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How To Have Fun AND Build Number Sense: Play "No More"!

     Do you want a no-prep math activity that you can use with almost any grade-level? Do you like to feel confident that you're building strong number sense? Would you like to know you're creating a smooth segue into pre-algebra? If so, let's play "No More"!
     When I say "no prep", I mean it! Simply stroll to the whiteboard or SmartBoard and sketch this:
     Next, pick a number. I typically use the day's date at the beginning of the year, but you can pick any number. Write the number at the top.
     Now, challenge students to call out as many different ways as they can think of to "express" that number. 

     This is a beautiful way to get used to identifying just what a mathematical expression is - another way to say a number. I always make an ELA connection here, explaining that I can refer to a child, say Jayden, with different expressions. I can refer to Jayden as, "Jayden", "Mr. Williams", "the boy closest to the door", "the guy in the red shirt", "one of my students", etc. In the same way, we can refer to numbers in just as many ways.

     As you get started, students will typically share fairly simple expressions although some students are ready for more advanced examples:
      Help students by adding some expressions yourself. Remind students that they can use the word form of a number, the short word form, Roman numerals, decimals, and fractions.
     My students often hang out with the easiest expressions they could think of, like addition. As you notice one operation being used a lot as in the example below, write the operation in the "No More" column. This means that there can be no more addition used in expressions for the rest of the game! Yikes! Kids really start to slow down and think!
     They may head for the relative safety of, say, subtraction. Let them go a while, then lower the boom. No more subtraction!
     Continue playing for a few minutes, usually 2 - 5. Once you eliminate the third operation, you're really cooking!

     You get the idea. You're guiding students to think deeply about how to create a number and they're understanding the difference between expressions and equations.

     Consider adding this to interactive math notebooks, assigning it as a warm-up, and letting kids collaborate before they share. I'd love for you to try "No More" and let me know how it works for you!
Growing Grade By Grade
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One Of The Best Number Sense Games Of All Time: Contig

     Every teacher on the planet should learn the math game Contig!  Read the details here and consider adding it to your collection of go-to math activities. 

Why Contig?

I recommend this game for any class:
  • it's awesome at building number sense
  • it's easy to prep and play 
  • each game is fresh and new 
  • you and your students can adapt it to your own needs as you go 
  • it works beautifully in centers, small groups, or as whole-group fun 

The Gameboard

     You can download a free copy of the game board here. There is also a Contig, Jr. for younger students. Here's the game board for grade 4 and up:

The Materials

Materials are simple. For each pair of students, you need:

  • a laminated Contig game board
  • 3 dice
  • a different colored dry erase marker for each player

How To Play  

1)  Roll three dice. Use the numbers just as they are. For example, if you roll 2, 4, 6, they cannot be 24 or 62... just 2, 4, 6. 

2)  Add the three numbers. That sum is your starting number. Cross it off the board. This is the only time that you are required to do anything specific with the numbers you roll.

3)  Look at all of the numbers surrounding the number you marked off. These are your target numbers. If your starting number is 12, your target numbers are 3, 4, 5, 11,13, 19, 20, 21. You do not have to mark them, as I have in blue below. This is just to show you what is allowed.
4)  On each turn, roll three dice. The player can perform any operations in any order on those three numbers as long as the result is one of your target numbers. If you rolled 3, 5, 6, you could say: 3 x 6 - 5 = 11. Cross off 11. 
5)  Notice that your new target numbers are 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 13, 18, 19, 20, 21.
6)  Continue rolling 3 dice on each turn. Perform operations to produce one of the target numbers. Notice that your target possibilities increase with each new number. Continue to play for a specified time or number of turns, whatever works for you.

     Once students are confident about playing the game, they typically start asking to change the rules. That's great! This type of mathematical discussion is powerful. I always ask students to predict how their suggested change will affect the game. Common changes that kids suggest are:
  • Use 4 or more dice.
  • Treat your starting roll like any roll; instead of just adding, perform any operations.
  • Use only multiplication and division.
  • Use one of your dice as an exponent.

One Last Connection

     If students ask about the name, Contig, I love to make this ELA connection. I tell them it comes from the word contiguous, then ask if that sounds like a word they've heard before. They typically respond, "Continuous". I agree and say contiguous means continuous and touching. That refers to the target numbers that need to be touching, or contiguous to, the numbers you choose.
    I hope you'll give Contig a try. I love it so much that I created a version to send home with my students. It's a great homework activity. You can find it in my store here.

     Best wishes and I'd love to hear how Contig works for your students!

Growing Grade By Grade
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Have Fun With Adverbs: Play In The Manner Of The Adverb!


     Students can get a little stuck when we study parts of speech. Nouns and verbs often go smoothly, but adverbs and adjectives can be challenging. And they both start the same (ad-), which can add an extra layer for kids to sort.

    I learned "In The Manner Of The Adverb" during my student teaching and it's never failed me. It's easy to teach, tons of fun to play, and it helps students internalize important concepts. 

     You don't even have to wait until you're teaching parts of speech to introduce it. It makes a great indoor recess game or brain break and is super at building collaborative skills. In addition, kids are very active, they practice expressive skills, and the game is supposed to be fairly quiet!

Materials You Need

  • a list of adverbs 
  • a list of actions that can be performed in the classroom. I've added both lists below to get you started.

How To Play

1.  Explain to students what an adverb is and how it's used. You don't need to go into a lengthy grammar lesson, you'll develop the concept by playing over time.

2.  Choose a student to be the Guesser and have her step outside of the room. No peeking through the window!

3.  Write an adverb on the board or a slate and silently show it to the rest of the class. It's important that no one says the adverb out loud. 

4.  Erase or hide the word and call the Guesser back in.

5.  Call on a student to silently perform a specific task in the manner of the adverb. Suppose your adverb is "quickly". You might say, "Jayden, please come shake my hand in the manner of the adverb." 

     Without a word, Jayden would quickly leave his seat, come shake your hand quickly, and return to his seat quickly

6.  The Guesser can now take a guess at the adverb. 

7.  If the Guesser misses, you may ask another student to perform a different task in the manner of the same adverb. You may give a third chance or whatever works for your group.

8.  Reveal the adverb to the Guesser. Choose a new Guesser and a new adverb.

Helpful Hints

  • Students can get excited about volunteering to perform. To keep everyone active and involved, I allow students to sit on their desks or stand around the room during the game.
  • Consider choosing two Guessers at a time. It avoids hurt feelings and embarrassment if a single Guesser misses the adverb. It also fosters collaboration.

  I'd love to hear how this game works for you! Best wishes!
Growing Grade By Grade
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An Inspirational Poem And A Gift For You

     One of my favorite back-to-school activities is to recite and learn this growth mindset poem, "The Ones Who Think They Can", by Walter Wintle.

     We read a projected copy of the poem together a couple of times every day for the first few weeks of school. We discuss the meaning of the poem and I explain that the word "man" means "mankind", not just males. Each student cuts and tapes a smaller version into their math or science journal for reference.
     We continue to recite the poem as part of our morning routine for a couple of weeks, then more occasionally. I challenge students to commit the poem to memory - memorize is a fine word, too. If they want to they can recite the poem, to me privately or to the class. In return, they receive a "100" in the subject of their choice. I do not typically reward students for academic performance. Since this is an optional challenge, I feel it's an acceptable incentive.

     Some of the phrases find their way into our everyday comments. If we mention someone who persevered against strong odds, someone might say aloud, "The ones who think they can!" If someone makes a negative comment about themselves, someone might remind them, "If you think you're beaten, you are."

     Please grab a free copy here and use it in your classroom. I'd love to hear how it works out for you!
Growing Grade By Grade
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Starting Math On The First Day Of School!

     The first days of school are so jam-packed with back-to-school, getting-to-know-you, and housekeeping activities, it can be a real challenge getting into the actual curriculum.

     As a new teacher, I struggled to find the optimum time to begin that first lesson: the one I believed should be delivered by me, at the front of the room, to students sitting in desks, to be followed with a paper and pencil activity.

     Over the years, I learned that there are dozens of ways to "do math" that are fun and engaging, and that involve students, not just as learners, but as collaborators and critical thinkers. Choose from some of the suggestions below and you'll find yourself rocking some math from Day 1!


     I always look forward to reading Math Curse by Jon Scieszka on the first day of school each year. I love the humor and the way math concepts are introduced. Kids love coming to the carpet and having a book read to them. It's a warm, fuzzy way to ease into the new year.

     It's also a good chance to teach some of those all-important classroom procedures. Check out my post about routines and procedures here. You could begin a longer math-oriented book, such as The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davis or The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill. Other good choices are any of the Sir Cumference books, Grandfather Tang's Story, or How Much Is A Million?

Math Games

     What a great way to develop a positive attitude toward math, strengthen concepts, and practice skills! There are so many commercial math games, such as Mathopoly, Sum Swamp, and Equate that teach math skills and concepts. Connect Four and good old checkers are always winners.

     Teachers can also fill their math tool kit with games like Contig (a super way to build number sense!) and Race to 100. Don't want to take the time for a full-fledged board or card game? Try "Where's The Math In The Date?", a quick game that only uses a few digits. Learn how to play it here.

Journal Prompts

     A favorite first-day math activity is to make a list of "Ways I Used Math Today Before School". As students share, they'll find that "checking to see if it's time to leave home", "pouring a bowl of cereal", and "tying two shoelaces" are all ways of using math. Other engaging prompts include: "How I Feel About Math" and "People who are good at math...".

Gather Data

     Asking a group question and having students answer it in different ways is a great segue into many math concepts, as well as social topics. The pictures below show a sampling of ways to do that.

Math About Me Project

     The Math About Me project has become popular recently. It can be as simple as a pre-made paper template on which students share significant numbers. It can also be more of a curation project where students bring in objects that reflect the numbers in their lives.

Math Craft

     Crafts may be more than many want to approach during the first days of school. For those who do want to build that into their new year, consider paper-folding or mosaic pictures.

Math Jokes

     Jokes are always a winning component of a happy classroom. Any joke is great, but it can be fun to spend a few weeks focused on math, science, or another specific topic. I once had a hallway bulletin board to which we attached math jokes and riddles for several weeks. The whole school appreciated it!

Math Puzzles

     It's always a good idea to get kids' hands onto their math as soon as possible. Consider spending some time with math puzzles such as tangrams, cross-number puzzles, or sudoku.


     Combine math and art with a color-by-code or color-by-number activity. Kids will get some solid math practice while they touch the artsy side of their brain with coloring.

     These are only a few ways to incorporate math into the first day(s) of school. I'd love to hear how you do it!

Growing Grade By Grade
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5 Reasons Why Following The Rules Is Important

     We all know day-to-day life can be challenging. Annoying. Overwhelming. Just plain hard. It's in our nature as parents and teachers to try and make our own lives and those of our loved ones easier. Smoother. More efficient. Less stressful. It can be so tempting to cut a corner here and there. 

     Nothing serious or harmful. Like, let your child wear a shirt for a second day. Serve a meal with no vegetables. Let the library book go overdue. Pay the late registration fee. 

     While we all make use of these options once in a while, it can be very easy to make such decisions more and more frequently, to depend on the slip-and-slide that can exist around rules. It can be easy to let rules take a backseat to our own convenience.

     This applies to any walk of life and it can be even more amplified in the world of education. Once we have children in schools, a relationship develops between home and school. We hope it will be a positive, supportive relationship, but that relationship can take a hit if we forget that we all have a responsibility toward building a healthy relationship that works. 

5 Reasons To Follow The Rules

1. Kids do what they see. Parents don't typically teach their children to break rules, although I've seen it happen. In our most casual conversations and activities, we are constantly teaching our children. As long as they're watching and hearing us, they're learning. When children see and hear us breaking rules, they will surely follow suit.

2. Breaking the rules creates conflict. When we try to manipulate life to our own advantage, others are inconvenienced, unfairly burdened, and often angered. Who needs more conflict in their lives? Follow the rules and enjoy less conflict.

3. We are creating tomorrow's adults, not just today's kids. If the important people in their lives regularly break rules, kids can develop an "it's all about me" attitude. This is one of the biggest criticisms of today's millennial generation. Whether it's true or not, they are seen as entitled and selfish. It's not pretty. Avoid this for your children by showing them how to do the right thing. 

4. Life runs more smoothly for everyone when we follow the rules. It's a way to pay it forward. Do your part and others' lives are smoother, thanks to each of us.

5. It's ethically, morally right to follow rules. If we want to raise children who are ethically and morally focused, we must model those behaviors.

Need A Reboot?

     If you find yourself breaking, bending, or stretching the rules more than once in a while, it may be time for a reboot. Consider these thoughts:

1. Think about the person you want to be. Are you living up to the standards you set for yourself? If not, consider setting some new goals and working toward them.

2. Think about how you want your children to see you. 

3. Let your children hear you talk about how you respect the rules. What a lesson you can teach by saying, "I'm really tired, but I need to complete your softball registration tonight. I'm going to do it now so that the coaches will know you want to play. Then, I won't have to pay a late fee and you'll be sure to be on a team." How much easier your life will be, too!

     What do you think about following the rules? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Growing Grade By Grade
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You CAN Teach Community, Procedures, and Content From Day One!

     I've been reading posts lately from newer teachers who struggle with how to teach essential classroom routines and procedures, begin to build the essential community, and address content from the first day of school.  A tall order!  Some question whether they should chose one over the other and if it's even possible to do it all. I'm hearing:

"Should I really spend two full weeks just teaching routines and procedures?"
"When do I start teaching content? I'm afraid of getting behind right from the start!"
"I want to build our classroom community as soon as possible.  When do I start?"
"Which is more important: routines, community, or content?"
"Should I review routines and procedures every day? For how long?"

     These are valid concerns for any teacher. I believe whole-heartedly that you can teach all of those valuable routines and procedures, begin building your community, and start addressing content right from the first day of school!

How do I teach routines and procedures?

     You've probably heard the adage: Do it right, or do it all year long!  Teaching routines and procedures is critical to not only a safe, smoothly running learning environment, but is the gateway to all the good things that can happen during the year.  After all, if you can't get them into the room safely, you can't build a community or teach content.

     In order to be clear with children, have a clear understanding of expectations yourself. If your school or district uses specific terminology, always go with that. I use routine to reference the order or sequencing of your day. For example, our morning routine was always to enter the room, tell your teacher "hello", put up your belongings, make your lunch choice, and begin your Morning Work. To help them understand, I would tell students that we must enter the room before we make our lunch choice - that's routine.

     I use the term procedure to refer to a particular method for doing something. For example, everyone needs to return their coloring pencils after an activity. One procedure is to put the box into your desk. Another procedure is to put them in your backpack. A third procedure is for the table leader to gather and return them to a special drawer. Our procedure was for the table leader to return them to a drawer.

      Having efficient procedures can have a powerful impact on your overall classroom management. When your students know exactly how to perform certain tasks, they can work more independently and you will have to intervene less often.

     Be crystal clear on the procedures that you need students to follow. You'll need a procedure to gather and return materials, to form groups, to work collaboratively, to return assignments, to ask for help. Your procedures needn't be complicated; in fact, they need to be as simple and streamlined as possible. On the other hand, you don't want students to feel policed or like robots. There are many activities, such as returning a book to the shelf, that don't require a specific procedure. Give lots of thought to the procedures you do want. Talk to other teachers in your school and find out what works for them. A few suggestions that worked for me over the years:

-To gather materials: The table leader goes to the correct drawer, gathers, and distributes to his/her own table.
-To return materials: The table leader gathers and returns materials from his/her table.
-To turn in homework: As you unpack in the morning, take your homework to the bin on the counter.
-If you finish work early: Read quietly, complete another activity, or find an activity in the Early Finishers Notebooks.
-If you need the restroom outside of a scheduled break: Make the ASL sign for "restroom" and go!

     Be prepared to review, review, review your procedures. Spend part of every day reviewing and practicing for a minimum of two weeks.  Some teachers extend that to four or even six weeks, tapering off as time goes by. Consider having a refresher week just after Christmas and Spring Break.

How do I build my classroom community?

     Building a classroom community can begin before school even starts!  There are so many ways to let parents and students know about your commitment to a classroom climate that promotes inclusion, teaches kindness and caring, supports open communication, and encourages teamwork.

     Many teachers send out letters that introduce themselves, invite families to Back-to-School Night, and give important information.  This is a good opportunity to include your plans to build a strong, healthy community.  Other teachers make phone calls and establish a personal contact.  These efforts are powerful strategies for starting the year strong.

     Your next best chance is the first minute of the first day of school.  A warm welcome to each student and parent starts the day on a high note, and also models how your classroom community rolls. Your first activities can focus on students' interests, their feelings, and their hopes for the year.  Sharing these responses later is fun and is an excellent time to teach  how to show respect for others.  Will you incorporate a Morning Meeting each day?  Do you have a list of team-building activities for the year?  These tools have an important place during the first days of school.

Can I address content on the first day?

     The short answer is: Yes!  The longer answer is: Yes, but keep it fun, review-oriented, focused on games, and full of movement activities. First-day content needn't be a dive right into lessons and practice. A math game is a delightful way to start the year!  It's a low-key way for students to start recalling skills and concepts from past years.  You can gather valuable insights on your new charges as you see how they play, where they struggle, and where they excel.

     A short science activity?  Yes, please!  Be sure to include a hands-on component.  My students always enjoyed a version of "How Many Drops Of Water Will Fit On The Head Of A Penny?" It's super easy and low-cost, but starts some great science conversations!

     Who doesn't love a word game?  I tutor students who love a version of The Pyramid Game. One player has a secret word. She gives clues to her partner, whose goal is to guess the word.  For example, Olivia's secret word is "book".  She'll give clues like "pages", "words", "published", "in the library". 

     Don't forget Social Studies!  Consider displaying a world map.  Let students take turns sharing where they've lived or traveled.  Try saying "hello" and "good-bye" in as many languages as you can.  There will be lots of fun connections as students get a view of our world!

Pull it all together!

     As daunting as it may seem, you CAN address all three of these critical areas from the first day of school to the last. On the first day of school, plan a good balance of getting-to-know-you activities, community building activities, housekeeping tasks such as confirming how each child gets home (I forgot this one year - a real disaster at dismissal!), explanations of school and classroom guidelines, and content-oriented games and activities. I always tried to include a read-aloud and a good number of movement activities, too.

     As you plan, make notes on the routines and procedures you will highlight for each one. Leave plenty of time to explain and practice each procedure. At this point, strive for quality over quantity. In my classroom, I would plan for activities like these:

1. Read Math Curse by Jon Scieszka; Procedures taught: Push your chair under your desk, move quietly to the carpet, sit in your own space.
2. Play math game "Contig"; Procedures taught: One game partner will go to the materials area and pick up dice, a game board, and dry erase markers.
3. Play "Sometimes, Always, Never"; Procedures taught: Push your chair under your desk, gather at the back of the room, move carefully, respect your classmates' space.
4. Go on a school tour for new students; Procedures taught: Walk to the back of the classroom as your table is called, line up behind the last person in line, walk quietly on the right side of the hall.
5. Play "Where's The Math In The Date?"; Procedures taught: Raise your hand and wait to be called on to respond. (This is different from other games where blurting answers is allowed.)

Be the student and go through each activity.

     I cannot overemphasize the value of actually role-playing your procedures before you teach them. You will often catch glaring problems that could arise when your students follow your directions. I once had an awful traffic jam - kids were backed out into the hall before 7:30 a.m. - because I failed to act it out myself first. I learned to carve out some practice time during the planning days before school started. I would literally give directions to myself out loud, then follow them to the last detail. I caught a lot of potential problems and was able to resolve them before I used them on kids. Whew!

     In all things, the best laid plans can always go awry. If you see that something is not working, be  honest enough to see it and flexible enough to change it. 

     I'd love to hear how you handle routines and procedures in your classroom. What works for you?

Growing Grade By Grade
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