Anytime Games for Rote Facts

I find helping kids memorize math facts, sight words (we call them tricky words), or even the basic phonics sounds in English is a long boring journey.  I have lots of games to help them practice and I invent stories to give a context but at the end of the day it often becomes a drill and kill flashcard run either at home or school.  I couldn’t really accept this so I went on the hunt for more whole class time filler games.

I’m ok with ‘Around the World’ but I hate that some kids never feel successful with it.  I started playing ‘Doggie, Doggie’ to help kids learn sounds and sight words and my wildest dreams came true … they memorized!  I used my sound or tricky words cards and asked the class to sit in a circle.  One kid would be the doggie (use name sticks to make sure you evenly spread this privilege out) and would pretend to be a sleeping dog in the middle of the circle.  While they were hiding their eyes, I would show the rest of the class the word/sound/math fact and then place on the child’s back.  I would then point to a student to take the card of their friend’s back.  My classes like to have everyone make little noises on the carpet to make it harder for the doggie.  When the card is safely hidden behind the new child’s back the whole class chants. “Doggie, doggie where’s your bone? Somebody stole it from your home.”  This is the doggie’s cue to look up and guess who has taken their card.  We give them 3 guesses and then show them the card.  Whether they guess who took it correctly or they are told, they get to take as long as they need to tell everyone else what is on the card.  If they want help from the class they can ask for it.memorize sight words

Kids love this.  My colleague, Mrs. Zahra, took this idea and also played it with “Heads Up, Seven Up”.  Her variation was that instead of pushing down thumbs, students would give out letter cards.  When everyone was able to look up the students had to first say what sound their letter was and then guess who had given them the card.  The kids love this as well.

Both of these games are perfect fillers for odd chunks of time that come up in the school day.  I use them as an incentive at the end of the day or sessions.  Both games get kids excited about memorizing which in turn makes me excited that we’ve found an effective way to kick some of the boring bits out of school.free math facts game

At home, we play a lot of War or Top It with math facts. The best part of this is that the games are easily differentiated for the differing abilities of my son and daughter.  He plays with multiplication; she plays with addition.  He has the adult wait 5 seconds before calling out the answer of the two cards that have been laid down; my daughter has the adult wait 10 seconds.  It works wonders and the kids forget that they are learning – a win.Little Vikings




Discovering Addition Patterns

Memorizing addition and subtraction facts is universal and math is often an area where EAL kiddos thrive. (Because in the words of my sister when she was 7 years old and a fresh immigrant to Sweden, “At least the numbers don’t change.  They might call them something else but I still know what’s going on.”)  As a teacher I want to give them strategies to group their number facts (make a ten, +1, doubles) and as a mom I want to see my daughter not have to continually use her fingers.  This is a game that I use mostly to reinforce the idea of “counting on” – the idea that you start with the bigger number and add the second number by counting it out.  (5+3 becomes 5+ 6,7,8)1st grade addition game

I created this game for my kiddos at home to practice addition,  They are obsessed with cake and if I could combine cake and math we would have a winner.  I then discovered that it was such a hit at home that I should try it in the classroom.  My own kids being EAL made me pretty sure that all of my students, including my special needs and EAL students would benefit,  addition games to 12

It was In the classroom that  I discovered that we could explore probability.  It also naturally led itself to an investigation about all of the addition facts that can make up a sum.  So I created a journal for them to write down their findings and an experimental probability tally chart so they could gather data.  They were able to practice basic addition skills and explore more advanced probability.  Oh, and they loved the game as much as my own kids.  I’m marking this one down in the win column.  1st grade addition and probability

Jenny (banner)


Finding a way in the Chaos- Learning Station Organization

I love teaching through games and student centers for almost every subject.  This means I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time making games, laminating (or not – that plastic stays around a long time) and cutting.  Oh, there has been so much cutting.   I now have a huge cabinet of resources that multiple teachers come and borrow from.  I’m often asked the same question.  How do you keep it all organized?

At first my activities looked like this.IMG_3762

Each game was intact and the kids could see it, but it was a bit of a nightmare to go through.  It just ended up being a messy pile contained in small boxes.

Then I switched to folders and my stuff was contained but I still had trouble finding what I needed quickly.

Eventually, I had a brilliant plan.  I could still use the folders, but I would either have the handy cover so many teacher stations come with or a copy of the activity on the outside.  The real genius was when I started writing in the right corner what specific skills the game/activity/station was targeting.  I could then put my folders in boxes that had a basic description and simply flip through the games only looking at the right corner to find something based on what I wanted to to teach or reinforce.  This changed my life.  Seriously.  It now takes seconds to find exactly what I want.

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I still recommend the folder as kids can basically throw things into it and close it.  Tidying up is a skill that has to be taught and I want to make the task as easy for them and me as possible.IMG_3780

Once I have a lot of games, I often let kids “check them out” of our class library and use for homework.  This is used most often by the EAL kids because the repetition of playing the game at school makes them feel successful and they want to show it to their parents.  This has been one of the most natural home and school links in my classrooms and one of the most successful.

You may spend a small fortune in folders, but in five years I have only remade one game.  I count that as a success.Jenny (banner)


3D shapes: they get boring and then you play Snap

We scoured the web and our colleagues brains for ways to interact with 2D and 3D shapes that both let the kids inquire into their properties and connections and reinforced basic skills.  It is a fine line that PYP teachers walk to meet the knowledge component needs and to increase students’ conceptual understandings.

We investigated the names of shapes in all of our home languages and made connections between languages when we saw similiar words. We used the book Animal Zoo as a model for making pictures out of 2D shapes.  We looked at the use of shapes in famous art and created a new visible Thinking Routine called “Artist Talk” where they had to name a picture they had painted and tell what they wanted the viewer to feel when they saw it.  We went on shape hunts and made shape finders to look for shapes in the everyday world.blog 2

We built structures and inclines with blocks and our now infamous pirate ship.  We blindfolded ourselves and tried to talk about shape attributes based on our feeling of touch. We stuck shapes in paint and then rolled them in a drawer to be able to see visible evidence of how they move. (Which is a brilliant inquiry, don’t get me wrong.)  Yet, it happened.  We still got bored of shapes.  None of our games, were helping that final hurdle of the knowledge of names and attributes to stick in their heads.  They could talk about the shapes but, they couldn’t seem to remember their names or important facts like how many sides (edges) or vertices that they had.

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The kids thought we needed a new game to play that wasn’t a board game and wasn’t just about names.  So we made a snap game.  When the kids play it, they have a set of shapes beside them to test and see if their shape rolls, slides, or spins.  They love that they get to hit the cards and oddly they love negotiating and testing their thinking.  After seeing a slap, we often heard statements like. “Yes!  I knew a cube could roll”  or  the more likely, “Slap! Does a cylinder have a square? Oh, no slap.”  They played it for hours and used a simple card game to not just memorize, but inquire into basic facts about shapes.  It always helps to listen to what they want. The FREE 2D Shape Snap is available in both my Tpt and Teacher’s Notebook stores now.  The full 3D Unit with 100 pages of activities (including everything in this post) and games is availain both stores as well.  web cover

Freebie Idea: Try the art project below.  We gave them free reign to make tape shapes and they later had to classify their shapes into groups and count how many quadrilaterals and polygons they had made.

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Freebie Idea #2:  Blindfold a child and put a 3D shape in box/bag.  Let them use their feeling of touch to decribe the shape to the rest of the class.  Have them try to determine how many edges, vertices, and faces the shape.  Based on this information,  have the class guess what shape is hidden in the box.  Unveil to see if they were right.

Here’s to more happy shape inquiries.

//JennyJenny (banner)


Plant some money and see English appear – Commercial Board Game Edition

family-game-588908_1280I live in a country where English isn’t the native language.  Yet, my workplace is mainly populated by English native speakers.  As my friends start getting children at home, I am often asked, “What is out there that is already made that I can use to teach my stepkids English?”  I’ve given out this advice enough times that I think posting it online will make it simpler for me.  So here is my unscientific but, tested and proven on my own bonus children game advice.

We play Candyland to work on color names and basic number skills.  You can also focus on basic sentence patterns like, “I got a green.  I got two yellows”  In our family we also use different greetings when we land on the same space as another player.  That way we can use all of the different ways we can think of to say hello (hi, how do you do, good morning, etc.) We also use every type of good bye we can think of when we leave the space with the other person.   We also may or may not make the candy figures dance when they land on the same space as another person because as my daughter says, “You can’t just say hello and then leave.  You have to dance before you go.”  Wise words from a seven year old.

We had to ship it from the US but, it is available on Amazon UK quite often.  

Guess Who – This is actually a fairly advanced game as they not only need to know lots of vocabulary, they also need to use deductive reasoning.  My husband and I always split up so Kiddo 1 and Kiddo 2 both have an adult helping them.  You can practice the same basic question format, “Does your person have …” We usually do a quick game of ‘Where is your eye, nose, hair ….’ before we start.  For us, the questioning skills were a bit hard at first, with 2 six year olds, so we played it in their native language several times before we switched it to an English game.

Bonus points for this game as I’ve seen it in every country that I’ve lived in,  It is more often translated into the native language as, ‘Who am I’.  

Twister combines the color naming aspect of Candyland with the body part learning of Guess Who.   You can focus on key sentences such as, “Move your left/right ____ to ____ a (color) space.”  At the beginning the adults said these sentences but the kiddos quickly picked up the pattern and started giving the instructions in English on their turns.

This game is also generally available and even called Twister everywhere that I have lived.  Though the picture makes it fairly recognizable if it is translated into a native language.

Yahtzee is great for larger numbers and for words like, “double, triple etc.”  There are many variations of yahtzee and depending on the age of your kiddos you might want to try a modified version first that takes out the higher numbers.  We often play a Smurf yahtzee with my daughter so that she is focusing just on the idea of doubles or triples (i.e. triple Papa Smurfs) only and doesn’t need to do the additional multiplication or adding. However, if your kids are ready for larger numbers, this is a great way to practice them.

Available as a commercial game almost everywhere.  You can always just buy six dice and then print out yahtzee score sheets online.   

Memory  You need a basic version, not a movie version, unless you are focusing on learning character names in more than one language.  My kids are bored by the basic memory but they quite like Memory scavenger hunt.  My husband and I hide the cards around the house and yard and then let the kiddos go search for them.  They can’t take the card unless they already  know where the match is located.  This gets them moving which is always a bonus for us.  You can follow them around and have them tell you what each picture is in English or you can wait until the end when they show their matches and see who has won.

I’ve seen multiple versions in every country I’ve lived in.  You can usually find it quite cheap at garage sales/boot sales/flea markets or on used resale sites.