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!
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.

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.

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 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.

Three Digital Nonfiction Text Features Activity Ideas

By the time students are in upper elementary (4th -6th grade), the standard for nonfiction text features requires students to be able to use text features to make meaning. One thing I’ve noticed with many of my own students is that they need to be taught to “read” the text features on more than a surface level and to give more focus to the captions, charts, or text features that actually require reading and not just the pictures. Students need to be taught how to gain deeper understanding and combine information between those text features and the text they are reading.

I’ve found several activities that students can be successful with, using digital books from, Google Slides, and my computer’s snipping tool. These activities are always a hit in my class and I hope that you will be able to use the ideas to deepen your own students use of nonfiction text features. These are the three digital activities I’ve found to be most successful and beneficial.

Using Text Features to Make Predictions

Start with screenshots of book pages (from one book). Insert those screenshots, in order, in a Google Slides presentation. Use shapes to cover the text in the book and leave only the text features for the students to view.

I like sharing this presentation in Nearpod with my students. The discussion involves really analyzing what we see and read in the text features and making predictions about the content of the text. As we build on the pages and our understanding of the topic, predictions get a lot more specific. Students are totally ready to read the book once you’re done, but I like to use it again for the next activity to check our predictions.

Matching Headings to the Text

For this activity, I use the same book, another Google slide presentation, and this time I snip the Headings off of the pages and use them as movable, matchable objects. I also type out the text so that students can use the highlighting tool to show their evidence, but you could also just add transparent colored rectangles for students to use as a “highlighter” to stop yourself from having to type the text.

I like to use the same book as the predictions activity to allow students to check their thinking and for us to discuss the misconceptions and now new understandings about the topics once the text features and text are now together. As you can see, in the video above, the students copy the Headings to the correct page on the Google slides book presentation.

Matching Text Features to the Text

For the third activity, students must read each of the paragraphs given, snipped from a text and inserted into a Google Slide presentation, and match the text features (all removed from the page and inserted onto one slide together) to the text. I have my students copy the text feature and paste it onto the page with the correct text.

The discussions and level of critical thinking with these activities is always deep and meaningful, and I love that I can recreate these activities each year using different texts to reach the interests of my students and the content we are learning in our other classes. I also love that they’re free to create and can be used for virtual learning or in class. These activities can also be differentiated using different level texts with your small groups. For this reading teacher, that’s a WIN-WIN-WIN!

If you use any of these ideas with your own students, I’d love to hear about it!

Teacher Organization Resources for Blended Learning

I’m always looking for ways to stay organized and save time with my teacher professional duties. This year I needed resources to keep my blended learning lesson plans, resources, and grades organized. Almost everything about what we’re doing as a teacher has changed in some way this year, so of course this part of the job would change also. I knew what I didn’t want and I knew that I wanted to use my time more efficiently, and I knew that what I have always used in the past wasn’t going to work, but I didn’t have anything that seemed like it was going to work.

Lesson Planning

The paper planner books just weren’t organized for blended learning. Honestly, no template I found was organized for blended learning, at least not for the schedule that my students and I are on this year. I have an A and a B group. I see both of my groups two days a week and plan “At Home Learning” resources for their other three days of the week. I’ve also always only taught ELA for my grade level and this year my students are with me for all subjects.

It took a few weeks to figure out exactly what I wanted and needed the lesson plans to look like, and how to plan more efficiently. But I’ve found it and am so happy with it that I want to share it with you.

What I’m using is a digital chart in Google Slides. We have a separate slide for each subject, and each slide chart covers an overview for the entire week (both in class plans and at home resources on the same page). My teammates who have previously taught math and science for our grade level fill in the math and science weekly overviews, and I fill in the ELA overviews for each week. Our team shares the file each week and links all of the needed resources for each piece of the plan. It seems so simple right? That’s the beauty of it, it is that simple and you wouldn’t believe the amount of time and stress this lesson planning routine is saving me. You can get a free copy of this resource here.

Organizing and Grading Assignments

There’s a lot of assignments to keep track of for the blended learning model. I was drowning in the process of opening individual student assignments in Google Classroom and keeping track of what is complete and what is not. I knew I needed a space for all of the assignments, both in class and at home, to check them off, enter grades, and enter notes for whatever I needed to keep track of (parent contacts, absences, etc.). It also needed to be a shared document so that I wasn’t texting and calling my collaborative teacher on a daily basis to ask about assignments for our shared kids. (I’m sure she was getting tired of me.)

For this one, I used an idea I’d seen on Instagram (@aprimarykindoflife). It was simple (you know I love that) and so organized. I made separate Google Sheets for In-Class assignments and At Home assignments and we posted them to our Google Classroom (sent to a fake student) so that they are always easy to access. We just add assignments to the sheet as we go and check them off daily/weekly, and now that it’s a routine, it takes so much less time than the gradebooks I’ve used in the past. Click on the image below to get a free copy of my Work Log.

Google Classroom

We post our assignments in Google Classroom by the subject and week. All of my assignments are posted on the Classwork tab in my Google Classroom and organized by these topics: Morning Check//In, In Class This Week, At Home This Week, Daily Resources (everyday items not by the week), Old Assignments, and Technology Help. We drag all “this week” assignments to the Old Assignments topic at the end of each week to make it easier for our students to find their work.

Student Google Drive Organization

Not all of my students have internet access at home. For this reason, I have my students mark all of their At Home Work assignments (all in Google Apps) as “Available Offline” when they are in class at the beginning of each week. We’ve taught them how to download their instructional videos also. Once they’re at home, they can log into their chromebook and open and complete all of their assignments without needing internet. To get to their Google files, they go through their Drive and open the folder that our Google Classroom creates for them. The problem is, it does not create new folders for each week. So, as you can imagine, by the 8th week of school, there are A LOT of files in their Drive, and the students have a hard time finding the exact assignments they need for that day in the 100s of files in their Drive.

So what we did was had them add a Folder inside their Classroom folder on their Google Drive. The new folder is labeled Old Work. Once they complete an assignment, they move it to the Old Work folder. This way, when they open their Classroom work folder, they only see work they still need to complete. No more, “I couldn’t find my work” excuses for missing work. And now, because we took the time to organize (and learn how), no more making and posting missing work lists because, “If you can’t move it to your Old Work file, you must still need to do it.”

Classroom Lesson Slides

Finally, keeping your daily lessons organized is key to using your time effectively and fitting in as much learning as possible with this new crazy schedule. With your lesson and instructional materials all in one place, you’re not flipping through tabs or your drive trying to find your instructional materials. And better yet, you’re not repeating directions because it’s all there (unless you like repeating directions).

You can grab your own copy of these Classroom Lesson Slides here.