Archive | March, 2010

Team Building In The Classroom Part 2

25 Mar


This is a great game for when a group of kids gets together for the first time. We used it during the first week of school so that the students could get a little more comfortable around each other. Each student gets a sheet and a pen, and then has a designated amount of time to get BINGO on their card (You can change the rules to suit your needs and your time restraints, ie. first one to complete a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal row, first one to fill in the entire sheet, or the person who gets the most filled in within the time limit.) The hardest part about this game is making the Bingo sheets, and luckily for you, I’ve already done it for you!! There are 5 different sheets, each one with different questions so that no one can just copy off of someone else. Feel free to change the squares to suit your kids!

Bingo Sheet 1
Bingo Sheet 2
Bingo Sheet 3
Bingo Sheet 4
Bingo Sheet 5


An activity that forces participants to be ok with feeling a little silly.

Everyone gets a strip of masking tape approximately 3 inches long. Everyone rolls their tape into a loop, sticky side out (like if you were putting it on the back of a piece of paper to hang up) and sticks it on their nose. When the teacher says “Go!” everyone begins “jousting.” To nose joust is to touch the tip of your nose to another’s, and see who’s tape “grabs” the tape off of the other persons nose. The student who loses their tape in battle places their hands on the shoulders of the winner and creates a train behind them (preferably chanting the name of the winner.) The winner then battles another winner, and whoever loses also joins on the train. The jousting continues until only 2 people remain with huge balls of tape on their nose. They compete in the final joust. This game is fast-paced, as it starts out with many jousts occurring at the same time, and is exciting because as more people join the chain, the chanting gets louder and the anticipation builds. It’s also great because “losers” immediately become part of a potentially winning team.


Divide students up into teams of five. They will need to play this game with bare feet. Groups can play against each other, or the clock. Use a felt tip (washable) marker and write 3 letters on each student: one on each hand, and one on one foot. Use these letters:

1. TDO
2. HYI
3. EHR
4. BFT
5. OCS

As you call out words from the list below, the group has to spell out the word using their hands and feet. The words must be shown to the teacher, or to another student you designate as a judge.

rest, fist, dice, trot, crib, boot, rich, host, shoot, first, drift, shirt, roost, shred, hired, forest, theory, bitter, bother, frosty, boiled, strict, thirsty, ostrich, october, boosted, shifted, hoisted, stitched

Happy team building, let me know how it goes!


Team Building In The Classroom

24 Mar

Over the next few days, I’d like to offer up some ideas for team building exercises. I attended a conference a few years ago called COCA (Children’s Oncology Camping Association.) For 9 years now, I have volunteered every summer at Camp Can Do, a week-long sleep away camp for kids with cancer. It is the most rewarding, enjoyable week of my entire year, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. When I was offered the opportunity to attend COCA, I jumped at the chance. There, I learned great ideas for fun icebreakers and team building activities that don’t necessarily have to happen at camp. After struggling with some animosity between my students, I decided to use some of the ideas from COCA in my classroom. Especially at the beginning of the year, I spend the first 5 or 10 minutes of class letting my kids learn how to work together.

Would You Rather…

We’ve all played this game, either at slumber parties, amongst coworkers, or sitting around the dinner table. I personally love to think about my answers to these questions, and it’s always interesting to hear what others say. I also like to play this with my students. We put a line of masking tape down the center of the floor, and they all stand on it. Then, as I read the question, I indicate which side of the line they should step to, depending on their answer. There’s always one kid who likes to be different despite what the answer is. There’s always one who changes his mind if everyone else steps the opposite way, even if he can’t explain why he’s switching his vote. And then there’s always the two students who argue back and forth over why it’s better to be deaf or blind. This little game is definitely a conversation starter, and a great way to read your students’ personalities without them even knowing it.

Would You Rather…

Visit the doctor or the dentist?
Watch TV or listen to music?
Be invisible or be able to read minds?
Have a third arm or a third leg?
Be hairy all over or completely bald?
Be the most popular or the smartest person you know?
Be handsome/beautiful and dumb, or be ugly and really smart?
Repeat 4th grade for a year (at your current age) or spend a month in jail?
Always be cold or always be hot?
Always lose or never play?
Only be able to whisper or only be able to shout?
Be blind or deaf?
Be stranded on a deserted island alone or with someone you don’t like?
See the future or change the past?
Be three inches taller or three inches shorter?
Live to be 100 but have health problems, or live to be 50 and healthy?
Have to always say everything on your mind, or never speak again?
Not be able to sleep or not be able to walk?
Be trapped in an elevator with wet dogs or 3 large men with bad breath

My Favorite Student Stole My Wallet

23 Mar

A few years ago, my wallet got stolen at school. I can make a long story short, and briefly tell you what happened. Instead of locking my purse away in a cabinet as usual, I stored it in a desk drawer that day because I had forgotten my keys at home. During class, my cell phone could be heard ringing in the drawer, indicating that I had my valuables in there. So, unbeknownst to me, a student helped himself. Opened the drawer, opened my purse, and took my wallet. Left my phone, left my camera, just took my wallet. In my wallet was eight dollars, my license, my debit card, and my social security card (I know Mom, I’m not supposed to carry that with me. Lesson learned the hard way.) After discovering the theft, I quickly reported it to my principal, the police, and the credit card company, which informed me that $40 had been charged at a gas station around the corner. The wallet was already out of the school, passed from one student to another. An officer came to the school, and together we spoke to each student who was in my classroom. He told them that there was a surveillance tape at the gas station that they were in the process of reviewing (not true,) and what the consequences were if the person didn’t come clean. I told them that I didn’t care about the eight dollars, they could keep the cash, and I just wanted my cards back due to the hassle of replacing them. I advised the kids to get it back, and anonymously drop the wallet somewhere where it could be found, and no charges would be pressed.

Amazingly, they did exactly what I asked. The next morning, my wallet and all of its contents (minus the eight dollars) were on a table in the library. The $40 charge was taken off of my credit card, and the incident was forgotten.

Over the course of the next few days, word traveled through the grapevine that one of my favorite students was the culprit. (For as much as my kids talk about not “snitching,” they unknowingly snitch on each other all the time.) Because of the relationship I had with this particular student, I was overwhelmed with conflicting emotions regarding the incident. My first reaction was “How could he do this to me? To me, of all people!!” My second reaction was, “Well, it was my own fault. If I had locked my purse up like I was supposed to, the temptation wouldn’t have been there.” Teachers at my school talk all the time about how our kids just can’t help themselves, they have been brought up by the street and will do what they need to do to get by. And as much as I understand that, the feeling of betrayal still stays with me, almost three years later. At what point should everything I’ve done for that kid outweigh eight dollars? Clearly, I thought we were there. And clearly, he did not. And that hurt.

This kind of thing happens all the time. Another teacher’s purse got stolen, and we matched up a muddy footprint to find the thief. My kids steal from teachers, other students, anyone. I’ve heard stories about a kid who broke into his best friend’s mother’s house and stole from her. What’s going on here? Are there no boundaries? If I went to one of my kids and told them that a stranger robbed me on the street, they would stand up and yell “Oh no they didn’t! Not from Mrs. M!” And it would be all I could do to keep them from going after the guy themselves. They would hate that I had been treated so disrespectfully. So why is it ok to do it themselves? The hardest part was the way the kids were so angry with me for calling the police. They were angry with me. Visibly so. Very obviously so. I seriously considered talking with them and trying to rationalize my actions, and then realized I didn’t owe them an explanation for doing what was right.

So, I’ll ask again. What’s going on here? What would you have done if this happened to you, because I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it.

Going Back To Our Future

22 Mar

There are all kinds of online tests to determine if you are right or left brained. Here is an interesting one that also gives recommendations on how to strengthen your weak hemisphere, and well as offers studying tips for how you learn best. While this is useful information to use with your students, it is also inspiration for a different kind of “left-brain” and “right-brain” comparison.

Who we are is greatly dependent on our past experiences. Our entire lives, leading up until right now, have influenced us and make us completely different than our neighbors, friends, and even family members. Our experiences are stored in our memories and affect future decisions and emotional responses. I like to call this our “Past Brain.”

On the other hand, we also have our “Future Brain.” That’s the side of us that has hopes, dreams, and goals. That’s the side of our brain that, though guided by our past brain, still has the freedom to plan out the next step. The half that allows us to try new things because it has no reference from the past brain telling it that it might be a bad idea. The two halves go hand in hand, and certainly influence each other, but while one might be filled with regrets the other has the ability to live freely.

So I asked my students to consider their past and future selves, and to brainstorm what makes up each side. Most of them, especially with some prompting, were able to list at least a few things that had great influence on them (both good and bad.) The future side was surprisingly more difficult, especially when I pressed them to try to be positive. Most of them saw little difference in where they had come from vs. where they were going. They clearly assumed that the rest of their lives, no matter how long or short, were going to continue on the same path that had gotten them in trouble and landed them there with me. That was saddening to me, especially since it was relatively easy for me to fill up my future side with new ideas and expectations. We ended up having a heart to heart about how YOU make your future, and only YOU can make it different from your past. Once they started allowing their future brains to separate from their past brains, they began to dream. And hope. And imagine things that their past brains believed only happened to other people.

Get the full lesson plan here!!
Get the brainstorming sheet here!!

DCF Can Provide, But Only You Can Provide For Your Heart.

18 Mar

One of my kids is a father. Jarell is 18, and has a one year old son. Jarell’s also a DCF kid. He lives in a group home and gets money from DCF. They will help him out until he’s 21…as long as he stays in school and lives up to his end of the deal: no trouble with the law, get passing grades in school, go to school, etc. etc. At first, these sound like simple requests…but some of these things are harder for Jarell than you might think. Most of the kids at my school can walk there, no problem. If they miss the bus, no big deal, school is a ten minute walk away. But Jarell, because he lives in a group home, lives in the next town over. And on the other side of it. That was the only placement they could give him. So the school tells him they can’t provide him transportation, so he’ll need to take the city bus. Both ways. And pay for it. That went on for a few months until someone finally questioned why his attendance was so poor. Could his commute possibly be the reason? Now a van goes and picks him up. But it’s too late for his grades, because he’s already missed too much class to make up the work. Was it his fault? When DCF comes and looks at his grades and attendance and tells him that he’s not holding up his end of the deal, is it wrong of him to get upset and walk out? I don’t know about you, but when I was 18, I had friends whose parents bought them nice little cars to drive around as they pleased. And those friends came and picked me up for school in the morning and dropped me off at the end of the day. And if they couldn’t, the worst case scenario was that I might have to take the school bus. Until I graduated and went off to the college that I was already accepted to that my parents were going to pay for, no worries. Kind of a different world, right?

So on the days that this kid makes it to school, he comes and sees me. There’s no time in his schedule for an art class, he’s got enough academic classes that he needs to squeeze in. But on occasion my classes will be doing a project that he loves, and he asks if he can make one too. Then, if he’s in a class and finishes his work for the day, he asks to come down to the art room to work on his project. The last, and most memorable one that he completed was a 3-D sculpture project. The assignment was to turn someone’s initials into a 3-D tribute. So Jarell chose his son. For the past three months, Jarell has worked diligently (well, as diligently as possible given the circumstances) on a project that would normally take a week or two. It is the most successful example of the project that I’ve seen…it’s better than the example I made to show the class. I never would have thought that this kid, with everything else going on in his life, would think that my little 3-D project was so important. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him stick with anything for so long in the three years that I’ve known him. But I know that every time I assign this project again, I’ll always be thinking of Jarell: up to his elbows in paper mache and masking tape, wanting to honor his son in any way he can. And I got to be a part of that.

Get the full lesson plan here!

Get the Rubric here!

Teachers Wear Masks…Remember “Miss Nelson Is Missing”???

17 Mar

Everyone has professional development days. Those days where every school in the state has professional development, and while the kids yell “We have no school on Tuesday!!” the teachers groan and mutter to each other that this professional development better be more interesting than the last one, where we learned about a great online curriculum…except our classrooms don’t have computers. See, unfortunately, because our school is not a public school, we’re usually left out in the cold when it comes to professional development. Usually, the principal tries to bring in someone interesting, and if no one is available, we come up with something “important” ourselves, which usually turns into a complaint session with no solutions. After sitting through countless numbers of these sessions, I asked the principal if I could have a few hours during the next session to do a little art lesson with the teachers. I explained that it would be a good way to get everyone to open up a little, have fun, and at the same time see how art (and the art teacher!) can be used for so much more than making pretty bulletin boards.

So I prepared a mask lesson that would require each teacher to make an animal mask embodying characteristics that also applied to themselves. I wheeled out a cart that was loaded with supplies, and after completing a short brainstorm session, everybody got to work. It was really enlightening to teach my co-workers, and even more so to see how clearly their personalities and styles came out in their mask. One teacher finished in about ten minutes, even though he knew he had 45. He quickly cut, added some pipe cleaner whiskers, and called it a fox. At the other end of the spectrum, another teacher used every material available in every possible color, and created the most imaginative, beautiful creature that never existed. If anyone was paying attention, it was utterly obvious through the expression of these masks what it would be like to sit in each teacher’s classroom for a day and be taught by them.

The best part of the activity was the wrap-up. I had everyone view each mask, and write on a piece of paper adjectives and descriptive phrases that they felt it conveyed. When everyone read the descriptions of their own mask, they were surprised how other people’s interpretations were different than what they originally intended to express. What does this say about the messages they’re sending to their students without even knowing it? They say teachers have to wear many different hats, but I think it might be the “masks” that we wear when we’re teaching that have the biggest effect on our students.

Get the full lesson plan here!!
Get the worksheet here!!

There’s a Wocket in My Pocket

16 Mar

I was a pretty imaginative kid. When shopping with my mom, I pretended everything I touched I got to keep; as though there was a storage unit somewhere being filled up, and my fingertips were my price gun. I imagined that the swing set in my backyard was a rocket ship that could transport me anywhere in the world. I imagined that my breakfast cereal was alive. Each little Cheerio was a teeny tiny being that couldn’t swim…but as long as there were enough banana-rafts to go around, they would all be OK. Sometimes my imagination would get carried away. And sometimes, when I look at my elementary kids, I wonder where their imaginations have gone.

I have to be careful when I assign projects to the little ones. If they hear each others’ ideas, or if they catch a glimpse of another’s paper, they end up all making the same thing. Everyone’s robot will have laser eyes. Everyone’s dream house will have a gold roof and a front door made of chocolate. Not that these aren’t very imaginative ideas, but it’s like there is only room for one idea in their little heads, and once it gets in there, they can’t come up with their own.

That’s why I love the book “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket” by Dr. Seuss. The little boy in the story imagines that there are creatures all over his house, and they are constantly doing crazy things. I read this book to my kids, and then had them create their own Wocket. For the first time, I didn’t have to encourage them to be more imaginative. They did it on their own! By giving them colored scraps of paper and little other instruction, they were able to create the most amazing, unique creatures. Plus, I think they just like saying “Wocket.”

Get the full lesson plan here!