My Favorite Games for the Classroom and How I Use Them to Gamify My Lessons

One of my favorite ways, and one of the most simple, to instantly increase student engagement is to add a collaborative game to my daily classroom lessons, and I have a few favorite games for the classroom that my students are ALWAYS excited to play! Playing games in the classroom or in your virtual meetings allows students to practice and grow their skills of collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and citizenship.

How I Gamify My Lessons

When I’m looking for a little extra incentive for my students to participate or engage in a lesson, adding a game is one of my go-to strategies. In my experience, I’ve found that keeping it simple, and sticking to the same strategies no matter what game I’m using, is the way to go! To play, I use two different strategies: “Students vs. Teacher” or “Students vs. Students,” depending on what stage of learning we are in for our unit. At or close to the beginning of a unit, when the material or skill is still somewhat new, I use a “Students vs. Teacher” strategy, with some kind of prize at the end for beating me. Prize options can include an extra podcast episode for the day, “stinky feet” time (students get to take off their shoes), gum or candy, a few minutes of extra recess (usually 5 minutes for me), or any other prize option the students have chosen to add to our Prize Wheel. When I know the students are more comfortable with the skill or content, or I need to push them into more independent practice, I play the game as “Students vs. Students,” teaming them up based on how many teams the game we are playing allows. When playing “Students vs. Students,” the winning team gets to choose the prize or spin the wheel. However, the whole class always gets the prize in my classroom! There are many prize wheels available on Amazon, but the one that I have is linked here. Using these same two strategies allows me to save time explaining the “How wer’e going to play” part to my students, giving us more time learn and have fun doing it!

My Favorite Games for In the Classroom or in Virtual Meetings

The following games are my go-to choices, and the games that my students tend to ask for when given the choice. All games are linked in the game title. Most physical games have an Amazon listing link, but could easily be found at another store, like Walmart or Target. These games could be used by any grade level, from primary classes to high school seniors.

Otrio Digital Game
This game is one of my absolute favorite games of all time! This is a digital version with question templates of the very popular game Otrio. It’s a super-tic-tac-toe style game, requiring students to think critically and strategically and can be played over and over again. To play, divide students into 2-4 groups, or the teacher can be one team (with two colors) while the students are the second team (with two colors). All directions for play are include in this resource four options to play, including two digital question template options. This game is available in my store. Click on the game title to go grab it for your classroom!

Wheelofnames.com
This online random name picker can be used for SO MANY things. Create your own with questions on the wheel, students’ names, content vocabulary, math problems, etc. You can add some fluency phrases or sight words for students to read in lower grades, or type in your comprehension questions for your small group book. I love this for unit review for any subject!

Funnel Pong
Students bounce a ping pong ball on the table in front of the funnel stand, trying to get the ball into a certain tube, to make three in a row. Divide into groups for orange vs. white, or play so that any three same color balls in a row is a point against you, the teacher.

Kerplunk
Students pull a stick for every answer given during the lesson or group. Divide students into 2-4 teams, or play students vs. teacher. When playing students vs. students, the losing team is the team with the most marbles in their try. When playing students vs. teacher, the students win if they get all the marbles to fall (that means more participation for the lesson). I’ve included a suggestion for playing this game virtually below. In a virtual meeting, use the physical game and have students tell you a color of stick to pull when they’ve earned a turn at playing.

Jenga
I play this one as “Students vs. Students’ mostly. Divide students into however many groups you wish. Each correct answer (or really great participation or effort) earns the right to take a turn pulling a block. The losing team is the the team who knocks down the tower. In a virtual meeting, share your view of the physical Jenga tower in your meeting. Students can tell you which block to remove when it is their turn at play.

Connect Four
Divide students into two groups to play “students vs. students” or play “Students vs. Teacher” by assigning yourself a color and the students a color. Each time a question is answered, each team takes one turn. See below for digital option. There are many options available online for digital Connect Four games. Sharing this as a link for all to access and edit in a virtual meeting would allow all of your students to manipulate the board and move a piece. Playing this way in the classroom, with the game projected on the board is also a lot of fun!

Go! Gater Giant Funnel Pong
My students LOVE this one! Play is the same as the smaller version above, except that students stand a distance away and toss the ball towards the game funnels.

Hot Potato
I love this one for task card and review activities when I want every student to answer every question. Once students have been given time to answer the question(s), pass the Hot Potato around to find out who gets to explain their answer to the group.

There are so many game options available to boost student engagement in your digital or physical classroom. In my experience, adding a game to a classroom lesson means instant engagement! For me, it also makes teaching the lesson much more fun! I hope you’ve found a few ideas you can add to your own classroom. And as always, I’d love to hear about your experiences with any of these ideas. Send me a comment and I’d love for us to connect on Instagram or Twitter!

P.S. If you’d like more ideas for student engagement, make sure to click the Follow Button! And check out my other posts below for more exciting ideas for your classroom!

Teaching Main Idea and Some FREEBIES

Teaching main idea and supporting details is one of my favorite units with my fifth graders. There are just so many things you can do to practice and no limit on the topics you can read about and discuss!

This year our main idea unit falls in February, so I’m focusing much of our reading on the topics of kindness and Black History, but I’ll also include some of my other main idea activities and favorites from years past. All of these resources could be done in class or in virtual meetings and as distance learning assignments.

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To begin, I’ll be introducing the topic with this lesson on identifying and determining main idea and summarizing supporting details. I’ve prerecorded this lesson for students who may need it virtually, but it also includes an editable Google Slides deck that I’ll use in class with my kiddos. To end the lesson, as an exit ticket, we’ll use these Google Jamboards asking the students to add details that support the two main ideas (focused on kindness) that I’ve included.

This lesson also includes an independent or collaborative project that students will complete once they’ve had sufficient practice with determining main idea and summarizing the supporting details. This project asks students to search for and read several texts (articles and books from Epic and Newsela) that focus on kindness. While reading, they will identify details that support two main idea statements I’ve given them. To share their findings, students will choose a creative project from the menu included.

Another great resource I’ll use, either as guided practice or as an independent task, is this Inky Johnson Summarizing Video Writing Lesson. This activity features an ESPN SC Featured video about the University of Tennessee defensive back Inky Johnson, whose football career was ended by a tragic injury. Students will watch the video and complete a main idea graphic organizer, then use that to write a summary of the most important information in the video. This resource is free by clicking on the link above.

I’m also including a Main Idea Reading Response Menu into my unit. I’ll use these reading responses as a way for students to respond to our read alouds for Black History month, along with responding to their own independent reading. I’ll be sending them a collection of books and articles for Black History Month through their GetEpic! library and a Newsela text set. I’ll also include some other reading and videos from various resources for a variety of choice reading options. This Main Idea Reading Response Menu is free and can be used on Google Classroom as a digital response item or you could print the first page for your students to add to their response journals and complete in their notebooks. I’ll have my students share their reading responses digitally, either on Flipgrid, or in a Padlet, for their classmates to view and discover texts and people they are interested in reading and learning more about.

And if we need any more practice resources, my students and I always love these Main Idea and Details Digital Reading and Writing mini-book projects. I’ve used these as differentiated small group instructional resources in previous years, along with differentiated final assessment projects, test prep and extension in other years. You can read more about this resource and how I’ve used it in the past in a previous blog post here.

As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you’ve found some resources you can use with your own students this year!

Valentines Day Cards – Digital and Printable

Valentine’s Day is always a special day in the classroom. It’s a day to celebrate friendships, your classroom community, and kindness. This year, with social distancing, safety/health regulations, and distance learning, this day will need to look a bit different, but does not need to be forgotten.

Whether you’re handing out Valentine’s cards, mailing a small Valentine to your students, or celebrating digitally for distance learning, this can still be a special day for you and your students.

With my 5th graders this year, I will be handing out a small card and gift and we’ll be celebrating our class friendships and kindness with a digital activity. I’m jumping on the vinyl sticker train that so many upper elementary and middles love right now. My cards and digital activity both follow the sticker theme, with the saying, “Good friends stick together.” The printable Valentine’s Cards I’ll be handing out are below.

For stickers, I’ve ordered a few sets on Amazon that my students are going to flip over. There are SO MANY options available for waterproof stickers on Amazon for you to be sure to find some that match your students’ interests. I’ve ordered a Space/Nasa pack, an Among Us pack, and a VSCO pack for my students. Each pack includes 50-100 stickers, so I’ll have a lot of extra to add to my behavior/work prize jar.

These cards are perfect for face-to-face classrooms, or would be super easy to mail to your students. I think this theme is perfect for lower elementary, upper elementary, and middles. You can grab my free printable cards here.

I’ve also put together a digital version for students to create their own stickers to “hand-out” as their Valentines to their classmates. In this activity, each student gets a digital water bottle, and each student will create their own digital stickers. We’ll use Google Drawings or Canva.com to create our digital stickers, but students could use any other app they have access to that allows for this kind of creativity. My students will be told to focus on a kindness or friendship theme for their stickers, and to consider using words along with images to create their stickers. Then, students will download their image as a PNG file to their device so that they can insert the image onto their classmates’ digital water bottle in the Google Slides deck. I think this activity will be a fun, memorable, celebration activity that encourages kindness, creativity, and builds classroom community.

I’m excited to add this digital activity to my own class celebration this year and think it would be perfect for an in class activity, or as a distance learning class Valentine’s Celebration. You can get this digital activity to do with your students this Valentine’s Day here.

Digital Open House Night

Whether you are preparing for a full virtual Open House or an in-person Meet the Teacher, using a digital open house pack will help make your event run smoothly, contactless (i.e. safer), and successfully.

My school is currently planning an Open House Night with scheduled appointments for families. So to make my Meet the Teacher meetings quick, effective, full of information, and safe (SAFER, I mean!) I created an Open House Meet the Teacher Pack for Distance Learning and In-Person events. This pack has everything!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Open-House-Meet-the-Teacher-Pack-Distance-Learning-and-In-Person-5811935

Class Information Presentation

The presentation Google Slides include a teacher introduction, teacher contact information, your schedule, class expectations, virtual learning information, lunch info, recess info, your procedures for snack and items from home, and so much more! These can be presented in the classroom on your whiteboard, inserted into a website, or generate a QR code (video tutorial in the product) for families to scan and view from the QR Poster Station signs included in the pack. Once parents have accessed the file, they can save to their personal drive or to their device for future reference.

Student Information Survey

Use this Google Form to collect important information, like birthdays, dismissal routines, addresses, parent contact info, and more. Send the responses to a Google Spreadsheet to have it all in one place and ready for quick access anytime you need it. I’ve included Key Ring Tags with a place for you to insert a QR code on the Student Information Tag so that you always have this information available (with use of your smartphone’s camera) when you need it! Again, families can access this via a QR Poster Station sign if you’re in-person, a link to the form can be inserted on a Google Site or on your Google Classroom, or you could even add a QR code linked to this form on your Student Postcards/Letters you send home before school begins.

Teacher Contact Cards

I’ll be handing these out to parents by request only, but these could also be mailed to families if you are virtual teaching. Included on the card is a place for email, phone, your website, Zoom link (or any digital link), and your Office Hours. These are completely editable for any of your needs and will help your parents stay in contact with you whenever needed.

QR Poster Station Signs

I’ve included these for in-person open house events to help create a contactless process. Poster options included are your Class Information Presentation, the Student Information Survey, a Class Website, and one Editable sign. All posters include directions for parents and a spot to insert a QR code linked to each of your Open House materials.

Open House and Blank Newsletter Templates

If you prefer using a Newsletter to convey your information, I’ve included an Open House template and a blank template to use whenever and however you wish. These files are in Google Slides, so it is easy to use these as handouts, to insert on a Google Site or your Google Classroom for families to view, or to send digitally.

Key Ring Tags

These are for you. I’ve found that having these tags on my teacher badge key ring is extremely useful and helps me save time. At the beginning of the year when you’re still trying to remember your schedule, student names, and ALL. THE. THINGS. these tags are a life saver! I’ve included tags for your class list, your schedule, student information (insert a QR code for quick access), dismissal info, pull-out service schedules, and one for common phone extensions like your nurse, admin, office, and collab teacher. These are all editable, so you can create a tag for whatever needs you have. These are also great for substitute badges, just not including the student information tag!

Website Banner Images

And for those of you creating a Google Site or other website for your virtual teaching, I’ve even included website banner images with the same theme. These come in six different colors, with text and without. The text on the images states, “Welcome to Our Class”.

I hope you’ll love using this Open House Meet the Teacher for Digital or In-Person resource for your Open House Meet the Teacher Day/Night whether you are hosting a virtual or in-person event. If you have any questions about the resource or how I’m using it for my own event, please let me know!

Grab this resource here!

Happy Teaching!

Digital Teaching Tips and Strategies for Success

For so many of us, this upcoming school year is full of unknowns and new teaching requirements. It’s also very likely that it is already bringing about a lot of stress and anxiety for you. As teachers, we plan and prepare. We spend our summer reflecting on the previous year and brainstorming and preparing to make the next year even better. And while it’s hard to feel like we can fully prepare with so many unknowns, one thing I know is that this year will require virtual teaching in some way or another, whether we like it or not. For that reason, I have some suggestions that can make your virtual teaching a lot more successful. Here are nine digital teaching tips/strategies I’ll be implementing to be the rockstar my students need me to be. I’m suggesting these digital teaching tips for every situation or school reopening plan, whether you are teaching fully digital, using a hybrid plan with some in-class days and some virtual learning days, or if you are reopening fully in class. As you read and begin thinking about how you’ll implement these tips and strategies, please know that I am of the mindset that I want to be prepared for whatever changes and learning possibilities arise this coming school year. While I am preparing for a hybrid opening, I also want to make sure that whatever I put in place at the beginning of the year can be used if we end up with a change in that plan as the year progresses.

1. Organize ALL the things. I’ll be using Classroom Lesson Slides to manage and organize my daily in-class and digital lessons. This is where I’ll display and/or link all of my instructional materials and assignments for each day. Why is this so necessary? Using one presentation method for your lessons, whether you are in-class, digital, or both, allows your students to navigate your lessons more easily. With it all in one place, students who miss a lesson or are absent can use the lesson slides for that day to access the material. If you are teaching digitally, your recorded virtual meetings could be linked to that day’s slides for students who missed. If you are teaching in class, you may want to consider recording the important (new material) lessons or the modeled part of your lessons to link to your slides for students who miss. They are easily sharable to your Google Classroom and/or to your website, or student’s emails and Drives. I’ll also be using my Student Data Trackers to keep all of my students’ assessment data, conference information, goals, parent communication, and all other important data in one place.

2. Be flexible. Have a back-up plan. Be prepared for possible problems. Thinking ahead about what possible problems could occur when teaching digitally is important. You can’t be prepared for everything, but having an idea of what you may do to adjust your lesson, if necessary, is a good idea. Technology doesn’t always work. One thing that I’ve started working on is creating short screencasts of myself working through the lesson or activity to give directions and guidance and finding other instructional videos (like on YouTube) to share for flipped instruction. These screencasts and videos can be linked to my lesson slides, which will be shared with the students each day, and can be used to help with digital instruction just in case there are problems that don’t allow the group or single students to participate in a digital lesson that day (not ideal, but at least it’s not an entire day of instruction lost due to technology issues).

3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! This is SO IMPORTANT! Parents are doing so much more with the students with remote learning, so communicating progress and concerns with your parents is key. If you’re starting your year in-class, you should also consider frequent communication updates to keep them in the loop. As we learned last year when school were closed for COVID, we can’t take for granted that we will remain in the classroom just because we are currently in the classroom. (Like I said, I’m preparing for whatever the possibilities are and I want any transitions we must make to be smooth and seamless.). If they don’t know, they can’t help you with it. Along with frequent communication, be sure to respond to any emails, phone calls, etc. quickly. You may want to set up a schedule just for “office hours” each week and/or day. Giving your students and parents frequent progress updates and establishing a routine for when you will be available to respond to questions and be available to help with daily “things” will allow for more progress and help you build positive relationships with your families. Make sure you begin by sharing positive updates. Be kind, share love, and give respect. This will make it so much easier if and when you have to have the more difficult conversations. I use Class Dojo and Google Classroom comments for most of my communication, but for parents who require other methods, I also give my personal cell number and use email. Sending home weekly newsletters is a great way to keep up communication for remote learning. You can also get a Google number if you don’t feel comfortable giving out your personal number for text messaging.

4. The best virtual lessons are fast-paced and interactive. Games are a great idea. You can supply your students with manipulatives like dice, bingo chips, print/cut materials or use virtual manipulatives, like what you can find on toytheater.com. You can find ways to gamify almost any lesson, like adding a connect four board or any other game board to your lesson to increase engagement. If games aren’t possible, remember to keep your lessons quick, stop to give time for questions and participation. Nearpod lessons are great for interactive lessons that can’t be gamified. Edpuzzle is a great resource for interactive videos that are self-paced for independent assignments.

5. Keep set hours. When students are working online at home, their work hours may not be the same as the set school hours they would have in an in-class situation. Just because they are doing school work at 6pm does not mean that you must be available. Keep set hours where you are available for questions and to help, and stick to them. For your sanity and your family’s, it’s important to not be working all the time. And you don’t need to feel guilty about it. Establish set hours, add it to the schedule you give to your students and families at the beginning of the year, and stick to it.

6. Social Emotional Check-ins. When we’re not with our students every day, it’s not always easy to know how they’re doing. We all know that matters. If you’re working on building a relationship with your students, they need to know you care. One strategy that you may want to implement is having them fill in a daily check-in form. This is a great routine to start at the beginning of the day, whether it’s arrival time in-class, or a form they fill in at home. These are really easy to create in Google Forms. It gives the students a chance to document their emotional “space” for the day and ask for a time to talk with you individually. In the classroom, you can quickly make adjustments for your students when they need it. Online, it’s harder to make that judgment call without some kind of check in. Having them submit this form first thing in the day before your lessons can give you the opportunity to check in with them before your class meeting if you need to, or be ready to make that adjustment (like schedule a smaller group meeting with them) if necessary.

7. Self-care. My favorite self-care practice is my Mindfulness of Gratitude practice. It’s crazy the difference ten minutes of peace, balance, and thoughts of gratitude can do for your teaching mindset. My favorite time to practice is in the morning, right after my first hot cup of coffee, but really any time is perfect. I also do a shorter 2-5 minute practice before transitioning to home and mom life after my day of teaching (online or in class) or whenever I notice I need to reset and refocus. If mindfulness isn’t your thing, do whatever works for you. Just be sure you are taking time for yourself to reset each day.

8. Practice Gratitude. It’s really easy to get into a negative space. We’re not doing what we love the way we want to be doing it, or at the caliber we want to be doing it. Being intentional about taking note of all the small moments throughout your day that you are grateful for and that bring you joy can help strengthen your positive vibes to keep you going and to help keep your students going. Savor that hot sip of coffee, or sweet/smooth taste of chocolate, the birds chirping, etc. You’ll notice a huge difference in your mindset if you make this a constant practice.

9. Model everything. Obviously, you are not there to help guide each step of the work process when your students are at home. What is simple to you may not be simple to your students or their parents. Creating quick modeled “how-to” videos of your expectations can save you a lot of time in the long run. Imagine, if your parents and students can watch the video, they will not need to send you questions about how to complete the work, meaning you will not spend as much time responding to questions you thought you already answered in the written instructions.