Take a Break (a Brain Break, that is)

I’ve been using brain breaks with my students for the past year and it has worked out really well.  My students are in my class for 2 hours of reading/writing instruction, most of which is direct instruction.  After a while, the students start to get that glazed look on their faces.  Brain breaks wake them back up and help them re-focus.

Brain Break Bucket

Brain Break Bucket

DSCN6523I took a bucket and some ping pong balls and made my Brain Break Bucket.  Basically, I just wrote the brain breaks on each ping pong ball.  When it’s time to break up the monotony, I have a student choose a ball from the bucket and we do whatever it says on the ball.

The kids have really enjoyed it.  There’s a renewed energy in the classroom when they go back to their seats.

What sorts of things do I do for brain breaks?  I’m glad you asked!

Brain Breaks

Line up alphabetically by last name, silently

Line up alphabetically by first name, silently

Make a train around the room

Switch seats with someone else

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Youtube dance videos for kids

Use a beach ball and play “Keep it off the Floor”

Would You Rather?Questions

Simon Says


Wink one eye and snap the fingers on the opposite hand (hard to do but fun to watch!)

In my classroom, the students are in their seats listening to me (my curriculum requires 90% direct instruction) for up to 2 hours at a time.  This makes it hard for them to focus on the lesson after a while.  By breaking up the time with these Brain Breaks, it helps them to re-focus on the lesson.  I know when I sit in a Professional Development session, or attend a conference, I have a tough time staying focused after a while.  Pretty soon your brain is wandering off into “I wonder what’s for lunch”, “How am I going to accomplish all the tasks in front of me today?” “When is this over?”  Having a chance to get up and move around is so helpful.

What Brain Breaks do you do?

Connecting with Students

Connecting with StudentsIt’s that time of year when teachers are thinking about how they want their next school year to go.   One thing I really like about teaching is that I get a new start each fall.  Even if it’s students I’ve worked with before (in the after school program, etc), it’s still a fresh year, fresh class, and all of that.  This is when I like to ponder how I am going to connect with my students.

To me, it’s the most important part of my job.  When my students feel like they are a part of a team, with me, instead of against me, my whole year goes more smoothly.  They are more willing to listen, to learn, to try, if they feel a connection to me.

I have a confession to make: I’m VERY lazy.  I like nothing more than to sit on the couch and read a book. watch TV or scroll through Pinterest.com.  Hard work is not my friend.  Therefore, I look for ways to do more with less effort.

Here are the things I do to try to connect with my students the lazy girl’s way:

1) I send a postcard to all of my students the week before school starts.  Our students don’t find out who their teacher is until that time, so I can’t send them earlier in the summer.  It’s just a simple postcard welcoming them to my classroom (or my team if I’m working with a team teacher) and letting them know when Back to School Night is.

2) I greet each student at the door each morning.  I’m expected to be supervising the hallway, anyway, so as students are walking past to go to lockers, or entering my room, I say good morning and try to make some sort of comment unique to them.

3) I pay attention to their interests,  If I can, I try to gear the lessons toward their interests.  I also bring in newspaper clippings about these interests if I come across anything.

4) I suggest books for them when we go to the library.  I try, again, to keep their interests in mind when I make suggestions.  I also talk to them about the books they are checking out.  I ask them to give me their opinion, offer similar titles, that sort of thing.

5) I ask the class to “try out” new ideas that I have.  Whenever I want to try something new, I tell the class that I’d like to try it and I need their feedback.  I always ask them what they think as we work through my new idea and when we finish.  I always preface it with the fact that I may need to overrule them, but I want to hear what they think.

6) If I’m going to do something that might seem like a trick I’m playing on them, I warn them that I’m going to play a trick on them.  It helps them feel better when we get to the “trick” and they trust me the rest of the time.  For instance, sometimes I’ll have them list all the terms they can think of related to a subject (like a football game) and then ask them to write about it without using any of those words.  Giving them a heads up keeps them from being angry at me about the writing assignment.

7) I laugh at myself.  I often tell them stories about silly things I’ve done, mistakes I’ve made, foolish situations I’ve gotten into.  By sharing these stories, they feel better when they run into some sort of embarrassing situation.  They also feel as if they know me, which helps them to connect.

8) I start off the year with a letter to the class.  I write about my interests, my daughters, my life and then ask them to write a letter to me.  It’s always fun to see what they write back to me.

What do you do to connect with your students?

Rewarding Students

The band that performed for our Reward Day

The band that performed for our Reward Day

Our middle school has started a series of Reward Days – one per trimester.  Students are eligible to participate in the Reward Day by having no office referrals and a C or better in all of their classes.

We’ve held two so far.  The first one involved teachers coming up with activities to offer the Reward students to participate in.  Students signed up for an activity and spent the last hour on a Friday involved in some sort of fun.  The other students were in a detention room with work to do.

The second was a big hit: our band director has a rock band that performed for the students.  With lights, sound, and fog, the students were treated to a rock concert in their middle school gym.  We also got some dollar store beach balls for the kids to throw around.

It’s been interesting watching the reactions of students to our Reward Days.  Some are devastated if they aren’t eligible.  Others seem to not care.  Some are excited that they are eligible, others seem to take it as their due.

One student, who has had failing grades all year, pulled his grades up to Cs recently.  This meant he was eligible for the rock concert.  On the way down the hall to return to class after the concert, he commented that “this was really fun!”  My hope is that he remembers that fun and continues to turn in his work.

It’s a lot of work to put the Reward Days together, and some have questioned whether we should continue, since some students aren’t bothered by losing the privilege.  Others have pointed out that the students who are doing the right thing rarely get rewarded for that.  Especially since they only have to have Cs, this involves students who don’t make the honor roll.  These students, who try, but aren’t able to pull really good grades get a reward for their effort.

Our biggest problem now is what to do for our next Reward Day.  It’s going to be tough to top a rock concert!

Do you reward your students?  How?  Which ones?

Are Boys Getting the Short Stick in School?

I’ve been seeing quite a bit about issues for boys in school. One piece I read asked “what is your ideal student? Did you describe a girl?” I was kind of surprised to realize that, typically, an ideal student is one who is quiet, compliant, raises their hand politely, etc.
this pretty much describes our female students.

Many of the boys in my classes are very bright. However, the behavioral expectation for them is to sit quietly and let the expert in the room (the teacher) provide them with knowledge. Now, that’s not my usual teaching style, but lately, that’s what the curriculum our school district is using dictates. I try to have students discuss with their group at times, but overall, the textbook requires me to be up in front, explaining the content. Since I’ve been told to follow this curriculum “with fidelity”, I can only modify occasionally.

All of this got me thinking: would it be helpful for students (boys in particular, but girls are also antsy at times) to have treadmills, exercise bikes, etc in the classroom. My husband pointed out that we got a new treadmill, so we have an old one in the basement that could be taken to school. I’m wondering if this would be a good idea, or if it could lead to trouble down the line. The noise of a treadmill might make it difficult for students to hear the lesson. Students might fight over who’s turn it is to use it. Might they also get so involved in their “workout” that they forget to pay attention?

I don’t have a solid opinion about this, but it seems like a question woth asking. What are we doing to make school “work” for our boys?

What to do When a Student is Disrupting?

While my students are overall, pretty good kids, every now and then, I get one who can’t pay attention, disrupts, is rude, etc. Often, a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder can get my student back on track. However, sometimes, after a few reminders, it’s time to try something else.

Think sheets

My method involves removing the student from the room, and an assignment they won’t enjoy. First, I have a deal with the teacher next door to me that we send disruptive students to the other classroom. Although it seems like this would not bother them, it actually is one of the worst things you can do to a student! They really, really don’t like going to the other room. While there, they are expected to quietly complete their assignment (more on that in a moment) and return quickly to my class.

The assignment they are given is a “think sheet”. It’s basically a page of questions and paragraphs detailing what they did wrong and what they should do in the future. They copy the first few paragraphs, then complete one of their own. Since students don’t like to do this, they prefer to behave appropriately so they can avoid it.

The important part of this process is to prepare the class for this. I always explain that if a student is sent next door and he or she disrupts there, the office is the next step. Once sent to the office, the fact they disrupted two classrooms is not going to go well for them.

The think sheets cover the major types of discipline I encounter: Not Following Directions, Tardiness, Rudeness, Silliness, Talking. Generally, everything falls into one of those categories. I explain to the students that it is up to them to think about what they have been doing and which category would fit.

In addition, I have the think sheets in a folder in the back of the room. This makes it seamless for the students to pick up the think sheet on their way out the door. I have several think sheets, but I tell them that if they aren’t sure, they can always do “Not Following Directions” since being sent out means they were not following my direction (implied or stated outright).

At this point in the year, I rarely have to send a student next door. This method has served as a wonderful deterrent for their behavior. It also helps, in the rare cases that I do have to send a student to the office for misbehavior, I have already given them a step in between.