A Kentucky 1st grade teacher Catherine Reed, who loves all things books, tech, and blogging. In her fourth year of teaching, she leads a combination K/1 class with 13 first graders and 11 kindergarten friends. Join her for weekly classroom updates and free resources.
From planning leveled guided-math lessons, to guided reading groups, to writer’s workshop, to Daily 5 choices, to math centers, as primary teachers we can be planning and preparing for over 36 lessons/activities each week. If we think about this for too long, it’s WAY overwhelming – right?! So the key is to create predictable patterns and routines that allow for streamlined planning. Today I wanted to share how I make Math Centers manageable. Three years into math-center goodness and I’ve finally found a system that works for me.
Why Math Centers?
Math Centers offer students hands-on, spiral review practice with skills that have been introduced and taught during our Guided Math groups. Additionally, working with a partner, centers allow students the opportunity to talk about their math thinking, apply math vocabulary, and hear how other people think about math. Additionally, when students visit math centers, I have the opportunity to meet with our Guided Math groups for intentional instruction. Plus, they are FUN! (Snag 1st Grade Centers here. Snag 2nd Grade Centers here.)
How Many Centers Do You Have?
Typically I keep 5-7 math centers out at a time. (Note – There is no wrong answer. Use as many or as few tubs as you need.) My first years in 1st grade, I stuck with 5 but last year I branched into 7 since I was changing them less often. Teaching a combination class, the green math tubs are for 1st grade and the yellow math tubs are for Kindergarten. (Check out my favorite tubs for math centers here.) Click here for Kindergarten Centers, 1st Grade Centers, and 2nd Grade Centers!
How Often Do You Change-Out Centers?
My first 2 years of teaching 1st grade, I changed-out centers every.single.week and this worked for me. Each Friday during planning, I would swap-out manipulatives and visual directions, and print new Math Logs. Turning into a K/1 Combination Class this past year, I had two sets of math centers (Kinder and 1st Grade) and quite frankly, it was too much to try to change out both sets every week, so I alternated. One week I changed out 1st grade centers and then the next week Kindergarten centers. That means each grade was changed-out every two weeks, and you know what?!? It was OKAY! The world did not end, our centers were not out of control, and my students loved being able to visit their favorite centers twice.
What Does it Look Like as You Change Centers?
A hot mess. But really friends, it’s not pretty and it doesn’t need to be. When I change-out centers I first pull the sleeves from my binder. I try to batch tasks so I pull all 5 centers first. Then, I empty all 5 tubs. After all 5 tubs are empty, I slide in the visual directions and recording logs. Finally, I add-in manipulatives. Although students are always welcome to grab additional or different manipulatives, I like to include the minimum hands-on materials they will need.
How Do You Know Which Centers to Pull?
Great question! All of the centers I pull are spiral review. Our centers are meant to provide students just-right, hands-on practices with content we have already covered. Therefore, material we are learning RIGHT NOW at teacher table WILL NOT be in our centers. Typically I like to wait until the next week (or two) to introduce the skill as an independent or partner center. Click here for Kindergarten Centers, 1st Grade Centers, and 2nd Grade Centers!
Creating “Staple” Math Centers
So, I’m definitely a routines girl. I love having a system, so when it comes time to change-out centers I don’t have to spend inordinate amounts of time pulling them. Typically my centers follow this routine –
Read About Math – Using QR codes or Epic for Kids will read books about math. Typically I pull books about the topic we are currently learning about. Since the books are being read aloud to students they don’t have to (but can be) spiral review.
Versatiles – Versatiles are a fun, self-checking center. They are made from ETA Hand2Mind and are perfect for independent or partner work. Since I own several of the math Versatile books, I’m able to pull the just-right pages for all of my groups. I slip the pages into sheet protectors, add a blue/green/yellow sticker (so groups know which sheet to pull), and place them in the tub!
120s Pocket Chart – From September on, our 120s Pocket Chart becomes a staple in our center routine. It’s perfect for practicing number order, place value, making 10 to add/subtract, as well as, number representations. With 6 different levels of playing cards, students work in partners to finish the 120s chart before the timer rings. It normally takes students 4-8 tries the first time with the set of cards to get all 120 cards in the right places, but they love the challenge and the chance to “level-up”!
Card/Board Game – We love board and game games and they make a super simple center! From Making 10 Go Fish to Snap it Up, we are ALL about game. Check out some of our favorite board games here.
Spiral Review Tub #1
Spiral Review Tub #2
When Do You Teach Your New Centers?
Awesome question. The great thing about creating “staple” centers is that once I have initially introduced a center (read about math, versatiles, etc) I don’t have to teach it again. All I need to do is change-out the skill on which students are working. At the VERY beginning of the year, we introduce new centers whole-group and practice in partners, but after we have learned about that first set of centers, I shy away from whole-group introduction. Typically I introduce centers in 1 of 4 places –
Morning Tubs – Students think math is a game and they love centers. I leverage this for the best! If I want to teach a new center, I will pull one table group each morning during Morning Tubs and teach them the game/activity. By the end-of-the-week, I’ve taught all 5 of my table groups how to play and we’re ready to introduce it the following week.
Indoor Recess – I will also introduce math centers during Indoor Recess. Unlike Morning Tubs, indoor recess math-learning is completely by choice. To make this choice incredibly enticing, indoor recess is when I introduce our math board games. Students LOVE the chance to learn a new game, as well as, the opportunity to try to beat Ms. W. (#IDontLetKidsWin)
Guest Teachers – When there are Guest Teachers (aka Subs) in the building, it’s the perfect time to introduce students to a new center. Students have the opportunity to practice with a partner with an adult present and the same math center is played with each group (just with different levels of differentiation) making it a little simpler for the Guest Teacher to manage. The only ‘catch’ with having Guest Teachers introduce math centers is that you must leave EXPLICIT, step-by-step instructions on how to play the game, preferably with visual directions already made so students have a picture of your expectations.
Small Groups – Honestly, I share this hesitantly because our guided-math, small-group time is so incredibly precious. I would NEVER want it to become a time in which teachers are pulling a game, placing it at Teacher Table, and sitting back. With that said, if I can use the game/center as an intentionally-planned, guided activity (in which students have manipulatives in their hands, are actively engaged in math talk, and are building math knowledge…not looking for a right answer), I know I can introduce and scaffold it at small-group.
Storing Math Centers
When math centers are not being used in a tub, they are storied in 2 3-inch binders in dry-erase sleeves. The visual directions go on the top for easily flipping and then, recording logs go in the back. Any playing cards or number cards needed for the center are put in a plastic bag in my “Randoms” tub. I don’t like to put these into the plastic sleeves because it makes the binder SUPER bulky and causes things to fall out. Any math manipualtives needed for the centers go back into our labeled bins and I pull them as I put out new centers.
Tracking My Centers
Over the years, I’ve found that if I don’t keep a running list of centers and games I make it to May and realize there are a number of awesome centers we’ve never used. I write the centers under the Common Core Standard that it reviews/practices. Then, each time I pull that center I write the date in which it was used. We do use centers more than once, but when we do I like it keep them 3-4 weeks apart.
Managing Student Papers & Keeping Students Accountable
When students are not at my Teacher Table, they are making choices – centers, math journal, or technology. Since we do 4 rotations, students must visit all the rotations each day, in any order they choose. Note – sometimes students need to stay at a center/journal for more than one rotation and have to miss a technology rotation. That’s totally fine! (Snag a math rotation board here for free.)
As students make their choices, they record/color which day they visited that rotation on our logs. Then, any work or recording log gets attached to this log. The logs are checked by me at during our Math Reflection Time and they go home each time I switch out centers.
So friends, this is the nitty-gritty of math centers. What do you think? What other questions do you have? What works for you? I’d love to hear from you! Also, snag math centers for your classroom on TeachersPayTeachers – Kindergarten Centers, 1st Grade Centers, and 2nd Grade Centers!
Oh differentiation – a word that strikes fear, frustration, and angst into the hearts of teachers everywhere. So often we are told to differentiate our guided math instruction by going “deeper not wider”. When we ask “What does that look like? Give me a specific example.”…we are told more word problems. YOU ALL. As a teacher who has been there, I understand how frustrating this is. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at ways to deepen, differentiate, and level our instruction in ways that don’t involve (1) moving on to another grade level’s standards, (2) burying our students in word problems or (3) providing supplemental enrichment activities/worksheets.
Today we’re going to explore the continuum along which mathematicians construct their understanding of numbers – CSA (concrete, semi-concrete, abstract). Understanding this progression as a teacher allows us to assess where students are and intentionally scaffold them to develop their math thinking.
What is CSA?
Previously called CPA (concrete, pictorial, abstract) and CRA (concrete, representational, abstract), CSA (concrete, semi-concrete, abstract) is a continuum in which mathematical knowledge is constructed. It is not always linear and many times the stages overlap and/or need to be revisited.
Working with this continuum, rather than against it allows students to understand mathematical concepts before learning the “rules” or procedures of math. Offering a context for the numbers, as well as, individual interpretations of numbers, makes math meaningful.
How Can I Use CSA to Differentiate?
The power of a Guided Math structure is found in teacher observations. We, as teachers, should be carefully observing student behavior as they engage during small-group time. Are students holding numbers in their heads and counting on or are they backing up and getting a running start when counting? Does a student instantly recognize 7 on the ten frame, recognize 5 and count on two more, or individual count the counters 1-7? These careful observations allow you to flexibly group students, provide more/less support, and challenge student thinking. Working within the continuum of CSA, I know that my students who are struggling with one-to-one counting need LOTS of concrete experiences with numbers with many different manipulatives, whereas students with a solid understanding of quantity may be ready to use the more abstract number balance to represent number quantity. Rather than planning 3 different Guided Math lessons each day, I am teaching the same 1st Grade Common Core Standards just at the just-right place along the CSA continuum. This may mean the manipulatives each group is using are different, that one group is branching into illustrations (in addition to the concrete manipulatives) or I am asking students to branch into the abstract. As a teacher, I am intentionally making instructional decisions of when to push, support, or reframe, based on what I see. Snag this FREE log here.
Working in the Concrete
In the concrete stage of learning, students are given hands-on opportunities to explore and build numbers. At this stage students are using hands-on manipulatives to represent their thinking. A teacher might record student thinking with an illustration or model but students are jumping to using numbers to share their thinking because they aren’t ready yet. It is during this concrete stage that we want lots of different manipulatives for students to use – bead racks, double-sided counters, cuisenaire rods, bucket balances, abaci, etc. At this point we are avoiding math tools that don’t have inherent value (i.e. coins, number lines, 100s charts, place value rods)
A significant portion of Common Core Standards for Kindergarten, 1st Grade, and 2nd grade show mastery with concrete objects in play. Meaning that students can reach “mastery” using base ten pieces, counters, or bead racks. These manipulatives aren’t a crutch; rather, they are considered developmentally appropriate as students build conceptual (true) understanding of math concepts. Gradually these supports are intentionally pulled and replaced with different ways of representing numbers (drawings, illustrations, numbers, etc).
Working in the Semi-Concrete
Working in the semi-concrete, students are using illustrations and drawings to represent math concepts. These drawings might include circles, x’s, drawing the base 10 pieces, tally markers, etc. As students begin creating these illustrations, we don’t abandon concrete manipulatives; rather, use them in conjunction with one another.
Initially a semi-concrete representation might be quite literal. For example, a student using drawings of flowers to represent flowers in the word problem. I see this most often in my kindergarten mathematicians. While we often see this behavior as “time-killing” initially, it is actually developmentally-appropriate depending on the depth of mastery. As students become a little more abstract in their semi-concrete thinking, these drawings will become a little less literal (i.e. drawing circles to represent the flowers).
Not all students will spend a lot of time in the semi-concrete stage of mathematical development, but representations and illustrations often become a more efficient (i.e. faster) and easily accessible (i.e. I don’t always carry double-sided counters in my pocket) way to work-out math thinking.
Working in the Abstract
Then, with some of the math standards with some students, we bridge into abstract experiences with numbers. Since numbers have no inherent value without a concrete representation, numbers are HARD. As a teacher, I know students are comfortable working in the abstract when they can explain their math thinking within context and outside of a process of steps. Questions I ask students might include
What is the question?
What are the numbers in the problem?
What do I need to do with the numbers?
What is the answer?
How can I confirm the answer?
CSA in Action: Word Problems
Word Problems are an easy way to gauge where students are with a specific skill. When looking at student work under a word problem, I’m able to easily see if they are using manipulatives (i.e. this is something that would need to be observed), drawing models or illustrations of what’s happening in the story, or using abstract numbers (or mental math strategies) to solve the problem. The one caveat to mental math strategies is that students MUST be able to answer the 5 questions above about the problem and their answer. If students can’t answer those questions, I know there could be (1) a gap in their concrete or semi-concrete experiences (i.e. have they been taught a procedure or math ‘trick’ for solving problems and do not truly understand what they are doing or being asked to do, or (2) there are comprehension problems that needs to be addressed. Below is an example of what CSA might look like within a word problem. Note – I am NOT asking for students to show all three methods on every word problem; rather, I can gauge where students are in the learning process based on how they interact and engage with the problem.
CSA in Action: Part, Part, Whole
Part, Part, Whole can be thought of in two distinct (but connected) ways. One – it can be thought of like comparing values. “I have a whole. It is next to a part. How much more is in the whole? How much less is in the part?” Two – part, part, whole can be thought of as a seamless transition between addition and subtraction. As teachers, we must create experiences that encourage strong concrete experiences with both of these ideas. When just beginning part, part, whole – we physically lay the part on top of the whole to find the missing part or difference.
As we start to understand this connection, we branch out to using cuisenaire rods. Now technically manipulatives, these AMAZING rods definitely have a learning curve. They are perfect for pulling out during PPW because it’s often a skill that students need TONS of practice with before they understand the connection between comparing values & addition/subtraction.
Then, branching into semi-concrete stage of learning we might draw a whole, crossing out the parts we already know to find what we still need.
Finally, we will make our way to those abstract ways to show part, part, whole (number bonds, part/part/whole boxes, etc.)
CSA in Action: Place Value
For place value, consider starting with an abacus rather than units/rods for the initially concrete learning. Students can individually manipulate beads, as well as, group beads. Then, branch into rods and units. Beginning with an abacus allows students to easily see how a group of 100 units interacts with one another, as well as, the idea of 10 beads = 1 row (1 rod) is incredibly concrete as they are joined on a medal row.
Then, in semi-concrete students might be using and drawing base 10 pieces. After students are able to add and subtract groups of 10 and understand that a number is made of tens and ones that we start using numbers. Even in this abstract state, students can still use manipulatives as a support but they might not choose to do so.
As instructional leaders in our classrooms, we have the power to observe student math behavior and intentionally push forward to strengthen a student’s math thinking. Working within CSA gives us a continuum to gauge student understanding and mastery of their learning. Knowing where students are along this continuum allows me to easily level and plan Guided Math lessons – pulling the just right manipulative, illustration, or number for students to work with. So friends, is CSA something you use in your classroom?
Math Board Games offer students the opportunity to build social skills, practice addition and subtraction fluency in a fun way, and offers teachers a nonthreatening way to assess students’ ability to think flexibly about numbers. Math Games require that students think on their feet and quickly transition from number-to-number. While we LOVE math board games, they are something we introduce a little later in the school year, after students have experienced numbers in lots of different ways with lots of different manipulatives. Before I introduce games, we always make sure the focus is on (1) becoming better mathematicians (2) thinking about numbers in creative ways (3) playing for math not on winning. Classroom community will make or break the use of math games in your classroom.
Throughout the post, you’ll find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon tosses a few nickels my way if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you, that help keep my corner of cyber-space running and helps fund giveaways!
Playing & Teaching Math Games
When teaching small groups during Guided Math, I don’t like to take instruction time to teach board games. While I will occasionally slip in one of the games into the just-right spot during a unit, I love sneaking them into other parts of the day. These are my go-to times to introduce, play, and re-play these games!
Morning Tubs – Our Morning Tub time is perfect for teaching and practicing math board games. Students LOVE math games and think they are a blast (oh to be 6!). I will pull one table group each morning and play with them. By the end of the week, I’ve taught all my students how to play the game – boom!
Indoor Recess – Again, we LOVE math games. They are fast-paced, fun, and just the right mix of competition. While I never require students to play math games during recess, I always offer a few choices. Most indoor recess games students will want to play with one another or invite me to join a game.
Guest Teachers – If I am going to be out a single day or don’t have a retired teacher as our sub, I am all about math board games at Teacher Table during our Guided Math time. It allows students to be engaged, focusing on spiral-review skills, and allows my guest teacher to focus on management ensuring everyone has what they need.
Extra Adults – Our school is blessed with amazing parent volunteers, as well as, high-school students who spend afternoons interning in a classroom. Math Board Games are a great grab-and-go activity for last-minute adults in the classroom. Students have the benefit of math-fluency practice with adult scaffolding, if needed.
Played Memory-style, with iSea 10 students take turns trying to make a certain combination. The game was intended to make combinations of 10, but I change the combinations based on the group of students or the time of the year. We love making numbers 5 – 15. If playing for a number that isn’t 10, you’ll want to add in subtraction facts into the mix.
Teacher Hack: Using simple playing cards or number cards, you can easily play this game without purchasing anything. If you do play with number cards (the cards from a 120s chart are a perfect size. You would want to print five or six sets of the numbers 0-10.) Boom. Game made.
Using a traditional Connect 4 Board Game, I added numerals and dot patterns to each of the red and yellow counters. In partners, students pull their counters from a brown paper bag (no peeking!!!) and place them strategically to make the desired sum. Throughout the year, the sum that students play for changes. From 5 to 20, students work to form the combination using the playing pieces and then have to prove their math thinking. You can read about the specifics here and snag the visual directions for FREE!
4 Way Countdown (the 4-player version) is also known as Shut the Box (the 2-player version) and is a simple, fast-paced game perfect for finding sums and differences within 6. Each student has a side. I have students roll one dice and then use the numbers on their side to add/subtract to that number. (The game actually comes with 2 dice and can be played with 2.) They flip those numbers down. If they can’t make the sum/difference, they get a strike. Three strikes and you lose. First player with all of their numbers, win!
Teacher Hack: Don’t have the game and it’s not in the budget? No big deal! Slip this template into a plastic sleeve protector and have students cross out their addends/subtrahends with a dry erase marker. All you need is the template, dry erase sleeve, dice, and an EXPO marker. Easy peasy and FREE!
An amped-up version of I Spy, in Super Genius students are racing each other to quickly find the sum (on Card 1) that matches the equation (on Card 2). Due to marketing-awesomeness, every time you turn two cards there is ALWAYS a match. Super Genius has lots of card sets – compound words, short vowels, sight words, etc. This is a fun game but definitely a little more advanced and definitely more competitive. I save Super Genius until the very end of the year in 1st grade, and typically play in *very* small groups (2-3 students).
Snap it Up is the most competitive of all games in my 1st grade classroom. Students eat.this.game.up and we play ALL the time – morning tubs, indoor recess, and math centers. We love it so much I have 2 boxes of this game AND I picked up the phonics version too (but we much prefer the math version). I typically play with 3-6 students and act as a the judge (although when I don’t play, students elect a judge) who turns over the “Match” card. Students are creating addition and subtraction equations using their cards and attempting to find an equation that equals the “Match” card first. The first player with no more cards wins!
At first this game can move slowly as students are just becoming fluent. After playing for many rounds, I start imposing time limits. If no one has found a matching equation after 10-15 seconds, I classify the card as “Dead” and I redraw the “Match” card.
Teacher Hack: This is a simple game to play with a deck of cards. Put 3 decks of cards together. Remove the Jacks, Queens, and Kings. The Jokers are wild cards. Give students 6-8 cards. Have them put them face-up on the table. Then, flip over the “Match” card. Students race to find the 2 cards in their hand that add or subtract to the “Match” card. The first player to put their combination in the middle and say the equation, gets the card. The first player with no cards remaining in front of them wins!
Played like a traditional game of Sequence, Sequence Numbers is perfect for advanced 1st graders and 2nd graders still building fact fluency. Rather than traditional playing cards, numbers (sums and differences) are on the playing board. Students keep 5-7 playing cards in their hands. The cards have addition and subtraction problems (within 30) on them. Students work by themselves (or in partners…my preference) to get 5 playing pieces in a row. The only down-side to the game is that there are only 3 sets of playing tokens (orange, navy, and green). If four or five players want to play, we will snag counters from our manipulative shelf to add-on players.
Funding Your Math Classroom
If you are looking to gather math materials and games affordably, consider some of my go-to sources!
Donors Choose – Donors Choose is a crowd-funding hub that allows public-schools to request classroom materials, and for people across the world to fulfill those requests. Donors Choose helps connect the public to schools and helps lessen teacher spending by providing materials that students need to learn- making connections, and helping to fill the gap in unfunded school programs. I was able to get ALL the games in this post through one Donors Choose project. Read more about how to get started on Donors Choose and ideas for projects in THIS blog post.
Using your Scholastic Bonus Points to shop the Teacher Catalog – Read HERE how I maximize my Scholastic Order to snag more bonus points for my classroom!
So friends, how do you use math games in your classroom? Are there any games that I need to add to our collection? If so, please let me know! We are all about games and we are always looking to add to our collection!
So often I open my email to find a teacher is looking for more resources on math, writing, mini-lessons, etc. Ultimately, the underlying question is – I want to know more. I want to hone my craft. What should I be reading?
Today I wanted to pause and share with you some of my go-to resources while planning, teaching, and learning in my classroom. Now friends, don’t look at this list and panic. The goal of your summer is not to consume education every.single.day. It’s not. Rather, slowly, over the course of 4 years these are the books that have molded, honed, and guided my instruction. Some are easy reads. Others are like college textbooks. Some I re-read every.single.summer because they remind me why I teach and reignite my excitement for welcoming a new classroom of friends. I’ve broken my list of texts into three sections – Literacy, Math, Raising Amazing Humans (Management). While I have books that drive my science and social studies instruction, I was picky, choosing only the books that allowed you to see their impacts on a daily basis. Ideally, any day you walked into my classroom you could see elements of each of these treasures impacting my instruction, my relationships with students, and the passionate way in which I communicate my love for learning. The below texts lay a foundation for learning and teaching in my classrooms (whether K, 1, K/1, or 5th), so here we go!
Throughout this post, you’ll find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon tosses a few nickels my way if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you, that help keep my corner of cyber-space running and helps fund giveaways!
Walking into my classroom during reading and writing and you’ll immediately see the impact The Daily 5 has had on my classroom. From building sustainable reading routines that don’t involve weekends filled with printing, cutting, and laminating to intentionally carving out significant periods of time for reading and writing, The Daily 5 is a game changer. From launching Read to Self to Fostering Independence during our first week of choices, you can check out my Daily 5 reflections here. The 2nd Edition is considerably more specific and flexible than the first edition. This version offers a lot of different variations and options (as well as, a chapter about The Daily 3) while sticking to the true intent of Daily 5 – helping students develop lifelong literacy skills that allow reading to be something they love. This is one of the 3 texts I re-read every.single.summer.
Teaching 5th Grade as a 1st year teacher, The Book Whisperer demanded that I place more time, energy, and classroom resources in creating an environment and culture where reading mattered. Giving students authentic reading opportunities, focusing on interest instead of level, and being a model of a ‘Wilder Reader’, Miller’s book is convicting. Every student is a reader if exposed to the right book. Fostering wild reading habits demands that classroom reading time be preciously guarded and that students who love to read need a community of individuals who are equally passionate about reading, whatever their genre. This is the second of the 3 texts I re-read every.single.summer.
Using books from Learning A-Z, I follow Jan Richardson’s Guided Reading plan and LOVE it. It takes all the guess work out of my groups and is a familiar routine to follow. From sight word lists, weekly guided reading skills, comprehension skills, broken down by guided reading level, Jan is fabulous. This is a book that I purchase for each of my Student Teachers. It’s definitely an investment BUT it offers the foundation that they need to intentionally push and support readers during Guided Reading. In addition to the book (it’s spiral bound!!!), there is an online component that has all the forms in printable versions, as well as, videos of guided reading groups at each level (emergent, fluent, transitional, etc) This makes it so easy to brush-up on an area where I am struggling or where I feel like students aren’t growing. This book has a TON of information, so I typically use it as a reference. It’s not one I read cover-to-cover each summer; rather, I keep it by my desk and snag it as a I plan and pull Guided Reading materials.
Need ideas for those mini-lesson in between Daily 5 rounds? The Reading Strategies Book is perfect for short, intentional mini-lessons. The skills/topics are organized by instructional ranges and most are single pages. They include a teacher script or question stems, sample anchor charts, and are actionable. It’s not a book you’ll read cover-to-cover; rather it will become a grab and use book for lesson planning!
Realistically The Big Book of Details is geared more toward middle-grade classrooms. BUT…. as teachers, we know there are so few great writing resources out there that actually communicate HOW to teach writing that I cling to the ones I find. It is sectioned into each writing genre and provides “Moves” for teachers to initiate when they see students are struggling to explain or elaborate. I really like this book because it is practical, scripted at times, and offers specific examples of each strategy used. While not all the ‘moves’ work with littles, it’s still one of my go-to resources in planning writing mini-lessons or writer’s workshop conferences.
The writing companion to the Reading Strategies Book, The Writing Strategies Book is hot off the presses and offers short, intentional mini-lessons. Perfect for writing conferences or whole-group ideas, again it is full of anchor charts, teacher prompts, and ideas for teaching students to craft their writing.
Jo Boaler – researcher, professor, educational rockstar – is a guiding voice in mathematics right now. Mathematical Mindsets provides practical strategies and activities to show all children, even those who are convinced that they are bad at math, that they can love and be successful mathematicians. Mathematical Mindsets offers research behind how the brain processes math learning, real ideas for turning mistakes into learning opportunities, and LOADS of rich math tasks. Looking for ways to enrich and push your ‘high’ mathematicians without moving onto another grade level’s content? This book is for you!
CGI is centered around the idea that numbers and must make sense to students. Students have an innate ability to understand and manipulate numbers, and our instruction in the classroom needs to support this basic tenant. Rather than math being about solving problems, CGI focuses on the idea that math is a language and students should be making sense of math and problem solving. This book is definitely more text book like, but it is the right fit for you if you feel like your math instruction is disconnected or lacking a driving force. (This blog post about differentiating word problems stems from CGI and it’s impact in my classroom.)
The Power of Play is a simple read revolving around the idea that play sets the foundation for our later interactions with the world. It poses play not as an ‘extra’ but as a necessity and that play has been substituted for other things – iPads, TVs, toys, etc. It was a convincing read, a well-crafted narrative sharing the research of play. While reading Elkind, I looked at my schedule and asked – “Where can I incorporate more play into our already busy day?” After reading this book, I began my journey with morning tubs!
Oh Ron Clark. Preaching truth and real-life lessons, The Essential 55 is my favorite of all the RC books. Broken into 55 sections it’s to the point, full of hilarious and terrifying stories, and reminds me that our academic instruction makes up so little of what we teach in the classroom. From greeting visitors to losing gracefully, this is the 3rd book I re-read each summer before being entrusted with a new group of students. I’m able to develop of list of skills we’ll need to model, talk about, and practice, and I am always inspired by the impact our year together will have.
So friends – here it is. My list of go-to resources to impact my daily classroom. If I walked into your classroom, what books on your list would I see in action? Let me know below!
Morning Tubs offer a play-based opportunity for students to explore, create, and communicate. A non-threatening way to start the day, Morning Tubs help reduce the length of your morning routine, get students excited about the day, and encourage collaboration. You can read all about how Morning Tubs work in my classroom and ideas for launching them with your students HERE!
After implementing Morning Tubs for the last year-and-a-half I wanted to share with you my go-to Morning Tub ideas. From classroom basics to manipulatives to treat ideas donated by Donors Choose, here are 50 Morning Tub Ideas for your classroom! (Snag free labels for your tubs here.)
Throughout the post, you’ll find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon tosses a few nickels my way if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you, that help keep my corner of cyber-space running and helps fund giveaways!
Letter Cubes – From student names to environmental words to weekly phonics patters, these letter cubes are perfect for building words or towers!
Phonics Dice– Add phonics dice with a whiteboard and students can simply and easily sort real and nonsense words!
Letter Tiles– Play like scrabble or just see who can make the longest word!
Story Telling Cubes– My 1st graders also LOVE Story Cubes. Each set of cubes has a different theme (verbs, ways to move, places to visit). Students role 2-3 of the dice and combine them into a story. These dice are perfect for adding excitement and novelty to writing!
Letter Beads & Pipe Cleaners – Perfect for building fine motor skills, students can build sight words, weekly spelling words, or names of their friends!
Bananagrams for Beginners – This set of Bananagrams is made for little friends and has digraphs and blends already attached. So th, ee, bl, etc. are already attached, so students don’t have to find the individual letters! Please note, this is HARD. It takes lots of practice with small groups of friends. It is a blast, but definitely takes practice…so be warned!
Scented Markers & Letter Writing Paper – Who doesn’t love the chance to write with scented markers? From teacher love notes to staff appreciation notes, give students the chance to write freely and for their own purpose.
Dominoes – Whether sorting by sum or difference or creating an intricate pattern, dominoes are always a winner. And foam dominoes??? A teacher’s dream!
Base Ten Pieces
Connecting Links – These links are perfect for showing numbers in different ways or creating jump ropes. To each his or her own!
Cuisenaire Rods – These are my go-to resource for teaching part-part-whole and students love the chance to create with them. From houses to palm trees, these sometimes math tools make great building blocks! Want to add a challenge? Make a create and then, figure out the sum of all the rods used.
Plastic Coins & a Cash Register – Let students collect small items from around the room and open a store at their Team Table. This is the perfect time to introduce coins and money, especially since they aren’t officially introduced until 2nd grade!
Dice & Dry Erase Markers – I like dice and I cannot lie. They are a perfect tool for adding, subtracting, and leveling your instruction!
Foam Shapes – From sorting to organizing to building, foam shapes are a versatile math/creation tool!
Exploring & Creating
Origami Squares & Directions – There are tons of free online tutorials that can be easily printed and slipped into a tub. Plus, during the winner, paper snowflakes make a perfect classroom decoration and in the spring, who doesn’t love making a paper airplane?!
Playdoh and straws – Use 1 inch straw pieces to act as building blocks or to help form letters!
Rubbings – From coins to leaves to texture blocks, rubbings are a think of the past. Last fall when I introduced my friends to leaf rubbings, they responded “Oh I’ve done this on the iPad.” No. No you haven’t.
Whiteboards & Markers – What kid doesn’t dream of being able to use the whiteboard however they wish?!?
Strips of Colored Paper (paper chains) – Let students write ehat they are learning right now, words that follow a phonics pattern, or reasons they love school. Regardless, it’s a perfect chance to sneak in some writing and brighten up your classroom!
Stamps & Scrap Paper – From letter stamps to design, students can create their own scenes that will be perfect to write about during Work on Writing!
Nature Bin – Add magnifying glassed with shells, rocks, leaves, pinecones, and other outdoorsy things and let your students explore, make observations, and record their findings.
Magnets & Paperclips – Science-based tubs are always a winner. We love magnets and the “magic-ness” of them.
Plastic Cups for Stacking
Popsicle Sticks & Marbles – A bag of marbles from Dollar Tree and a box of popsicles sticks make the perfect materials for a maze. Students have to create a pathway using the sticks and then, ‘run’ their marble through their creation!
Index Card Towers
Target Mini-Erasers – Students can sort, create patterns, and build with this Dollar Spot winners!
Playing Cards – Perfect for Go-Fish, War, or just building, cards are a simple and timeless morning tub.
Geoboards– Rubber bands are a perfect way to strengthen little fingers. Plus, geoboards are a blast! From designing letters to making shapes with task cards, their are endless possibilities!
Yarn & Scissors – Although it’s a messy tub, students love cutting yarn to create names, sight words, or even depict our weekly vocabulary words. Take a picture, upload it to SeeSaw, and BOOM!
Pom poms & tongs
Puzzles – From the USA to a World Map, puzzles are a fun way to explore maps, diagrams, and animals!
Triangle Peg Boards – Pick up 2-3 of these beg boards for an easy, strategy-based Morning Tub option. Before you slip them in your tubs, make sure to give them a coat of paint. Most of the boards have some not-school-friendly words on them! (If you have 5 pegs left, you are just plain dumb. If you have 3 pegs left, you are an ignoramus. etc)
Making 10/20 Connect 4 – Wether it’s a math center or a morning tub, we love this game! Read more about how we play Connect 4 and FREE visual directions here.
Making 10/20 Go Fish – Card games are always a win. We build number fluency while practice important social skills – asking others for something, including others, losing/winning gracefully.
Tinker Toys: We have A LOT of building resources in our tubs. While this can quickly branch into “indoor recess” type of material, students still don’t have full recess range of freedoms. Additionally, when students build, create, and collaborate they are active, talking, and building relationships. We love Tinker Toys because we can create spinning and moving machines!
Interlox are also a class favorite. At first my friends struggled with them because their natural reaction is to build up. Students quickly learn that if they only build up, their towers will topple. By building wide and creating a strong base, students learn that they can create intricate buildings with these tools!
Magna Tiles are THE favorite material in our morning tubs. These magnetic building blocks are amazing and students can create almost anything they want. From 2D shapes to mazes to 3D masterpieces, MagnaTiles are pretty awesome! With that said, they are incredibly expensive (thanks, Donors Choose!) and they are a beast to clean-up. Still, childhood joy and excitement wins, so the MagnaTiles stay
Teaching is expensive. Even in the most supportive, well-funded schools, teachers fund classrooms. The most expensive (yet the most essential) of classroom supplies? Books. The hitch? Research repeatedly says that access to books and the number of books students have access to directly correlates with interest in reading, reading ability, and literacy rates. Additionally, as teachers we know students need access to TONS of different books and that when students walk into a full-stocked classroom library, they know reading is important. This message “My teacher thinks reading is important. Reading must be important.” becomes internalized from early on in the school year, setting the stage for our time together.
Half-Price Books is committed to providing books to classrooms and nonprofit organizations for FREE! From Summer Book Bags to stocking your classroom library, check out how to keep your students surrounded by high-quality, high-interest books year-round!
Who Can Request Books?
Classrooms with a literacy focus and 501(c)3 non-profit organizations
Stop in, chat with the fellow book-lovers at the store, and ask for a Book Donation Request Form.
Fill out the half-page form (see below). It asks for your name, organization name, tax ID number, address, your phone number and email, and how the books will be used. The form takes ~3 minutes to fill out.
Turn in your form. The employee will ask what age range your students are (Elementary – picture books, or Middle – chapter books) and how many boxes you need (1, 2, or 3…sometimes they say 1 or 2)
Jump up and down. Say “Thank you” an obnoxious number of times.
Wheel the FREE books to your car.
Write a thank-you note to the store. (Although definitely not required, it is kind. Plus, FREE books. To make the note extra special, have your tiny humans sign their first names in their adorable, tiny-human handwriting. That handwriting steals the hearts of people every.single.time.)
Can I Request Books Online?
Supposedly, yes. There is an online form here…BUT that is all I know. It’s super speedy to do in person and you get the books immediately. The online form says it can take up to 60 days. So, yes you can request books online, but going in-person seems to be the most friendly and efficient route.
How Do I Get Our School’s Tax ID Number
Half Price Books uses this number to confirm that your school/organization is actually a nonprofit and allows them to count the donation as a tax deduction. You MUST have this number each time you request books. Your school secretary or bookkeeper should have your school’s Federal Tax ID Number. Note – this is a private number and really should not be posted anywhere, shared, or used in any way outside of acquiring free boxes of books.
Should I Ask My School’s Permission?
Potentially, probably yes. But with that said here are the words I live by, “It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” Also, free books.
What Types of Books Are In the Boxes? Are They Quality Books?
Super valid question. The books are typically clearance books that did not sell or books that have been on the shelves for a long time. Approximately 20% of the books in most of my boxes are not necessarily ones I would use to stock my classroom library. These books might be super dated (i.e. 1975 is the earliest I have found) or just aren’t a good fit (i.e. Using Felt Boards in the Elementary Classroom). In my last box (May), I counted just because I knew you would ask. In one box of “Elementary” books there were 98 books (WHAT?!?!?!). Before showing them to students I sorted out 21 books that were not just-right fits for us. This percentage definitely changes. Sometimes it is a lot more and sometimes a lot less. I would consider our “May Box” (shown in this post) a pretty average box and it was still packed with great books. There were FOUR Patricia Polacco books (my K/1 friends were PUMPED) and lots of awesome nonfiction books. Each of my students were able to add 3 books to their “Summer Reading” bags!
What Do You Do With Books that Aren’t a Good Fit?
Great question! Here are a couple of different options –
Send out an all-call to your teacher friends. Something you might not use, might work perfectly for them!
Disassemble (i.e. cut apart) the books and use them for Word Work (searching for specific skills), sorting fiction/nonfiction, or other grammar/phonics skills.
Cut out the pictures (see below) and use them in Work on Writing. Placing 4-5 pictures from the same story in a bag allows students to sequence the events in a story and then, write about that sequence. You could also put several different illustrations in a basket, allow students to pull a picture and write a story to match!
Place these books on your teacher table and offer them as a raffle. Students LOVE winning and research repeatedly shows that the number of books in a household influences literacy rates more than the education level of parents. (Say what?!?!)
On rare occasion, I have been known to retire (i.e. throw out) a book. Typically this is a last resort and only happens when a book is not politically correct, offensive, or extremely dated.
How Can I Use the Books?
The books donated by Half Price Books need to directly benefit students in your classroom/school and their families. They cannot be resold in any form or fashion. Fair enough, right? Here are some ways I’ve used these books and other ways teachers have used the books:
Filling Take-Home Book Bags
Supplying books over longer breaks (Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer)
Book Tastings (perfect for introducing new genres or types of books to students)
So, I haven’t received official word on this, but my local Half-Price Books recommends teachers come in monthly to request books. When I request books, I can request 1, 2, or 3 boxes of Elementary (picture books) or Middle (chapter books). Based on how I’m using the books, I typically request 1 or 2 boxes! While I don’t get two boxes of books every month, I typically end up with 6-7 boxes a year!
So friends, what are you waiting for? Take a chance and snag some amazing books for your students!