Breaking the Mold: Activities

Ok, so it took me....a long while to blog this but it is more useful now in print than it was weeks before in my head.

KenKen Puzzles. I am a fan of these but I haven't tried them in the classroom yet. The new idea they mentioned was throwing variables and making these more algebra-esque. And even an extension of that, have the students create their own. It's as easy as putting in the numbers first, then the operations. Outline the cells that go together and then erase the numbers. Trade and solve. Yay! But they don't necessarily know that.

Scavenger Hunt. This can be done with any worksheet that you already use. Students get up and have to stay standing and go around and find someone to trade papers with. Each person solves one problem, initials it, and they switch back. Repeat until all problems are solved. This gets everyone up and moving and actively engaged. Because students are initialing, you can easily check and see if one person is solving the same problem over and over. I think this is great for differentiation. Students only have one problem at a time to focus on and they can choose it. They can be working on an easy problem while others can choose a more challenging problem. Either way, both students are doing math and no is singled out. If someone is struggling, you can stand beside them and help them without everyone noticing. After all, everyone is up and focused on their math problem, not on other students. Also, the order of the problems can be mixed up and students can have different versions to prevent cheating. Make sure to explain that you stay standing. you switch and do one problem, then switch with someone else.

Customized Reviews. Say there are four main topics being assessed on an upcoming quiz. Not every student needs to review every type of problem. Create 4 stations in the room. Each station contains one type of problem. Students rate themselves on how well they understand each topic. Whichever one(s) they don't understand, they go to that station. They can go to as many stations as needed, depending on their level of understanding. I think this is another great opportunity for differentiation.

My Turn Your Turn. Students have partners. One writes, one speaks. The writer cannot speak but must write whatever the speaker says. No questions asked. Then if they both agree, they initial it and move on, switching roles for each new problem. If they don't agree, they discuss and revise as necessary. Then when students turn in their paper, they have both agreed that all work is correct and complete.

Round Robin. Students are in groups in a circle facing in. Each person has a different colored pencil. (So make your groups so that no one has the same color) They do #1 and then pass their paper to the left. They do #2 on the next persons paper and then pass again. Continue until all problems done. This activity is really only useful if you assess it. When grading, you can see which 'color' got the most wrong and remediate from there. Kind of a math students anonymous. I did this activity but didn't assess it. At all. :( My bad. But I did notice that the students were more likely to talk to each other when they had problems and to look at the problems done before them to help them. I like any activity that promotes mathy conversation. And it's so pretty!

Balloon Pop. It took me about 5 minutes to realize that we weren't popping real balloons in this activity (This from the same lady who just now, today, figured out that the Blackberry symbol is two B's.) Students are in groups of at least 3. Copy 5-6 pictures of balloons onto paper and laminate it. Each group gets a paper and a dry erase marker. Each group picks a name. Write the name on the board and then hang up their balloon sheet under it.  Give them a problem. Every group solves. If the answer is correct they take their marker and 'pop' another team's balloon by marking an x through it. If a team's balloons all get popped they lose. But if they keep getting problems correct, they can use that to erase one of their x's or continue bombing other teams. Keep playing until the last balloon is left unpopped. The students will start to create their own strategies of winning. They'll form allies, work together to out other teams, and other insightful outcomes. All while doing math. =) 

After activities in class, it's important to have students summarize and debrief. Discuss topics such as: What did we learn? What was hard and why? What do we still not understand? What common mistakes did we make? What answers did we come up with? What did those answers mean? But it should be the students who present their results and thoughts. It's our turn to receive feedback from them. We need our students guidance to keep our teaching in the right direction. Debriefing gives everyone access to the answers and all the important information. We cue the questions, they inform.

Don't overuse activities. Don't use an activity more than once per unit. As you repeat activities, students already know what to do and expectations are already out there. This is where you gain instructional time.

So I totally want one of these spin wheels. You could write all these activities on the wheel and spin to randomly pick one! Yay! Fun!

But on this website it's $250.

So I was thinking...how could we make one?


  1. I don't suppose that the virtual spinner on the NLVM would be quite the same for you, would it? I've used that many times myself.

  2. Great stuff here. I've used a variation of My Turn Your Turn in the past, but now I'm excited to try Scavenger Hunt and Customized Reviews. When you do the latter, do you just put review materials at each station? If there is a top student (who feels comfortable with all the material), would you be tempted to put him or her at one of the stations to help explain things?

  3. I forget, Elissa - do you have a smartboard or a projector? A virtual spinner shouldn't be too hard.

    If you want a physical spinner, do you have a tech/woodworking teacher? I bet they could help you out.

  4. Rich,
    That thought never occurred to me.

    The same type of thing you would normally use for review, just broken down by standard/topic. Depends on the kid/parent...some parents don't appreciate their child always being 'the teacher'.

    I do have a smartboard so I think that could work. But it would totally be more fun to have one in the classroom. We do have a woodworking guy but there has to be a simpler way. Summer project! Lol

  5. I have to confess, I've been wanting to find/buy a Bingo tumbler (the little round cage with numbered balls inside), or something like that, for the same reason that you want the spinner. The ultimate would be finding one of those ping pong ball things like they use for lottos or for the NBA draft, but I don't know exactly where to get one.

    Again, of course, I can (and do) use the NLVM or some other virtual tool, but there's just something captivating about having the *real thing* in class.

  6. Bingo tumblers:

    Or cheap:

    Don't have the top students acting as teacher---have a "challenge" station for those who don't think they need to review. Populate it with tough but interesting puzzles on the subject of the unit.

  7. Rich,
    A Bingo tumbler is a great idea! I'm imagining a giant double-sided laminated Bingo card and you could write classroom activities on one side and....something else on the other side. lol And if your chairs are set up in rows, you could even assign bingo numbers to the desks and use the tumbler to choose random students. And I bet the students would even love to take turns being the 'bingo-caller-of-the-day'. Oh I can't wait!!

    Thanks for the links! Have you ever ordered anything from the company that sells that cheaper Bingo tumbler? I also agree 100% with your comment about students acting as teacher- but I also know I would have no idea what kind of 'challenge' material to offer those students.

  8. Thanks for the links, Kevin!

  9. There are some great ideas here, both in your post and the comments. Thanks to everyone. I tried something like "My Turn Your Turn" except it was called "Sage and Scribe"--not much of a difference. It's a great teaching strategy to help a class work together better. I had a difficult class that didn't gel right and this helped.

  10. Sarah you're right, these kinds of activities definitely change the dynamic of a classroom.