5 Proven Ways to Add Magic to Your Classroom

It's never a good idea to step into a classroom without clear, ready lessons. But, one day last fall it happened. I knew we were going to build a treasure box, but I really needed a way to set this up. I immediately thought of a pirate book! The book I was thinking about is a Mem Fox book and I didn't have a copy. So, I went to the bookshelf and pulled out a book randomly and a new challenge was born. Dare I say it worked like magic?

That's right- magic - just like pulling a rabbit out of a hat! I promise this technique worked and it will work for you, too. It's so simple.
  • Read a picture book.
  • Laugh about it and mention parts in particular. (More about that later.)
  • Tell kids what they will build.
  • Use materials you already have.
  • Share! (Be sure you have a sharing time at the end of the building time!)

Throughout the post, for your convenience, you’ll find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon compensates me if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running!


This monthly update on using books and STEM has turned into the best posts to help first and second-grade teachers. Today, you will have five book suggestions, five challenges, and the directions for trying them! Have fun!

Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathman


Oh, how the first graders loved this book. It's the story of Officer Buckle who visits schools for talks about safety. The problem is - he's boring. Until one day he shows up with his dog, Gloria. Suddenly, his shows are getting a lot of attention and the kids are fascinated. Officer Buckle doesn't know that in the background Gloria is turning flips, imitating him, and just being silly. He can't see her, but the kids in the audience can! My first graders loved her! This was probably the first time all year that I had their full attention. Magic, right?

So, of course, we had to build a doghouse!

STEM for first and second graders! Post includes books to read, list of materials, and basic directions for use!
STEM Challenge: Build a doghouse for Gloria! Each group had 12 craft sticks, 20 interlocking cubes, masking tape, and scrap paper. We used a plastic counting bear for our "dog" and the kids were fine with that. If you have some small dog figures it would be even better.
STEM for first and second graders! Post includes books to read, list of materials, and basic directions for use!
The doghouses were all shapes and sizes and each had a story behind it. The smallest engineers love to make up stories about their designs.

 If you need interlocking cubes, here's the set we use all the time:

These cubes have round connectors and I like those better for little hands. The ones with square connectors seem harder to snap together.


The Magic Hat by Mem Fox


Another giggle-inducing picture book and it's written by the fabulous Mem Fox. In a small village, a hat flies through the sky and lands on the head of a villager. The person is turned into a large, silly animal and this happens over and over. As soon as the hat takes off to fly to another person the book repeats this line,
"Oh the magic hat, the magic hat, it moved like this, it moved like that!"

I guess I don't have to tell you that your first and second-graders will sing that line, too!

What did we build?

Magic Animals! 
STEM for first and second graders! Post includes books to read, list of materials, and basic directions for use!
First graders were told to think about what they might turn into if the magic hat landed on their heads and then build that animal. Each group had modeling dough, pipe cleaners, big googly eyes, and scrap paper.

Pictured above: a large spider and a pink flamingo. Below: a frog (I think) and a lizard (it has scales).

STEM for first and second graders! Post includes books to read, list of materials, and basic directions for use!


Pete the Cat: I Love my White Shoes by James Dean

I didn't even have to read this book. As soon as the first graders saw the cover they cheered but gathered close to me to listen. Pete the Cat is walking down the street in his new white shoes. Then he steps into a pile of strawberries and his shoes turn red. This continues as he steps in many things and his shoes turn a different color every time. As he walks away with his newly colored shoes, Pete always sings,
 "I love my red shoes, I love my red shoes...."

Just change the color each time! The kids loved this book and sang every line. Honestly, is there anything more magical than kids singing?

Can you build a shoe? 

STEM for first and second graders! Post includes books to read, list of materials, and basic directions for use!
The STEM challenge was to build a new shoe for Pete and it needed to be decorated as if he has stepped in something. I fully expected to get a shoe that had stepped in 'poo', but no one did that!

Materials were cardboard tubes, scrap paper, string, tape. 

I also thought the kids would make the shoe out of the tube, but most of them made that tube a leg!

Biggest, Strongest, Fastest by Steve Jenkins


What a fun book! This one has lots of words and we did not read all of it. Each page shows an animal in one of the categories of biggest, smallest, longest, etc. That animal is described and there is even a picture to compare its size to a human. What fun! We flipped through the book quickly but stopped at one specific page...

The page we liked best was the longest jellyfish. This creature is actually 200 feet long and to show it the book had the picture covering three pages! The kids loved it when I had to stand up to share the picture. This is what I meant earlier in this post when I said to only mention parts of a book. It's perfectly okay not to read the entire book. Sometimes, you don't have time! So focus on the pages that will lead to the STEM task- in this case, it was that fabulous jellyfish page!

Let's build a jellyfish!

STEM for first and second graders! Post includes books to read, list of materials, and basic directions for use!
Each group had cardboard, tissue paper, tape, and markers. The cardboard we used is from a craft store's cake decorating department and it was already round. You can use any cardboard, but I would suggest cardboard and not just posterboard. It needs to be sturdy.

Above you can see the kids tracing the cardboard to make round pieces of tissue. They also used tissue paper to "stuff" the jellyfish body. 
STEM for first and second graders! Post includes books to read, list of materials, and basic directions for use!
Of course, they also cut streamers for the jellyfish tentacles!

STEM for first and second graders! Post includes books to read, list of materials, and basic directions for use!
These turned out so great! They made a fabulous display hanging in the hallway! Quite a 'magical' little underwater scene!

Down the Back of the Chair by Margaret Mahy



Have you read this book? Oh. My. Goodness. I picked it up and skimmed through it and then just knew the kids would LOVE it! They did, but only after I explained what it means to reach into the back of the chair (under the cushions) and find things. Many of the second graders had never done this and did not know they might find treasures under the seat cushions or stuck in the back of the chair!

In this book, the dad is complaining about not having enough money and he cannot find his car keys. One of the kids says,

"Why don't you do what we do? Just reach into the back of the chair!"

The kid then shows dad what he can find in the chair (think coins). However, when dad reaches into the chair he pulls out,

  • a hairy string and a diamond ring
  • a pineapple peel and a conger eel
  • a skink, a skunk, a skate, and a ski

The book is totally silly, but ends happily when dad pulls out his uncle's will which gives the family a lot of money! (So, check the back of your chair right now- that would truly be magic!)


Build a chair

STEM for first and second graders! Post includes books to read, list of materials, and basic directions for use!
The STEM challenge was to build a chair. Each group had 4 craft sticks, 6 straws, foam sheets, interlocking cubes, and tape.) The foam sheets are from the Dollar Tree.)
STEM for first and second graders! Post includes books to read, list of materials, and basic directions for use!
Just look at these chairs! One team made a pink ladderback chair and the second photo is a beach chair.

STEM for first and second graders! Post includes books to read, list of materials, and basic directions for use!
Magical, right? I told you. Read a book, tell the kids what to build, and then stand back and watch them! They will amaze you. You are covering reading and STEM, not to mention teamwork, collaboration, art, and science. Win-win!

STEM for first and second graders! Post includes books to read, list of materials, and basic directions for use!


6 comments

  1. I love this concept of integrating reading and STEM. I teach only Science and not only do I miss teaching reading, the students miss the deeper level thinking associated with sequencing and predicting outcomes, both of which are essential to science experiments. I am inspired to integrate picture books into my curriculum, I have already thought of one on my shelf that lends itself to structure building!
    Thank you!
    Sarah Piatt

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    1. Thanks for visiting my blog, Sarah! Kids love to have books read to them and I found the first and second graders loved building something inspired by the book. In fact, one day, I read a book to a group and decided to ask the kids what they wanted to build. After they gave several ideas we voted and then built robot dogs. Have fun!

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  2. How long did you display what the groups made each time? How many students per group?

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    Replies
    1. Good questions! We display items for about a week after making them. These structures are generally held together with masking tape and they will begin to come apart after a week. I take them apart completely and recycle materials and throw away things I can't use. I use groups of 3-4 students. For first and second graders three is a good number. Thanks for visiting!

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  3. I love these ideas! I just learned that I will be teaching an enrichment class to the K-2 students in my building this year. I am the reading interventionist an due to funding, I have to teach a few enrichment classes as well. I am excited because my principal is giving my free reign to design my own curriculum. I am thinking of alternating between Science and Social Studies. I love these STEM activities. How long did it take for the entire lesson - reading the story and completing the projects?
    Thanks

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Karen! Thanks for stopping by! I have 35 minutes for class with first and second graders so we finished in that amount of time. We spent about 5 minutes with the book and then 20 minutes to build, a few minutes to share, and then clean up. If a book is too lengthy I just paraphrase or only show the parts that I need for the challenge. Best wishes with your new job!

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