Tag Archives: worksheet alternatives

My Pinterest: Engaging 7th Graders

Beyond traditional lecture, paper, and pencil… Ideas to keep my 7th graders moving, talking, and thinking.

An Interactive Notebook Progress Report

My class has been working on their Interactive Notebooks, which we now refer to as “Interactive Journals.” “Journal” is the term we use school-wide for composition books. It is a habit and just easier. Same idea.

I am really happy with how it’s going. They are engaged and they are responsive. It’s cute how they remember definitions from last year and suggest we put them under the flaps (as if I didn’t already think of that!)

I have learned that I need to show some of my students the sample I have created – allowing them to touch and lift the flaps.

Others seem to enjoy figuring it out on their own and are pretty good at it. One of my struggling readers is by far the best at this and it is so nice to build his confidence by asking him to help others.

This week I am actually going to post the directions (included in the bundle I purchased) on the SMARTBoard. I think that will be very helpful to a few of them.

There are some things I need to refine and improve on:

  • Cutting is difficult for a few of my students and the pieces are really hacked by the time they are done. This morning I decided to trim some the handouts and larger pieces with the paper-cutter. Hopefully this will save some time and some paper. (I’ve also been making two extra copies for major cutting disasters.)
  • Coloring might need to be a homework thing or done in study hall – they are really into the coloring, but it is a little time-consuming. I am going to use my Joann’s coupons and try to buy some more Crayola Twistable Colored Pencils because my pencil sharpener is destroying my colored pencils.
  • I need to allot more class time for reviewing and using the foldables. Right now, I am not sure they know how to interact with the things we have made. Some are also lacking study skills. I need to do a better job referencing the foldables and encouraging them to use them during lessons.
  • On that note, I tried to incorporate more activities that would require some response to the foldables in my lesson plans this week. An extension, I guess you would call it.
  • I also want to print out some of their creations from the iPad and glue them in to help make a connection between the two activities.

I will post an update in a few weeks and let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, if you have any tips or ideas, be sure to share them in the comments!



Using Quotations from a Novel

The first novel we will read, starting in Week 3, will be When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt.

I skimmed the book again this afternoon and decided to make these speech/thought bubbles with quotations from the text.  (It’s hard to tell but they are pretty large – I used 12 x 12 cardstock.) I will hang them up around the room before school starts and not say a whole lot about them. (Kids are so observant.) I am hoping it might spark their interest and act as an anticipatory set.


I can already see the lightbulbs turning on as we actually read these quotes in the context of the book.

Ideas on how I might use these quotations:

1. Make predictions based on what we have read and one of the selected quotes.

2. Locate the quote in the novel and practice writing responses with citations.

3. Identify the speaker and the situation in which the quotation occurred.

4. Retell and/or explain the portion of the story that each quote is related to.

5.  Write any of the above responses in journals (or interactive notebooks) or using the iPads.

6.  Draw the scene for each quote on drawing paper and post near the quotes.

7.  Act out the scene for each quote.

8.  Attach each quote to a large sheet of bulletin board or chart paper before hanging up around the room.  Students could write any thoughts or ideas as they come to them.

Any other ideas on how you might use quotations from novels?

Share your ideas in the comments!

Giant Plot Diagram Challenge

As we finished up Stargirl,I knew I wanted to do a final plot diagram activity.  I found a pretty good Prezi of a story map for the novel.  I had to change some of the vocabulary to make it appropriate for my class.  (The fact that Prezis are editable and reusable is one of the things I love about the whole Prezi concept.)

I printed out a PDF of the plot line and passed out the pages randomly. I challenged them to put the events in order correctly.  As we sat in front of the bulletin board,which I temporarily covered with a giant plot diagram, we took turns reading and placing the events in the appropriate place. We used push pins so that it was easy to rearrange when we needed to.

The final result was pretty impressive and showed me how they understood the story. They loved doing this activity.

Big impact. Little preparation. No worksheets. Win-win-win.


Instant hands-on activity thanks to Prezi.

Connect Four (Board Games in the Classroom)

Again, going back to “old school” games….Connect Four is a good game to look for when you are hitting the garage sales. I once saw a SMARTBoard version, but the real version is enjoyed by all kids (Funny how as an adult, it’s one of the last games I feel like playing with my own kids.)

You can use Connect Four for review purposes with no extra preparation.

Divide your class into two groups (as in most teaching situations, the smaller the class the better) and set them on opposite sides of the room with the Connect Four board in between them.

Begin your review session by asking a team a question. If that team is correct, they get to place a checker in the slot. If they are wrong, the other team can make a move.

This does put a lot of pressure on students to come up with the right answer, so it is probably a good idea to not single out a particular student to provide the answer. Instead, make it a team effort.

Each round ends rather quickly, so it is fast paced and no one gets bored. And everyone is reviewing.


My 9-year-old, “Tweedle Ian”, during a game of Connect Four. How can I resist those big brown eyes?

Trash to Treasure (Board Games in the Classroom)

As we are in garage sale season, now is a great time to pick up some cheap board games. These games don’t even have to be in great shape or complete. The random playing pieces (like dice, chips, board markers, or checkers from a partial set) can be used in a variety of ways with your students.

The pieces of the games, boards included, can be modified for classroom use and incorporated into student projects (one of the choices for our Earth Science project is to make a review game).

An idea I recently read about in Differentiated Assessment Strategies: One Tool Doesn’t Fit All, by Carolyn Chapman and Rita King, is to have students place the red monopoly houses on the main idea and green houses on supporting details.

Other ideas:

  • Students can place a red house on a math problem they are stuck on and as the teacher comes around the room, they will be able to stop and help them.
  • Students can lay a red, yellow, or green playing piece on the corner of their paper to show their comfort level with the concept being taught.
  • Use a deck of cards to create random groups. (All the 4’s are in a group, all the hearts are on a team, the Aces are team captains, etc.)
  • Give a sand timer to a student who easily gets distracted or who needs limits. They can try to complete a certain number of problems in 2 minutes.
  • Use play money as part of your reward system or to practice money skills.
  • Use colored marbles or chips for a lesson in probability.

Here is a shopping list for your next garage sale outing. You may have to think outside the box and look inside game boxes to find these goodies:

  • spinners
  • dice
  • cards
  • checkers or chess pieces
  • game boards
  • play money
  • marbles
  • place markers
  • dominoes
  • letter tiles
  • sand timers

Because my cat, Ellie, is an indoor cat she can’t go to garage sales. But, she does like to play good old-fashioned board games!


Tweedle Dee and Ellie playing a Lego game.


Ellie takes her turn at Shrek Monopoly. (One of my LEAST favorite games of all time.)


Ellie and Tweedle Ian play Yahtzee (with foam dice because they are silent!)


Guess Who? Yep, Ellie again!

Cheap and Easy (Dry Erase Boards in Your Classroom)

One of the learning tools I love to use the most is also one of my students’ favorites: dry erase boards.

Three years ago I bought a large 4′ x 8′ sheet of hardboard at Lowe’s for around $11.00. For a minimal fee they cut the board into 32 12″x 12″ boards. I think the total bill was less than $15.00. I purchased economy packs of wash cloths at Dollar General. While dry erase markers can be pricey, our team has them on the supply list (1 pack of 4 for each student). We put these markers in a huge basket and they are for general use in the classroom.

We use these boards almost every day in some capacity.

Any paper/pencil activity that can be put on the SMART Board can be done on a dry erase board. (Especially good for grammar, math problems, multiple choice activities, and fill in the blank type worksheets)

I have my students write an occasional short answer/extended response/journal entry on a dry erase board. I love when students ask if they can get another board because they don’t have room for everything they want to say.

I use them with our online textbook. It’s not very easy to get computer time in our building but by using the SMART Board and the dry erase markers, I can easily use tutorials, review activities, and vocabulary lessons with the whole class.

Dry erase boards are also a great way to do formative assessment. It’s very easy to get an overview of how well the students grasped the daily lesson.

So let me sum it up:

Pros of dry erase boards
+ Less paper/pencil tasks
+ Less photo copying and less waste
+ Allows for movement around the room (Sometimes they can sit on the back counter, the floor, away from their desks)
+ Accountability (“Everybody, boards UP!”)
+ Engaging (Everyone can answer every question, not just one student)
+ Forgiving (It’s easy to erase mistakes and try again)

Cons of dry erase boards
– Not practical for graded assignments
– Kids love to doodle. (I admit I am a “doodler”. You should see my decorated notes from staff meetings!)
– The markers stink! (I strongly recommend specifically putting low-odor markers on your supply list


The pros clearly outweigh the cons.
(Artwork by my daughter)

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