Test Prep Room Transformation

Can You Defeat the Puzzle Master?

This room transformation was easy, cheap, rigorous, and highly engaging! I centered the theme around growth mindset and mindulness strategies that, when used together, are the puzzle pieces to success. We’ve focused on these concepts all year long in the classroom, so it made perfect sense to “put the pieces together” for test prep. The mindset concepts I used are grit, dedication, perseverance, effort, mindfulness, strategy, positivity, attitude, commitment, confidence, critical thinking, and growth mindset. I’ve added pictures of the puzzle pieces I made and hung on the walls in my classroom below.

These were pretty big, so they pretty much cover all of the free wall space in my classroom, which meant that I didn’t need to do any extra decorations. To me, the minimal decorations were also the right choice because I wanted my focus to remain on the work and being able to use these concepts and strategies for state testing.

I also hung some multi-colored dollar store table cloths on the ceiling to add some “pretty” to the room.

For the work, I needed mixed review of everything we’ve done throughout this year. I used the Reading Skills puzzle centers pictured below from TPT. These are just the right amount of challenging and confidence building for my 4th graders! My students also really enjoyed using them. (You could also use any other task cards or test questions for your subject.). These centers come with answer keys that could be used for self-checking, but I wanted my students to have to correct their thinking and try again, so I created Google Forms Quizzes (that showed a score and if the question was right/wrong, but not the correct answer). My students worked in pairs and had to get an 80% or higher to show mastery and move on to the next step. There were 9-10 pairs working on separate skills during the class time so the Google Forms were extremely helpful for keeping the students accountable (I get grades and know they did the work necessary for the group) and moving at their own pace because they didn’t have to wait on me to check their work.

Once the pair had shown mastery they got one of the following “treat puzzles” to put together (shown in the pics below). If the students were able to put it together completely they got the candy or treat that was referenced in the pun/riddle on the treat puzzle. I made these out of poster board that I got in the school section at Walmart for about $3.00 for a set of five posters. I made the same number of treat puzzles as the reading skills puzzles that I used, so the students got a different treat each time they mastered a skill. I did this for a little extra motivation, but it certainly isn’t mandatory.

In my two hour class, with a mini-lesson focused on each of our puzzle piece mindset and strategy concepts, my students were able to complete two to three reading puzzles per class.

To complete the transformation and theme, I gave each of my students these blank puzzles that I ordered from Amazon to design and keep. I could have had my students focus on a design that used our mindset concepts and success as the theme of their picture, but for destressing after testing (we did this part during the afternoon after state testing in the morning), I allowed my students full creative rights for their puzzles.  You can get the puzzles from the link here.

I had actually worried that it wouldn’t be as exciting to them as I hoped, but they absolutely loved these puzzles.

My Back-to-School Beach-themed Room Transformation

For those of you who go back to school in early August like I do, you know what I’m talking about when I say getting the students engaged in the curriculum while competing with Summer out the window is crazy difficult!  My solution … take your kids back to the beach.  Bring Summer inside!

It started with a pacing guide.  I begin the year teaching genres on the third day of school.  I know it’s review for my fourth graders, but it’s always a difficult unit in my class.  It’s not hard getting them to remember the vocabulary.  It’s hard getting them to apply that knowledge and use it to determine the genre when reading.  Well, with that in mind, and my own mind still having a hard time getting it’s school brain back and off the beach, I decided to use this as an opportunity.  EVERYBODY LOVES TO READ ON THE BEACH, RIGHT?  Then I looked at the pacing guide again, and this time I noticed the change from last year.  Not only was I teaching genres, but I was also introducing use of reference materials (including ABC order and guide words).  Oh no!  It’s only the third day of school!  So instead of doing the common genre book tasting that I usually start with, a simple wish that I was still at the beach turned into my first room transformation (I’m channeling my inner @elementaryshenanigans).  I had an idea … I’ll bring in my beach chairs, some yellow table cloths for sand, and an umbrella and we’ll “read on the beach” while we analyze the characteristics of the different genres.   What did I read on the beach this year, “The Wild Card” by Hope King and Wade King.

At first it felt crazy.  Why put myself through so much work, and how was I going to also include using reference materials? 

The genres part was easy.  After having the students analyze and take note of the characteristics of each of our genres, we threw a beach ball around the room (that I had written each of our genres on) and the students shared a characteristic of the genre they were reading when they caught the ball.  I used that game to create our anchor chart.  Next, I projected different book summaries and the students worked with a team to determine the genre.  Of course, each student had to write their own answer first,  before they were allowed to collaborate and generate a team answer.  The teams with the correct answer got a chance to throw in a modified game of cornhole to earn points for their team (one throw per team with the correct answer after each book summary).  They LOVED it!

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Next week, we’ll continue in reading groups by creating genre sand castles.  Students will read a summary, determine the genre, and then use the decorations key to decorate their sand castles (ex. realistic fiction = purple seashells).

As I gave it more time and thought, I realized I could use beach-themed words to change my reference materials unit.  Why not put words in ABC order in paper chains and create an octopus or a jellyfish?  We could use crab families to determine which entry words fit with the guide words.  I gave my students scenarios that centered around different beaches and ocean animals when deciding which reference material to use.  

In comparison to my usual first weeks activities, this week was incredible!  My classes entered the room dancing to hula music, smiling, and excited to find out what we would be doing each day!  At first I was worried about behavior since it was ONLY the third day of school.  I worried that it would be too exciting, too early in the year, and that my students would forget all of the expectations, procedures, and routines that we’d only barely practiced in the first two days of school.  They did just fine and we had an unforgettable first full week of school.  My students begged for more vacation time next week (okay, sure, I love the beach, why not) and are asking what I might have in mind next.  It only took borrowing from family members and a few dollars from the summer section at Walmart and I’m amazed at the difference it made.

If you’ve been considering a room transformation, or if you’ve been looking for new ideas to get your students engaged, I recommend reading “The Wild Card” by Hope King and Wade King.  And, just go for it!  Step outside of your box a little and have fun teaching!  It’s SO WORTH IT!

thanks for reading!