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14 Ways to Beat the Indoor Recess Blues

It’s raining. AGAIN. Its twenty degrees. AGAIN. You have indoor recess. AGAIN. You’re GOING TO LOOSE YOUR MIND. AGAIN. Not to mention the fact that your students still have to sit still and attempt to absorb new knowledge for the rest of the school day.

Try some of these fun indoor activities to ensure that recess time is still used to keep kids moving and grooving (and let’s be real, to keep your sanity).

·        1. Set up a jumping station
o   Have students see how far they can jump or who can jump the farthest. If you have beanbags, one student can toss a beanbag to have another student jump to. Want to really tire them out? Put on a timer and see who can jump for the longest amount of time.

·         2. Play with a small balloon
o   Students can play volleyball, hot potato or try volleying the balloon with a particular body part (head, knee, thumb, etc.).

·         3. Put on a movement website
o   Check out the YouTube channels in this post by Childhood101: https://childhood101.com/brain-breaks-7-youtube-channels-to-get-kids-moving-grooving/

·         4. Go on an ABC word hunt
o   Have students walk the room to find an object that begins with each letter of the alphabet. Each time they find an object, have students do 10 fill in physical activity here (jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, frog hops, etc.).

·         5. Play charades or Twister

·         6. Do a puzzle relay
o   Divide the class into two teams. Put puzzle pieces on opposite sides of the room. Have students take turns to get a piece of the puzzle from across the room, bring it back to their side of the room and put it in the correct spot. The first team to successfully complete their puzzle wins.

·         7. Play hula hoop ring toss
o   Put out a large bucket (for example, the big orange, Home Depot buckets). Have students take turns throwing the hula hope around the bucket.

·         8. Have students pretend they are a bubble
o   Students pretend they are floating around the room as a bubble. They cannot touch anyone (always key for indoor recess) or anything. When they get close to a person or object they should “bounce off” (still without touching!) and head in the opposite direction.  If they touch someone or something they are out.

·         9. Play Simon Says

·         10. Have a dance party

·         11. Have a cup stacking challenge
o   See which student or team of students can build their (large or small, plastic or paper) cups the highest.

·         12. Do the Limbo
o   Use a yard stick, broom handle or anything else you can think of that you already have in the classroom.

·         13. Create a marble maze
o   Using empty (tissue, cereal, mailing, etc.) boxes and toilet paper and paper towel rolls, have students create a maze for a marble to get through.

·         14. Two words: bubble wrap
o   Feel free to join in!  You know your students would love to see you participate in some solid bubble popping!


Guided Reading vs. Small Strategy Groups

When I was in the classroom, I implemented two different types of reading small groups during my reading block: guided reading and strategy groups. Here is the main purpose for each:

Guided Reading
To teach students reading comprehension skills and strategies in general. These are leveled groups with 4-6 students per group. In this small community, students are reading in the same range and share similar reading traits. Many students stay in the same group long-term but are constantly reassessed and moved if they exceed the reading level of their peers. In guided reading groups, I typically followed the same procedure, modeling the entire reading process.
My guided reading groups started typically 3 or 4 weeks after school started, or after I had time to assess all of my students’ independent reading levels and had solid reading block rituals and routines. Guided reading groups happened all year.

Strategy Groups
I group students who need help with the same standard, strategy, or skill. Students can be at all different reading levels. Groups should still be between 4-6 students. During strategy groups, students will be reading text on their independent reading level. Often, I would have students practicing a strategy or skill from their independent reading books on their “just right” level. You can also use differentiated passages or guided readers.
I did not regularly use strategy groups for my whole class. I would pull together a strategy group if after I assessed a particular standard, 4-6 students needed reteaching. I would also implement strategy groups for various standards leading up to a large state assessment.


It is important to note, that when implementing both guided reading groups and strategy groups you should use relevant and current data. Every month, I conducted running records on every student in my class. Students should not be in the same group based on data from months prior. Their reading level can and should be increasing rapidly (especially at lower levels). For strategy groups, I used data from very recent standards-based assessments. I like to use standards-based assessments I used in the classroom on isolated standards. If you use a district or state standardized test results, you need to be careful because:
  • The data may be old.
  • The data may be inaccurate. Are you able to see the questions? Some standardized tests have poorly written questions that do not accurately address the standard. How many questions were asked on each standard? A students’ answer on only 1-3 multiple choice questions is not enough to judge if they understand a standard.

If you are looking for some guided reading or strategy group resources, my differentiated passages and differentiated guided readers are perfect.

My “A Day in the Life” series is great for standards-based strategy groups, since each reader focus on one standard.



I hope this overview gives you some ideas of how and when to implement both guided reading and small strategy groups into your literacy block. I’d love to see or hear about your groups in action!


The Do's and Don'ts of Religion in the Classroom


Some public school teachers fear to mention anything to do with religion in the classroom. Some schools and districts even forbid celebrating holidays associated with one religion. Sometimes it’s easier to avoid a subject rather than deal with questions and criticism from parents or administrations. Avoidance can be extremely difficult during religious holidays and deprives children of forming a comprehensive understanding of diversity and culture. It is important to teach about religion in your classroom, and it’s not impossible to teach it in an appropriate way that follows federal law.

Teachers fear that even mentioning religion would be a violation of the Establishment Clause of  First Amendment of the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Teachers in their official capacity are agents of the government because they represent the school and school board. Teachers are also private citizens and have rights to free speech and free exercise under the Constitution; however, these rights are limited when acting in an official teaching or another government role.

Even though public school teachers are prohibited from teaching religion, they are free to teach about religion. Consider the difference between preaching or promoting a religion and teaching about different cultures and religions or about different religious holidays.

It is very important to teach about religions in your classroom. Religion is a large part of many cultures. Teaching about how others view the world differently helps our students become tolerant and accepting of other’s differences.

It is also important to teach how not all people associate with a religion. This is ok. Being atheist or agnostic does not make a person any less moral than a religious person.


Here are some Do’s and Don’ts when teaching about religion. 

Do
Don’t
Teach about a variety of religions
Only teach about one religion
Teach the value of diversity
Promote one religion over another
Teach nonreligion as a valid belief
Promote religion over nonreligion
Treat all religions as equal
Share your religious views

Practice religious acts such as prayer

It is against federal law to share your own religious beliefs. Even though your religion may be a large part of who you are, children are impressionable. Teaching about your religious beliefs could be seen as promoting one religion.

Often, the laws regarding separation of church and state are not followed in schools. Administrators and teachers think it is ok to have a moment for prayer or observe one religious holiday because the majority are the same religion. While some people may not be bothered by small references and promotions of religion, it still sends a message of “otherness.” Those in the minority feel this message.

Whether it be during the holidays or any time of year, ensure that you ARE teaching your kids about culture, which religion can be a large part of. But, do not teach about one religion exclusively. Use your lessons to send a message of diversity and inclusivity.  


Teaching About Kwanzaa in the Classroom


While falling around the same time as Christmas and Hanukkah, being celebrated December 26 – January 1, Kwanzaa is different in that it is not a religious holiday at all. Instead, it is a celebration of life that some African Americans (mostly from the United States) celebrate each year. Kwanzaa was established in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga to observe African culture and motivate and encourage African Americans. The name Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase that translates to “first fruits of the harvest.” Celebrations of the holiday often include African stories, poems, drumming and dancing. Children receive gifts and there is a big feast on December 31 called Karamu.

There are three colors represented throughout Kwanzaa that each have a meaning. Black stands for the color of the people, red stands for their struggle and green represents the hope and future that comes from their struggle.

The kinara holds the seven candles that are lit throughout Kwanzaa. The middle candle (which is lit the first night) is black, the three candles to the left are red (lit the second through fourth nights) and the three candles to the right are green (lit the last nights). The order in which the candles are lit is to symbolize that people come first, then struggle, and lastly the hope that precedes the struggle. Each night a candle is lit, one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, Nguzo Saba, is discussed.

           The seven principles (as outlined by Dr. Karenga) are as follows:


Being celebrated by so few people, and being overshadowed by Christmas and New Year’s, many people do not know much about the beautiful celebration of Kwanzaa. There is much more information on the holiday that I highly encourage you to read about.

If you are looking for a meaningful way to teach about Kwanzaa in your classroom, my differentiated passages come with writing activities and a cute craftivity. You can grab them in my TpT store here:



There are also some great books for you to use in your classroom library!

This links are Amazon Affiliate links. If you order from one of my links, Amazon gives me a small percentage of the sale at no extra expense to you. This helps me maintain my blog. 

National Geographic Kids has Celebrate Kwanzaa. This is a nonfiction book with beautiful photographs.



Seven Spools of Thread is a story about seven brothers living in an African village who learn the values of Kwanzaa.




Teaching Culture: Hanukkah

Even though over 39% of the Jewish population lives in the United States, many people don’t know too many basic facts about Hanukkah. With the holiday starting Sunday, December 2nd this year, I figured now is the perfect time to break down some of the basics of this Jewish holiday.

First and foremost, what is Hanukkah the celebration of? The Syrian-Greeks forbade the Jewish religion and desecrated a holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE. An army of Jewish rebels, the Maccabees, salvaged the Temple. Even though there was only enough oil to light a lamp for one day, the oil lasted eight days. Hence, the lengthy celebration each year.

The date of the Hanukkah celebration is based on the Hebrew calendar, a lunisolar calendar, meaning dates are based on solar months. This means that there is no set date that the holiday falls. Generally, Hanukkah begins sometime in November or December.

While Hanukkah is well known, it is not the most important holiday of the Jewish religion. Rosh Hashanah and Passover actually hold much more significance in the religion. However, because of Christmas and other holidays that are celebrated around the month of December, Hanukkah has taken on more importance than it once had throughout the world.

Similar to many other holidays, Hanukkah is celebrated with festive foods. Jewish people fry foods to honor the significance of the oil in the lamp. One of the most well-known fried foods enjoyed are latkes, which are fried potatoes. There is also a lot of cheese included in Hanukkah celebrations, to acknowledge Judith. People honoring the holiday also feast on jelly doughnuts, chocolate coins called gelt, and noodle or potato casseroles.


*TRIVIA ALERT* The largest menorah in the world weighs 4,000 pounds and is 32 feet high and the most valuable dreidel is worth $14,000! That’s an expensive children’s toy!

If you're looking for a way to teach your elementary students about Hanukkah, my differentiated passages mini unit is perfect for 2nd-4th grade. This includes leveled passages, comprehension questions, a foldable, writing, prompts, and a cute coloring topper to jazz up your bulletin board. You can grab it in my TpT store here:




Amazon has some great books for you too!
This links are Amazon Affiliate links. If you order from one of my links, Amazon gives me a small percentage of the sale at no extra expense to you. This helps me maintain my blog. 

Oskar and the Eight Blessings is one of my favorites. It is about a Holocaust refugee arriving in New York City, It is the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. As Oskar walks through the city to his new home, he experiences the city's many holiday sights, and encounters generous residents.



Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is about a traditional Jewish folk hero named Hershel of Ostropol. He approaches a village on Hanukkah, but is surprised to find no one is celebrating. A band of frightful goblins has taken over the synagogue.




The National Geographic book Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Hanukkah: With Light, Latkes, and Dreidels is an excellent nonfiction book with captivating photographs. 


Creating a Community of Students who Have Meaningful Academic Conversations

One of the main purposes of Common Core State Standards (or any other named standards your state goes by) is to teach children to think and respond critically. When I was in the classroom, one of my main goals was to lead my students towards independence by running the classroom and leading critical thinking discussions with their peers. Often, administrators, coaches, and other teachers would come into my room and wonder how I was able to teach my students to lead our class discussions and they would chuckle at how “adult” the students sounded when they responded to their peers. My students were not only able to think and respond critically to their peers, but also push their peers to think more deeply about topics and issues.

Here is I was able to do this each year:

At the beginning of the year, I set the expectations. I gave students index cards with the “Prompts for Elaboration & Clarity,” and the “Prompts for Responding.” When students answered questions or began discussions, I consistently modeled how to respond to the speaker with respect by using the prompts on my card. All the while, students would have their cards in front of them. I would slowly invite volunteers to try to respond to a classmate using a prompt.  

For example:
Student A makes a prediction about the chapter book we are reading.
Student B uses the prompt to craft a meaningful response such as “how does your prediction connect to what we read in chapter three?”
Student B is pushed to craft a meaningful response, rather than the old “I like your prediction.” At the same time, Student A is pushed to think more deeply about the evidence they used to make their prediction.

My students would have their prompt cards everywhere! They had a copy in their bag of books and each journal. They would use them in whole- class lessons/ discussions, small groups, partner work, independent work, and eventually in their writing.

As students became more confident and experienced using the prompts, I would usually randomly call on 1-3 students to respond to another child when a child shared something or taught the class. It is critical to hold all of your students accountable for using the prompts.

They learned to use them so regularly, that sometimes during my mini-lessons or lesson closings I wouldn’t even have to further question students because their classmates had it down pat. By mid-year, most students had internalized the prompts and no longer needed to refer to their cards.

While teaching students to respond to each other critically IS time-consuming, there are few more valuable ways you can spend your time.





Grab my Prompts for Responding, Elaboration, and Clarity for free here. Let me know if you try this in your class!




Building Relationships with Morning Meetings

Building a caring classroom community with my students was one of my most important behavior management techniques. If your students know you care about them and learn to care for each other, it cuts down on a lot of behavioral problems (or it at least makes them easier to solve). One of the best ways to build and maintain a caring classroom community and culture is through morning meetings.

Here is how I set up my morning meetings:

Every morning, after morning work, I would play our gathering song. I have a love for Jack Johnson, and I am obsessed with his Curious George soundtrack, so Upside Down was our “come to the rug” song. I love it because it is calming, but has a positive and upbeat message. My students quickly learned the lyrics and would singalong as they came to the rug.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a bit, you probably know I do not like to waste any time. So, I would always have my students come to the rug fully prepared for our first reading lesson with their reading journal and bag of books.

Once the song was over, I expected all students to be at their spots and ready for morning meeting to start.

I would start off by greeting everyone and telling them something about my evening the night before or morning. I would then invite any students to share any news or exciting events. This took about five minutes most mornings. That’s it! It is something so simple that creates a welcoming environment where your students know you care about them. Doing this day-after-day helps even your closed-off students open up and feel like a part of the community.

As issues arose, I would allow students also to discuss them at this time. If a student was missing their special necklace, they would ask their classmates to help them find it. If a student was having trouble with a peer, either I would approach the subject, or I would allow them to (of course without naming names or putting the other child down.) We would spend time brainstorming how to handle issues with our peers together. This really helped my students understand their words and actions affected others.

Many of them became very cognizant that they had the power to positively impact their peers because they chose thoughtful words and actions. We also spent time celebrating the wonderful deeds our friends and classmates did.

Having these open discussions regularly with my students taught them to be leaders. They learned to be leaders in their classroom with their peers, but also in the school community. They set positive examples for others around the school and even their siblings at home. They learned to approach and resolve their own problems, rather than relying on me.


It seems like too much of a simple thing to have such a large impact, but it really worked for my students year after year. I encourage you to try regular morning meetings in your class. Your time will be well invested!