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5 Simple and Inexpensive 'Rabbit Trap' Ideas from Dr. Jean

The power of puppetsWe love Dr. Jean Feldman. If you aren't familiar with her work, don't to her blog now!

If you are already a raving fan like us, then you know why so many early childhood instructors and educators around the world love her inspiring insights and amazing classroom tips!

On a recent visit to a local elementary school, I found myself thinking about Dr. Jean and one of her catch phrases: “rabbit traps.”

During my visit, students in sitting in small groups, reading and discussing important words they came across.

Despite the teacher's best efforst, the students all looked listless and bored (I know the feeling because hey, we’ve all been there before…).DIGMath_Sample_DrJean.png

This scene got me thinking though — I had once read Dr. Jean’s advice on simple and quick ways to captivate a learner’s attention.

So later on that day, I went to Dr. Jean’s blog and found her post on "rabbit traps," which goes something like this (I’m paraphrasing…):

My favorite professor at Emory University always said, “If you want to catch a rabbit, you have to have a rabbit trap” — games, songs and props that “capture” attention... My goal has always been to provide educators with "rabbit traps" that get those little bunnies excited and engaged so that learning will be the natural result. 

Here are five of the simple and inexpensive "rabbit trap" ideas that Dr. Jean offers up: 


"Write letters, numbers, words, math facts, phrases, sentences, etc. on sticks. Write “BOOM!” on a few sticks. Place them in a Pringle’s can or cup. Pass the can around as children choose a stick and identify the information on it.

If they choose a stick that says “BOOM!” they jump up and say, “BOOM!” *You can have them return their sticks to the can or just let them continue to play." 


Lucky Sticks

"Have each child write her name on a stick. Place the sticks in a cup on the teacher’s desk. When there is a special job to be done the teacher chooses a stick. After that child has had a turn, her stick goes in the teacher’s desk.

When all sticks have been selected, they all go back in the cup for another turn."


Punctuation Sticks

"Draw a large period, question mark, and exclamation mark on the ends of three sticks. Write a sentence on the board. Put sticks one at a time at the end of the sentence for the children to read."

- Write the ABC’s or numbers on the board in sets of 3. Can children read these with appropriate expressions? 

- Let children use the sticks as they read with a buddy.

punctuation sticks.jpg


"Glue a large googly eye to the end of a stick. Tell children to “keep their eye” on the word as they read and track a line of print."

- Can their “eye” find the capital letter at the beginning of the sentence? Punctuation at the end? A word wall word they can read? A noun? 

- Fake jewels and other small objects can also be used to make pointers. 


Question Sticks

"Children write their name in the middle of a stick. Color one end green and one end red. Put the sticks in a can or cup with the green end up. The teacher asks a question, swirls the can around, and then chooses a stick. That child may answer the question or “phone a friend” for help.

Place the stick in the can with the red end up after they’ve had a turn. When all the sticks are red on top, turn them over." 

question sticks.jpg

What Rabbit Traps Do You Use? 

"Rabbit Traps" are a great way to make learning more meaningful. And you don't have to just use Dr. Jean's — you can think them up on your own.  Here's a quick list of the “rabbit traps” I used in my own classroom when I was a teacher: 

  • Special surprise cards hidden inside ordinary "high-frequency word" flashcards
  • Matching games to pair uppercase and lowercase letters
  • Active songs with fun movements to reinforce literacy and math concepts
  • Interesting props such as puppets, figures, and interactive objects

My list of “rabbit traps” is still hanging on my office bulletin board, and I add to it whenever I think of new ideas. And yes, I laugh at the fact that I am surrounded by Letter People puppets every day — a cuddly, engaging collection of 26 literacy “rabbit traps!”

Whether a parent, an educator, or just an individual with little people in your lives, simple and inexpensive "rabbit traps" are a great way to engage and support children as they delve into new and abstract concepts and ideas. 

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