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Quick and Easy Cooperative Games that Build Classroom Community

Hello... 2016! {sung in my best Adele voice}

I'm so excited to be teaming up with some of my See Mama Teach friends to bring you a bunch of ideas and freebies to kick 2016 off with a BANG!
My third class I ever had was pretty rough. Besides a few high needs behavior issues and a wide range of academic abilities, they struggled with social skills. Specifically working together cooperatively. As a beginning teacher, I was under the assumption that community building only happens at the beginning of the year. Boy was I WRONG! Building classroom community is something you have to do all year long. And coming back from Winter Break is the PERFECT time to start including community building into your daily routine. It will be so beneficial as we head into these next few long winter months.

With all of the standards and curriculum on our plates, it is HARD to find the time to do another thing in the classroom. If you're already holding a morning meeting, you can easily sneak this in during your activity time. If you don't have this time, all you really need is 5 minutes a day, two to three times a week for students to practice valuable social skills.

Since our time is at a premium, here are some of my favorite cooperative learning games that are quick and easy to implement:

1. Human Pretzel

Students work in groups of 5-6 and form a circle. Each student reaches one hand into the circle and grabs the hand of another student. Then they reach the other hand into the circle and grab a different person's hand. Then they have to work together to untwist themselves into a circle. I do allow students to let go of hands to readjust their grips, if needed, but other than that, they have to stay holding hands.

2. Balloon Bump

Start with groups of 3-4. Students have to hold hands in a circle and work together to keep a balloon from touching the floor. They can use any part of their body except for their feet. As they get better at it, make the groups larger. Maybe you can even get your whole class to work together with one balloon!

3. Hula Hoop Balance

Borrow a few hula hoops from your PE teacher and put students into groups of 5-6. Together, they will start with one hula hoop at about nose level and using only their fingertips, they need to work together to lower the hula hoops to the ground.

4. Pass the Hula Hoop

Keep those same hula hoops and put students into larger groups of 7-10. They will hold hands and put one hula hoop in between two students. Then the students will work together to pass the hula hoop around the circle by moving it over their heads, stepping through it, etc.

5. In the Loop

You can do this in groups or as a whole class. With a long rope or piece of yarn, make a large circle in your carpet area. Students work together to get everyone sitting inside the circle. Then you repeat the activity, making the circle smaller each time.

6. Minefield

I like to borrow the plastic spots from my PE teacher for this, or you could use pieces of paper. You need 25 dots/pieces of paper to make a 5x5 grid on the floor. The teacher maps out a secret path to get from one side to another (I write it on a sticky note so I don't forget it LOL). Students line up, and one at a time, they take a step onto the spots. If it is a safe place to stand, I say nothing. If it isn't I say "boom!" and the student goes to the end of the line and the next person goes. The student keeps going until they either step on a "mine," or they get to the other side. The class works together to get everyone from one side of the mine field to the other.

7. STEM/STEAM Projects

There are SO many ideas out there for STEM/STEAM, but many of them take up a ton of time. To keep it within 5-10 minutes, I pick the ones that don't need a lot of supplies and I set a timer for no more than five minutes. Give groups of 4-5 students 20 plastic cups and tell them to build a structure. Or give them a handful of mini marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti noodles and ask them to build a bridge or a structure to hold up an object. The key is to make sure the activity is cooperative and not competitive, so as to create a collaborative classroom environment.

After the Game is Over...

Take the time to debrief with your class when the game is over. Ask questions like, "What went well?" or "What can we do better next time?" Don't forget or skip over this part! This allows them to process their own actions and behavior, which reinforces good behavior and helps them to see what they can work on for next time.

If you like these ideas, check out my Pinterest board for Cooperative Learning. Not only does it have ideas for games, but also for cooperative learning strategies:

Click on the image below to hop to the next blog, my sweet friend Marine over at Tales from a Very Busy Teacher.

Or you can click HERE to start at the beginning of the hop!

5 Ways to Make Partner Talk Effective and Productive

Imagine this. You are teaching a mini lesson. You pose a question to your class and say, "Turn and talk to your neighbor!"

What usually happens?

3 kids just sit there. 3 kids ask every other kid in the room to be their partners, but never actually end up with a partner. Some kids pair up and just stare at each other. Maybe a third of the class is actually doing what you asked them to do..?

How can we make this time more effective and productive for our students?
Hippo Hooray for Second Grade
Some call it Pair/Share, some call it Turn 'n Talk, but it's all the same: Partner talk is a proven strategy to promote oral language development, increase student engagement, and deepen their understanding of the content. Instead of students raising their hands and only one or two get the chance to share with the whole class (while everyone else is tuning them out...), now everyone gets a chance to talk. Everyone gets the chance to be heard. And when students are conversing about academic topics, learning is happening!

Here are a few tips to make partner talk successful in your classroom:

1. Assign Partners

I never ever EVER allow my students to choose a partner in the moment. By choosing my students' partners for them, I am assured they are working with someone appropriate for them. I'm also eliminating the struggle of students not participating during partner talk time.

2. Keep Partnerships Long-Term

I keep my partnerships together for at least a semester, and I'm thinking about keeping my current partners together for even longer. Why? By having the same partners, students form relationships and trust between each other. It's comfortable and familiar for them. It makes the discussions less awkward, and they become more deep and meaningful.

3. Partners Sit by Each Other 

I teach almost all of my lessons at the carpet, so when I ask my students to join me up front, they know they are supposed to sit next to their partner. That way, when I ask them to turn and talk, their partner is right there and they can get started right away!

4. Give Each Partner a Name

Peanut Butter & Jelly. Salt & Pepper. Partner A & Partner B (Boring? Yes. But functional). Make sure your students know who's who. That way when you tell your students to turn and talk, you will also say, "Peanut Butter Partner goes first." and there's no arguing about who has to (or gets to) go first.

5. Post Your Partnerships

You always have one or two students who "forget" who their partners are, so by having a list of partnerships posted, you can eliminate time wasted trying to find out who their partner is. It is also incredibly helpful if you have a substitute in your classroom.
I hang this on a bulletin board close to my carpet area so kids can check if they need to.

How Do I Assign Partners?

In general, I partner students up with children of similar abilities. That way, they can have discussions and conversations about topics at their level, rather than one person carrying the conversation. I assign each student a reading partner, a writing partner, and a math partner. In math we also have clock partners with heterogeneous pairings, but we'll save that info for another post. Oh and by the way, don't forget that Common Core is big on peer editing in writing. Those writing partners come in very handy for that standard! I have a peer editing checklist freebie HERE if you're interested :)

What if you have an odd number of students? I make a group of 3. But I am purposeful when making this group. Usually I will put an ELL, speech student, or a special ed student in the group of 3 so they have two other children to look to for, and there is less pressure for them to talk.

What is the Teacher Doing While the Students are Talking?

When students are talking, I'm popping around from group to group, listening in. At the halfway point, I'll call out, "Switch!" to allow the other partner to talk, if needed. After a minute or two of partner talking, I'll stop the partner talking, and I will share out what the students said. "Oh my gosh! Sarah shared something really smart. She said _______."

Sometimes when partners are talking, they miss the answer or point and don't say what I want them to say. In those instances, I just make it up when I share out :) I'll say, "Someone in the back, I don't remember who it was, said ________." and in the blank, I'll say what I was hoping to hear from the conversations.

I never allow my students to repeat what they said to their partner to the whole class. I always do the final share after the partner talk is over. Why not? Because then we're back to one student talking and the rest of the students being disengaged. Plus, we all know what happens when you let a student share with the whole class when you're trying to wrap up your lesson....

Do you use partner talk in your classroom? Tell me all about it in the comments below!

For more classroom ideas, check out my Pinterest Board:

6 Reasons to Use Reader's Theatre in Your Classroom

Reader's Theatre: not just for beginning readers! 

I just love using reader's theatre in my classroom! Reader's theatre is defined as a group of readers who "perform" a grade-level text for an audience, usually without scenery, props, costumes, and most importantly, without the stress and pressure of students memorizing their lines.

Here are 6 reasons why you should be using reader's theatre in your classroom too!

1. Increases Reading Fluency

Research shows that students who read with fluency have better comprehension of the texts they read. Reader's theatre scripts help increase oral reading fluency as students need to practice their parts numerous times before they perform them to their audience.

2. Encourages Reluctant Readers

You will find that reader's theatre is a great motivation for your lowest readers. Mine tend to choose to take on major roles (narrator, main characters) and have truly risen to the occasion. Seeing their faces when they perform in front of their peers and their grown ups makes my teacher heart soar! I've even had a few parents come up to me after the performance, thanking me for helping to build their child's confidence.

3. Encourages Fluent Readers

Fluent readers benefit too, as they can focus on the expression in their dialogue and are able to dig deeper when exploring the genre and their characters.

4. Allows Students to Perform and Practice Public Speaking Skills

Do you have any actors and actresses in your class? Or maybe you do, but they just haven't been discovered yet! Reader's theatre allows students to be dramatic and "ham it up" in front of their classmates and grown ups. We also used our performances as an opportunity for students to practice projecting their voices and not holding their scripts in front of their faces!

5. Increases Student Focus and Engagement

In order for reader's theatre to be successful, all readers in the group need to be paying attention, ready to read when it's their turn. Nobody wants to be put on the spot when they aren't ready to say their lines.

6. It's Easy and Fun!

OK, so I know that sounds like a weak reason, but really it's not. Who has time to create scenery, costumes and props for a play? I sure don't! Reader's theatre is super easy to implement. You'll also find your students are so excited to perform their script in front of their audience. It's so fun to watch your class take ownership and lead their groups through the performances.

Now that we know why, let's talk about how.

I typically take about a week and a half for our reader's theatre unit. I like to use reader's theatre at the end of the school year (when teaching seems more like crowd control) due to reason number 5 above :) Here's a brief breakdown on how I implement it:


I first start by introducing the drama genre and the characteristics of the genre. I consulted a friend of mine, who is a theatre director at my local high school for a list of characteristics. I was also fortunate to have a student this year who performs in the plays at the local chidren's playhouse, so I let her do most of the talking :)


Then we talk about the difference between a play and reader's theatre. I introduced the four scripts we were going to use and gave a brief synopsis of each. Then I picked names at random for students to choose their parts.


We discuss the importance of fluency and expression and using a loud, sharing voice (level 4 voice in my room). We also talk about making sure you're following along when it's not your turn to speak, so that you are ready when it IS your turn.

DAYS 4-8ish

Then it's time to practice! I assigned each group a corner of the room. We practiced two times a day for 5 days. I also let them read their parts in the script during Read to Self. Gauge your class to see if you need more or fewer days to practice.

A few days before the performance, we sent out invitations. We invited our families to come in to see us perform.
Click HERE if you want a freebie copy of the invite


On the day of the performance, we decided on the order in which the plays would be performed. I just picked student names at random, and if I picked a group member's name, then that whole group would go. I set up the chairs at the front of my classroom. Students picked a chair ahead of time, so that there wouldn't be any confusion or two kids going for the same chair. Before our families came, I pushed all the desks to the back of my classroom and pulled as many chairs as I could for the grown ups. Then my students sat on the floor in front of them.

The trickiest part of implementing reader's theatre... finding reader's theatre scripts that are appropriate for your readers. I've found that most reader's theatre scripts are meant for beginning readers (K-1) who are working on fluency and expression. And the ones that are written at the 2nd-3rd grade reading levels are ridiculously long! I bought a 2-3 grade reader's theatre kit and each script was about 10-15 minutes to perform. Multiply that by the 4-5 groups I have.... #aintnobodygottimeforthat And not only that, but the scripts were super boring.

So last year I decided to write my own!
I love that these scripts take approximately 4-5 minutes to perform, are funny and engaging, and the storylines are relevant to what our students are experiencing and are interested in. You can see all my reader's theatre scripts in my TpT store HERE!

Do you use reader's theatre in your classroom? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below!

12 Books of Christmas: Freebies, Blog Hop & Giveaway!

I'm excited to be teaming up with 11 other AMAZING bloggers to share some of our favorite Christmas and holiday books in a fun 12 Books of Christmas Blog Hop!
Along with FREEBIES for each book, we are also giving away a copy of each book. Make sure you read all the way to the end of this post to find out how to WIN!
For my book, I chose The Smallest Gift of Christmas by Peter H. Reynolds. I just LOVE Peter H. Reynolds' books: Going Places, Ish, The Dot, The North Star... the list goes on and on! I love that his storytelling is simplistic, yet the messages are so meaningful and easy for children to relate to. So when I saw he had a Christmas book, of course I had to jump on it!
The Smallest Gift of Christmas is about a boy named Roland who is so excited for Christmas! He races downstairs on Christmas morning to find a gift that is, in his opinion, too small. He wishes for a something bigger, and bigger, and BIGGER! He eventually blasts off in a rocket ship, looking for his BIG gift in outer space. As he looks out the window, he sees the Earth getting smaller and smaller, and realizes that the best gift is not actually a gift; it's his home.

One of my favorite things about this book is its size. It measures about 5 inches by 5.5 inches. It's like a small gift in itself :) I put the book under my document camera to make sure my students are able to see the amazing illustrations while I read it.
I use an interactive read aloud daily in my classroom, so my freebie includes questions and discussion prompts you can use while you're reading the book. You can either write them on your own sticky notes or attach sticky notes to a piece of copy paper, run in through your printer, and VOILA! You'll have the prompts printed right on the sticky notes!

Understanding character traits and how characters change throughout a text is HUGE in the Common Core, so I've also included an activity for students to write their thinking about how Roland changes in the story, as well as the theme/message and author's craft. ENJOY!!
 Thanks so much for stopping by! Before you hop onto see my sweet friend, Amanda over at Teaching Maddeness, don't forget to grab my number! Each blogger will have a number at the end of his/her post. Collect all the numbers along the way, and when you're done, add them all up and enter the total number in the Rafflecopter below!
Click on the image above to head over to Amanda's blog!

Happy hopping!

I'm a Third Grade Teacher!!

If you follow me on Instagram, this isn't news to you. But I figured I should probably make this "blog official," seeing as we're 50 days into my school year. <<sarcasm intended>>

Back in July, my husband was offered and accepted a new position as the head principal of a high school of 1,600 students. While this was an amazing opportunity for all of us, it also came with some sad news: I would have to quit my job and we'd have to move. All of these life changes were unfolding right around the TpT conference in Vegas, so I apologize to anyone who was stuck listening to my sob story!! I'm normally not that emotional in real life! HA!

At first, I resigned to the fact I probably wouldn't be teaching this school year. I can't imagine many schools are looking for teachers six weeks before school starts. I had been in my previous position for 10 years, so I had no resume, cover letter, letters of reference, or anything else I'd need to get a new job. But after about 2 weeks of feeling like I had no identity without my classroom, I knew I had to at least try to get a job.

Well, it took about 3 weeks, but I got job! I am teaching third grade at an amazing school in the same district as my husband. I'm still unpacking boxes in my classroom and trying to figure out my new space (hence the lack of a "classroom reveal" blog post this year). But here are a few photos of my new classroom:
So far I'm loving third grade! Although, when people ask me what I teach, I have to make a conscious effort to say "third grade." In fact, it still sounds a little weird coming out of my mouth. And I may have sent my kids out to recess at the wrong time on the first day of school because I was looking at the second grade schedule :)

Hippo Hooray for Third Grade?!

Nope! My blog name is going to be staying the same. I always felt I was a more intermediate second grade teacher, rather than a primary second grade teacher anyway. My content will still be applicable to second grade, but I'll also be able to put a third grade spin on it. I'm really excited to begin blogging again. My new school is a Teacher's College Lab School, so trainers from New York come to my school to coach us and we get a first peek at the new reader's and writer's workshop Units of Study. I am learning SO much about workshop and learning how I can make it my own, and I can't wait to share it all with you.

In the meantime, check out my Pinterest board for third grade! I've invited a few of my third grade blogging friends to pin with me, and we have collected lots of great ideas so far!

RECAP: Wisconsin Teacher Blogger Back to School BASH

A few weeks ago, Jessica from Mrs. Plemons' Kindergarten and I hosted a meet up for Wisconsin bloggers and TpT authors. Honestly, we were just hoping we wouldn't be the only ones in attendance! Haha!! So you can imagine how thrilled we were when we were joined by over 20 other amazing bloggers/TpTers at our event!
After introductions, we got our craft on! Everyone received a bottle of hand sanitizer, and we decorated the bottle with sharpies and ribbon. It was such a sweet and practical gift to take back to our classroom. Take that, Cold and Flu Season!
Along with all the fun and socializing, Jess and I wanted to make sure the event was worthwhile to our blogging and TpT lives. So we created a list of our Top 5 Blogging/TpT Tips and Top 5 Social Media Tips. It was so awesome to have conversations and collaborate with our peers!

Of course there was food:
And we even took a brain break with a Name that GoNoodle Champ contest, sponsored by our friends at GoNoodle!
  Jess and I were so fortunate to be supported by MANY generous donors for our giveaways!

We also had SIX grand prizes, thanks to our amazing donors: Tailwind, Kendra Scott, Teaching in the Tongass, and ESGI.
All in all, we had over $15,000 in giveaway prizes and swag! Everyone left a winner! It was truly an AMAZING outpouring of support for our event!

Our phenomenal group!

Knowing that not all of our friends would be able to join us, we want to give YOU, our awesome readers, to win something as well! We have TWO $25 gift certificates to Teacher Created Resources to give away! Enter through the Rafflecopter below. Giveaway ends at 11:59PM on Friday, September 11th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We truly had a blast connecting, collaborating, and sharing with each other. This is definitely going to be an annual event. Will you be joining us next year? We sure hope so!!

Independent Reading Routines: The Reading Spot

I'm struggling to stay above water at my new school and in my new grade level (YES! Many changes around here, but we'll have to save that story for another day!), but I just HAD to put my school work on hold for a few minutes to share this nugget of AWESOMENESS with you!

My new school is a Teacher's College Reading and Writing Workshop lab school. I am amazed by the amount of trainings and resources we have at our fingertips, and I am beyond excited to jump into the deep end of that pool! But coming from a Daily 5 mindset, there are a few new routines I need to wrap my head around.

I've been meeting with my instructional coach, and we've been discussing establishing routines for independent reading time. Yesterday she suggested that my students choose a "reading spot" and sit that spot for the whole month.

My first thought was, WHAT?! When I did Daily 5, my students chose a new spot for Read to Self every day. Wouldn't I be taking away student choice and ownership?? Besides, everyone needs a change of scenery every now and then. What if they didn't want to sit in that spot the next day? Also I don't have enough reading pillows and carpet squares for everyone to have one. So how will I make the use of those fun reading materials fair?

But, I went along with her suggestion despite my reservations. She's an expert after all, right?

Well, it didn't take me more that 3 minutes of my instructional coach teaching my mini lesson to realize that this idea is GENIUS!
Think about where you read/work at home. I'm usually parked in the same spot on the couch in my living room when I'm reading. Do I find a new spot every time I sit down to read? Usually not... unless one of my kids is being distracting!

We picked students' names at random, they grabbed a reading pillow or carpet square if desired and available, and then chose their spots. I wrote down everyone's spot, even down to what color pillow they will be using. This will be especially helpful if there is a sub in my room and someone tries to pull a fast one :) We practiced several times setting up and cleaning up. My students were able to get ready for reading and clean up in less than 45 seconds for each transition!
There was no arguing over the pillows. There was no racing to sit by certain people. There wasn't any wandering around the room, wondering where to sit. No more wasting time "getting started right away."

They got their book boxes and pillow/carpet square, went to their spots, and got down to business.

In less than 45 seconds.


We were focused on reading during independent reading time. Not trying to hide behind a bookshelf for the 37th time and then me having to talk to the student like it's the first time I've had to tell them that.
I did tell my students that if there was a day that they wanted to sit in their desks instead of their spots, that's fine. So their options are their reading spot or their desks. That's it.

I wrote down the names of the last three students that chose spots. They will go first next month. Each month we will choose a new reading spot.

Semi-permanent reading spots are here to STAY in my classroom! What do you think? Will you give it a try?

For more Reader's Workshop ideas, check out my Pinterest board!

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