Back to School Activities
Always looking for new ideas for the beginning of the year? Me too!
I've got a few for you and your students, for when you head back to school!
The Name Game
I used this game for many years.....many times I'd plan not to, but then I couldn't stand not knowing kids' names right away, so we'd play:) Students and I get into a big circle, and I ask students to come up with an adjective that describes them and begins with the same sound as the beginning of their first name, like 'Energetic Ellie." The first student to my left shares his/her name; the 2nd student repeats the 1st student's name and then shares his own. The third student repeats the first two names/adjectives, and adds her own. The activity continues in this way around the circle until we get to me, and I get to repeat all the names. This game helps me to get to know all the students' names during the first class session. It also helps me learn about the students  it tells me who seems to have a good memory and who has more difficulty. I can see who appears to be confident and who is more hesitant; who's willing to accept help (I always prompt if they want/need) and who isn't. And of course, their adjectives usually tell me something about them:)
Getting to Know You Truth or Dare
Truth or Dare  kids are intrigued when they hear the name! “Math Truth or Dare – Getting to Know You” is a set of 30 questions you can use to get to know your students and to help your students get to know each other. There are 15 “Truth” question cards and 15 “Dare” question cards. Most of them do not have a “correct” answer, so if more than 15 students choose to answer a “truth” question or a “dare” question, then the questions can be used again. The Truth questions ask about the students, while the Dare questions ask students to complete math computations (some of the computations are based on facts about the student, so these can also be used again, as students’ answers may be different.) You can grab this freebie on TPT.
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How do you help your math students retain concepts?
How do they remember the meanings of certain terms? How do you help them prepare for those standardized tests? Spiral review helps with all of these. I've been using spiral review in 6th grade math for a long time, but never wrote about it before  so here we go:) How does spiral math review on a daily basis help students? I've been using daily math with a spiral review since 2013 (and now I've added a digital version!) I created my own daily math at that time, because I couldn't find a resource that really helped my students. With this spiral review, I found these benefits:
Ideas for How to Use Daily Math
1) Cut each page into the separate days for students to work on as their bell ringer or warm up (or assign each day to students in Google Slides). 2) Have students keep the daily math pages in a binder so they always have them available (my favorite). 3) Display the pages for students to see as they enter the class. They can complete the problems in their math notebooks. 4) Use the pages as math homework and have students discuss as the warm up. 5) Have a weekly/monthly/quarterly math quiz, allowing students to use their daily math pages as a resource  I love doing this because it helps students to make sure they don't lose their pages!
Goals?
It's the beginning of the year (semester, quarter)  let's set some goals! Have you done this with your students? If so, how did they do with their goals? Did they achieve them? Or, as happens with so many adults, did they try really hard for a few days and then kind of forget about them? Why do we have difficulty achieving goals? As adults, we often fail to stick with the actions needed to get us there. Or we set goals that are 'too big' or require an incredible change in our behaviors. And it's hard to change behaviors! I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in behavior and change. But according to sources I've read and listened to lately, our brains resist change  they really want to keep us in the same patterns, with the same behaviors, because it's comforting and safe. If that's the case, then it's a little easier to understand why students have difficulty too. If their young brains also want to keep them in the same patterns because it's comforting and safe, how can we, as teachers, help them to break out of those patterns to meet new goals?
A Word Game for Any Subject
ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK
Have you tried this Mathline probability lesson? If not, you may want to give it a try  "Rock Around the Clock" is a great activity for your middle school math students!
Overview In this lesson, students are presented with a contest situation: in packs of gum, there are photographs of six different rock stars. The first person to collect all six pictures, AND take them to the radio station that is sponsoring the contest, will win an allexpensepaid trip to any location in the US. The Question The question posed to the students is this  "What is a reasonable number of packs of gum you should purchase in order to collect all six pictures?" This question is discussed as a class....to think about the fewest number of packs possible, but also to consider how many packs would be reasonable.
Simulating the Contest
The students are put into groups and each group is given materials to simulate the contest. I have used this lesson twice; once I used dice and once I used colored disks (on which I wrote the rock stars' names). When using the dice, students simply roll the die and then record the number that was rolled (each rock star would need to be assigned a number). When using the disks, the students picked a disk from a cup, recorded the star that was chosen, and then returned the disk to the cup. The lesson suggests that each student complete their own trial; I had the groups complete two trials together rather than each student completing their own. I also had all groups use the same materials  the dice one year and the disks another (the lesson plan suggests that the students use dice, spinners, OR disks for their trials and that the lesson then include a discussion about the possible differences in results based on the method used....I did not address this part, but it is definitely an option, especially if you have a longer math period).
Could you use a quick math activity to help your students practice identifying decimals in standard and word form? How about some comparing and ordering of decimals? I've got an activity that covers all of those for you:)
When I created this one, we were just beginning our work with decimals (in grade 6), and my students had done a little bit of work with writing decimal numbers in word form. They had also worked on comparing decimals several times during the year, in our Daily Warm Ups book. Using the Decimal Matching Activity
The first step in the activity is to match each card with a decimal number in standard form to the card with the correct word form.
I'm sure you use a variety of review activities in your elementary or middle school classroom  have you ever used Footloose activities? I've mentioned the activity in my blog posts before, but have never really explained it on this blog (I did on my old one, maybe 5 years ago), so unless you've used one of my Footloose activities in your classroom, you might not know how it works. It's an activity that is enjoyed by students of all ages, and can be used with just about any topic you're teaching. I use it mostly for math, because that's what I teach; but in the past, when I taught different grade levels, I used it as a review activity in other subject areas as well.
It's amazing how quiet and engaged students are when working on this activity. They are up and down, out of their seats, and you'd think they'd be very distracted...but no matter what the grade level (I've used it with 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades), students stay focused and work hard to complete the questions!
Have you played the math game, Krypto? It's a great activity for problem solving, reasoning, and practicing math skills (fractions!), and I think your students will love it!
Krypto is an activity I learned about at a conference where Dr. Lola May presented (in like 1993, I think!). I didn't realize until a long time afterwards that it was a commercial game that could be purchased :) I believe it's also available as an app now. I've used the game idea from time to time, following the rules as laid out in the book I got at the conferece. Krypto can be played with whole numbers or fractions (and with positive and negative integers as well, I'm sure!). Playing Krypto With Fractions The rules are simple (kind of like the "24" game): 1. Choose 5 common fractions, with denominators of halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, eighths, tenths or twelfths. 2. Students add, subtract, multiply, and/or divide the fractions to make the 5 fractions equal the target number of 1. 3. Students receive points for meeting the target number of 1. For example, if they reach the target of 1 using only 3 numbers, they get 300 pts; 4 numbers = 400 pts; if they use all 5 numbers, they get 1,000 pts. You can set up the point system any way you'd like. Krypto can be used as a team effort/team game or individual enrichment activity.
What's your favorite time of the school year? I'm guessing that it probably isn't testing time, nor the test prep weeks leading up to it! In spite of the fact that we never want to teach to the test or prepare students just for a test, the fact remains that students have to take the standardized tests, and we want them to do the best they can. So, how can we best use our test prep to help them?
1) Spiral Review The most effective test prep method I've found is using spiral review throughout the year. The warmups I use review previous concepts, reinforce current concepts, and introduce new ones. This way, we are always solidifying concepts ("prepping for the test"), and as we get closer to test time, the warmups give us a chance to discuss concepts that might show up in the testing, but that we won't cover until after the testing occurs. Using these warmups may put me a little 'behind' in the curriculum on a daily basis, because they take time; but it helps solidify understanding and puts my students a little ahead with other concepts at the same time. I'm good with that:) Finding the Lowest Common Denominator with the Ladder Method What's the most challenging math topic to teach/most difficult for your students to ‘get'? This was my question in a recent Instagram survey. I got a variety of responses, but the one that came up most often was fractions – remembering the ‘rules;’ students finding common denominators when they were multiplying; students (older students) not being able to find a common denominator; and so on. So, today, I’m going to share how to use the ladder method to find the lowest (least) common denominator, and hopefully, if your students have struggled with this, it will help them (and you!). Before I explain how it works, I want to share that I've used the ladder method for several years, after many years of teaching GCF and LCM the ‘traditional’ way  the way I’d been taught! And during those years, I’d often get frustrated by the fact that students would miss the GCF because they missed factors, or they couldn’t find the LCD because the numbers got too big so they just multiplied the denominators…..or they listed out the multiples, but made a mistake in one list, and so they never found an LCM/LCD. I'm sure you know what I mean! The ladder method took these issues away, and it also added something I didn’t initially expect – it appeared to improve number sense for many students who struggled with their multiplication facts or with the idea of finding factors and multiples. It helped them understand HOW numbers were related to each other by making the breakdown of the #s more visual (using prime factorization does this as well, but the ladder method provides a little more organization to the process, and I think that’s helpful).
Are you one of the lucky ones? You know, the ones who get to teach math AND language arts…or math AND language arts AND science? Or are you one of the poor, unfortunate souls who only gets to teach one subject area? :)
I’ve had the opportunity to do both. As an elementary teacher for 12 years, I taught all subjects – math, LA (reading, grammar, spelling), science, social studies. When I moved to middle school, the subject load was reduced a bit. The first year, I taught science and LA (reading, grammar, spelling  which was 2 periods). The second year, our 6th grade went to teams of 2, and math was added to everyone’s subject load. I didn’t mind the addition of math, because I really like teaching math. BUT, planning for all those subjects made me feel like I was an elementary teacher again…..except the content was more difficult, the class periods were shorter, and the grading took longer. It was pretty overwhelming. Planning labs, literature circles, discovery math lessons…..it was a lot. This lasted for only a year, and then we went back to teams of 3 (most of us, anyway), and I went back to science and LA for 2 or 3 more years. Then the math teacher on our team retired, and I got to switch from science to math (plus LA). After several more years, our teams grew to 4 and then 5 teachers, and I was responsible for teaching just math.
Ways to Improve Problem Solving Skills and Math Communication
Do Your Students Struggle with Word Problems?
Do your middle school math students struggle with problem solving? Do they get to the end of the word problem and then guess at the operation they need to choose (maybe not realizing that there are multiple operations)? You probably see this with some of your students, while other students do very well with problem solving. What methods have you found to help those who struggle? What methods can you use to help each student at his or her current level? I’ve used many strategies over the years, to help students sort out how to make sense of word problems and how to approach them. These methods didn't have a specific name at the time (like close reading or talking to the text), but some would fit into these categories.
For Upper Elementary and Middle School Classrooms
You’ve only got a week or so before the winter break begins….and schedule changes mean you’ll miss a couple classes during that time. You’ve finished the current topic, and there’s not enough time to fit in another unit. You know that sometimes kids have trouble staying ontask at this time of year, as they are looking forward to break!
But you don’t want to waste class time .... So what do you work on? What are some fun, but academic things you can do during math class (or other classes) to help the students keep practicing and learning? I've got a few quick ideas for you:
5 Tips to Help Middle School Math Students
The math homework dilemma – to give or not to give (IF you have the option in your district)? How much to give? To go over it all or only review some of it? What will be most helpful to your students?
Maybe your experiences have been similar to mine: I’ve adjusted my practices from year to year, sometimes spending a lot of time reviewing homework, but other times spending little; some years giving homework related to the lesson, other years giving homework that was basic skills practice; some years lots of problems, other years just a few. There seemed to be pros and cons to each. Thinking about this topic yet again, I decided to look for some research to see how we can help students get the most out of the homework we assign.
A Fun Way to Check Multiplication Problems
How often have you gone to a conference and been superimpressed by what a speaker shared? Has it happened often? It happened to me when I went to a conference as a very new teacher (in my second year, I believe), more than 20 years ago. At that conference, I was lucky enough hear Dr. Lola May speak. She was a great presenter, and certainly made an impression on me. I still have the book that was given at that conference and have referred to it many times over the years.
It was at this conference that I first learned how to use "casting out nines" to check the answers to multiplication and division problems. I had never heard of this method when I was a student, but being a new teacher, I kind of assumed it was a method wellknown to other teachers.....
Fall Activities Found!
Middle school students still like those fun seasonal activities:) Many years ago (I have no idea how many) I used a graph paper, pattern coloring activity with my middleschoolers. I don't remember where the idea came from, and I had even forgotten that I ever used it! However, I was looking through an old "November" file to find some ideas for a fun activity for a sub day, and found the tracers and examples in my file. When I found it, I DID remember that the kids really enjoy this activity. My middle schoolers had fun creating the patterns and deciding what colors to include. So, I gathered materials (graph paper, tracers, colored pencils, thin black markers, construction paper) and left them for the sub, with the directions below:
Using Your Time Effectively and Efficiently
Having the perfectlyrun math class....that's been my goal, year after year. Somehow, in middle school, it has consistently tried to evade me!
In other posts, I've shared that I taught elementary math for years, and always had an hour for math class. That hour gave me the time I wanted to have good warmups every day (sometimes taking up half the class with one particular problem that led to additional discussion/extension!); the hour gave me the time to go over homework the way I wanted to. And it still gave me time for a new lesson and practice. But when I got started teaching math at the middle school, with "44"minute periods, that was all over. (They aren't really 44 minutes  the students get no time between classes for switching, so switching time comes out of the 44.)
Making math stations work in 40minute class periods
I taught elementary school for 12 years and I loved my math centers (or math stations, as you might call them)! They were great. Math class was always an hour, and we had five computers in the classroom, so having a computer center was always an option.
Then I moved to middle school. Math class was 44 minutes (minus time for switching classes.....so more like 40 minutes). How could I fit more than two math station rotations in a 40minute period?? I longed for block scheduling (our district has never had it)...that would make it so much easier to complete math center rotations! For the first year or two of middle school, I kind of gave up on the idea of math centers...the activities I wanted students to complete took longer than 20 minutes. So, that would be enough time to finish two math station rotations, IF students started the second they walked in the door and then had no time to clean up/organize at the end of class. But eventually I needed to get my math centers back, so I experimented with a few different setups before I landed on a structure that works.
For Teacher Appreciation week, I created two FREE problem solving math wheels (they are in the same PDF file)  they can be used to teach problem solving strategies, be used as a center activity, or be used as a finished early activity. When complete, they can be added to students' binders/interactive notebooks to be used as references all year.
I hope you can use them! Just click the image to download.
To read next:
Surface area is a such a fun topic to explore in the middle school math classroom! To really understand what surface area means, students need to interact with actual threedimensional objects. Before we talk about the math formulas or how to calculate, we spend time discovering how to find surface area in our own ways.
I give students everyday items to work with. Typically, we use product boxes (rectangular prisms) with different dimensions, and I ask the students to visualize and then draw what the boxes would look like if they were taken apart and laid flat. Most students take about 5 minutes to complete their drawings, depending on how detailed they choose to be, and for the most part, they do a very good job drawing the nets of the boxes. Next, I have them spend a few minutes comparing their nets with group members, deciding whether those nets are reasonable representations of the object (even if they are drawn a little differently), and determining whether anyone appeared to be missing anything (some students will draw only five sides, and their group members are able to help them figure out what's missing). BoxandWhisker Plots in 6th Grade
Boxandwhisker plots are a brand new concept for my 6thgrade math students, and when 6th graders are first introduced to them, they seem a little scary. However, with some structured directions, students catch on very quickly.
Teaching BoxandWhisker Plots I break down the boxandwhisker plot into 5 steps, in order to plot the 5 points needed to create the box and whiskers: 1) Order the data set from least to greatest. 2) Identify the smallest and largest values; place those points on the number line (above the number line). 3) Identify the median and place that point on the number line.
Have you ever thought about how ping pong helps kids practice math?
I love playing ping pong! I played it a lot as a kid and I play occasionally as an adult....we have a table in the basement:) I would never claim to be a SERIOUS player, but I'm not bad!
I was playing with my daughter the other day, and it occurred to me that playing ping pong is a great way for younger children to practice their addition facts and some multiples of 5 (good for older kids too, if they don't know these facts very well). Now, this idea is based on the "serving rules" that we used when I was growing up. It appears (after I searched for info) that these are not the official rules any more, but since I'm not a professional, I'm ok with playing by the unofficial rules! The way we played is that the server switches every 5 points, and we played to 21 points. So, here's where the math comes in....when you're playing, you need to know when to switch who's serving, so you need to know what adds up to the multiples of 5. When the score is 50, 41, or 32, serving switches. To switch servers at 10 points, players need to know that the score would be 100, 91, 82, 73, 64, or 55. When serving switches at a total of 15 points, the score possibilities are 150, 141, 132, 123, 114, 105, 96, 87. At 20 points, the score would be 200, 191, 182, 173, 164, 155, 146, 137, 128, 119, 1010. The repetition of these facts throughout many games can really help kids learn them. Over the years, I have noticed that students (in general) seem less aware of, and less automatic with, the digits that will add to 10. Playing ping pong is a great way for kids to practice these facts without thinking that they're practicing math (math in reallife!). This is great for parents to do with their kids, but also  a mini ping pong table in the classroom sounds like fun!!
What skills to middle school teachers need to have? The first skill many people think of is the ability to work well with preteens, as well as a degree in education. That's definitely a good start. But, I’ve discovered that to be successful as a middle school teacher, you need a certain skill set. While I learned some of this in school, most of it I learned through experience.
After all, working with middle school students for years teaches you a few things. 1. Persistence Honestly, I think this is a key skill for every single teacher, no matter what age group they teach. Students aren’t always happy to be in class or eager to learn. This means I have to be persistent and keep working with my students, no matter how stubborn they might be. Of course, sometimes persistence also means taking the time to figure out why a student’s having problems.
Beach Ball Math Practice
I know lots of teachers use beach balls in the classroom, but I haven't used them in such a long time that I thought I'd share my excitement about finally getting some new ones! I often used beach balls for basic math fact practice when I taught 4th and 5th grades in the elementary school. I have a little bit of a beach theme in my middle school (6th grade) classroom this year, so that motivated me to get some beach balls again. I ordered a pack of 12 and am writing different math practice problems on them  so far I have practice for:
Time for Extra Math Practice
Our math classes aren't that long, but I figure I can squeeze in 5 minutes of extra math review at the end of class once or twice a week. We can toss the beach balls around for some quick math practice:) When we used the beach balls for math practice in the past, I'd designate a particular finger for the problem to solve, like, "answer the math problem that your right thumb lands on." Or, if the beach ball had just numbers on it, I'd give them two fingers and an operation: "multiply the number under your left thumb and your right pinkie." With so many different beach balls, I could differentiate for math math students and have 3 groups tossing at a time, depending on their needs. So many possibilities! Do you use beach balls in math class (or any other class)? If so, how?
To Read Next
This post is from my old blog, and was written in April, 2015, but I thought it was worth transferring here and sharing:)
According to the Huffington Post (10/13/14), coloring benefits adults (and I would assume children as well) because it "generates wellness, quietness and also stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity." In addition, psychologist Gloria Martinez Ayala states that when we color, we activate different areas of our two cerebral hemispheres. "The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements]. The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress."
According to PenCentral, coloring benefits adults in helping them to maintain fine motor skills this requires extra work by your brain to coordinate your actions and muscle control in your hands and arms. Coloring can help delay the loss of fine motor skills as people age. Coloring may also help fight cognitive loss, especially
if challenging pieces are completed every so often. I didn't necessarily find research to answer my student's exact question, but what I found was quite interesting! If anyone knows of other articles or published research to support the role of coloring in improving math skills, please let me know!
Read next:

AuthorHey there! I'm Ellie  here to share math fun, best practices, and engaging, challenging, easyprep activities ideas! Archives
May 2021
