Friday, July 29, 2011

Fun Math Game: "Bizz-Buzz" (Practicing Common Multiples)

"Bizz-Buzz" is a more challenging version of "Buzz" and would be a good activity for students who've already mastered that game.

The same rules of that game apply to "Bizz-Buzz," only this time, students will be given two numbers.  When the group counts and one student reaches a multiple of the first number, they will say "bizz" instead. As in the first game, when a student reaches a multiple of the second number, they will say "buzz" instead. When a student reaches a common multiple of both numbers, they will say "bizz-buzz!" 

For instance, let's say your target numbers are 4 and 7.  When the group is going around counting, any student who is supposed to say 4, 8, 12, 16, etc. will say "bizz" instead of those numbers.  If a student is supposed to say 7, 14, 21, etc. when it is their turn, they will say "buzz."  The student who is supposed to say 28, however, should say "bizz-buzz."

Just like in the first game, if any student misses saying either "bizz," "buzz" or "bizz-buzz" at the correct time (or takes a long pause to figure out when they should say it), the entire group has to begin their counting over again with 1.  Counting continues as long as students say the right numbers or terms.

As you can see, "Bizz-Buzz" is a good way to practice common multiples, mental math and cooperative learning.  It may be difficult at first to keep up with the numbers mentally, but that's what makes it fun!

Give it a try and see how your class likes it!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fun Math Game: "Buzz" (Practicing Multiples)

This is a fun math game that I witnessed being played while I subbed for a fifth grade class last year.  I was terribly amused by it and wanted to describe it for you all.  It's simply called "Buzz."

It's a great game because it helps kids practice multiples, and it's oral.  You don't need anything except for the kids to sit in a circle.

All you have to do is give them a number.  Let's say "7."  Choose someone to go first and they will start counting with 1, next person says 2, and the next person says 3, so on and so on around the circle.  The object of the game is to count quickly (have a nice rhythm going) and say "buzz" whenever you get to a number that is a multiple of the number you chose.  So once they get to 14, 21 or any other multiple of 7, that person will say "buzz" and the counting continues.

If the person forgets and says the number instead of "buzz," the round ends and they have to start the counting over at 1.  Counting also begins again if the person takes a long pause on their turn.  The counting should be automatic.  After several times around the circle, you can choose a new number.

The kids really enjoyed this game, and I did as well!  What usually happens is someone doesn't pay attention and forgets they are supposed to say "buzz."  Sometimes a kid won't realize a number is a multiple (especially if the counting goes on for a while and the numbers get high).  When someone messes up, everyone groans and laughs and begins again.  The goal is to try and keep the counting going for as long as possible, trying to beat the record for how long it can last.

This can be played with the whole class, like we did, or a small group.  Give it a try!

image:  microsoft

Monday, July 25, 2011

Math Center: "Zero Wins"

  • Grade Level:  2nd-3rd
  • Operations:  subtraction
  • Materials:  3 dice, paper and pencil for each student
  • Steps:  
    • Students can work in partners or small groups.  They write "999" at the top of their paper.
    • Each student will roll the three dice and form a number to subtract from 999 on their paper.  The goal is to be the first one to each zero because "zero wins."
    • Students win when they reach exactly zero.  They can't go over.  That means when their number gets low enough, they can choose to roll just one or two dice to get exactly 999.  If their roll would make their number become less than zero, it's the next player's turn.  They can only win win they roll whichever number would give them exactly zero.
    • Students should quickly pick up the goal is to subtract the largest number that can be created from their dice roll, which means choose the largest number for their hundreds place, the next largest number for their tens place, etc.  This game will give them a chance to practice subtraction with hundreds, and borrowing.
  • Possible Extension:  
    • Have students start with zero and add numbers to equal exactly 999.
    • If you have enough dice for each student, you could turn this into a whole class game.  Have everyone write "999" and begin their dice rolls and subtraction at the same time.  The first one who reaches exactly zero wins.
  • Source:  Envision Math

image:  microsoft

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Math Center: Practice Fact Families with Dice

  • Grade Level:  1st-4th, or any students practicing fact families
  • Operations:  addition, subtraction, multiplication, division
  • Materials:  a pair of dice, paper to write fact families
  • Steps:  
    • Decide on the operation students will use for their fact families.
    • Students roll the dice.  The two numbers rolled will be the basis of the fact family.
    • If they are using addition and subtraction, students will add their two numbers and make the sum the third number in the fact family.  After recording the 3 numbers, they can make their fact families.  If using multiplication and division, they do the same thing except they will multiply their 2 numbers instead of adding.
    • Students can draw little houses for their fact families.  They can even use construction paper for their houses.  
  • Possible Extension:  Roll both dice twice.  Find the sum or product of each roll and use that as the basis for the fact families.  This will make the fact families use larger numbers, which may better suit students who've mastered easier numbers.  Another idea is to use ten-sided dice.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Beginning a New Series on Classroom Centers

One of my favorite aspects of education is the use of classroom centers and workstations.  I love them!  The activities, the work and investigation students have to perform, the cooperative learning... I just really enjoy seeing classrooms buzzing with all the learning that takes place in centers.  The more creative and engaging, the better.

Centers are certainly something I will make use of once I become full-time.  In my journeys on teacher forums, I notice tons of questions about what would be good center activities, particularly for math and science.

That inspired me to create a new series on Classroom Centers.  Basically, I spent the past school year really keeping my eyes open for pretty much every center activity for every subject.  I jotted down notes on the ones that looked promising.  Now, I have a notebook full of ideas and now I'm going to share them with all of you!

Some centers are things I've found on the internet.  Many will come from things I actually saw performed in classrooms while I was subbing.  When possible, I will give credit to sources (some of the ones I copied came with instructions and sources).  Some centers will come from magazines.  And I want you to recommend any good center activities you use or find so that I can catalog them on my blog.  I really think it would be a big help to teachers everywhere.

Stay tuned for Substitutesftw's center series!

Be sure to click the "centers" label for my past posts about centers.

Practice Grammar and Recommend Books

A few months ago, I suggested using Captain Underpants as a grammar exercise in the classroom.

That got me to thinking... why stop there?  Why not create your own misspelled, grammatically incorrect grammar exercises that are at least slightly more interesting than generically-made practice books and worksheets?

Further, why not kill two birds with one stone?  Book recommendations are a good way to get kids interesting in reading and writing.  Many teachers assign book reviews so that students can share their independent reading material with the rest of the class.  Other times, teachers recommend books themselves to entice students to read.

Why not combine interesting grammar practice with the need for book recommendations?

Create a list of books you know will interest your students.  You probably already have several that you know from experience go over well with students.  Peruse your school and public library.  Also, check book recommendation sites like, which allows you to pinpoint specific titles when you search by reading level and genre.

Next, write a short review for the book.  Since you're trying to get them to read it, highlight the positives about the book.  Sell it to the kids!  Make it sound interesting.  Include a few grammar errors and spelling mistakes in your review.  By creating your own reviews and purposeful mistakes, you can focus on specific skills that you are covering in class.

Finally, allow students to read and correct the reviews you have created.  You are giving them a chance to practice grammar, and you are also encouraging them to read the book you've recommended!  They get to learn about what may be a great book for their interests, which is much better than the stuff kids are usually told to edit.

Make the book reviews unique.  Recommend books of all types and genres, including fun fiction, graphic novels, scary stories, mysteries or something that you may want them to read for class.  

You have a ton of possibilities with this activity.  You can certainly assign students to make their own "mistake-filled" book reviews for others to check, once they get the hang of how it works.

Don't be surprised if you see me making a few of my own examples and posting them here for your use!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Magazine Match-Up: Which Are Best for Your Class?

Let me be clear:  I am a HUGE proponent of classroom magazines.  You may not find a more vocal advocate.  I think they are wonderful supplements to have in the classroom and, in some cases, I think they'd be better investments for schools than seldom-used textbooks and basal readers.

Magazines are designed to interest children.  They are full of short stories (often by well-known authors), interesting informational texts, pictures, photographs, and lots of other things useful for the classroom.  And, unlike most textbooks and worksheets, they also feature a lot of things that kids enjoy, like contests, quizzes, puzzles, brainteasers, fun facts, etc.

In this day and age, there are just so many children's magazines out there that it can be hard to decide which would be the best investment.  Look no further!  As a person who reviews, collects and enjoys children's magazines, I wanted to create a list of my particular favorites and let you know which may be right for your classroom's needs.

This post will have two parts:  magazines for older students (grades 6-12, and advanced elementary students), magazines for the middle grades (grades 4-8).

Magazines for Older Students

Language Arts/Reading

Read Magazine (Weekly Reader) vs. Scholastic Scope (Scholastic)

My Recommendation:
  • Go with Read if you teach advanced or gifted middle school readers, or high school students.  If you have students who crave real literature, Read is a good place to start.  It covers classic literature (in the form of adapted plays and short stories) and features a lot of great things for people interested in analyzing text and writing responses.  It has more of a literary magazine feel and lots of good reading material for the book lovers and writers in your class.  Reader's theater plays, writing exercises, poems, interviews and short stories galore!  The website also contains e-issues for subscribers.  The material is often challenging, but very rewarding.  You can give it to students to read, or if you don't mind creating your own lessons from the material, you can make some great activities based on each issue.  This is my favorite classroom magazine, hands down.  Highly recommended!
  • Go with Scope if you have advanced elementary students, middle schoolers, or high school students who read below level.  The text is less dense and easier to read.  The centerpiece of each issue is usually related to a popular movie that appeals to students, or something equally engaging.  It has more of a "teen magazine" feel and lots of other features, but focuses on reader's theater plays, short articles and high-interest material.  I think this magazine is your best bet for struggling or reluctant older readers.  The best thing is that Scholastic really produces a lot of free supplemental material for its magazines, so teachers who invest in Scope can find worksheets, related websites and entire lesson plans for each issue!


Scholastic MATH

My Recommendation:
    To my knowledge, Math is the only math magazine designed for teens, but let me rave about it anyway.  Math features the same sort of high-interest teen material you can expect and appreciate from Scholastic magazines, and uses those areas of interest to help kids with math.  This cover, for example, shows a math problem related to the Harry Potter series.  Inside each issue are pop star interviews, movie news, fun facts, puzzles, etc that are used to give students a chance to practice math skills.   Why use a workbook or warm-up book when you have a source like this, in which you can match the skills to whatever you're covering in class?  Highly recommended.


    Odyssey (Carus) vs. Current Science (Weekly Reader) vs. Science World (Scholastic)

    My Recommendation:
    • Go for Current Science or Science World if you have advanced elementary readers or middle schoolers, or even high schoolers.  Both magazines are filled with features like informational articles, experiments, science news, photographs, diagrams, and interesting facts.  Both contain high-interest material for kids and teens, and can easily be used to supplement science lessons.  The only differences are that Current Science contains longer articles at a slightly higher reading level, in my opinion, and Scholastic offers better teaching material (like worksheets and lessons) with Science World.
    • Odyssey is another good science magazine, but I think the other two better lend themselves to teaching opportunities.  Go for Odyssey if you simply want reading material for students who have a particular interest in science, but don't need to be lured in by as many high-interest features.  The reading level is pretty high for this magazine, too.  One thing I do enjoy about Odyssey is that each issue features a short science fiction piece.

    Social Studies and History

    Junior Scholastic (Scholastic) vs. Cobblestone vs. Calliope vs. Dig (all from Carus)

      My Recommendation:
      • The social studies magazines for teens are unique.  Go for Junior Scholastic if you want to emphasize current events.
      • Go for the other magazines if you have the following needs:  Cobblestone focuses on U.S. history, while Calliope focuses on world history.  Dig rounds out the history magazines as one that places an emphasis on archaeology.  It has similarities to Calliope because they both talk about ancient cultures, but Dig deals exclusively with archaeological finds, relics, ancient art and things like that.  All three magazines are great for middle and high school students, and all feature very interesting articles.  My personal favorite is Calliope (world history interests me).  The only downside to Carus' magazines is that their supplemental material (teacher's guides) are no match for Scholastic's.

      Magazines for the Middle Grades

      Language Arts/Reading

      Storyworks vs. Scholastic Scope (both Scholastic) vs. Cricket (Carus)

      My Recommendation:
      • Go for Storyworks, my favorite classroom magazine next to Read, if you have 4-6th graders.  Storyworks is such a rich publication; each issue features poems, grammar practice, writing prompts, interviews, short stories and high-interest articles.  It's a really great investment, especially since Storyworks has an abundance of free supplemental material from Scholastic.  In fact, this magazine has more free worksheets, lesson ideas and the best teacher's guides of any Scholastic publication, which is saying a lot.  Highly recommended!
      • Go for Scope if you like Storyworks, but your readers are a little older or too mature for that magazine.  Scope and Storyworks feature a lot of similar material, but I prefer Storyworks' content and free resources.  Scope suits advanced elementary students and middle schoolers.
      • Go for Cricket if you just want a resource for classroom reading material.  Cricket has a lot of nice illustrations and short stories, but the other two are better suited for lesson plans and activities.

      DynaMath (Scholastic)

      My Recommendation:
      • DynaMath, a version of Math that appeals to younger readers, is great for classrooms.  Just like Math, it takes news, interviews and things that interests kids and turn them into math problems.  Kids enjoy reading the actual content as they solve the problems within the pages.  There are comics, puzzles, photographs and tons of things that make this a good investment.  Plus, as usual, Scholastic has great teacher's guides and free worksheets for each issue.

      Ask (Carus) vs. SuperScience (Scholastic)

      My Recommendation:
      • Go for SuperScience, which has better content and lots of free resources for lesson plans.  SuperScience has lots of science news, high-interest articles, photographs, diagrams, experiments and quizzes to help students learn science.  Each issue comes with a "mystery" to solve, short articles and plenty of material to use for the classroom.  Ask is also a good magazine, but probably better for slightly younger elementary students, struggling readers, or light reading for a classroom library.  I prefer both to National Geographic Kids magazine, which is a good publication, but has a lot of focus on animals whereas the other two are a bit broader in their approach to science.

      Social Studies
      Time for Kids (Time, Inc.) vs. Weekly Reader News (Weekly Reader) vs. Scholastic News (Scholastic)

      My Recommendation:

      •  Go for Scholastic News.  Both Scholastic News  and Weekly Reader News are great current events magazines to keep kids up to date with what's going on in the world.  The deciding factor here is purely the free supplemental material Scholastic always provides, which are easier to use for lesson plans.  Both magazines have a variety of short articles, quizzes and information that make global news accessible to students.  Time for Kids is decent, but I think it's too short and it's supplemental material doesn't compare to Scholastic's.

      I hope this match-up helps you all decide which classroom magazines are best for your students.  Give them a try, and I think they will enhance almost any class! 

      images:  All magazine covers are from their respective official sites.

      Tuesday, July 19, 2011

      Pop-ups For Advanced Readers, Part II

      Part I featured many of Sabuda and Reinhart's best work, but I wanted to suggest even more pop-up book creators on this particular list.  Again, these are pop-up books with impressive visuals and informational text best suited for advanced readers.

      Predators: A Pop-up Book with Revolutionary Technology
      Predators by Lucio and Meera Santoro
      Predators boasts its use of "revolutionary technology" to create its pop-ups.  This book features tigers, eagles, bears, spiders and some of nature's other famous predators.  Animal lovers will find this book interesting, but be careful with these pop-ups:  they have many fragile, dangling parts that may increase the book's susceptibility to damage.

      The Architecture Pack by Ron Van Der Meer and Deyan Sudjic

      The Architecture Pack is a very detailed display of all sorts of architecture ranging from early cabins and structures, cathedrals, palaces and modern buildings.  The book includes tons of moving, workable parts as well as biographies of some of the world's greatest architects.  It's a great way to study design principles and the evolution of architecture.  Students interested in science, engineering and design may find this incredibly inspiring.  Here is a video of the author reviewing each page of the book:

      The Pop-Up Book of Phobias
      The Pop-Up Book of Phobias by Gary Greenberg and Matthew Reinhart
      Phobias may have an innocuous cover, but it has some of the most engaging, potentially frightening pop-ups of any book I've seen. Yes, I snuck another Reinhart creation on this list but it is worth it! This book uses the artwork to explore different phobias (which is always a good way to review root words with students) and the pictures masterfully illustrate each term. It could be a good assignment to ask students to make their own illustrations of phobias not featured. Anyway, here is a video of the book:

      Sports Illustrated Kids WOW! The Pop-Up Book of Sports
      Sports Illustrated Kids Wow!  The Pop-Up Book of Sports
      The Pop-Up Book of Sports will entice sports fans with its pictures of some of the best plays from golf, baseball, football, basketball and other games. The pop-ups include actual photographs of sports teams and athletes, and lots of facts and statistics are included on each page.

      Pop-up Facts: Human Body (Pop-up Facts)
      Pop-Up Facts:  Human Body

      Human Body gives students a chance to examine many facets of the human body, like the skeletal system, muscles and organs. This book would be great to supplement biology lessons.

      This concludes this edition of pop-up book mania. As I discover more, I'll update these lists.

      Pop-Up Books for Advanced Readers, Part I

      A few weeks ago, I suggested a few pop-up books for young readers.  Now, I want to focus on books that have the same pop-up magic that fascinates children, but also have more text that is appropriate for advanced, older readers.  Pop-up books are not just for early elementary children!  The text in these books is just as well thought-out and impressive as the intricate pop-up designs.  The great thing about most of the advanced pop-up sources is that they are usually written as informational books which would appeal to lots of readers, especially boys.

      The books suggested here are all created by my favorite pop-up artists, Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart.  As far as I'm concerned, you can't really go wrong with any of their books.  Stay tuned for Part II, in which I suggest more advanced pop-up books by different authors.

      Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs: The Definitive Pop-Up
      Encyclopedia Prehistorica:  Dinosaurs
      Dinosaurs is one of Sabuda and Reinhart's Encyclopedia series, which takes subjects from history and fantasy and creates wonderful informational books with amazing pop-ups.  If you have dinosaur lovers who want to nearly be captured in the clutches of a terrifying T-Rex, this is the book for you.

      Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Sharks and Other Sea Monsters
      Encyclopedia Prehistorica:  Sharks and other Sea Monsters 
      Sharks builds on the same sense of wonder with dangerous prehistoric creatures as Dinosaurs.  This time, Sabuda and Reinhart take readers under the sea to learn about creatures like teeth-baring sharks and crocodile-like menaces.  Remember, Sabuda and Reinhart have become known for including mini-books and extra places within the book that feature more pop-ups and information.  This means readers get the chance to read lots of text to accompany the stunning visuals.

      Encyclopedia Prehistorica Mega-Beasts Pop-Up
      Encyclopedia Prehistorica:  Mega-Beasts
      Mega-Beasts showcases some of Earth's most daunting creatures from eras past, like the sabre-tooth tiger and giant lizards.  The grand finale is the great wooly mammoth, whose trunk and tusks lunge at the reader and give them a sense of how majestic and formidable these creatures were.  Check it out.

      Encyclopedia Mythologica: Fairies and Magical Creatures Pop-Up
      Encyclopedia Mythologica:  Fairies and Magical Creatures
      Fairies is made specifically for fans of fantasy creatures like fairies, mermaids, elves and other things you find in fairy tales and fables.  This would appeal to many girls, I'm sure.  My favorite page is the impressive centerpiece made by a lovely unicorn.  

      Encyclopedia Mythologica: Dragons and Monsters Pop-Up
      Encyclopedia Mythologica: Dragons and Monsters 
      Dragons and Monsters features creatures and characters from various cultures' mythologies.  Readers will have up-close encounters with Medusa, dragons, vampires, and even the legendary Kraken challenging a ship.

      Encyclopedia Mythologica: Gods and Heroes Pop-Up
      Encyclopedia Mythologica:  Gods and Heroes
      Gods and Heroes takes readers on a journey through the ancient mythologies of the Norsemen, Greeks, Egyptians, Asia, the Americas, etc.  This is a great tool for students interested in exploring ancient cultures.  Check out the Egyptian god who pops out to greet readers on the first page.

      DC Super Heroes: The Ultimate Pop-Up Book
      DC Super Heroes:  The Ultimate Pop-up Book
      DC Super Heroes is Reinhart's tribute to some of the most popular characters in the world of DC Comics.  The book serves as an introduction to some of the major characters and story lines, as well as a visual treat for long-time comic fans.  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and tons of others are featured.  Listen to Reinhart describe his process in making the book.

      Any of these books would be a great addition to your library!  Another great thing is that older readers will probably be more careful with the books, which is important when you have such fragile pieces in the books.  Happy reading!