Bag of Tricks


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I remember one day in sixth grade, sitting at the lunch table with a group of kids, all of them pounding on the table chanting, “Red, red, red.”  I was an insecure, gangly kid with a bad perm and I blushed at the merest bit of attention.  I stared at the table willing my face not to do what they were commanding, but it didn’t obey me.  I’m not sure how the other kids discovered my weak spot to begin with, but once they knew, they didn’t forget.  Middle school was brutal.

Between my introverted nature and my tendency to blush bright red, I learned to hate public speaking.  I spent a few years doing high school theater, but only managed it because I was pretending to be someone else.  In college I was horrified when my advisor told me that I would have to take a speech class to graduate.  I changed my major seven times and somehow that speech credit, or lack thereof, was lost in the shuffle, and I was spared.

So it’s kind of funny that the class I teach at our homeschooling co-op focuses on discussion and public speaking.  I have the usual mix of kids, those who can’t wait to get up and give a presentation, and those that always pretend they didn’t prepare one (when I know they have because their moms told me so), those that blush, and those that don’t (the lucky ones).  Most of them need a little help though, whether it’s with managing to utter a sound at all, or with slowing down and making better eye contact.  So, I started looking around for fun ideas.  When I didn’t come up with a resource that fit my class perfectly, I came up with my own plan.  A bag of tricks.  This week I brought my bag to class for the first time.  We all had loads of fun, even the shyest of the shy!

Here’s what we did:

We started with a tongue twister, saying, “Fresh French Fries,” over and over again together (from this book).  We may chant a different tongue twister every week just to help everyone relax.  Next, I pulled out story cubes.  (I bought the original set and the Enchanted add-on cubes.)  We took turns rolling and telling the next bit of the story based on the picture on the cube.  While the process was fun for everyone, the “stories” were more long chains of unrelated sentences rather than stories.  I think that next time I am going to write out the parts of a story on the board, and help each child as we go around the circle, relate their addition to the next logical part of the story.  So for instance, the first child might include the setting in their portion, the next might introduce characters, then move to plot development and conflict, etc.  My girls pulled out the story dice last night and told stories for about an hour.  I can’t believe I didn’t buy these sooner.

Finally, we played charades.  That was pretty hilarious, and even the shyest child in the class participated willingly and seemed to enjoy herself.  Again, why haven’t we been playing charades?

I also sent everyone home with a joke from this book (the same one with the tongue twisters) to memorize for next week’s class.  The jokes are really silly, many of them ridiculous.  I can’t wait to see how everyone reacts to them.  I tend to laugh hard at dumb jokes, so I am really looking forward to hearing the kids tell theirs.

My hope is that even the shyest kids will look forward to my class, and that eventually, standing up in front of the others to give a presentation won’t feel like walking the plank.

p.s.  I got a few rows beyond dividing for the sleeves on Bea’s sweater, tried it on her, and realized I needed to rip back and cast on more stitches under the arms.  How will I ever finish this thing in time?

p.p.s.  I’ve got a post up at Blessed is She today, in case you want to read it…


  1. I always used to blush a lot when I was younger, and for some reason some people liked to comment on it. When I accepted that yes I blush and told them the same, they actually stopped commenting. When confronted with someone saying matter of factly: ‘Yes, I do blush’ what more can they say? There’s no joke or follow up. I probably still do blush at times, but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s as a part of me as anything else!

  2. I was afraid to speak in public in high school but for some reason I can put that kind of anxiety out of my mind and perform and function and appear “normal”. I love Bea’s expression in the photo!!

  3. Great teaching ideas for the kids. Especially the tongue twisters and jokes and story cubes. Sounds fun.

  4. It’s those twists on typical learning that make for amazing teachers and help those most difficult to teach come out ahead. 🙂 Sounds like a fun class!!

  5. We were just trying to think of some activities for Youth Group – and here you give me an idea! Thanks!

  6. Your children are adorable – so are you! <3

  7. Nancy Mosley says:

    Great ideas Ginny! I shared the post on FB. Thx!

  8. Karen Ade says:

    Dear Ginny, thank you so much for your post at Blessed is She, it touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. That quotation from Holy Scripture is so beautiful and the way that you drew from it. God bless you and all your dear family.

  9. I’m a blusher too, in fact, I can feel my face turning red as I type this, just thinking about having to speak in front of people. Back in our homeschooling days, I led a writing group & even after 6 or 7 years with the same group of 8 – 10 kids, I’d still blush when I had to stand up in front of them & talk.

    As for your class, it sounds like you’re on point. I found with the writing group that having fun and ‘forcing’ the kids to write silly, poorly written pieces occasionally helped them realize how unrealistic it was to expect The Great American Novel every time they sat down to write. The fun, goofy stuff really helped them loosen up and become comfortable with writing as well as to learn to enjoy writing. I imagine it would be the same for speech class. Although I’ll never know because you could NOT pay me to attend a speech class…. 🙂

  10. How I wish I could have been in as encouraging an environment as the one you’ve created when I was a kid, Ginny. I was shy, awkward and easily upset – in short, a perfect target for bullying!

  11. Ginny- We’re praying for you, too. After years and years in city apartments, and rapidly rising rents, we finally purchased our first home. It’s really small and a inconvenient floor plan, but I keep looking for the small blessings to be thankful for: lots of kid neighbors, in the city for an easy commute for my husband, a yard, friends who prayed for us. Thank for for the reminder to keep looking for the blessings.

  12. I am also one of those people that blush constantly. Today less- but as a teenager and in my adolescence years it was very annoying. I also tried to avoid public speaking and I still do not like it a lot, but I also learned to just ignore my blushing most of the times.
    I love story telling. I never bought cubes, but I made cards for the kids with all kinds of images. We pick each a certain amount of cards from the stack and tell each other stories. I never though about making up a story together with taking turns- I will try this one.

  13. How wonderful! Not the chanting red part, but the rest. What a blessing you must be to these kids. And I was thinking of getting something for “homemade stories” for my boys. I’ll have to check out those cubes. Thanks

  14. I look forward to the Blessed is She reflections which you introduced me to from this wonderful blog. I look for your name. Thank you for posting and alerting us to yours.

  15. Oh, Ginny. That was me. Shy and always blushing. Still shy and still blushing. Ugh. Funny that I, like you, grew up to lead homeschool co-op public speaking classes. 🙂 Honestly, it made teaching the reluctant students so much easier as I could truly feel their pain. Blessings to you and your class! xo

  16. Oh, how I can relate to your post on Blessed Is She! I’m a mama of 7, though we’ve only ever had 5 at home at a time (very big age gaps). We live in a 1500 square foot open concept house that was fine when the children were small, but small children don’t take up as much space as big children. We finally realized that we either needed to move or do something about our house, and we really love where we live, so moving was out. We started by closing off one of the many doorways and adding a wall to an open concept living space. Last year we tackled adding on a mudroom, this year we started working on a kitchen project. I know that making physical changes wasn’t the point of your post, but what my husband and I realized after much prayer about it, was that sometimes bigger isn’t always for the sake of bigger, sometimes it’s for the sake of a more efficient family. We had been trying to make our family fit our house, and by making relatively small changes (no big second story addition or wing off the side of the house) we were able to make the house fit our family.

  17. Ginny, I read your BIS reflection today and was unraveled – thank you for writing from your heart. While I enjoy the reflections, there are only few that touch me in a way that feels embarrassing due to how close it feels to concerns in my life. I appreciated your perspective so much, thank you.

  18. My husband and I both loved your “Blessed is She” post today! Definitely made us think of our wants vs. our needs. Also, love the socks in the last picture! Did you make them?

  19. i’ve used this book in the classroom before. can be a bit “waldorky” but generally has some fun and useful speech work.
    and my favorite tongue twister of all time:

    A tree toad loved a she-toad
    Who lived up in a tree.
    He was a two-toed tree toad
    But a three-toed toad was she.
    The two-toed tree toad tried to win
    The three-toed she-toad’s heart,
    For the two-toed tree toad loved the ground
    That the three-toed tree toad trod.
    But the two-toed tree toad tried in vain.
    He couldn’t please her whim.
    From her tree toad bower
    With her three-toed power
    The she-toad vetoed him.

  20. Gwendolyn says:

    Ginny, whenever you take photos, I do not see the chaos that you feel. You make everything look so lovely. I’ll be praying for you in your house situation. Wonderful ideas for the kids. I too am very shy and don’t like public speaking. Only time I wasn’t shy was when I was a cheerleader in high school. I guess being part of a group didn’t make me feel alone in front of all those stands of people. Love the pictures of the girls. They are growing up on us.

  21. Your first paragraph makes me want to cry for you. Shy kids sure do get the short end of the stick, don’t they? Have you read the book “Quiet”? I’m so glad you’re trying to make your kids feel comfortable about public speaking–frequent repetition is good! My first two daughters were often asked to speak in front of their classes often so they grew up feeling this was a “normal” part of life, even though one of them is a bit shy. The third and shyest child didn’t have the chance to do this and she was never comfortable talking in front of any kind of a group. Good for you for helping kids over a hurdle that was so hard for you! (That was me too, back in the 70’s.)

  22. Elizabeth says:

    Oh man I’ve been there with the blushing… and I was always so nervous about it around boys, because if I blushed, surely they’d think I had a crush on them. So I would blush even more, which made for a vicious circle. Ah, to be 14 and so very awkward. I still blush easily, but I don’t care a fraction about it of what I used to.

  23. Your class is going to be great. I think public speaking is such an important skill. My kids are in a 50/50 homeschool/traditional school program and they have them do class presentations and speeches in class from kindergarten. It’s amazing to watch these tiny kids stroll up front and talk to the whole class with ease. I wish I’d had that kind of opportunity because it was very hard for me to do it when I finally started having to, in middle school. I love Story Cubes, by the way. We have a set with us wherever we go and they’ve gotten us through so many long waits and boring situations. 🙂

  24. Oh, do I have memories of giving speeches in school! I remember one in particular that was a five minute speech about Diocletian, the Roman emperor that I had to give in the 8th grade.
    A game I used to lead often as an ice breaker/confidence booster game with the youth leadership club I volunteered with in college was one called “What are you doing?” that is really silly and fun. Everyone stands in a circle and the person who is going first starts acting out some activity. The person to the actor’s right then asks them “What are you doing?” The actor then answers but not with what they’re doing but with some other completely different action. The person who asked the question then starts doing whatever the actor said they were doing and the actor can then stop acting. Then this process repeats until everyone in the circle has gotten a chance to act. So for example say the actor is pretending to paddle a canoe. The questioner to their right would ask them what they are doing and they might say “running away from a lion”. The questioner then has to pretend to run away from a lion and becomes the actor and the process repeats. The goal of the game is to really commit to the thing you are acting out and to respond to the questioner without skipping a beat and without simply repeating what you are actually doing. The things the kids come up with are often ridiculous and hilarious and it tends to get even quiet kids out of their shell.

  25. I still blush RED RED when talking, especially if I’m stressed-which happened A LOT at work. So good you are helping these littles and more important you understand the shy ones.

  26. I’m always so excited to see a new post from you. Your words on “Blessed is She” are just beautiful. May your family have a blessed day. Thank you for blessing all of us with your words and insight and sharing your life with us.

  27. The class – what a wonderful gift for kids to learn this while they are young! I will be checking out your materials – they sound like a lot of fun! And prayers to you for more space! I’m right there with you!

  28. that sounds like a lot of fun! glad for this co-op and for the kids love of a new game!

    read your other article; sounds like a real struggle. Will light a candle for you all for wisdom; space can help, I can see that; may God give us what we really need outside of this practical need: the space in our hearts for His Peace. Lord have mercy on us!!

  29. That’s wonderful, what you are doing for the shy kids, Ginny! I was cripplingly (is that a word?) shy as a child, and grades 3 through 12 were miserable. Thank goodness for my horse and the friends I made at the barn, who accepted me for myself. Having someone like you take the time to make these children more comfortable with themselves will make a huge difference for them.

  30. These are great ideas! We do a lot of poetry recitation- either memorized or read. This helps because the words are already there- it is hard to give a speech off the top of one’s head!

    • I am a Waldorf teacher, and we do poetry recitations every day, too. Once we have a poem firmly in our grasp I will have half of the class speak the poem together while the other half listens, and then swap sides (or have the class speak alternate stanzas, or have them speak in groups of three…). It gives them a chance to both speak and listen, within a larger group.

      Tongue twisters are great!

      A Journey Through Time in Verse and Rhyme has great age-specific poetry and speech excercises…it is my favorite resource.

  31. This is so me! I turned “red” constantly during my teen years. Thankfully now in my late thirties I don’t blush as much, but I passed this changing color trait onto a couple of my children. The trick for me was to pretend I wasn’t embarrassed, and if that didn’t work, to quickly deflect attention away from myself. I also had to stay away from wool sweaters or warm clothing or I would get embarrassed over and over again. The hard part was if people noticed. I feel so sorry for your middle school self in that scenario, and I am so thankful you are helping those shy kids in your home school group. I wish I would have had you for a teacher! I’m excited to check out those materials, and yes, to more charades!

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