5 Helpful Activities for Creating a Positive Classroom Community

August 6, 2021

Getting back to school is an adjustment. This year, it might be even tougher to get back into the swing of school. AND, kids will need a lot of support as we transition back into a “normal” school year. Creating a positive classroom community is more important than ever! Here are a few tried and true community building activities that you can try with your class!

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. These commissions help support the blog. All opinions are my own.

Why is creating a positive classroom community important?

First, let’s talk about WHY this is important! In my opinion, a strong classroom community is your best classroom management tool. Students who feel comfortable, accepted, and respected are far more likely to participate and engage in your classroom. It’s an opportunity to help students connect with each other and with you. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that students are much more willing to work hard when they feel like a part of something bigger, and as a group we can create that safe and welcoming environment with some fun activities.

Class Pledge

Each year, we make a chart together during the first few days of school. We have a group discussion about what it means to be a 5th grader. (In our district, 5th grade is the last grade before middle school, so they are the top of the heap!) They usually mention their new responsibilities and roles in the school.

An anchor chart titled "What does it mean to be a 5th grader?" Student generated ideas are listed below the title. One idea for creating positive classroom community.

This chart eventually become our 5th Grade Pledge. After we make sure everyone can agree to the items on the pledge, the whole class signs it – using special markers, obviously! It’s a great way to get the year started. You can get more details about it (and grab a freebie!) here.

An anchor chart titles "As 5th graders, we pledge to:" Student expectations are listed below.

Read Aloud

There’s something about sharing books and reading aloud that just helps bring the community together. I find a mix of fun and silly books, and more inspirational books to be the key to a successful week of read alouds! Here are some of my favorites:

Cover of the book "First Day Jitters"

First Day Jitters is my go-to book on the first day. The main character is new to her school and doesn’t really want to go. I think kids can really relate to the story and there is a perfect twist at the end!

Cover of the book "The Day You Begin"

I love this sweet story by Jacqueline Woodson. It’s a great way to help your class feel connected and know that everyone feels different sometimes.

Cover of the book "The Secret Shortcut"

This is a fun book about two kids who are TRYING not to be late to school, but amazing adventures happen every morning! I love it to talk about using your imagination.

Get to Know You Survey

This survey is on my students’ desks when they first arrive on the first day. I always want a low/no pressure activity to get them started. This survey is perfect for even the shyest students because they don’t have to talk to anyone AND they get to share about themselves with you.

Picture of a back to school survey used for creating a positive classroom community.

I intentionally used questions that don’t assume that kids had a great summer or went on a fancy trip. These questions are more about them as an individual – what are they looking forward to, what do they want to learn, what do they love learning about? On the first day of school I put the survey and a new pencil on each desk so they can get started right away. You can check this resource out here.

Puzzle Races

I started doing this activity a LONG time ago and it is always a hit with my 5th graders. Puzzle races build community by giving students an opportunity to work on something fun together. When we do this, we always spend time working (about 20 minutes) and then we talk about what’s working and what’s not. How is the group working together? Do you have any strategies?

Having this chat gives every group a chance at improving their team work. And once everyone has had an opportunity to work well together, we make a chart about what it takes to work as a team.

An anchor chart titled "When We Work As a Team We Will" used for creating a positive classroom community.

One more note about puzzle races: make sure each team has the same puzzle! They don’t think it’s fair if they have different ones, even if they are the same number of pieces. The puzzles I use came from the Target dollar spot and they are 100 piece puzzles.

Student Reflection and Feedback

At the end of the first day or week, gathering some feedback from students is a great way to show them that you are listening and that you care about their thoughts and opinions. This simple graphic organizer is a quick and easy way for your students to reflect and share their feedback. Students share 3 things that went well, 2 questions they still have, and 1 thing they are excited about. You can grab it for free right here! (There’s even an option to assign this in Google slides.)

Photo of a back to school reflection activity that promotes creating a positive classroom community.

I have gotten some very sweet comments over the years when doing this activity – and I especially love it when they say they are excited to be in 5th grade, or that they are excited to come back to school the next day! I also love using the questions as a part of our Morning Meeting.

BONUS Idea!

Ok, I KNOW I said 5 ideas – but this one is really great for the first week of school and gives your students a chance to participate in creating the kind of classroom community that will let everyone flourish. If you haven’t read the book Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden by Edith Pattou, you need to do it soon! This story is all about Mrs. Spitzer and her garden of students – the metaphor is spot on and it opens up the chance to talk about what students need to grow and succeed.

Photo of the book "Mrs. Spitzer's Garden" and an anchor chart in the background titled "What do YOU need from your teacher"

We read the book together and then I asked them, “What do YOU need from your teacher?” (We got out the BIG sticky notes for this one.) Each student wrote what they needed on their sticky and placed it on the chart. (Looking back, I might not even have them put the stickies up for everyone to possibly read – I might just have them hand it to me and I’ll read it.) Either way, you can get a glimpse of what your students already know they need to be successful and it helps your students to know that you value what they have to say.

Wrap It Up

Creating a positive classroom community is the first step to having a successful year in school! When your students feel accepted, respected, and valued, your classroom management will become a breeze and your students will be able to learn and grow. Don’t forget to grab your reflection freebie here, pick up some awesome read alouds to start the year, grab your back to school survey here, and learn more about creating a classroom pledge here.

Do you have a tried and true method to creating a positive classroom community? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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Have a great back to school season!

How to Use Sentence Sorts to Improve Writing Skills

July 29, 2021
How to use sorting activities to improve student writing skills.

If you’re like me, you sometimes dread the beginning of the school year, and not for the usual reasons. Yes, it sucks when we can’t use the bathroom whenever we want and I hate drinking cold coffee, but the beginning of the year brings other challenges too. Like figuring out what skills students have and what skills they still need to work on – especially in writing.

It seems like every year the students’ abilities cover a huge range, and it’s a mystery that needs to be solved to determine what skills to work on, where to start, who might need extra support, who needs more of a challenge AND THEN figure out HOW to actually fit it all in. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to make it engaging so the information sticks, right? Well, I’m not here to tell you that I have all the answers – but I have solved one piece of the equation involving every teacher’s favorite topic – complete sentences!!!

In this post, I’ll give you a quick overview of how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills for your class! Then, make sure to grab the back to school ebook (for FREE) with this AND tons of other great ideas for getting back to school.

Why Use a Sort in Writing?

Identifying similarities and differences is an effective instructional strategy to help students develop conceptual understanding of ideas and topics. Writing is no different! When students can see the differences between complete sentences compared to fragments and run-ons, they start to develop a sense of what works in their own writing, and what doesn’t. They can more readily identify fragments and run-ons in their work, and know what needs to be done to create a complete sentence.

How To Use Sorts for Sentence Writing

ideas for how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills

In this activity, your students will look at a set of cards. Each card will either have a complete sentence, a run-on sentence, or a sentence fragment on it.

As a team, and before any direct instruction, students discuss what they notice about each card and try to put them in groups based on their similarities.

A key component of this activity is letting students do the work of classifying by what they notice. In my classroom, I don’t give them any ideas until they have decided how THEY want to group the cards.

Once the cards are sorted into the groups students want AND they can explain why they made those groups, then you can teach them the names for each group of words found on the cards. This is an important step to connect their ideas to the “correct” terms. Each year, my students have ideas that make for great bridges to the actual terms. They notice that some of the cards are missing punctuation, some don’t have enough information, and some have way too much information. They also notice that some of the cards are just right. Even if they can’t put their fingers on WHY, they can definitely use their sorting and classifying skills to help them reason about why they go together in a category.

how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills free guide

Later in this post, you will find a link to the back to school ebook. In there, you will find this handy and FREE guide that explains how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills!

What Else Can I Do?

If you’re thinking, “OK, this sounds cool, but then what do I do?” don’t worry! I have you covered. In the Sentence Activities Bundle you will find all the materials for the sorting activities, as well as practice pages, sentence building cards and activities, quizzes, and more!

How to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills

These activities are all designed to help students improve their writing skills and practice what they have learned about complete sentences. The sort activities lay the foundation and help students gain the understanding they need to be successful with their writing. Everything else in the activities bundle is designed to help them put that understanding to use and for you to track their progress throughout the year.

Sentence Activities Bundle cover and link.

This bundle has everything you need to help your students write complete sentences like champs!

Ok, I’m in! What next?

Hooray! Your next step is super easy! All you have to do is download this AMAZING (and free) back to school ebook. In the ebook, you will find so many ideas for getting your school year off to the best start, including the Quick Guide to Sentence Sorts in Upper Elementary. That guide will give you everything you need to learn how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills! Every page in this ebook has a free resource you can download and use right away! Click the picture below to grab your copy of the ebook!

Image of ebook cover that states Back to School Resource E Book and photos of each resource included.

And there you have it! If you are thinking about doing this in your classroom, I’d love to hear about how you use sentence sorts to improve writing skills. Leave me any questions or comments below and let’s help each other out for another school year!

Looking for More Ideas?

Check out even more great ideas for back to school here! So many teachers are sharing about their free resources and back to school tips.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Practicing Parts of Speech with “Over and Under the Snow”

February 5, 2021

There’s nothing better than a great picture book on a snowy day! It’s even better when you can do a fun activity to go along with that picture book. “Over and Under the Snow,” by Kate Messner, is a great book for learning about language and practicing parts of speech. Keep reading to see how I used this book with my fifth graders to learn and practice parts of speech.

Graphic Organizer

First, I had my students make a graphic organizer in their notebooks. Just three columns – verbs, adjectives, and nouns. As a class, we reviewed each of those terms and added the definitions to our notebooks. You could really do any type of words you want them to listen for, I just chose these for the practice. (Check out the end of this post for a freebie that you can grab to save you a little time!)

Interactive Read Aloud

Then, as I read the book aloud, we paused for them to talk to each other and write down different types of words they heard in the story. As a class, we started adding different nouns, verbs and adjectives that we heard in the story.

We did a few pages together, and then they worked with a partner to read the rest of the story and write down the words they found. (They were all able to read this book because it is on Epic! If you haven’t used Epic!, my class highly recommends it.) They had a great time reading the story, and searching for the different types of words.

Digital Word Sort

After they had a chance to finish the book and write their words, we shared a few of the ones they found. Last, but not least, they got to show what they learned with a digital word sort!

I was able to quickly see who needs a bit more practice and who knows these parts of speech! Plus, my class had a blast reading and analyzing words together. If you want to grab these for your own class, click the picture below. The are totally FREE!

Download Resource

As an added bonus, our blogging team is sponsoring a giveaway. We have a wonderful prize package (valued at approximately $350) to share with one lucky winner. It will include the following items:

  • One copy of EACH book featured in our posts
  • A $25 gift certificate to TPT from Comprehension Connection
  • One $15 Amazon gift card from Picture Book Brain
  • A $10 Dunkin Donuts gift card from Miss D. Gunn
  • A $25 winner’s choice gift card to Amazon, TPT, or Target from Amazing Materials for You
  • One $25 gift certificate to TPT from Sweet Integrations
  • A $25 gift certificate to Starbucks from The Craft of Teaching, and
  • One plush toy bear (to go with her book) from The Blue Brain Teacher
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Once you’ve entered the giveaway, check out all the other amazing ideas and mentor texts below!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Holiday Gift Ideas for Remote Teachers

November 23, 2020

2020 has been quite the year, hasn’t it? Like many of you, I’ve been flip flopping between 100% remote teaching and 100% in person learning since August. Nobody can deny that none of this is ideal. But even so, the holiday are coming up and this would be a good time to express your appreciation for the teachers in your life. Whether they are friends, family members, your co-workers, or your kids’ teachers, here are some gift ideas for remote teachers that they are sure to love!

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. These commissions help support the blog. All opinions are my own.

Quality Coffee Mug

HydroFlask insulated coffee mug - gift idea for remote teachers

This mug from HydroFlask is basically my #1 remote learning accessory. I use it every single day. It keeps coffee warm for like 8 hours. So, when I get busy teaching and don’t get a sip for a while, it’s still warm!

Stress Relief and Self Care

The Art of the Mandala adult coloring book - gift idea for remote teachers

This adult coloring book has gorgeous, intricate mandalas to color. It has helped me calm down when I’m feeling stressed out and it takes my mind off the crazy situation we all find ourselves in right now. If you have a remote teacher in your life who loves to color, this is a great option! Don’t forget a fancy set of colored pencils to go with it.

Something Funny!

Funny candle with the text "I'm find. It's fine. Everything is fine." from Etsy  gift idea for remote teachers

This candle clearly sums up every teacher’s feelings about 2020 – and maybe just every single person. Plus, one of the scents is lush linen and who doesn’t want to smell that fresh laundry smell while they are teaching on a Zoom meeting? (Better than how 5th graders smell after PE, amirite?)

Comfy and Cozy

Purple brand comfy seat cushion - gift idea for remote teachers

Thanks to my friend, Sara, for this must-have idea for remote teachers…the comfy butt cushion! None of us have ever sat down at our jobs this much and my butt and back were definitely taking the hit. This cushion from Purple has made a HUGE difference.

Gift Cards

Teachers Pay Teachers gift card - gift idea for remote teachers

A gift card to TpT would be a huge help to anyone teaching remotely right now. I have been on the hunt for anything digital to share with my students, and TpT has saved me more than once! A Target, Amazon, or other gift card to a local shop would also be an awesome way to show your appreciation this holiday season.

Last, But Not Least…

Adult beverages are a must at this point in remote teaching. Whether you prefer a cold beer, a mixed drink, or a glass of wine, remote teaching has got us all feeling some kind of way. Get your favorite teacher a gift card to their favorite liquor store, or maybe their favorite brewery. Or you can get them a fancy glass to enjoy their beverage of choice!

Pin for later!

Hang In There!

I hope that this gave you some gift ideas for remote teachers that you love! But in all seriousness, remote teaching is a challenge no matter what. I hope that you are all staying safe and healthy and taking care of yourselves during these crazy times.

If you need some ideas for reconnecting with your students for after winter break, check out this post!

If you want to get fun and helpful ideas straight to your inbox, click here!

Ideas for After Winter Break

December 30, 2019

Well, it’s been about 2 weeks of not knowing the day of the week and not putting on real pants unless absolutely necessary. But, winter break is almost over and we all have to start thinking about what we will do on the first day or two back to school. I know everyone will be tired (hello, ME) but here are some ideas for after winter break that will keep you and your students going while you get back into the swing of things.

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. These commissions help support the blog. All opinions are my own.

Check In

Two weeks is a long time, and it’s important that my students have the opportunity to check in with me after such a long break. A lot has probably happened since I saw them last, so I try to give them plenty of opportunities to share some things that happened over break.

One way to check in is to have students leave me a message on our chart paper. This is a regular routine that we do – I put a question on our easel and they use a sticky note to answer it.

Anchor chart collecting student responses to the question "What is one thing you can't wait to tell me today?"

NOTE: I take great care not to assume the break was great for everyone. Some kids were probably not looking forward to it and are glad to be back at school for varying reasons. I just like to give them all an opportunity to share whatever they would like about our time away.

Another way to do this is using Morning Meeting time to share something verbally. I usually ask them to pick one thing they want to tell everyone and we use our regular Morning Meeting protocol (whoever has the Koosh ball does the talking) to share. They are allowed to pass if they would like. This gives everyone a second opportunity to share and sometimes eliminates everyone trying to talk during class time! Sometimes.

Refresh Expectations

Inevitably, everyone has forgotten all of the expectations for each part of the day: starting the day, Morning Meeting, Daily 3 – you name it, those expectations need a refresher. Typically, on the first day back from break I spend a few minutes helping students remember what we are all doing here. This usually takes less than 5 minutes per routine, and pays off when I don’t have to stop 100 times to remind everyone what they’ve known since the second week of school.

Reflect and Look Forward

My students might get sick of reflecting on their work and what’s going on in our classroom. We reflect after math tests, writing assignments, and every. single. Friday. But, I keep asking them to do it, because it’s important and they learn about themselves every time! It’s also a great classroom tool because I can gather information on how they are perceiving their own progress and also how they are feeling about the year so far.

This is a set of mid-year surveys that I have my students do either right before or after winter break. It gives them the opportunity to reflect on how things are going in math, reading and writing, as well as check in on goals they set at the beginning of the year. I also peek at all their surveys and take some notes for my own information. You can grab these surveys for your classroom right here.

These surveys do take a few minutes to complete, but the information is worth it and my students are always (mostly) honest. It’s a great way to check in after a two week winter break!

Goal Setting

One thing that always gets my students started on the right foot for the second half of the year is some goal setting. First, we talk about what goals are and why we have them. (Hoping this is just a refresher from the rest of the year, but they forget a lot over these two weeks, you know?)

Student generated ideas for goal setting.

In 5th grade, we brainstormed this list which I recorded on the board. Then, they used these ideas to create some goals for the rest of the year. To keep track, they filled in their goals on the 3-2-1 page you see in the picture. (Grab it for free right here or check out my blog post on it here.)

Do Something Fun!

No one is ready for a full day of seat work or really, a full day of anything, right? So have some fun and do something silly or artsy or kinesthetic to keep you and your students happy! Last year we made these fun “Ways to Make 2019” posters during math time.

Math activity poster: "Ways to Make 2019"

I gave them about 15-20 minutes to think of as many ways to make the number 2019 as they could. It was fun and (relatively) easy and they loved decorating their work!

I also think reading aloud a fun picture book is a great first day back activity! Just in case anyone is grumpy (not me of course!), I think this year I will read Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang. The gist of this book is that monkey is definitely grumpy, but he tries to convince everyone he isn’t. They all give him advice. And in the end, he decides it’s ok to be grumpy for a bit anyway. I LOVE this book! The pictures are great and the lesson is applicable for everyone. Grab yourself a copy at the link below!

Grumpy Monkey cover

Well, that’s about it….our first day back in a nutshell! Here’s to an uneventful, fun, and productive day for everyone headed back to school. Enjoy!

Thanksgiving Activities for Upper Elementary

October 20, 2019

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday! I love sharing it with my family and my students. Over the years, I’ve found or created a few Thanksgiving activities for upper elementary students that keep the learning going but are still fun!

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. These commissions help support the blog. All opinions are my own.

THANKSGIVING PLATES ACTIVITY

When I taught third grade, this Thanksgiving plate activity was a huge hit! Students used the “Thanksgiving Price List” to choose their favorites. Each person was “given” $10.00 to spend on their own personal Thanksgiving meal. They figured out what they wanted to “eat” and used adding and subtracting to figure out how much they had left. Once they decided what they wanted on their plate and how much it would cost, they created their plate!

We hung these in the hall and they made a great bulletin board!

You can grab the Thanksgiving Price List {here}. It’s free and updated with cuter pictures!

THANKSGIVING READ ALOUDS

A favorite read aloud before Thanksgiving is this fantastic book by Laurie Halse Anderson. Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, is a great read about Sarah Hale, the woman who helped make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Click {here} to grab yourself a copy!

The entertaining illustrations grab kids’ attention and this book paves the way for a fun writing prompt about saving Thanksgiving!

This is a cool book about the creator of the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons! The illustrations are awesome and the story is fascinating. Click {here} to grab this one!

THANKSGIVING PERSUASIVE WRITING

I use this book as a jumping off point for writing persuasive letters, which you can do with this activity that is free in my store. Students write a persuasive letter to convince their families that Thanksgiving should not be cancelled!This is a great way to tie in your writing standards with the Thanksgiving holiday.

THANKSGIVING MATH

If you teach older kids, like I do now, this Thanksgiving themed math resource might be just what you are looking for. I have used this resource to keep my students engaged and practicing grade level standards! This resource has everything from Thanksgiving themed word problems to color-by-codes, and they are all great practice for decimal operations. In fifth grade, we still plan our Thanksgiving meal, but they just use the price list and they don’t make the crafty plate. (BUT they totally could and use more challenging money amounts instead!)

My students love working on these pages with a partner! You can grab a copy of this resource right {here}.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

I hope these Thanksgiving activities for upper elementary students give you a fun way to celebrate with your class, and I hope you have a fabulous Thanksgiving break full of family, friends, and delicious food!

Sanity Savers – Halloween Activities for Upper Elementary

October 18, 2019

Look. I’m not trying to be a party pooper. I swear. But….Halloween at school stresses me out! All I want on Halloween is a quiet day. No party. No costumes. No craziness.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be *that* teacher. So I’ve found a few ways to save my sanity and still have fun with these Halloween activities for upper elementary students!

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. These commissions help support the blog. All opinions are my own.

Halloween Read Aloud
Even the big kids enjoy a fun read aloud! There are so many great ones out there – but here are a couple of my favorites. Click the links to grab them for your classroom!

Creepy Carrots: Jasper Rabbit loves to eat carrots…until they start following him!! My class loves this creepy story and the pictures are awesome.

I Need My Monster: This has a fun twist on the traditional “monster under the bed” story. Not just ANY monster will do!

Spooky YouTube
Find a spooky YouTube music channel and keep it on all day! It sets the Halloween mood and doesn’t interfere with the students working. I found one that was kid friendly, instrumental music. It was perfect for the background of the day! (I used the one below last year, but there are tons if you search YouTube.)

Halloween Math
Even though we don’t have a party, that doesn’t mean we can’t use our math skills to plan a pretend one! This Halloween Math resource is perfect for some Halloween fun while practicing decimal skills. There are word problems, party planning, and using information in a table. My class had a great time thinking of all the ways to spend some Halloween money! There are also some fun Color-By-Code pages so they can practice decimals and math facts AND color. You can grab this resource in my TpT store here.

Pumpkin Point of View Writing
This was a spur of the moment activity that turned into a class favorite! We were working on point of view in our writing and reading units, and then we turned that into a fun Halloween writing prompt. These stories turned out to be hilarious and the class had a great time writing and sharing.

Grab some free Halloween writing pages here!

Spooky Owl Craft
Every year, my amazing mama comes to school to do a fall/Halloween craft with my class. These spooky owls are always a hit and make a pretty awesome decoration too! The main ingredients are: a piece of black cardstock, a small yellow circle sticker, pretzels for the body, head, and branch, googly eyes, feathers, and a piece of string! I usually make an example owl, but then let kids have their own spin on it and they always turn out awesome. Click {here} to read more about how I use this activity in the classroom!

I’ve found all of these activities help keep my students engaged and interested on Halloween, without being such a crazy day! Here’s hoping you have a sane Halloween in the classroom as well!

Make A Mini-Thesaurus

October 20, 2018

As my classroom has transitioned to anchor charts created with students, I’ve found less need for all the fancy posters I’ve purchased over the years. Check out how we made a mini-thesaurus from an old poster!

We used this poster, and it’s been a huge hit!

This post contains affiliate links. I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of these links. These commissions help support the blog. All opinions are my own.

Click the picture to grab a copy!

I cut the poster apart into individual sections. I laminated each piece and punched a hole in the top.

I used a metal ring and ran it through all the cards to make a quick and easy mini-thesaurus!

These have turned into the most used “thesaurus” in the room! Kids use the heck out of these little guys…they take them off the rings and share them around and often kids are looking around to find them. (NOTE: the metal ring/lamination did not hold up as well as I would have liked, but they managed to get it back together with plenty – and I mean PLENTY – of Scotch tape.)

Which posters do you have hanging around that could get a new life?? 

How Problem of the Week Saved My Sanity

July 24, 2018

I’d like to preface this blog post with a friendly reminder:

I am NOT a morning person.

I am a bleary-eyed, coffee-clutching, stumbling fool before about 9:00 am. Yet…

MY SCHOOL STARTS AT 7:30. Students begin arriving at 7:20. I needed a way to help the morning routine run smoothly so I didn’t accidentally say or do something inappropriate in my morning-cranky haze.

I’ve been using word problems as a way to engage 5th grade mathematicians for awhile, and first thing in the morning seemed like a good time to establish a routine that would accomplish a few things: get them working right away, foster independence when things got a little tough, improve their problem solving skills and give them an opportunity to share and get feedback.

Here’s How It Works
Image of students gluing problems into a notebook.Every Monday morning (usually, because #reallife) my whole class receives a new Problem of the Week on their desk. Their job is to glue it into their notebook when they arrive and start working independently. (Key word: independently. As in, “It’s Monday. It’s before 9:00. Please work by yourself while I do teacher-y things like take attendance and drink my coffee.”) But seriously, I want them to work alone so they can do their best thinking and not worry about what their partner is doing. I find this gives even the most reluctant students an opportunity to have something to share when they do find a partner. They work until the announcements come on, which at my school gives them about 10 minutes.

The next day when students arrive, they get out their problems and keep working. Most likely, they didn’t finish the day before, but even if they did, they can review and revise their work. Every problem I use has an extended thinking question, so they can also move on to work on that part. Again, we work until announcements.

 

The following days (usually Wednesday and Thursday) are a little different because, once a student is ready, they are free to find a partner to share ideas or help each other get unstuck. I’ve had very little interaction with them on these problems so far, because I’m trying to foster that independence and critical thinking. Working with partners helps them to see the problem from another point of view or to confirm that they were on the right track! We had lots of conversations about what to do when they got stuck, and so we made it into a digital anchor chart.

And put it into their notebooks:

These days are also the time when students revise their work based on their discussions with partners. This might mean adding a bit more detail, changing some part of their answer, or explaining their thinking more clearly. I always ask students to review in another color so it’s easy for them (and me!) to see how their thinking has changed.

On the last day, usually Friday, students get the opportunity to share their thinking with the whole class. I usually choose a few students who solved the problem in different ways or some who made mistakes along the way. I also like to choose students who explained their thinking particularly well or who showed unique thinking in their strategies. (I also love to showcase organized, clear, and concise work!)

The whole week looks something like this:

 

Why Use Problem of the Week?

It turns out simplifying the morning routine wasn’t the only great thing about having a Problem of the Week routine.

It also:

  • helped kids practice skills in just (about) 10 minutes per day.
  • encouraged a smooth transition into the school day.
  • was a great way to introduce a new concept in a problem solving context.
  • gave students opportunities to review their own work every day.
  • encouraged revision of ideas and work.
  • offered opportunities to collaborate and discuss with other students.
  • taught students how to help each other without giving answers.
  • gave students lots of opportunities to be successful and grow.
 
Wrapping It Up (I swear!)
Problem of the Week has literally been a morning routine game changer in my 5th grade classroom. They know what to do. They do it. I drink coffee and take attendance and do anything else that needs taking care of in the morning. (Because you know the office is calling and someone left their backpack in the cafeteria and it’s probably snowing so everyone is dealing with boots and hats and mittens.)
 
And beyond the obvious plus of me not being a crazy lunatic in the morning, the students really grew. Not only in their mathematical knowledge and abilities, but in their confidence, their willingness to take risks and their ability to discuss mathematics with a partner. It was a win for everyone!
 
You can totally create your own problems for this routine, or find some in your math resource. (Usually all the good word problems are at the end of the chapter…)
 
Or if you want some that are already done for you, you can check these out on TpT. These problems all focus on the Number and Operations in Base Ten standards for 5th grade.  Click on the picture to check it out.
 
If you teach fourth grade, check out the resource with problems here:
 
If you teach a different grade, but still want to implement this in your classroom, I’ve put together just the directions, Google link, and “I’m Stuck” anchor charts in a separate resource! Just click {here}. If you think you want to give it a try, just do it! Your sanity, and your students, will benefit.
 

Last but not least, if you are looking for a way to keep track of how students are progressing with their problem solving skills OR just their math skills in general, check out this FREE math skills tracker. You can track data, make groups easily, and have a handy resource for asking the right questions to get students thinking.

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