Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fun Online Word Game

How long will it take you to find words made of only 4 letters? 4 letters sounds simple enough, but this word game still provides a good way to challenge your linguistic skills. The words are formed by sliding the "strips" up and down and making the letters selected form actual words. You can choose either a normal or relaxed pace while playing.
If students are looking for a fun game online, or need a word work center, try this game and see how well they know some of our language's shortest words.

image: microsoft

Social Studies Activity: Examining Currency/License Plates

Mr. Meyer has a great idea for an interesting social studies activity:  "reverse engineering" bank notes and license plates.

Basically, he recommends collecting pictures of currency and license plates, using Photoshop to edit out explicit references to their origin, and challenging students to examine the clues on the pictures to figure out which countries/states use those items.  This is a good activity for analysis:  think of all the historical figures, symbols and other visual elements used on money and license plates.  Why were those features chosen to represent the nation or state of origin?  That's a good question for your students!

Mr. Meyer also posted sources on where to find pictures of bank notes and license plates.  Check out his blog for more details!

image:  microsoft

Get Students Published in Stone Soup!

Do you have writers in your classroom?  Budding authors and poets?  What about talented artists?

There are many avenues for getting student work published in professional magazines, one of which is Stone Soup, a "literary print magazine written and illustrated by young writers and artists."  They are a nice publication that offers a platform from young talent like those in your own classroom.
 You can encourage your young creators to submit work to Stone Soup by following their guidelines.

Students must be 13 or younger, and submit their work by mail.  Also, visit their archives for previous examples of printed material.  Consider investing in a subscription to Stone Soup.  Their stories would be good reading material for classrooms, especially for silent reading time.  Students are even paid if they're chosen for publication!

What better way to encourage students to hone their crafts and take writing and illustrating seriously?  By introducing them to Stone Soup, you may very well be grooming a future literary and artistic career.

Free Math Game: Challenging Multiplication Grid

How well do you know your multiplication facts?
Are you comfortable with digits beyond 12?

Here's a chance to test yourself (and your students) with this fun, challenging game.  It's a Speed Grid Challenge, and I'll admit that it defeated me quite a few times.

This is a good mental math activity (with introductory algebra skills) that challenges thinkers to solve by choosing numbers from a grid.  Sounds kind of easy, doesn't it?  Not if you're unable to quickly calculate a number times 13, 15, or higher!  

You can select how many problems to solve in however many minutes you choose.  The default, 8 questions in 2 minutes, is a good place to start.  If you are able to do that comfortably, up the stakes to more problems and/or less time to solve.  Conversely, if the default is too challenging (ahem), feel free to decrease the number of problems, or increase the time limit.  Once students find a comfortable pace, encourage them to strive for a more challenging pace.

If you're looking for math activities for kids, especially ones who've mastered their multiplication facts, this free game is a good mental exercise.  It would be a good math center or computer station activity.
Try it yourself, and with your math class.  It's one of my favorites!

Create a Culture: Social Studies Project

Create a Culture: A Complete Framework for Students to Use in Creating an Original Culture (Multicultural Question Collection)

This is a project book that invigorates social studies and geography lessons with lots of imagination!  Teachers can use this book to assign the creation of an entire culture.  Students have to work together to think about their population, geography, currency, system of government, and literally build an entire culture from scratch.  They are able to use the reproducibles in this book to think broadly (like where their culture is located) and very specifically (like what kind of sports their culture enjoys).  There are many pages in this book that teachers can choose to use for a long-term project.  Creative thinking really brings this activity to life.
I think it's a great way to open students' eyes concerning the real facts and information they learn about countries and cultures around the world.  When they get a chance to create, they are using those coveted higher-level thinking skills.  This books takes them step by step through the process.
Another reason I recommend this book is because I did a similar project back when I was in junior high.  I still remember it!  I remember my imaginary country, the maps I drew, the flag I created, and the industries I made up.  Clearly, after all these years, that specific project left a positive impression on me.  I never did anything quite like it, and I do recall my enjoyment.  I think today's students would enjoy it as well.

Brainquest Cards: A Good Investment

Fortunately for me, I sub for many teachers who invest in Brainquest cards. They come in a small package and a few are designed for each grade level. Each card contains a ton of questions related to math, geography, history, grammar, science, etc. The cards also have answers on the back, so they are good resource to have.

They are convenient, contain good information, and they are easy to use. They are really helpful for resourceful substitutes because you can use them in all sorts of ways. Over the years, I have used them to give a quick mental challenge to students as the clock winds down for the end of the day, and I've also allowed students to sit in pairs and use them as a free time activity. Just recently, I took the box of Brainquest cards with me in the hallway and asked students questions to keep them occupied while we waited during a restroom break and for another class to clear out of the art room. It's easy to make the questions a game.  The kids always respond really well to Brainquest because they questions are usually accessible, things kids know or are interested to learn. 

If you haven't seen them, try them out for your grade level (they have products for preschool through seventh grade). They have a website for students to answer questions online.  I believe they also make workbooks and boardgames.  Nevertheless, I like the quick simplicity and engagement you get from the cards.  They've been lifesavers several times.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

13 Hispanic Heritage Month Activities

Stumped about how to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month in your classroom?  Try the 13 activities listed here as a way to get you started.  Included are online games, craft activities, research projects and a slew of great resources.

New African-American Character Joins American Girl

Remember when I made a list of some book series which includes protagonists of color?  And I praised American Girl's diversity on its roster of titles?  Well, they've done it again by introducing two new girls to their titles, one of which is an African-American character named Cecile Rey.

This is the first time one title will be shared by two characters.  Cecile will be joined by Marie-Grace Gardner in a compelling tale set in 19th-century New Orleans.

I have always praised American Girl's historical fiction and their commitment to racial diversity in their products.  Check out the new series and see how these two girls' fates intertwine in one of America's greatest cities.

 Meet Cécile (American Girl) (American Girls Collection)Troubles for Cécile (American Girl) (American Girls Collection)Cécile's Gift (American Girl) (American Girls Collection)


Monday, September 12, 2011

Sparkle: The Spelling Game

This is a whole-class spelling game that I played with a class last week.  It is very fun and got them excited to practice their spelling words.  I would recommend it to any teacher looking for a way to enliven their spelling lesson or give students something fun and productive to do with the entire class.

The game is called Sparkle.  The particular teacher I was subbing for had a cute little wand made especially for games like this, which I used to point at students on their turn to keep the rhythm going quickly.

For this game, it's probably better to play when a spelling test is approaching because it's good for students to have some familiarity with the words, as opposed to playing the day you give them the new list.  Having time to study and learn the words will help them play better.

First, everyone can stand or sit in a circle.  The class I was subbing just formed a big circle around the classroom.  Pick a word from the list and a person to start the game.  Say the word, and the first student says the first letter of the word.  The next student says the next letter of the word on and on around the circle until the final letter is spoken.  After that, the next student says, "sparkle," a signal of the completion of the spelling word.  The student next to the one who says "sparkle" then sits down.  They are out.  Give the class the next word.  The same thing happens with each student providing one letter from the word, one student saying "sparkle" once the word is completed, and the next student sitting down. 

Students are also out and sit down if they do not give the correct letter for the word, or if they hesitate too long because they don't know.  You can decide how to proceed when students make mistakes.  The next student will have to give the correct letter to the word, and this sometimes results in several people having to sit down because they've forgotten the word or weren't paying attention to the letters already guessed.  After several people have guessed the wrong letters, you may choose a different word and come back to it.  At the end of the game, make note of the words that gave the class particular trouble so that they can practice with them more before the spelling test.  You can continue playing the game until one winner is left from all the players.

The game eliminates players as much from chance (their position in the circle after someone says "sparkle" means they have to sit down, even if they know how to spell all their words) as it does from mistakes.  Let students who sit down know you will play the game often and that it's not a big deal for them to lose one round.

Some students told me they have also played a version of the game where they sit on top of their desks and go around the room spelling the letters, and sit down in their seats when they are out.  This would also be a nice game to play outside on good weather days.  Do whatever works for you.  The kids really liked the game and it gave them much-needed time to work with their spelling words.  I enjoyed leading the game.  Try it!

image: microsoft