Tuesday, April 7, 2015

7 Cooperative Learning Structures to Rock Test Prep

Cooperative learning is a part of each and every day in our classroom, but this time of year when we are focusing in on test prep it is really easy to let it slide. Instead I challenge myself (and you in turn!) to really ramp it up and do even MORE Kagan structures throughout the day.
For this post I have put together a list of my absolute favorite Kagan structures for test prep. For each structure I will tell you why it is one of my faves, and here is a link to their website where you can find the steps to each structure.

Numbered Heads Together

I love this structure because it is amazing for getting students to talk about their thinking and justify their answers. It really puts students in the drivers seat, and requires them to think a little deeper! 


This structure is amazing for giving students a little break while still keeping a content rich environment. Due to the movement that is incorporated right into the structure, it helps students to get their wiggles out! 


This one is pretty similar to Numbered Heads Together, but just different enough to up the engagement ante with students. Along with this, Showdown is much more student led, and allows students groups to work at their own pace.


Fan-N-Pick is fantastic for when you want to be a little cheesy. Who doesn't like to say things like, "Pick a card, any card!" You can just feel your inner game show host shining! Additionally, this structure is great for review because you can use it in so many ways! 

Rally Coach

Coach is built right into the name, and that's what it is! Student pairs coach one another to successful completion of what would otherwise be a boring independent practice worksheet.


Similar to Rally Coach, but the person with the pencil is only writing, while the other partner is doing all the thinking. 

Talking Chips

An amazing way to make sure that all students are equally involved! I love this one for my small groups when one student is a blurter, or a bit of a know it all. 

What all these structures have in common are that students and teachers alike love them. I LOVE that it frees me up to make observations of my students, and hearing them reason about their answers sends my heart into a flutter! 

Now, there are about a million more structures that can absolutely be used during test prep, so I would highly recommend checking them out. These though are my tried and true favorites! I hope that you were able to find at least new one, and that you will challenge yourself to try it out!

If you do, I would love to hear about it, or even see pictures! You can comment below or email me at teachinginthefastlane@gmail.com

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Six Review Games Worth Your time

Some people may think that anything that includes the word game does not have any place in the classroom. Those people are clearly not teachers! We teachers know that anything game oriented equals instant engagement.

Right about now the games that we have been incorporating successfully all year are starting to lose their appeal. Stinky Feet is awesome, but can only be played for so long!

Here is a round up of my favorite games to play to keep review fresh!

Egg Hunt

This is exactly what it sounds like. I place tasks in plastic eggs, then we go outside and hide them. I have hidden them before, or sometimes I have my students each hide an egg. Students then find each egg and complete the task. This works really well with any content area and is great for getting some fresh air, but can be completed inside as well! Easter Monday we are definitely doing this one with these Chocolate Bunny Review Cards

Vocabulary Relay

This is another good one for any content area, and gets your students up and moving. I have found that it works best outside, (if it is not windy) but can be completed anywhere with enough space. Decide on a list of words and write each card on an index card. You can create one card for each word, or one card per team for each word depending on how you want play. You can check out this FREE Math Vocabulary Relay in my store. 
Students line up in teams of 4-5 each and listen for a definition. Then teams are given a short period of time to discuss the definition and word. Finally, the elected member of the team (we stand in lines so everyone has a turn) runs to find the word from the pile and returns to their line. We finish up each round by discussing the word and clearing up any misconceptions. 

Four Corners

This game works best with multiple choice questions. I simply read or display a question and then ask students to show me the answer by traveling to a labeled corner of the room. For a variation of this you can ask students to show you the absolutely wrong answer, or the distractor. 

Argue the Answer

For this game every student needs answer choice cards. (I am really lazy and have students rip a sticky note into four pieces and write ABCD on them.) I then display a question using the projector and read it to the class. After we have had time to comprehend the question and answer choices (solve if it is math) I ask students to put in the answer choice card that is the distractor, then the one they know isn't the answer, then another wrong answer, leaving them with the correct answer in front of them. If everyone agrees we move on. If not, they students debate the answer and try to convince the other why they are right.  

Texas Snowball Fight

In central Texas, this is as close as we get to the real thing. I know you have done this one before, but just in case...
Each student takes a problem (any subject) and balls it up. When you say "Go!" students throw their snowball, pick up another one and throw it... until time is called. Then each student selects the problem closest to them to solve. 
We are doing this tomorrow with these multi-step problems

Scavenger Hunt

This one may not seem exciting, but it is another simple way to get students out of their seats and moving. I hide (and I mean hide, sometimes I can't even find them again) questions around the room or outside if it is a nice day. Students then travel around and try to find as many questions to answer as possible. I am using these Interpreting the Remainder Task Cards next week for our next scavenger hunt. 
A variation of this one is the "Treasure Hunt." In addition to hiding the problems, I write clues about where to find the next problem. I make the clues into little riddles that have them thinking carefully as well. Then, when a student finds and solves all the problems they get a little prize. 

I hope that there was at least one new game that will bring a little novelty to your classroom this spring! 

Monday, March 30, 2015

10 Things to Talk About Instead of STAAR

On this testing day, this one goes out to all of my Texas testing teacher friends, but really applies to everyone. Just substitute your test (FSA, PARCC...) for STAAR and voila!

I know it is testing season, and the test is a lot of what is on our minds, but it can't be all that we walk about at every point in the day. In fact, here in Texas, we are not allowed to talk about it. This is just fine by me, as it is the last thing I want to talk about.

So when you are in the lunch room, in the classroom after the test, or sitting down for dinner this week try one of these topics instead:

The Weather:

I know it seems like small talk, but everyone can talk about it. Aside from that, we have had some truly beautiful days here lately!

Easter Weekend:

Most of us have a three day weekend coming up, and who doesn't love that? Talk about your plans, their plans, or just talk about sleeping off that testing week anxiety. Any of this is better than talking about the actual test.

What You're Reading:

Right now in class we are reading an awesome book, Smells Like Dog. My students and I love to talk about it, and I am recommending it to anyone I know. I love to talk about children's literature with adults too, because it is so accessible. Everyone knows a favorite book that they read as a kid. It also allows me to actually finish a book on a regular basis.

What's for Dinner:

This might mean dinner tonight, or maybe your dream dinner. This is another one of those topics that everyone has something to say about.

A Current Event:

There is a lot going on in the world today. You might pick a heavier topic to go in depth with, or a lighter topic to relieve some stress. If you are looking for kid friendly news to talk about I would highly suggest visiting Dogo News. It is chock full of current events that are relevant to kids.

Summer Plans:

This is about the time of year that families are nailing down their summer plans. Is anyone in class going on a fun vacation? What are you doing? This topic is almost always a crowd pleaser!


I LOVE to talk to my students about their siblings. Someone always has a silly story to tell, or something outrageous that happened. As a matter of fact, I still have a few about my sisters that are my favorite stories to tell. 


This one is along the same lines as siblings, someone always has something funny to tell. 


I love to trade jokes with my students. I have a few standards that I tell and then the students share theirs which are half hilarious and half so nonsensical that you can't help but laugh. 

Field Trips:

We are going on our first field trip of the year next week, and have two more after that in May. Find out what your students' favorite field trips are and why. You can use this information to make sure that your trips this year are successful! 

There you have it! Ten things to talk about beside the test. Most are pretty obvious, but sometimes that is just what it takes!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Waking the Brain with Morning Stretches

You might remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about my take away from the Kagan training that I attended and how I was planning to Refocus Our Classroom. One of the big ideas that I touched on was waking up the brain through big muscle movement.
So this month for the Bright Ideas link up I am sharing how it is going. The short version is that it is amazing! The long version isn't all that long, so I will share it with you.

Each morning, after our class meeting, we do a series of stretches. The idea behind this is that when you do big muscle movements it increases the oxygen flow to your brain, and therefor prepares it for learning. Some mornings we do squats, and others we do jumping jacks, but my class' favorite stretch is the milk and cookies stretch!
 To perform this stretch you simply start by reaching your right hand across the midline of your body as far left as you can while simultaneously stepping your right foot back. While you do this you say, "Milk!"
Then you repeat with the left side and say, "Cookies!" Repeat on both sides for as long as desired. We usually do this about ten times or so. The whole process takes less than a minute. 

The first time we did this I chose milk and cookies, but now each time we name two items to say. Students LOVE to be the one to pick an item. Some of our favorites are pancakes and syrup, tacos and orange juice, and donuts and coffee. 

I have found that by doing this each morning it helps all of us to wake up and be in a better mood to start our learning!

If you liked this post, please consider following me with Bloglovin', on Facebook, or on Teachers Pay Teachers for more great ideas! 

For more amazing ideas, from fantastic bloggers check out the linky below. Items are listed by topic and grade level to make your search a little easier!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Test Prep Plan

Okay friends, I know this topic is getting old quick. AND that test prep season has really just begun for those of us in Texas ,and we are already ready to throw all the practice sheets out the window. I am here to help! 

Last week I talked about how I am systematically collecting data each day to see what my students still need more help with. I hope that post was helpful, but if you are anything like me you are left with the question, "Fantastic, but what now?"
I am here today to share my plan for exactly that.
Small disclaimer: This is the first year with our new math TEKS, and none of us know at all how they are going to be tested. I personally am choosing to spend my time on the readiness standards to give my students what I think will be the most bang for our buck.

This is the order I am covering each standard and the amount of time spent on each.
Place Value-2 days
Relating Decimals to Fractions-1 Day
Comparing Fractions-1 Day
Adding and Subtracting Fractions-1 Day
Addition and Subtraction-2 Days
Multiplication and Division-2 Days
Data-2 Days
Strip Diagrams and Equations-2 Days
Input-Output Tables and Number Patterns-2 Days
Perimeter and Area-2 Days
Geometry-2 Days
Measuring Angles-2 Days
This leaves one day right before the test to play review games with all the standards.

Each day we are completing the Test Smash review of course. This little puppy has provided such nice structure and predictability to our day, and I am just in love with it. As much as you can with test prep anyway.

Then, we take this data and split into groups. I have three groups.

The first are my students that have mastered a skill. These friends are given independent tasks and become my "Topic Experts." I give them a little name tag/blank label that I scrawled on in Sharpie that says they are in expert in a given topic. If one of my students needs help they know that these friends are the first ones they go to.

The second group are my almost there kiddos. These are my students that sometimes get it and sometimes don't. They are working mostly in partners, and with me.

The third group are my low babies that will be with me, or really close by, most of the time.

Now onto what we are doing! I am using these Big Ten resources as stations for each of the topics. Each resource has 10 activities for that standard. My favorite part is that they are entirely in black and white, so I just print them to our copier.
After printing them off I am using laminated pockets for each station. I cannot sing the praises of these precious pockets high enough! They are amazing! These babies are dry erase, and durable. I have a ton of them, because I use them for EVERYTHING! By using these pockets, I only make one copy of each station and have students do their work in dry erase marker right on the pocket.
 I love that they are durable enough for me to throw everything I need for an activity in there. As you can see above and below I put the cards in a baggie and place them in there along with a marker and an eraser.
 I then place each set of ten activities in their own container so that they are easy for me to grab when it is time to use them.
I am using these for everything! My first group (students that have mastered the content) will complete the activities independently or in partners. My second group will work on the activities in partners with help from me and my first group content experts. Finally, my third group with complete the activities with me in small group.

The fabulous thing about this flexible grouping is that students may be in a different group each day depending on the content we are covering. Someone who is an expert in place value may be with me in small group for measuring angles. I love the flexibility that this allows for me to work with exactly who I need to while making sure that everyone in the room is engaged and learning.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Strategic Test Prep

Test-prep is officially in full swing in our classroom, and I am delighted to say that it is off to a great start. Our early success is much due to one word. CONSISTENCY. We have a plan of action, and we are sticking to it! 
This Test Smash resource is the number one way that I am providing consistency to my students. The beauty of it, is consistency is built right in, no extra materials needed, because each day students know to expect the same categories of questions in the same format.

Every morning I am projecting the daily problems using my computer. I didn't even have to print it out. Some of my teammates have chosen to print out one copy to project using the document camera, and that works too. My students enter the classroom, get unpacked, and start their work in their math journals. I love having my students complete their work in their journals because again it cuts down on copies, but for my students that need a little more structure I have a few copies of the recording sheet copied.
The recording sheet is generic and works for each and every day, so just having a few copies on hand is more than enough. Students work the problems while everyone arrives and then for a few more minutes after the bell has rung.
When we are ready we go over each of the problems using the included answer key. I have my students star the ones they got correct on their own and work through the ones they missed with me. I am finding that after just the first few days my students are showing a ton of confidence in solving each of the problems. They get so excited when they got one today that they didn't yesterday!

This is another amazing part of how this test-prep is structured. Due to the same topics being covered each day, it really gives kids a chance to practice until mastery and give them a sincere sense of success.
Next comes my favorite part! I am a self-proclaimed data nerd, and the individual data sheets rock my world! Remember me saying that students star the problems they get correct on their own? Now they get to color in the block for that problem too, which they love! The first day we did this it took some time, but now, after just three days, they are rocking it!

While they are filling it in I am able to walk around and take a super quick inventory of how my students are doing. For example, I know the student above has mastered several topics, but I need to include him in my small group for input-output tables. This easy data collection method is a true lifesaver!

This Test Smash resource comes ready to go for third, fourth, and fifth grade math standards. Be sure to pop on over to TeachersPayTeachers and check out the previews for a fuller look at each product!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Refocusing the Classroom

Over the last two days I have had the amazing, fabulous, energizing opportunity to hear from the man himself, Dr. Spencer Kagan all about Brain Friendly Learning. Anyone who knows me as a teacher knows that I live and die by Dr. Kagan's strategies, and I was in complete awe the entire two days.

Whenever I attend a workshop such as this one, I always make a list in three parts. The first is things I want to implement day one back in the classroom. The next section is within a week, and the final section is a bit more long term. Today I am going to share my takeaway list of what I am starting tomorrow.
 Now is the time of year that I have let a few things slide that are really important, and these items are just as much about me refocusing my efforts in the classroom as anything else. I hold myself 110% accountable for the mood, emotion, and energy level of my classroom, and there are a few things that need a little revamping.
Numero uno-start our day with a handshake for each student. I do this in the beginning of the year, but at some point it slid into oblivion. First thing tomorrow it is making a comeback!
Next up is energizing our class with some structured exercise. I want to get those endorphins (17 points if you can guess the Legally Blonde quote I am thinking of) pumping first thing in the morning. A few calisthenics should do the trick to wake up both the body and mind. I plan on taking 1-2 minutes per hour in the classroom doing this to continue the flow of oxygen.

Rounding out the morning we will complete a class building activity and have our usual morning meeting.
After recess I plan to institute a period of quiet time where I lead students through some metacognitive meditation. Admittedly this one is going to be tough for me. I am not the sit calmly and quietly with eyes closed and think inwardly type, but I am going to give it my best effort, because I truly believe it will be beneficial for my students because a calm-minded student learns easier.

In the same vein, I will incorporate more music in the sixty beat per minute range. I often use music during writing, but not other subjects. I have no reason for this, so it shall begin tomorrow!
There will be more laughter in our classroom. I am going to start a joke jar that students can submit jokes to. We can pull a joke before each part of our day. We will also play games that make us laugh, listen to short funny podcasts, and watch hilarious videos of animals being adorably cute on YouTube. 

Finally, we will integrate more Kagan structures throughout our day both academically and as brain breaks. I have always included structures every day, but there are always room for more. Two new ones that I learned about this week are Sage-N-Scribe and Celebrity Interview. I can't wait to use them both with my class. 
Here I am with the man himself. Please pay no attention to me as I am battling the fiercest allergies in the west, but look at him. He is my educational idol (one of them) and I am here to tell you that he is even more brilliant, inspiring, and amazing than I could have ever imagined. 

If you ever find yourself with the opportunity to go to a conference with him (or any other Kagan offering) run, don't walk, throw some elbows if necessary, because it is truly that great! 
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