My 4 Favorite Activities in a Pinch

We’ve all had ‘those days’ in the classroom.  You know what I mean, the days where it seems like nothing can go right.  The math lesson flopped, the social studies’ guest speaker canceled at the last minute, a child is in tears because their paper is” too wrinkled”… and you are about to lose it.  This is #teacherlife, am I right?

4 quick elementary classroom activities for when you're having 'one of those days'.

I am currently spending a year substitute teaching, and I can’t tell you how many days I have walked into a classroom to a plan that says “Find something to do for reading, writing, math, and PE” or, better yet, walked into no plan at all.  

These days are inevitable, and they happen to everyone.  This year, more than any, I’ve learned to have a handful of on-the-go games ready at any time.  These games can fill a few minutes and allow you to gather your thoughts before you proceed with the day.  Sometimes I use them as a ‘re-set’ after a tough lesson. Hopefully, they can help you as well!

Activity 1: Silent Ball

I always keep a small dollar store ball in my teaching bag for this very game.  In Silent Ball, students sit (gasp!) on top of their desks. Then, a ball is passed to the first student.  The goal of the game is to keep the ball moving around the classroom without dropping it or making a peep. If the ball is dropped or someone speaks the round is over.  You can keep ‘score’ by counting how many passes are done, or timing how long the students can keep the ball going without dropping it. I love this game because it is cooperative and forces students to work together to achieve their goal.  

Activity 2: Charades

Charades for Elementary School - from Poet Prints teaching

I almost always have a deck of charades cards in my teaching bag.  This game is great for almost all levels, and meets some important Speaking and Listening outcomes at the same time. I play charades in a few ways.  First, we play the classic version where students have to act out the card pulled. I also play an alternate version where they have 30 seconds to describe as many cards as they can.  Then, after all cards have been described, students have another 30 seconds to describe the cards using only one word. That one is a lot of fun, and usually draws on students’ memory from the previous round.  I haven’t yet met a class that doesn’t like a charades break!

Activity 3: Go Noodle

Wiggly group? Energy coming out of everywhere?  Go Noodle is my best friend in these occasions. Accounts are free for teachers, and there is plenty of free content to get your students up, sweating, and moving around.  My younger students love “Koo Koo Kangaroo” while my older students prefer “Fresh Start Fitness”. So far, all kids from K-5 have loved the track-and-field style channel “Go With the Pro”.

No internet connection or projector?  Keep a few high-energy, kid-friendly songs, ready to go on your smartphone.  A quick game of freeze dance will have almost the same effect on K-3 students!

Activity 4: Four Corners

This is a classic in-school game and for a good reason.  Students love being able to get out of their desk and try to win in a game of Four Corners.  To play this game, label each ‘corner’ of the classroom 1, 2, 3 and 4. Then designate a student to be “it”.  This students sits in the middle of the room with a blindfold (or very covered eyes) and slowly counts down from 10.  During this time, students must sneak to one of the designated corners. The ‘it’ students then yells out a corner number, and all of the students in that corner are out.  The game continues until only one student is left. To keep things moving, I tend to ‘close’ a corner as fewer students remain in the game. By the end, the final few students are only allowed to choose from two of the corners.

What are your go-to activities for a tough day?  Do you have any favorite classroom games or activities? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

4 quick classroom activities that you need to know - Poet Prints Teaching
Rachel PoetkerComment
Walking in a Paraprofessional's Shoes

I think we’ve all heard the expression about walking in someone else’s shoes for the day. However, we don’t get the opportunity to do this very often. One of my dear friends had an interesting opportunity a couple weeks ago that she was telling me about. She says this was the hardest job she has ever had to do. Here’s her story of walking in someone else’s shoes.

4 Lessons from my day as a paraprofessional - Poet Prints Teaching

Hi everyone! I’m a primary teacher in Canada. In my class, I have a little girl who has severe learning needs. I will call her Joanne for anonymity. In Canada, kids with severe special needs get 1:1 support from an Educational Assistant or Paraprofessional (Para) within the regular classroom. The Para might occasionally pull the student out of class for breaks and assist the child in the washroom. However, the goal is to stay in the classroom for as long as possible.

I was able to work with Joanne for two days straight when the regular Para was unable to be at school. My school called in a substitute teacher to cover my class. Since Joanne has such extreme learning needs with a specific schedule, it was easier to call a substitute teacher to teach my class than to arrange for a substitute for Joanne’s Para. The school figured having a familiar person would be comforting to Joanne.

Over the course of the two days, I learned a lot. For starters, people who work with kids who have special needs are champions. They are working to give all kids dignity and strategies for success.  Every day, they have to make split-second decisions to help calm temper meltdowns, adapt work, and help the child interact with their peers in successful ways.

Since I was not Joanne’s regular Para, Joanne had countless meltdowns throughout the day. I ended up sitting on the floor with Joanne more times than I could count, just waiting for Joanne to finish her meltdown and stand up.

At the end of my two days, I came away with some epiphanies:

  1. Tracing Worksheets are not enough. Prior to this experience, I would simply create worksheets that allowed Joanne to trace letters and words. I thought I was so clever! At the beginning of the year, Joanne loved these exercises, but like every kid, Joanne progressed. She quickly mastered tracing and was bored of these worksheets. I saw first hand how upset Joanne would get when she saw another tracing activity. I have now committed to making interactive activities for Joanne, such as velcro activities or hands-on manipulative activities.

  2. Other students should be involved. I saw that Joanne wanted to be with her peers, but didn’t yet have the skills to know how to interact with them. I’m now asking others students to approach Joanne and initiate activities.

  3. Communication is more than words. Even though Joanne is non-verbal, communication has so many other forms. After being with Joanne for two days, I started to pick up on things Joanne did for communication. For one, Joanne would grab my hand and direct it to an object that she wants. Joanne communicated that she wanted to paint during free time by guiding me to the paint supplies.

  4. First _________, then ________”. I learned the beauty of the phrase, “First _______, then ________”. I think we’ve all used this phrase at one time or another: “First Math, then snack”, “First clean up, then home time”, etc. As teachers, we use this for big-ticket items. However, I learned that for some kids with special needs, this phrase needs to be used in much smaller increments. I found myself saying things like, “First stand up, then walk” or “First apples, then water”.

This was the hardest job I have done in a long time. However, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything because it has helped me reflect on my own teaching practices and I am already making the necessary changes.”


There you have it! A tale from one of my fellow teachers. Have any of you had an opportunity to walk is someone else’s shoes? Or have you had the chance to work for an extended period of time with a student who has special needs? I would love to hear about your experiences! And I can pass along any tidbits to my teacher-friend!

 Pin me to save for later!

Pin me to save for later!

Rachel PoetkerComment
Conflict in the Classroom

How often have you just wanted to pull your hair out because the students won’t get along? No classroom is immune from conflict. And conflict comes in all varieties: fights, misbehavior, kids being rude, you name it. How many times have you heard some of these in your classroom:

“He started it!”
“It wasn’t me!”
“Dooonnnn’ttt!”
** eye roll **
“I don’t need to listen to you!”
** budging in line**
“Teacher! He pushed me!”

Conflict in the Classroom by Poet Prints Teaching

How many times have you witnessed something like this in your classroom? How often have you just wanted to pull your hair out because the kids won’t get along? No classroom is immune from conflict. And conflict comes in all varieties: fights, misbehavior, kids being rude, you name it. What can we do when our students do something wrong? I’ve had to privilege of working alongside some gifted teachers who have taught me a lot about dealing with conflict and I’ve learned some helpful things along the way as well.

Talk It Out

When given the opportunity, most students are quite articulate. Try to get to the root of the problem and give the student a chance to speak. All too often, the teacher does most of the talking; sometimes it’s important to do most of the listening. Often times, problem behavior comes from something else. Chances are, the students are not acting up because they want to misbehave. Rather, they might be tired, hungry, sad, or a plethora of other reasons. By giving students an opportunity to talk, you feed a positive student-teacher relationship. Through talking and listening, you show your students that you care about their thoughts and feelings.

Give Space

Give your students space to cool down, if necessary. The immediate moment following an incident may not be the best time to debrief. Let the student go for a walk down the hall, or sit outside the door. Some classrooms use a cool down space to give students a safe place to regulate their emotions before they are ready to talk things through. You can find more information about this in my post about anxiety. 

Give Perspective

After a student does something wrong, it’s important to help the student see how his or her actions affected others. Young children, especially, are quite self-interested. They do not readily think about cause and effect. Thus, we have a responsibility to teach them how their actions involve others and affect them. Some may come to this realization on their own, others may need help. Perspective can be taught through role-playing, drawing the situation, social stories or a graphic organizer. I use these behavior reflections to help students to reflect on what happened and reach conclusions about how their actions affected others.

Teach Restoration

Students need lessons on how to ‘make it right’ after an incident occurs. In my classroom, after I have talked through an incident with a student, it always ends with an apology and a way to ‘make it right’ with the person that was hurt. A Kindergarten teacher friend teaches her kiddos to say “I’m sorry. What can I do to make it better?” This gives the student who was hurt an opportunity to feel cared for. I’ve also seen teachers encourage students to draw a picture, ask the person to play at lunch, or share a snack with the person (although some schools have strict policies against sharing food). I’ve found that apology letters also work quite well. Plus, this integrates literacy into character building! 

Conflict is present in every classroom and in every grade. No classroom is immune. But there are many things that we, as teachers, can do that will help our students build character. If you’ve discovered any tips and tricks that have helped you, feel free to share!

 

Like this post?  Pin it! 

Conflict in the Classroom - a blog post by Poet Prints Teaching
Rachel PoetkerComment
Media Literacy and Critical Thinking

Last year, in Third Grade,  we had a bad case of the “I Wants”.  My students wanted absolutely everything they saw on TV, or in a movie, or in the advertisements that pop up on YouTube. If they saw it, they had to have it.  ‘Show and Tell’ became a constant list of the toys students wanted to get and buy. Every day someone came into the class with a new item that they ‘had to have’.

Media literacy and critical thinking in elementary - a blog post by Poet Prints Teaching

I wanted my kids to know that they were being advertised to, plain and simple. Most of these ‘wants’ and ‘gimmes’ were the direct result of good advertising.  I wanted my students to have the tools to see this for what it was, a clever marketing campaign where they were the perfect targets.  I thoroughly believed that they were capable of looking at Media with a critical eye.   

Once we defined different types of media we got to work looking for them in our everyday lives. We started by cutting up and sorting our Scholastic book order to help students to see that all media has a purpose: to persuade, to inform, and to entertain.   It was fun to see them try and see which books fit into which categories. As a teacher, I loved that ‘lightbulb’ when my students realized that their book order was designed to make them want to purchase things.

“Mrs. P, I know why this is in bright colors!  So we will want everything on it!” BINGO!

Using our class book order flyer helped students to make a real-life connection to the content. 

Together, we looked at clips from popular movies and examined how characters always hold the latest gadgets, toys, and treats. Another way to convince us to buy, buy, BUY!  But my favorite lessons, by far, were the ones where we explored YouTube.   My students love YouTube, but the dreaded before-video-ads make me cringe.  This unit helped us to look at those ads critically, and use the advertisement time as teachable moments.  What are we being sold? Why is this ad here? How are we being persuaded?  

It was so rewarding to watch my students develop as critical thinkers.  I noticed a huge change in their attitudes towards “I Want” as the year progressed.  Sure, they still wanted new toys and treats, but they were ‘calling out’ persuasion tactics they saw in the media.  A student even came home from a superhero movie on the weekend and told me about all the products he had seen on the screen.  

“Do they think we will fall for that?” he asked.  

I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud.

My Media Literacy Unit is available on Teachers Pay Teachers.  It’s perfect for third, fourth, or fifth grade.

 

Media Literacy and Critical Thinking - a blog post by Poet Prints Teaching
Rachel PoetkerComment
Five Ways to Review for any Test

Quizzes and tests are inevitable when it comes to teaching. And as teachers, we need to help our students feel prepared and successful prior to the test. It’s not enough to give study guides and do practice tests. But what can we do?

5 ways to review for any test - Poet Prints Teaching

I think all of us have had that moment sitting in front of our computer, Google opened, trying to search out how to engage our students in lesson reviews before tests. I’ve been in that place multiple times. Over the years, I’ve discovered some fun and engaging ways to review for any test. Here are some of them:

Test Review 1: Stump the Panel

This is a game where all students come up with a set of quiz questions. Several students are chosen to be on a panel and they sit in a row of chairs at the front of the class. The remaining students are in the audience and they are responsible for asking questions of the panel. If one of the panel students does not answer a question correctly, they will take a seat in the audience and be replaced by the student who asked the question.  Learn more here!  

Test Review 2: Kahoot

This is a website based game. I love creating purposeful review activities and this website is a fantastic tool. On Kahoot, teachers are able to program in questions that they would like the students to answer. I have my students bring in their devices (or you can use school devices). Then I group my students together and give them the access information for the website. On their devices, they can pick their answers to the review questions and see a growing graph of what answers other students picked. This also provides a quick check for me, so I can see who might need some extra review.

 Photo from  getkahoot.com

Photo from getkahoot.com

Test Review 3:  Flashcards

This is an oldie, but a goodie. Students really do need to be taught to create flashcards or study notes. It’s an essential skill that they will use throughout all their education. However, flashcards do not need to be stagnant. I once had a parent tell me that she inserted “Gummy Worm” cards throughout the flashcard deck. As she quizzed her daughter on sight words, the “Gummy Worm” card would come up every once in awhile. She would then give her daughter a gummy worm. Her daughter LOVES doing sight word flashcards now.

Test Review 4:  Quiz Takeover

Students often like to put on their teacher hats. Give students an opportunity to “think like a teacher” and predict the quiz questions. Then have them write a few quiz questions for their peers and coach their peers through the answers. If you’re interested in a template for this review activity, you can find it in my TpT store.

IMG_6368.jpg

Test Review 5: Charades or Drama

I like doing charades or dramas because it lets students interact with each other and move around. Another bonus is these movement games take virtually no preparation! To play charades, throw a bunch of the unit vocabulary words into a hat and have students act out the words without saying anything. Alternatively, you can have students create a short drama to enforce vocabulary terms. For example, if you were learning about the lifecycle of a plant, students could pretend they are a plant growing through the stages of seed, germination, seedling, young plant, and mature plant. While this might make some students uncomfortable, it will definitely give your kinesthetic learners a chance to shine.

I’m always looking to expand my repertoire of review games and activities. Have you discovered any that work well for you?
 

5 ways to review for any test - Poet Prints Teaching
Rachel PoetkerComment
Building Solid Parent and Teacher Relationships

“Let me know if I can help you with anything”
“You’re not meeting my child’s needs.”
“Thanks for being a great teacher!”
“You give too much homework.”
“You don’t give enough homework.”

Building Relationships with Parents - Poet Prints Teaching

These are all things that parents have said to me in the last couple of years. And if you’re anything like me, you’re a perfectionist and some of these things are hard to hear. You work so hard towards creating engaging lessons, building good student-teacher relationships and organizing your time well. But there always seems to be some parents who are hard to connect with. By all means, I am not an expert on building perfect parent-teacher relationships, but I have learned some tricks over the past few years that have greatly minimized misunderstandings and hurts.

Tip One: Meet Parents as Soon as Possible

This is key to starting a positive relationship. I like to have quick chats with each parent after school as they are picking their children up. Usually, I’m able to connect with each parent at some point in the first week or two after school. However, sometimes parents work long shifts, or daycare comes to pick up the children, so I don’t get a chance to talk with them in person. For those parents, I will call them on the phone. During these brief conversations, I’ll introduce myself, and get to know the parents a little bit. If the conversations lead to it, I’ll even ask them about their greatest hopes for the year.

Tip Two: Stay Positive

Say as many positive things as possible. This helps parents trust that you see their kid and recognize their child’s positive attributes. It also helps when you have to have those inevitable tougher conversations. When a tough conversation comes around, the parents know that you have seen the positive things about their child too.

Positive Notes by Poet Prints Teaching

Tip Three: Stay in Contact

Find out how parents want to be contacted and make sure that information is getting home. Information should be sent home in a few consistent ways.  Kids’ backpacks often become black abysses, where notices and information get crumpled up and lost. I’ve learned to never assume that information is getting home when I give it to a child. I will often follow up with an email or a reminder to make sure parents received the information. On the other hand, some families don’t have internet at home, so they might not be getting your super-informative emails. Thus, you might want to print off the emails to give those parents a hard copy. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to parent-teacher communication. You’ll have to find the method that works best for you :)

 Photo by  William Iven  on  Unsplash

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Tip Four: Send Information Home

How many times have you asked a child what they did during the day and they respond, “Nothing.” We all know that this isn’t true, but kids often forget what they did during the day. An easy solution to help parents out is to send home information about what you are doing during the day. This might be in emails, through an app, a notice, or whatever method works best for you. Did you do a great science experiment? Send home a picture or a quick message. Did you watch a youtube clip to introduce a new concept? Send the link home, so parents can watch it again with their child. By sending home these sneak peaks of the day to the parents, you give them a starting point for conversations with the students. These conversations make you, as the teacher, look really good.

Do you have any awesome ways to create and sustain strong parent-teacher relationships? I would love to hear your tips and tricks.

Building Relationships with parents  - Poet Prints Teaching
Rachel PoetkerComment