Unlike the Rolling Stones, time is not on my side. A glance at twitter chats, posts, and conversations with teachers would tell me that time is not on the side of teachers., either. Consistently when asked “what do you need to X?”, teachers respond with “time”.
However, until we can call a timeout like Zach Morris or hop in our Delorean, the only way we will gain more time is to reassess how we use our time.
When I placed my practice face to face with the question of time, I found myself with multiple pockets of available time. First on the chopping block, and what I will discuss here, were opening day activities or icebreakers. I’m looking at you Name Bingo. Sure, Name Bingo gets your students to know each other, share names, get up and moving. But, does it meet any of my curricular needs?
If the answer is no then Name Bingo, you’ve got to go. Some might be reading this and feel a pain at letting go of these time-honored icebreakers. (Unless they’re like me, and remember with pain all those icebreakers forced upon their shy self.) I mean, my students need to learn how to work with each other. My students need to learn each other’s names. It helps builds community. That, my friends, is what rang through my head as I saw Name Bingo on the chopping block.
And then I stopped and considered what I had convinced myself of as true. Was I really worried that my students would never learn each other’s names if I didn’t have them play Bingo? They’re teenagers; they’re going to talk with or without my prodding. On the other hand, I did still see value in having students converse with each other, share with the whole class, and engage in a discussion. That first interactive activity can be a great temperature gauge on the dynamics of the class and the individuals. Make the activity. Just make sure the content of the activity is related to your curriculum. I have applied that guideline to my practice in order to create more time for the new demands and new skills.
When content and standards drives the activity, time can be on your side in the classroom.
Examples of my New Opening Activities
- What’s in Your Backpack? – Sometimes, an opening activity can stay with a tweak. In the “What’s in Your Backpack?”, students are given a list of items for a 5 minute scavenger hunt through their group’s backpacks. The list contains easy items, like paper and pencil, and harder items, like flash drive and library card. To tweak this activity, I frame the activity around the question “what does it mean to be a successful and prepared student?” All items on the list relate to this question. Students then have a discussion about the items and how they relate to student success. Students could even modify the list to add/delete things that they think should be on a Student Success List.
- Continental Line-Up – My students entered my world history/geography classroom with a wide variety of background knowledge. For this activity, I had 7 students volunteer who each received an index with a continent name. I asked the group of 7 to line up in order of largest to smallest continent. While they were deciding that order, the small table groups had a discussion about what they assumed was the line-up. Upon revealing, the students had to answer questions from me about their choices. In addition, the students at the tables could request to move the students with justification. After revealing the correct order, I had the same 7 students (or new volunteers) line-up according to the largest population to smallest population. Again, the same routine of discussion and movement. Guess what? We actually learned student names in this activity since the students were being asked to move.
- Draw the World – Teaching routines like how to work in quiet atmosphere or hold silent interactions can be introduced or refined in draw the world. I’m a visual person and I thought I wonder what our students know about the world and visualize about the world. I gave them a simple task, which revealed interesting differences depending if I placed this activity before or after Continental Line-Up. The task: Draw a picture of the world and label it on your blank 8.5×11 piece of paper. Students, even the non-artistic, commit something to paper. Some are bubbles with the names they could remember: China, US, Mexico, Alaska. Some get pretty close. Some have a very nicely drawn United States taking up the whole page, with an additional all the other continents to the side. Then, I have the students gallery walk the room with a sticker in hand to mark the map that they think most accurately depicts the world.
- Poverty and World Wealth – One of my favorite resources in World History class was a book entitled Rethinking Globalization. Put out by Rethinking Schools, the book synced with my Humanities course and makes students think about their place in their world. From this activity, I’ve often used the Poverty and World Wealth activity, which is a great follow-up to the Continental Line-Up. Take a look at the free handout on the activity, which has students working in groups to negotiate for resources from other continental groups. Plus, it comes with discussion questions. This activity gets students talking to each other in a civil way, negotiating with a multiple small groups in order to reach success. And guess what, they learn each other’s names in the process :)
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