Make ‘Em Count

Know that awkward moment when you’ve finish a lecture early, all questions have been answered, and there’s still – yikes! – 10 minutes left in the period? Or ever have one of those classes that seems to finish everything about 15 minutes earlier than all of your other sections?

Your first instinct might be to just let the kids goof around on their phones until the bell. They’ll be quiet and you’ll have a few minutes to check your email. Hey, I get it. I’ve been there. Surrendering to the cell phone siren song, however, is a huge mistake. Three reasons why:

1. Teens get enough screen time at brunch/lunch/every other conscious moment they’re not in class. (Hey kids, we know you’re not really going to the bathroom when you ask for a pass. Your pocket was glowing when you asked. And, besides, who needs to take a phone into a bathroom? At best, unsanitary. At worst, creepy. Either way – ew.)

2. You just know that the moment you allow the smartphone cell-ebration to begin is the exact same moment your principal has his hand on your classroom doorknob, about to walk in with two or three school board members on a campus tour. Great. Now you’re that teacher.

3. Most importantly, we have a ton to teach and limited minutes each day to make those huge strides. A fellow teacher in my hallway did the math. If we waste just five minutes a day, that’s nearly a half an hour of missed instruction each week. If a student was absent for a half-period every single week, we’d argue that was a major reason why he wasn’t achieving success, no? So let’s do something about this. Email can wait.

I propose that we rage against cell phone zombification by keeping students engaged until the end of each hour with a toolbox full of fun and meaningful activities. I just posted this handy (and free!) “Just Give the Word” print-and-teach worksheet, a word play activity that can be used several times in a semester. The handout works as an in-class or homework assignment, game/contest sheet, or even substitute teacher materials. (A completed example is also included in the download for teacher and student reference.)

This year, I want to add more game-based learning and team contests to my classes, so here’s how I plan to use “Just Give the Word.” First, I’ll place students in teams of two or three and give one sheet to each team. Then, I’ll announce the chosen letter (a common one, like “e,” “s,” or “t,” or I might have a student roll an old Boggle die) and the amount of time (from 5 to 12 minutes) I’m giving teams to work on their answers.

To increase buy-in for all students, I’ll announce that any team scoring more than, say, 50 word points will win an extra credit point/Jolly Rancher/homework pass/whatever. (If you teach lower-level classes, give teams a few minutes to work and then allow the use of a dictionary and/or thesaurus for the remaining contest time.)

Now that this activity is ready to print-and-go (I’m also adding analogy sheets and these brain teasers to the mix), I’m on the prowl for more rigorous fun to fill those last few minutes of class. Any games, activities, routines you use to make every minute count? Don’t be shy about adding your ideas/comments below. I’m suffering from (enjoying?) summer vacation mush-brain right now and definitely need the help of my teacher friends.

Teach on, everyone!

[UPDATE: Based on the awesome suggestion of blog reader Meg (see the first comment below), I’m happy to offer yet another challenging freebie to help soak up those final few minutes in class. Click here for Word ADDiction, a new activity/game/sub material worksheet that I just posted. Enjoy! And keep those great ideas coming, folks.]


18 thoughts on “Make ‘Em Count

  1. meganmcrae727 says:

    One I always stash in my back pocket is nameless but perhaps you can put a Randazzo spin on it! The letters of the alphabet get a numerical value based on their position. So A is worth 1, B worth 2 and so forth. Then I pick a target number and students go on a search to find a word that will add up to that number. After a round or two I sometimes switch up the values of the letters so A could end up being worth 15 and B worth 7. They get pretty into it!

  2. Kelley Cowley says:

    Thanks for another fantastic resource. I swear my kids think my name is Laura some days. It’s SO important for me to not lose any class time. My lessons are 3 hours long, we meet once a week and we cover Year 11 and 12 in one year. It gets a little hectic at times.

    One thing that I do at the end of a lesson (which you probably already know about) is an alphabet board. The students, individually or in teams, come up with one (or more) words/phrases related to that day’s topic for each letter of the alphabet. Sometimes, I run it like a Scattegories game – where answers are crossed out if someone else has that answer – and you only score points for ‘unique’ answers. That makes it a little more challenging. I have a generic worksheet that can be used for any topic.

    I’ve used it for my Senior English students, as well as staff when I’m delivering a professional development session. It’s pretty straight forward and the kids seem to like it.

  3. Love this, Meg! Just the sort of idea I’m hoping to grab. I’ll definitely think of some sort of cute name and add this winner to my rotation. Thanks!

  4. Wow, three hours of class? That’s a super-shot of ELA, Kelley. I love your Scattegories-hybrid idea. I haven’t played this in a classroom environment, but I can see how it would work well for lots of different content/topics. Keep those great ideas coming!

  5. meganmcrae727 says:

    Glad you like it! You are more than welcome to use be idea for a freebie, in fact I hope you do! Haha

  6. Thanks, Meg! The idea of a future freebie was rolling around my mind this afternoon. Hmm…

  7. Thanks for sharing this product, Laura! You are so creative! This looks like this will be fun for the students! I will definitely incorporate this for those few remaining minutes in class.

    One similar activity I use is “A to Z” lists. In groups or pairs, students list each letter of the alphabet down the left side of their paper. Then, I give them a topic (synonyms, strong verbs, alternatives to overused words, parts of speech practice, etc.,) and a given amount of time to list as many words they can think of that begins with each respective letter. The group/pair that comes up with the most words wins!

  8. Thanks, Michelle. Oh my goodness, I love this game, too! I’m thinking I would do an “A to Z” on our current literature unit or the tools of argument or adverbs. Uh-oh…you’ve got my hamster wheel spinning again. My blog readers are the best. Period.

  9. Kelley Cowley says:

    Just wanted to say THANKS to Meg and Laura for yet another great freebie. In fact, I’m tucking this one away to use next week. It’ll be perfect to round off a long lesson which will be spent drafting fantasy stories.

  10. Awesome, Kelley! Meg and I had a fun little collaboration on that freebie this week. It’s moments like this that make me so glad I launched this blog. Now, this is my kind of professional development!

  11. Magistra Knight says:

    I’m all about using every minute, Laura! I agree with you completely about screen time.

    My students love this one: I keep a koosh ball on my cart (traveling teacher) for Silent Speed Catch. It’s especially great for end of class period: Get up and move but quietly! Students get in a circle and they throw and catch – with NO SOUND. If you miss or it’s a bad throw, you’re out. Also: no throw-backs or throws to immediate neighbors. I make it more difficult, one hand throw/catch or non-dominant hand. Sometimes it’s just fun, sometimes it’s review. I have quick questions ready for the “catcher.” Could also be fun get-to-know-you quirky questions at beginning of year.
    I teach Latin. I often do this in the target language, commands and questions; Latin is not dead 😉
    My students love this so much; it’s a great motivator/reward for excellent class work time. I sometimes give a winner(s) prize. Sometimes the bell just rings, which is prize enough.

  12. Thanks for this koosh ball idea, Magistra/Stacey! 🙂 I know my kids love to throw things around the room, so I can see that this would be a hit. Also, I first saw the flyswatter game in a Spanish classroom when I was on a campus tour more than a decade ago. Used it ever since. Language teachers have the best ideas! Thanks for sharing.

  13. Since you’ve mentioned you want to do more with Greek and Latin roots, a really fun game is Word Creation. Give the students a sheet with roots, prefixes, and suffixes (and their meanings). Give them a made-up definition (the goofier the better), for example: the act of killing a tooth. They work to find the word parts that fit the meaning, for example: dent- and -cide, and they make a new word. Denticide: the act of killing a tooth. You can mix and match instructions, having the students come up with definitions, etc. They could compete for speed or creativity!

    Thank you for all your amazing ideas! I’m surviving my second year of teaching 9th grade with your help! (We started school two weeks ago in GA. CRAZY.)

  14. Love this, Chelsey! It’s like the flip of the final creation activity on the worksheets. Creative thinking = Happiness!

  15. Hi Laura!
    Your teaching material is very inspiring! And I mean literally… I always end up creating new lesson material after visiting your site! Thank you for what you’re doing!
    May I ask you what design program you use for the material you share with us?

  16. Ah, thanks so much, Amanda. Glad the blog is working for you. Yea! For design work, I primarily stick with Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, though I’ll admit to having a pretty intense relationship with Prezi, too. Hope this helps!

  17. Madi Thull says:

    Great first day of school mixer! Having students working together to find a word that adds up to a certain point value!! I am going to be working in a small school where the students already know each other very well so the typical icebreakers would be pretty boring for them. Helps you get to know the students as well as see how they interact with the people they are seated by. I will also be teaching math and language arts so it is a great combo!!

  18. What a creative use of the activity, Madi. Love it! 🙂

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