I saw a pin on Pinterest last week—a list of Do’s and Don’ts for Classroom Management by BusyTeacher.org. As a peer coach, it spoke to me and I saved it for future reference when working with new (and experienced) teachers.
Most of the Do’s are what you would expect (respect your students, use routines), but I kept coming back to the last one on the list: “Keep a bag of tricks up your sleeve.” It mentions songs, finger plays, and games, most of which sound like they are for elementary school, but this Do is just as important for secondary teachers.
Middle and high school teachers also need last minute sub plans, something to fill five extra minutes at the end of class, or sometimes a whole period when the copy machine breaks or the network goes down. It takes time, though, to accumulate a file folder full of tricks, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorites to help you build your collection:
For years my mom clipped the word games from USA Today before she recycled the papers and shared them with me for my classroom. I have a massive folder of clippings from which I use the QuickCross and Up & Down Words on the document camera for occasional vocabulary fun. I’ve run across books with hundreds of these puzzles on bargain shelves in Barnes & Noble (and even at Old Time Pottery for $1.99, just last month!). A quick search on Amazon resulted in the same books for as low as one penny plus shipping!
I used to try to connect them thematically to what we were doing (especially the quotes), but that required too much time and thought. When you need five minutes of filler—any game will work! The key to making this work, though, is to do it together—play along with the students, and when you don’t know the answer, admit it…puzzle it out together! If you just pass out copies of the puzzle, it’s busy work, but if you can turn it into a discussion, students can find some joy in words and build their vocabularies at the same time.
Two other sources of good word games include Games Magazine (available in book stores, by subscription, and online) and Puzzability a website/company created by three former editors of Games Magazine. Check out their Puzzle Sampler and Current Puzzles sections for a variety of options, including puzzles especially for kids.
If you have access to a computer and projector, a couple of websites can fill those last minutes with fun and information. Free Rice offers multiple choice quizzes in a variety of subjects, and for each correct answer, the site donates 10 grains of rice to the World Food Programme. Project the game and play!
Kahoot! requires a little more effort and students need their own phones, tablets, or computers to respond, but it offers a lot more subject-specific opportunity. You can create your own Kahoots! or just search for a public game that relates to your current unit. Students love the chance to compete against each other and use their devices!
For my English teacher friends, I recommend GrammarBytes!/ChompChomp. This site created by a college professor offers presentations and interactive exercises on a range of grammatical topics; you can play them online by projecting them for the class and you can print handouts for students to work on their own, too.
I’ve written extensively lately about sharing poetry in a few minutes at the beginning of class, but poems also make great concluding fillers—just be sure to stockpile poems of varying lengths to fill the time you have left, as short as one minute or longer pieces for up to five minutes.
Kelly Gallagher’s Reading Minute also provides structure for filling time with short texts. One of my favorite sources for these reading minutes is at the front of Real Simple magazine. Their “Simple List” bills itself as “your monthly dose of useful tidbits, timely trivia, and catchy conversation starters.” This month, for example, their list includes facts about New Year’s resolutions, bird watching, and dish-washing as therapy—lots to talk about!
The New York Times News Q’s provides longer pieces with more support. Prepare a couple of these for those last minute sub-plans or other full-class period emergencies.
Most of the time, it’s fine to just read and talk about text in these emergency situations, but sometimes you might want to hold your kids accountable through writing about the reading. You can add a few more supplies to your emergency toolkit by downloading my free SPACE response strategy or purchasing my editable exit slips or thick and thin questions from TeachersPayTeachers. Both can be adapted to any text (in emergencies and in your regularly scheduled lesson plans) and require students to use higher order thinking skills to respond to text.
What tricks do you have up your sleeve? Please share any ideas for coping with down time in the classroom in the comments!