1.18.2015

My Mid-Year Bag Of Tricks

We've passed the half-way point of the school year (yay!!) and this is when things can start to get a little bit boooring... for the kids and for me. Since I've had the same class two years in a row now, we're really good at our routines. But I've noticed some of them tuning me out lately. Maybe they've gotten just a little bit too comfortable and familiar with how I do things. Like during math, they KNOW I'm going to model it first, so maybe that's a good time for a quick nap, right? Ugh! So... time to pull out my bag of tricks!


What? Huh? A bag of tricks? Yeah, I've got a few little things up my sleeve to get the class back on track. Every teacher has them, but here are a few you might not have tried before...

1. YOU Are the Teacher - My kids love this one! After teaching a concept, I ask who wants to be the teacher. Whoever volunteers gets to come up and tell me what to do step-by-step. I do EXACTLY what the "teacher" tells me, even if it turns out to be completely ridiculous. This works really well for procedural tasks like subtraction with regrouping or a scientific investigation. If the end result isn't correct, another student gets to come up and try to teach me. The one who finally gets me to complete the task correctly earns a little reward.

2. Are You Smarter Than Your Teacher? - This is a fun competitive game for reviewing concepts at the end of a unit. It works well for science and social studies. First, I prepare a set of questions for the topic. Then, I divide the class into several groups and give them each a copy of the questions. They work with their groups to come up with the answers. (Sometimes I allow them to use their books, depending on how difficult the questions are.) 

After this brainstorming session, it's game time! I start by reading a question to team one. If they get it right, they earn 2 points. If not, they get to choose one of the other teams to steal by answering it. A successful steal earns that team 1 point. If that team also gets it wrong, I announce the answer and get the point myself. Then, I move on to the next question which goes to team two and follows the same procedure. We keep playing until all questions are used. The team or teacher with the most points at the end is the winner.

3. Write The Test - I like to use this one for math. Before I start instruction, I tell the class that they will be writing their own test. As you can imagine, they immediately perk right up. The catch is that I only select the very best questions, so they really have to pay attention and put forth their best effort. 

After I've taught the concept, I hang 5 to 10 papers around the room with various prompts on them such as "two-step problem involving division" or "an area problem with an answer of 18". I place a basket next to each station, pair the students up, and give them a stack of post-its. They quietly move around the room, discussing the prompts, and creating their own test question for each one. They write them on the post-its and place them in the appropriate basket. Later, I go through them and choose the best ones to use as quiz questions. The kids LOVE seeing their own questions on a test and the activity really builds their critical thinking. It also shows me who has a thorough understanding of the concepts and who is way off base.

4. Third Grade Detectives (or whatever grade you teach) - I have found that any kind of "investigation" gets the kids refocused. Sometimes I make them myself, like this fact and opinion center:



But there are plenty of activities on the web to keep your little detectives busy. For math, I love Scholastic's Math Maven's Mysteries. They are perfect for third and fourth graders:


The nice thing about these is that you can print them out, play the audio, or download them for your interactive whiteboard. My class loves working on the mysteries so I use them as a reward: Work hard during math meeting and we'll have time for a math mystery.

5. The Outdoor Classroom - I live in Florida, so this one is perfect for the middle of the year. If you're in one of those frigid, snowy, arctic places where you have to wear coats, this might not be for you. I love grabbing a pile of clipboards and moving our lesson outside. We can sit on the grass or sidewalks and enjoy the fresh air while we learn. Sometimes we can do our work with sidewalk chalk. The deal with this trick is that the second the kids gets rowdy or off-task, it's over and we go back inside to our desks. It's a sad, miserable punishment to lose outside classroom time!

So those are my little tricks for getting through the usual mid-year crisis. Do you have any special tricks of you own? I'd love to hear your comments and ideas!


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