Back to school:Me in a bag and a…portrait!



My bag this year

It’s finally  time to start building the classroom community. As I write my lesson plans, I include getting-to-know-you activities. These activities provide opportunities for the students to interact positively with one another. The children are eager to make new friends, learn about the classroom environment, and become part of a school family. After all, the classroom will become a home away from home for the next ten months.


Few of the items in my bag


I know that there are many people who already do this activity but I hope that someone will find this helpful for the beginning of the year!

Yes, this is my night buddy!! We always sleep together!

Yes, this is my night buddy!! We always sleep together!

I bring a sack with a running shoe, a bread pan, a piece of stained glass, something of my daughter’s etc .I group students and dump a few things on each table.Then, I give them a few minutes to say what they think each item says about me !I invite them to bring their own sack on the following day and I am  always surprised of how many kids  actually, bring one!  It is fun to see how excited the kids get when they discover that a classmate has something in common with them.


During the next lesson, students bring their own bags and let their classmates guess about the items in it!

During the next lesson, students bring their own bags and let their classmates guess about the items in it!

Note: The Me in a bag  idea is adapted from a classroom banner example. The professional book is from a Scholastic book club order. I do not think it is available from the online store at this time. You could include a simple note to families requesting three or four small objects for each child to share.


Students spend some time trying to guess about each item in my bag…


Well, when it is my kids’ turn to let their classmates guess about the items in their bags, they share so many personal stories, too! A precious moment was  yesterday ,when a girl showed the class an old DVD…and finally revealed that it was her late grandmother’s birthday present when she was much younger!

What is my favourite sport? I am going to tell you why, as soon as you make the right guess!

What is my favourite sport? I am going to tell you why, as soon as you make the right guess!


They used to watch it together, laugh and share unforgetable moments ! Then , she broke down in tears!! ” I really miss my grandma, miss” she said! I gave her a hug and thanked her for sharing such a precious moment with the rest of the class!

Guess about my talents!

Guess about my talents!




After the portraits are ready, they are handed to the kids who use the frames to write words which talk about them.

I have students draw and color their partner’s portrait on the first day of school. These portraits make perfect keepsakes to pull out at the end of the year. Students are later , asked to brainstorm descriptive phrases and adjectives to write on the frame of their portrait , which talk about their special interests personality and talents! They are also free to comment on their partner’s portrait. Finally, all portraits are displayed in class. Rapport matters!


Their partner, can’t see his/her portrait until it’s done!They may comment on it later…

Rapport activity: make your partner's portrait the way you see him/her , add adjectives which you think describe their character and personality !

Rapport activity: make your partner’s portrait the way you see him/her , add adjectives which you think describe their character and personality !

Rapport matters!

Rapport matters!






Our first lapbook

mosaic lapbooksIt all actually started the day I attended  Despina Karamitsou’s presentation about lapbooks, in one of the Tesol Macedonia-Thrace- Northern Greece  conventions!( )

Despina, (  ) is an exceptional  colleague who  teaches in  greek state primary schools, doing amazing things with her students!


Her presentation , was really inspirational ! We had the chance to talk about her work in class  in detail, some time later and she insisted that I should try lapbooks  with my students, too ! To be honest with you, I had been as busy as a bee  during  the  last school year, therefore, I came up with the idea of using lapbooks with my afternoon classes only  ( fewer students, project work and games, no fixed curriculum) .

It was actually almost  the end of the school year, and that particular group of students, coming from the twin school next to mine, were not my class students ! They had not participated in any kind of project work with their english teacher before, they were not in  the same level in english, their average  english language level was pre-elementary,  although they were 5th graders , they were  reluctant to do any real class work at first and they all came from different social backgrouds being immigrants’ children from 3 different countries in the Balcans! Phew..!

Well, ignoring all the above , I decided to give it a try, considering working on that project  with such a  diverse group of  students, quite challenging!


Some basic info now,  for all of you who might never  heard of lapbooking before:

The term “Lap Book” was first coined by Tammy Duby, a homeschool mother and writer from Virginia, USA. She named it that because the whole project could fit into a “book” that fits in the child’s lap.

A lapbook is an inexpensive portfolio
or collection of mini-books, flaps, and folded display material,
that provides interactive space
for drawings, stories,
graphs, graphics, timelines, diagrams,
and written work,
from any topic, unit study, book you choose,
gathered, glued, and creatively displayed
in a coloured standard sized cardboard folder,
often folded in a “shutter-fold”  (though our family doesn’t),
that fits in your lap. <Johanna Whittaker (c) 2008>


Each lapbook is an original creation, will be different according to topic and creator, and will be a treasure for years to come. There is no right or wrong way to lapbook.

Lapbooking is a great vehicle to teach CONTENT and PROCESS.
The CONTENT comes from topics that interest the students [delight-driven] – this brings about more internal-based motivation and therefore greater learning from and ownership of the work.
The PROCESS is what will help the children through life – research, planning, creativity, presentation, evaluation .


Useful Equipment Supplies before you start :

* Card folders – buff or coloured, gloss or not, pastel or bold
– best the larger legal size A4 or taller.
– Extension pages for lapbooks – card, could use wallpaper.
* Good (construction, printer) paper – to make folds with, to write and print on. Card stock.
Adhesives – (invisible) sticky tape (Scotch, Sellotape), double-sided sticky tape, good quality dry glue stick.

* Variety of pens and pencils, colour or watercolour pencils, felts for borders or outlines, clear ruler.

Cutters – scissors, paper/print cutter

Topic-related (source) materials, brochures, handouts, postcards, pictures or graphics – info from internet or from library books. Using own  photos.
Realia – anything from the real world that can be added in like a shell, sand, handmade paper made by child, model of the real thing.
Useful extras – stencils, sticky velcro (for holding books and the folders themselves shut or making re-usable games, 3in1 psc (printer, scanner, copier), time and patience


When I started out lapbooking, I  (as teacher ) spent
a whole  day  online ,checking out websites with pictures showing folds, mini-books and lapbooks. I had  a pile of square and A4 scrap paper plus scissors beside me  at the computer. I did  prototypes of more than ten  mini-books, flapbooks etc,then spend some time on another day FOLDING with my  students showing them how and discussing possible uses for the different folds and minibooks.

The very next step was, to choose the  topic for our first lapbook.Time was short, therefore, I thought it would be a good idea for students to write about something familiar and motivating: themselves!

That  was  when our first lapbook got a name: ” All about me”!


To read the steps I took , you can have a look at  the following post

That  was my first experience with a “lap book”. The result was very cute and many teachers and parents alike had only great things to say. I did experience problems with it , though…

My major obstacle was the fact that, I didn’t teach the same group of students each week! It was the same class but different students attended each week, due to school  bureaucratic policy  reasons, I can’t explain here!  Secondly, I had the chance to see that class only once a week!

What is more,  this  mixed ability  class ,was definitely another  problem for me:  I practically had to help each student  individually !

On the other hand, one of the things I really like about lapbooks, is that I can keep work-time down to short sessions.Each teaching afternoon  session lasted only 35 minutes but, it was enough to finish with at least one part of our lapbook!

An extra benefit of this method is that the children love to show off their work. My students, were   proud of what they had done and would frequently review the books (which  helped them remember the information) – and  ‘narrated’ what they had  done to members of their  family.

At the end of the school year, I handed the finished lapbooks to my students to take home! I am sure , they will be a treasure for years to come and will remind them of our English afternoon class!

Useful tips

Before you start, you will especially  need to raid the websites and get a look at examples. Check out and look in IMAGES for something like lapbook OR lapbooks OR lapbooking. Right click OPEN in new tab/window for pictures you want to see bigger. Also click on the flickr badge on sidebar.Or have a look at Pinterest .

The best advice I can give you for lapbooking is “Just Do It”!
No one will be grading you.
Get out your supplies, put on your thinking caps and have fun!
You will be amazed what you and your students can come up with together.

Proud lapbook owners!

Proud lapbook owners!

This first lapbook , was later followed by more ones of the same topic…here are some photos of them!






Happy students working creatively!

Happy students working creatively!