in a format that is worthy of being considered, how proper sentence structure and details would be imperative.  We discussed how some proposals might include an illustration to further articulate how one may use such a piece of cardboard.  Yes, I laid it on think, but the interested students rose to the occasion.

The next day I received 5 proposals, each one was well thought out and came from students of varying writing abilities.  Each idea was unique.  One girl wanted to create a study board that would display important information she learned in third grade that would help her with her homework.  Another wanted to research the solar system and present her findings.  One boy wanted it to create a fort, while another student had hopes to create an “imagination car.”

The girl who won the box was the one who wrote a detailed description of what she wanted to do.  The written proposal was accompanied by a detailed illustration of her immigration display, showcasing her family’s arrival to America and other related information.  I hope that pictures will be forthcoming as she promises to present it to the class when she is done.

It’s fun to do things like this every so often.  I’m always motivated by how some students thrive on mini challenges or out-of-the-ordinary ideas or activities.  It’s one of those fun parts of teaching – when we can inspire kids…and all because I had a piece of cardboard!


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