Keeping Students Engaged: Part 2

Welcome back to part two of my four part blog series on keeping students engaged! In this series, I am sharing a few structured engagement activities that can be used to practice new concepts, as well as review old ones!  So, let's get started!

Note: When I use the term structured engagement activity (see intro), I am referring to a learning activity that can be used and reused throughout the year with different skills and content. The content may change, but the activity and how it works does not.  These structures allow students to be successful because they are familiar with them, and they don't get bored with them because the content is always different.

With that said, on to Scoot!

Scoot, oh how I love thee.  I mean, it's versatile, it promotes individual engagement within a whole group setting, it gets the students moving, and it's fun (and learning should be fun).

What is it?
Scoot is an activity that encourages individual engagement within a whole group setting.  It gets kids moving as they review previously learned concepts and skills, and as they practice new ones. It isn't subject specific, so it can be used with any skill within any content area. Seriously, I can't stress this enough: You can use it to practice and review ANY skill: time, two-digit addition and subtraction, contractions, parts of speech, and, well, anything!

In this activity, question cards are placed at your students' desks.  Students are tasked with answering the question at each desk, starting with their own desk first.  On your cue, the students "scoot" from desk to desk, answering each question on a recording page.

How to Play
Scoot is not a difficult "game," but it will take one or two rounds for your students to feel completely comfortable with it.  Here's how to play:
  1. You need a set of cards with questions/tasks printed on them as well as a recording page for students to write their answers on. 
  2. Place a card at each desk.  
  3. Your students will scoot their way around the room, one desk at a time, on your cue.  They start at their own desk, before scooting to the next desk.
  4. Call out the word "Scoot," to cue students to move to the next desk. Repeat until they have made their way back to their own desk.
  5. Each time they scoot, they will write the answer to each question on their recording sheet. Since they won't all start at the first question, be sure to remind your students to be mindful of the card they are on so that they can make sure to record their answer in the correct space on their recording page.
  6. At the end of the activity, go over the questions/answers with your students so that there is some sort of closure to the activity (and you can address any mistakes, misconceptions, etc).

Tip #1: I highly recommend that you establish a path of rotation before beginning your game.  Keep this path of rotation the same each time you play so that students know what to expect.

Tip #2: If you aren't afraid to be silly, have fun as you call out the word "scoot!" Sometimes, I whisper the word....don't worry, I have a microphone.  Sometimes, I like to use weird voices, or speak with an accent.  This isn't necessary, but it adds an element of fun and interest for the kids, and you're sure to get a chuckle or two out of them.

Tips #3: Have your students signal when they are ready to move to the next desk.  My students show their "unicorn horn" to let me know that they are ready to scoot.  What's a unicorn horn, you ask?  It just means that the students show me a thumbs up while resting their hand/fist on their forehead.

Tip #4: Call out different words.  Instead of calling out the word "Scoot" each time, you could call out "Jump," or "Slide," or "Lunge," or whatever. The possibilities are endless, so get creative!

The questions you set out can be from a set of task cards or a set of cards specifically designed to be used as a Scoot game, like these cards shown below.

You can grab this set of two-digit addition and subtraction Scoot cards here for FREE!

Sometimes, I even let my students write the Scoot questions.  And, let me tell you, this is a big deal. WAIT-no, it's a huge deal.

I created this recording page to use when the students create the questions.

If you'd like to give this idea a try, be sure to grab this free recording page here.  :)

Tip #5: Whatever materials you decide to use, be cognizant of the time you have available to play the game.  Think about the depth of the questions you put out.  I like to use questions that can be answered relatively quickly because I don't want my students standing around and waiting too long for their classmates to finish up before everyone can scoot to the next desk.

Tip #6: Worried about struggling students?  Pair students up and allow them to help each other with the questions as they scoot from desk to desk.    

Final Note
I hope you were able to take a tip or two away from this post, and I truly hope you stop by next week for part three in the series.

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Missed Part 1?  No problem!  Click the link below to read all about I Spy.
Part One (I Spy)

And, visit these links to read the rest of the series:
Part Three (Quiz-Quiz-Trade) 
Part Four (I Have, Who Has)


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February Round Up

Can you believe that February is (almost) here?  Hopefully, you'll find a few of the ideas, activities, and freebies in this post helpful as you plan for the upcoming month!

Feel free to pin the ideas you love most!

Have I ever mentioned that I'm a sucker for cute crafts?  ;)  Crafts are perfect for developing fine motor skills, encouraging problem solving, and following directions.  They are also a great way to show kids that they too can add beauty to their surroundings.  #jumpingoffmysoapboxnow

So, by now, you know that I like to display crafts on my monthly bulletin board. My Love Bots always make an appearance in February.  Always. 

BUT, this year, this little bee is going up too!  It makes me smile.  #cuteness

When Valentine's Day rolls around, I like to focus on friendship.  It's also that time of year when students need to be reminded about how to treat their friends/be a friend.  So, this little guy will come in handy as we talk about how to "bee" a good friend.

You can grab the {free} craft here and the {free} writing prompt here. :)

Click here for even more Valentine's Day ideas. :)

Hearts and cute crafts aside, Presidents' Day is another big deal in the month of February.  I usually spend a few weeks on this topic.

We read about each president individually.  Sometimes I read aloud to the students using various picture books, and sometimes they read independently using passages like these (and/or Scholastic News). 

We often do different things with the information that we've read.  We might make a book.

Or, we might show what we know while testing others knowledge at the same time.  Three truths and a Lie is always a hit, and it's a great way to get students thinking critically.  My students love showing what they know and seeing if they can create a sly lie that might trick their partner.

Directed drawings are a must during this unit!  They always look so great hanging up.  To make the drawing process and coloring time more manageable for the students, I usually give them a piece of card stock that's been cut in half (I turn it to landscape orientation when cutting it in half).  The final size is 8.5 in by 5.5 in.  This is also a great size if you have a miniature sized classroom with little wall space, like I do.

Once we have learned about each president, it's time to really show what we know about them.  I like to throw in a little compare and contrast.  The students get to show what they know while using important critical thinking skills.  And, that is a great combination!

Another way I like to "test" their knowledge of the presidents is with this Who Am I? (Around the Room) activity. It keeps the students engaged as they identify the president associated with each clue on the cards. Sorry about that glare below. 

All of these activities, and more, can be found in my Two Great Presidents unit on TPT.

Did you know that February is also when the official RAK week takes place?  This year, the dates are Feb. 14-20. Perfect timing, right?  

Last year, my class had fun spreading a little RAK around our school.  They were like super secret agents of kindness. Hehe.

You can read all about these ideas and grab a few related freebies by clicking here.

Another fun and easy way to focus on kindness at school is with this class book.  What I love about class books is that the kids read them over and over.  So, in this case, when they reread the book, they are always being reminded of how they can be kind. It's a win-win!

You can grab this {free} class book here.

Thanks for stopping by.  I truly hope you are able to use an idea or two from this post!



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Keeping Students Engaged, Part 1

Raise your hand if you strive to keep your learners engaged.  My hand is raised.  I may even be hopping up and down in my seat as that hand is raised.

There is nothing worse than looking out at your class and noticing that they are off task or disinterested in what is going on around them, am I right?

One of my favorite ways to keep my students engaged is to provide them with structured activities that encourage engagement.  I thought it would be fun to share these activities over a (mini) series of blog posts.

In this mini series, I'll cover the following structured engagement activities:  
  • Part 1: I Spy
  • Part 2: Scoot
  • Part 3: Quiz-Quiz-Trade (Kagan)
  • Part 4: I Have, Who Has
Like I said, it will be a mini series...just four posts.

Note: When I use say structured engagement activity, I am referring to a learning activity that can be used and reused throughout the year with different skills and content. The content may change, but the activity and how it works does not.  These structures allow students to be successful because they are familiar with them, and they don't get bored with them because the content is always different. With that said, on to today's activity!

OK, wait, before I get started, let me just say that I realize that you are probably familiar with some of the structures I'll be talking about.  But, don't abandon ship just yet.  I'd love for you to stick around for the tips and tricks.  Who knows, you might be able to spice things up in your classroom, or streamline a few things.  Oh, and there will be freebies.

Alright, now I'm ready to go.  Are you?

I Spy is one of my favorite structured engagement activities.  Mine, and the kids! You might also know this activity as "Around the Room."  That's what it's commonly called, but somewhere along the way, I heard it called I Spy and thought that was a much more interesting name. Plus, we get to act like spies when we use this structure.  That's right, spies.  But, more on that in just a moment.

What is I Spy? 
I Spy is an activity that gets kids moving as they review previously learned concepts and skills, and practice new ones. In this activity, question cards are placed around the room (hence the other known name, "Around the Room").  Students move from card to card, at their own pace, to answer the questions.

Note: These cards may be fancy, but believe me, fancy isn't required or necessary.  You can write your questions on index cards and it will still be just as effective.  I {pinky} promise. 

I Spy is perfect for encouraging individual engagement within a whole group setting.  And, did I mention that it gets the kids moving?  It's also super versatile.  You can use this activity, or structure, to review and practice any skill within any content area (see the cards in the picture above...the proof is in the pictures, as they say).

How to Play
I Spy is a pretty easy "game" to play.  
  1. Place some numbered questions around your room and give each student a recording page. You can tape the cards to your walls, or set them on the floor...or both!  How many questions you set out is up to you.  If using task cards, you could set out the entire set, or just half of it.  It depends on what the kids are being asked to do, how much practice/review you want to do, and how much time you have.
  2. The students visit each card and answer the question.  There is no need to visit the cards in order. Just remind your students to be mindful of the card they are on so that they can make sure to record their answer in the correct space on their recording page.  
  3. At the end of the activity, go over the questions/answers with your students so that there is some sort of closure to the activity (and you can address any mistakes, misconceptions, etc).
That's it.  It's that easy.

Tip #1: When placing out fewer question cards, you may want to set out duplicates of those question cards so that students aren't crowding around the questions and getting in each others' way.  For example, when I use I Spy to practice answering story questions, I limit it to about four questions because the students need more time to formulate an answer, write said answer, and consult their book, if needed.  Since I have 21 students, it wouldn't make any sense to put out 4 cards.  Instead, I make 3 copies of the 4 questions and place them about the room.  This way, there are only a few kids at each question at any given time.

Tip #2: Your kids will finish at their own pace, so be prepared to have a task for your fast finishers.  I usually have them do something on the back of their paper.  For example, if they are answering story questions, I might have them draw a picture of the setting on the back of their paper.  If we are practicing math facts, I might have them roll the die in their desk to write, and solve, their own number sentences on the back of the page.

The questions you set out can be from a set of task cards or a set of cards specifically designed to be used as an I Spy/Around the Room activity, like this fact family I Spy. 

Click here to grab this fact family I Spy for free. :)

Task cards work great, and can easily be reused when you laminate them, but I also frequently type up questions and print them on bright paper.  Nothing fancy, but it works like a charm.

Tip#3: Make it fun!
Kids like to have fun.  So, why not let them have fun? Remember how I said that my students act like spies when they play this game?  Let's talk about that, because, seriously, it makes this activity fun for the kids.  Like, really fun.

A few years ago, a (brilliant) colleague shared with our team how she taught her kids to act like spies when they play I Spy.  Get it?  That little tip was such a game changer for me!

Ever since then, I have taught my students to move around the room like spies. They creep about the classroom moving from card to card.  They move silently and speak to no one.  After all, they don't know the good spies from the bad spies, and they certainly don't want to be seen by other spies as they accomplish their mission.  I never have to remind them about voice levels or ask them to stay focused when playing I Spy. I don't need to. They are completely into it, every.single.time we play.

Final Note
I really, really, really like using engaging activities that are centered around movement. 7-year-olds need to move.  I work at a school where recess is a at a minimum. And, let's be honest, we can only Go Noodle so many times in one day.  Engagement activities that get my kids moving are a great way to let them move about while they learn.  It's a win-win for everyone!

I hope you were able to take a tip or two away from this post, and be sure to check out the rest of the series:
Part  Two (Scoot) 
Part Three (Quiz-Quiz-Trade) 
Part Four (I Have, Who Has)

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Writing Prompts in the Classroom

Raise your hand if you love writing prompts!  I think that writing prompts are one of those resources that people either love, or hate.  I happen to love them.  #sorrynotsorry

I don't use writing prompts exclusively by any means, but they are a handy resource to have around and I do integrate them into my regular curriculum.  They help offer the students choice during our writing time, and they help them practice the skill of "writing on demand."  More on that in a minute.

So, why do I love writing prompts and how do I use them?  That's what I plan to share.  Read on, teacher friends!

One thing I love about writing prompts is that they are a great way to provide choice, and who doesn't love having choices?  I'm a firm believe that students should have choices, when possible.  During our writing time, the students write in their journals when they are finished with that day's task.  But, sometimes they just don't know what to write about.  This is where prompts come in handy.  So very handy!

I have several small trays filled with prompts on rings.  When the students have trouble coming up with an idea, they take a tray to their table group (so others at the group can use them too, if needed).  They usually end up finding a fun idea to write about.  Sometimes the prompts help them find an idea of their own!  These prompts from Lucky to be in First are great!

My students also love this set from Lori Rosenberg (Teaching with Love and Laughter).  Note: she has recently updated this product so the cards look a bit different now (in case you check them out...and you totally should).

And, this set from A Cupcake for the Teacher is also great!

Our monthly Roll-a-Story boards are also pretty popular! This monthly board gives the students even more options when it comes to their free writing time.  If they don't want to use a prompt card, but need an idea, they can use their Roll-a-Story board.

I mentioned that these are pretty popular...let me put it this way, if I forget to pass out a new one at the beginning of each new month I usually hear this, "Um, Mrs. Salazar, you forgot to give us a new Roll-a-Story board." #yikes

The students keep their individual boards in their writing folder for safe keeping, and they also store a die in their pencil box.  When they get a new board they are given the option of recycling the old one, or taking it home.  They always opt to take it home.

The way these work is pretty simple (and fun).  Roll a die, match the number you rolled on the board and follow the prompts.  Each prompt gives a character, a setting, and a problem.  Most of the prompts encourage the students to use their imagination and to write creatively.

You can check out these prompts here.  And, you can grab a (free) sampler mini-set here.  :)

Designated writing time aside, sometimes I find that I need writing prompts for reasons other than providing choice.  I might need a prompt to use as a homework assignment, or when I'm planning for a sub.  Sometimes our schedule gets disrupted and we don't have time for lengthy writing projects.  That's when prompts like my new Writing Prompts for Anytime come in super handy.  They fill a need while providing meaningful practice!

Aside from being a great resource for homework, subs, and when there are disruptions to our routine, prompts of this nature also give students practice with the skill of "writing on demand." Anytime I can give my students meaningful skill practice, I'm a happy teacher! 

What do I mean by "writing on demand?"  I mean that the students have to respond to a prompt that doesn't involve choice.  Hear me out.

I frequently pick the brain of our academic coach at school and during the course of one of our conversations, she explained that students need to be able to respond to designated prompts.  This is something that is expected of them in the world of testing, so practicing the skill from time to time isn't detrimental, it's great exposure to an important writing skill.

This isn't to say that the only way to use prompts like this is "writing on demand" skills practice as described above. You could easily photocopy a few different prompts and place them in your writing center, thereby offering your students choice.  That's another thing that is so great about writing prompts, they are versatile!

When I made this set of prompts, I wanted to make sure it was versatile enough to be used for homework, in class, with a sub, in a center, for assessment, etc.  But, I also wanted to make sure that it was designed to support students as they learn to check their own writing. 

So, no matter how you use them, these prompts include a built-in checklist for students to refer to when they check their work. Primary students need lots and lots of practice when it comes to checking over their own work.  Developmentally, it's a tough task, but it isn't an impossible one. And, again, I'm all about providing the opportunity to practice important skills!  

A simple list like this is manageable for younger learners, which is important when you're trying to learn a new skill.  You can check out this set of handy dandy prompts here.

Thanks for reading, friends!  I'd love to know, when it comes to writing prompts, do you love 'em or hate 'em?


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