Game on! What’s Your Word?

Freebie TpT Product coming up at the end…just for readers of my blog!

IMG_2069As I stated in my blog post on Word Walls, I love words. I have been surrounded by words my entire life, first in books, magazines, and newspapers, and then the internet and apps. I will admit that I am a Words with Friends junkie…I have played this game for nine years now and show no signs up stopping anytime soon. (Username: Jan119 – send me a game request!) In addition to words, I love playing games, so imagine my excitement when I first realized that there were games totally devoted to WORDS!

Last year, I discovered Words with Friends Edu and jumped on it as a fun activity for my tutoring students. However, several months ago, the company discontinued the Edu version online. However, I still think that Words with Friends, Scrabble or other word building games are a great resource for students to learn and study new words.  While playing WWF, I have learned many new words that I had no idea existed until either I or an opponent used them in the game. While I don’t believe in students learning strange words they will never use, I do want them to learn and be able to use some of the more common words played in the game that they will see in books, textbooks, and the internet.  One of the best features of the WWF Edu website were the many lesson plans to use in conjunction with the game; fortunately, I saved all the lesson plans in my Google Drive so you can access there HERE!

In an article posted on Edutopia about building vocabulary with games, it states that “Developing students’ vocabulary doesn’t have to be a chore. Given a creative mindset and some openness to exploring, we can find opportunities to educate and stretch students’ understanding with play. Far from being wasted time, these exchanges can help motivate students to realize that playing with language can be enjoyable”.

Furthermore, the website Reading Rockets published an article on using technology tools to promote vocabulary instruction and had this to say about having fun with words: Whether directly teaching vocabulary and word learning strategies, or increasing students’ volume of reading, an important research-based principle that applies across the board is to promote a lively interest in words through student expression and participation in a learning community that enjoys playing with words, builds on individual interests as well as curriculum needs, and emphasizes self-efficacy in word learning (Beck et al., 2008; Graves & Watts- Taffe, 2008).

My Favorite Word Games for Students

Word Monkeys – I have to say this is my top choice; I have used it with both struggling readers and gifted students, both in schools and during tutoring. The concept is simple; players take turns making words with the seven cards in their hand and the top card on the draw pile. The longer and more complex the words are, the more points they receive!  I remember pleading with my RtI reading group to play on Fridays, even though some were tired of the game!

 

IMG_7481Word Shark – Another fun game that has players building words with mats. The game can be easier for younger students (mats already have the rime/word family on the mat, and the player just has to provide the beginning consonant). For advanced or older students, you can use the blank word mat where players draw both vowels and consonants and build their own words.

My Word – A fast-paced game with the dealer continuously placing vowel, consonant, digraphs and suffix cards on the table while the other players watch for words they can create out of the cards. When they see one, they have to grab it and make it…the more words they can spot and build, the more points. I found I had to make some adjustments for younger students, such as pausing in my dealing so they could have a chance to look over the cards and not get overwhelmed.

fullsizeoutput_626cWord Connect – I only recently learned about this app from a tutoring student…a fun app that displays letters and the boxes for the words; the player has to put the letters in the correct order to make the words. It sounds easy, but I was surprised at how many words you can make from just three letters; it’s all about putting the letters in the correct order. The levels are easy at first but gradually become more difficult as they pass the beginning levels.

Word Ladders – This is not really a game, but it’s so much fun that I’m including it on my list. Students start at the bottom with a word, then have to add or remove letters based on the clues as they “climb” the ladder. I would put together packets of these for both RtI and tutoring students as it’s a great warm-up for a group or tutoring session. The link takes you to the Daily Word Ladders book you can buy, but you can also find others word ladder sheets online: here and here, as well as many other websites.

Bananagramst3T1nWfbTC++6f1%2gxRig – I only recently discovered this game, but it’s already a favorite! The banana-shaped pouch contains Scrabble-type letter tiles, and players race each other to build words! I recently played this with two sisters I tutor; 5th-grade sister did fine on her own, but I had to help the 3rd-grade sister…she didn’t understand the all words had to connect; she wanted to just build isolated words from her tiles (although that could be an option at first with younger kids). Another option is that there is a version especially for young kids, My First Bananagrams!

Okay, so playing these games is fun…but what about the LEARNING aspect?

Of course, these games can help foster phonics, spelling and vocabulary skills, as well as a love and knowledge of words.  But all of that is nebulous and hard to measure…so I took it a step further.  As the games were played, I had students write down the words they built or played. After the game,  I had them choose 2-3 words they either did not know the meaning of, or just “kind of knew it” (have you ever asked your student if he/she knows what a word means and they answer yes, but then can’t give you the definition? That’s “kind of knowing it”). I had them record words on this sheet, find out the meaning…either with my help, other students’ help, or the internet, and then write the definition and use in a sentence. I then add these words to lists in either Vocabulary/Spelling City (for younger kids) or Quizlet (for older kids). I have the students return to these words over the weeks by using them in a variety of vocabulary and spelling activities. Even after they have “passed” their tests on the words on Vocab/Spelling City or Quizlet, I still have them use and review the words during the year….that’s what ensures retention of words.fullsizeoutput_6184

My latest Teachers Pay Teachers product is all about Word Games, and the activities for practicing and retaining the words! There are several fun vocabulary and spelling ideas that incorporate social media and popular culture. However…YOU, the reader of this blog, can have a copy for free, by clicking on the link below! 

Please use the comment section to tell me about any other word games and word study activities you use in your classroom!

LINK to Google Drive version (make a copy and edit any way you want)!flat-2126879_640

TpT Cover Sheet

The A-Z of Back to School for Teachers! (Part 1)

Hey…just me jumping on the Back to School Bandwagon…because suddenly in mid-July, BTS was ALL over the place…social media, store ads, TpT…everywhere! So I am entering the fray of the BTS Frenzy!

First off, I have a NEW PRODUCT ON TPT – Back to School Bingo! This is a fun activity I used with my students on the first day of school (I revised this for the first day after Fall Break, Christmas Break and Spring Break…those are coming soon!

CLICK HERE FOR BACK TO SCHOOL BINGO!

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 7.55.30 PMFirst BTS idea; a few weeks ago I uploaded my FIRST for-sale product to Teachers Pay Teachers!  I can’t think of a better way to start the school year than with PASSION PROJECTS!  What better way to start the year than engaging your students in working on a long-term project on something they love? Also, you can find out SO much about your new students by surveying or interviewing them on what their hobbies, interests, and passions are! I did not create this until I was out of the classroom and working with small groups of gifted students, but I would SO implement this in the first month of the school year! It could be your 80/20 project for the first half of the school year, or even the entire school year!

Hop on over to this product in my Teachers Pay Teachers store! And PLEASE, if you do purchase, I would appreciate some reviews on this in TpT.  If you don’t end up purchasing, please share the product on social media and with other teachers!

I had 25 back to school seasons in my career…and like many other teachers, got smarter each year and changed up how I started my school year to make it better, smoother, and less stressful for the students, their parents and ME!  So I now have an A-Z guide to help you, the amazing hard-working teacher, have a less stressful Back to School season!

First, and foremost, the amount of time you spend on routines and procedures should never be underestimated! Take it from me…during my first few years of teaching, I just barreled right into the curriculum and then paid for it later when I couldn’t understand why my students could not seem to know what to do to turn in assignments, find materials, sign-out for the bathroom, etc. By my final years in the classroom, I was spending a good WEEK on these routines and longer if necessary! I made sure to give them lots of reminders and visuals hanging in the classroom.

Second, the amount of time you spend on making your rules and expectations clear can also never be underestimated!  Those darn mistakes the first few years were not repeated again! I made sure the students understood my recognition system for doing the right thing and the consequences for not doing the right thing. More importantly, I made sure parents understood these expectations as well!

And…speaking of parents, there is no such thing as too much communication to parents!  Well, I guess there is common sense; parents don’t like being inundated every hour or day with texts and emails…but always err on the side of too much!

So…along about my third year, I finally got around to creating a beginning of the year packet for my students and parents. This packet had all the procedures, expectations, and information that I could think of…and I’m sure it was overwhelming to some students and parents, but it was my way of making sure I covered everything! I spent the first few weeks going over this packet and reiterating things…and made up daily review games that allowed students to win homework passes (these passes could be used to get out of homework on certain evenings! I also sent home the packet and had both students and parents initial each section. Here are the items I included in my packet…did it in A-Z style!

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 Afternoon Clubs: My teammates and I used to set aside one after-school day a week where students could stay and get extra help on ANYTHING they needed…homework, projects, math and reading skills, etc. We made sure parents knew they were staying and had a way to get home after the club.

 Bonus Points: These were my “digital badges” before I knew what digital badges were.  I gave bonus points for various things…keeping up with their planner, typing assignments (which was still a novel/optional thing back in the 90’s), prizes in games, etc. These would go into the grade book and could jump their grade up slightly!

Current Events: This was an activity I did all year…and I think one of the best things I ever did as a teacher! I created a schedule of when each student would present a current event they found in the newspaper or a magazine (now I would be using Newsela for this!) and do a recap of the article for the class. I gave them guidelines for what was needed to be included in the presentation; I can’t remember them right now but will try to find the handout. Some days, the article was so interesting or debatable that we ended up discussing it for over an hour and I had to adjust my schedule! 

 

Daytimers: These were the planners students were required to have. Our school sold them, but students could purchase their own as well. At the end of the school day, I would take 5-10 minutes to talk about the homework expected of the class. I wrote it out on a template on the overhead (ugh – the 90’s!) and they were expected to show the daytimer daily to their parents and get initials each day.

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Expectations: Here was my list ( I realize these are from 20 years ago and many things have changed in schools!)

  1. Respect all people and property in the classroom.
  2. Use quiet voices during work time.
  3. Raise your hand to speak during class discussions (this didn’t always happen during our heated currents events debates!)
  4. Wait for a speaker to finish speaking before raising your hand to comment.
  5. Use a polite listening position when someone else is speaking.
  6. The class will walk quietly in a straight line through the halls when going to Specials and other events (this was a school-wide expectation).
  7. School supplies will be used only for the purpose they were intended (this came about after a student bored a hole in his desk with the sharp point in his compass!)
  8. Use the Sign Out Sheet if you need to leave the classroom for any reason.
  9. 9. Try to use the restroom as little as possible during the school day and not during a lesson or presentation (this was because I had sometimes had serial bathroom goers!).
  10. Please chew your gum in places other than this classroom and school.

FImage result for F gifriday Folders: The parent’s best friend and a school-wide expectation (at the most recent schools I worked at, it had been changed to Thursday folders and most of the info is on the school website). These folders came home every Friday and contained student work, school announcements, flyers from outside organizations, and a sheet with my comments about the students’ week and a place for parents to initial and make comments. I used to “love” when a folder came back on Monday with no initials and the entire contents still in it!

Image result for G gifGrades: This, of course, is where I would explain my grading police that our school district used.

 

 

Image result for H gifHow am I doing? Before the age of parent portals, where parents can log in and see grades for their student on a weekly basis, I would have the option for students to fill out a 1/2 sheet on what was their current grades in all subjects. If students took this home, filled it out and returned, they received Bonus Points. Some students did it all the time (many were expected by their parents to do so) and some never did. But the option was there!

Image result for I gifIllness:  In this section, I explained how student needed to take ownership of finding out about work missed while they were absent. I had a 1/2 sheet form called “We Missed You!” which let the student know what they missed that day.

So that’s it for Part 1 of my A-Z packet! Tune in next week for Part 2! In the meantime, BEST OF LUCK GETTING YOUR SCHOOL STARTED! REMEMBER, I AM HERE TO HELP YOU!