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Student Reading Out Loud
Evaluate student oral reading by letting them read into a tape recorder, then playing it back later. While not as personal, it allows you to listen to the tapes at your leisure, and frees up class time for other activities.

Squeeze Bottles Everywhere
We've all known for a long time about soap and shampoo bottles that can be put to use in the classroom holding glue, water, whatever. Having just started wearing contact lenses, we've discovered another: the cleaning solution bottle. Smaller in size than soap bottles, with a flip top cap that won't get lost, these are great for glue, but you may want to use a small drill bit or a red-hot nail to make the hole larger. Anyone who wears contact lenses goes through this solution regularly, so have them save the bottles for you.

Popcorn Day
Reward your students with popcorn when they finally make it through their multiplication tables, to illustrate how steam and pressure can have explosive results, as an incentive to go one day without getting in trouble in the lunchroom or simply because it's Friday. Popcorn is quick and easy to make, doesn't cost much money and, no, a microwave oven is not required. Hot air poppers use no oil and empty into a bowl while they're popping; if you like lots of oil and butter on yours get the motorized kind with the stirring wires where flipping the whole thing upside down turns the lid into the bowl. Dump your popped corn into a large bowl or bag, then walk around using a cup to pour popcorn onto paper napkins on your students desks. Be prepared to have someone ready to sweep the floor when you are done.

Sliding Extra Credit Scale
If you allow your high school students a way to offset that one test they bombed out on, consider making extra credit a proactive, rather than reactive, choice for them. Post at the beginning of the course, or hand out along with the syllabus, a list of projects or activities they can complete to boost their overall grade. But assign point value on a sliding scale: a project worth 10 extra points the second week of the semester might be worth 6 points halfway through, and only 4 points when there are two weeks left to go. It might force them to do extra work before they need it, or realize the value in not procrastinating.

The Nuts and Bolts of Sorting
A little real-world exercise for your kids: do you have one of those cans of bolts, nuts, screws and washers sitting around the house that you just keep intending to sort out so you won't have to dig through it when you are looking for a bolt to replace the one that just fell out of the lawnmower but you never get them sorted because you spend all of your time grading papers? Bringing it to school and getting your kids to do it isn't as far fetched as it sounds. A little time digging through those odds-and-ends can sharpen their visual acuity, teach them the difference between a metal screw and a lock washer, sharpen their sorting skills and help them see how a large task can be accomplished with persistence.

Dividing Students Into Teams
When dividing your class into teams, skip the unfair practice of having team captains pick favorites. Have students line themselves up chronologically by their birthdays, but make them use sign language to communicate their birthday. Then you, the teacher, can divide the group in half. This only takes a few minutes to accomplish. Thanks to L. Zydek (lzydek@gpu.srv.ualberta.ca) for this tip.

Get Well Puzzles
When a student has been absent long enough that someone has to stop in and pick up work for them, it's a good time to reach in your box of word puzzles and brain teasers to send along a little "fun" activity as well. In addition, you might want to keep a selection of get-well cards, or write a quick note to them on personalized stationery to make them feel special.

A Smooth Running Mouse
Probably the highest maintenance item in a computer system is the mouse. If yours is exhibiting erratic behavior, it may need a good cleaning. We use all Macintoshes here, and Apple has come up with some real losers over the years in the mouse department. An easy bit of maintenance is to remove the rubber ball and wash with soap and water to remove any greasy buildup. While it's out, use tweezers to pull all the lint you can see out of the inside.

After you've cleaned the ball, the second place to look if your mouse is acting jerky is the mousepad. We had been using a smooth plastic one, and discovered we had worn it out. Seems pads like those have a slight tooth or roughness on the surface so fine it really can't be felt. But when our mouse quit responding all the time, we noticed this problem by holding the mousepad up so light would reflect off the surface. Sure enough, there was a circular spot in the center that reflected light more than the rest. We changed the pad, and the mouse worked much better.


Self-Hardening Clay
Is available in five pound boxes at hobby stores, dries on its own when left uncovered in about a week, and is paintable. This clay is great for a first-time art project if no kiln is available, and dividing the five pound cube into eight equal sections gives students a large enough piece to make a small coiled pot. Note: when they say it air-dries, it really does. Open each box in the store and do a push-test with your finger to make sure the clay inside the sealed plastic bag is fairly soft (some boxes we found were much more stiff than others). Use it within a few weeks. Sprinkle leftover clay with water drops and remove as much air as possible before wrapping tightly in its plastic bag, and even then, don't expect too long of a shelf life after it's been exposed to air.
Animals at School
In the same week, we've seen a news report of the salmonella death of a toddler allegedly from contact with an iguana, and today two children in our own school were bitten by a "friendly" gerbil. It's probably safe to say that keeping rodents, reptiles, birds or even fish at school usually is harmless, as long as certain common sense precautions are taken: keep animals confined, don't try to handle them, and wash hands thoroughly after feeding or other maintenance chores.

Send Your Old Clothes to School
Keeping a box of old "dress-up" clothes in your room allows you to grab something special to dramatically introduce a special topic or chapter, let students dress up for any number of reasons, or protect what you're wearing when doing messy activities like painting.

Indoor Recess Activities:
  • Designate a table for a jigsaw puzzle; small groups of students can rotate to work on it. Cover with a sheet of cardboard between use, and save money by buying puzzles at garage/tag sales. Replace missing pieces with pieces of your own construction.
  • For recess in a classroom, blow up 10 balloons and let them bat them around to each other while sitting at their desks.
  • Art idea: build something out of styrofoam packing "peanuts" and glue, then have them sweep the floor when done. Styrofoam packing is free from businesses who throw the stuff away on a daily basis from shipments they receive.

Use Students as Announcers/Writers:
Whether its recording a message for your class parent/teacher hotline, explaining a particular activity at open house or writing a note to send home with students, let your students do the communicating instead of doing it yourself. It will provide a variation, get students involved in the process and parents will enjoy hearing and seeing their children involved.

An Alphabetized Line Up
Take an extra couple of minutes when lining up your students to leave the room to let them alphabetize the line (or in reverse) among themselves.

Adopt a Class Pet
This works best if you have a parent who visits your classroom regularly to help out. If they have a pet they could bring with them, have them do so, just to wake up your students a bit. A dog, for example, kept on a leash, could lie quietly(?) in a reading corner, and students can take turns "dog-sitting" while they read. They'll be begging you to let them read.

Have a Party Jar
Find a jar and a bag of wrapped-up candy. Put pieces of candy in the jar when they accomplish certain things, like no gets in trouble during music class (one piece) or everyone passes their multiplication timed test (15 pieces). Let them know ahead of time what the activity is worth. When the jar is full, they get a party, and the candy. (A variation to this would be to keep the jar on a balance beam scale, with a weight on the other side. When the jar and candy tip the balance, they get the party. Turn it into an estimation exercise, too!)

The Ticket System
This is the third year for using the Ticket System in my room. The idea is that each student has a ticket they keep at their desk, a ticket I'll take from them as a form of punishment or discipline. I keep track of how many times each student loses a ticket during the grading period, and reward those with no lost tickets. The variations of how to use these tickets are endless; you will no doubt think of your own ways to use tickets to your students' advantage. The possibilities in constructing them are endless too. I use magnetic sheeting (the kind screen printers use for magnetic signs or that some people are using for promotional refrigerator magnets), but there are a number of ways to make a ticket that your students can personalize with their name and a picture. Magnets work well because they can be anchored to a metal desk, and double as a name tag for substitute teachers.

Before School Activities
Have everyone sharpen two pencils before school every day. This drastically cuts down on trips to the pencil sharpener during the day. Other things include: work on a brain teaser written on the board; do problems from the estimation corner; write letters to the principal; make a list of things to do later when they get home.

Activities for When Their Work is Done
Compile an assortment of word and number puzzles for when your students have their regular classroom work done. Newspapers, magazines or inexpensive books are sources for puzzles that they can have fun with for a while. Keep plenty of copies available, or laminate and let them use a washable marker. Even adult crosswords are usable; cut off the clues, and have them figure out words on their own that will fit. Don't forget to include some visual puzzles and simple art projects in your "challenge box."
Friday Afternoon Special
On Friday afternoons (the last hour of the day might work well), meet with another class or two for work and play. Students who have unfinished work from the week have a study hall time under the supervision of one teacher. Students with work caught up are with the other teacher(s) playing an organized game outside or doing something fun inside.

S_U_R_P_R_I_S_E_!
Pick out a surprise activity: an extra recess, candy at the end of the day, whatever. Then write "SURPRISE" on the blackboard, and throughout the day, as the classroom gets too noisy or people are out of their seats without permission, for example, erase a letter starting at the end of the word. Conversely, add missing letters when everyone is behaving well. If the complete word is still intact at the end of the day, they get the surprise.

Complaint Box
A traditional complaint box with a slot in the top can help you to stay on task with your teaching since students can complain all they want without taking up your time in doing so (they might even get some writing exercise in the process). Read through them at the end of the day; the important ones are kept to be dealt with as you see fit (hopefully you've been able to see and deal with hitting and other physical things immediately). The more insignificant ones are usually ignored since the student already achieved what they were needing to do: just get something off their chest. In those cases they likely forgot all about it by the time you read about it.
Cleanup-Someone's Gotta Do It
I can't harp too much about responsibility in cleaning up after oneself. Get a small dustmop (a custodian may be happy to give you one) to keep in your room, and select a student each day to quickly run it over the floor at the end of the day. Not only has this helped out our very shorthanded cleaning staff (who have given our class some very favorable comments) but the kids learn to get into a cleaning routine and find that sometimes it's ok to clean up after someone else. This was part of my Responsibility Corner.


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