Teachers sneak in learning with themes and games
Mar 31, 2020 10:15AM
By Jet Burnham
A Dr. Seuss theme makes learning fun for third graders. (Photo courtesy Janet Hall)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Getting kids excited to learn is the goal of the third grade teaching team at Butterfield Canyon Elementary. Teachers have discovered by simply changing the environment and employing a fun theme, students are excited to review math and English skills.
“It's almost like sneaking in vegetables to their dinner,” said third grade teacher Keri Cedor.
In March, the students rotated through Dr Seuss-inspired activity stations that reviewed skills they’ve been learning: understanding character traits, using context clues to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words, making text-to-self connections, pronouncing multisyllabic words and telling-time skills.
“My kids loved it,” said RaNisha Glover. “They were working the whole time, but they were amazed at how fast the time went.”
The six third grade teachers plan engaging themed activities a few times each year. By adding decorations to the classroom and mixing up the learning with a variety of activities, students are excited to participate.
“You change the environment just a little bit and review skills that they know, so it's reinforcing things you've taught and the engagement is huge,” Janet Hall said. “There are no behavior problems because everyone is engaged in what they're doing.”
Themed days also boost attendance because no one wanted to miss out. Teachers agree it keeps it fresh and exciting for them, too.
One popular theme day was called Glow Games. One of the classrooms was blacked out and had blacklights installed. Wearing reflective vests, third graders practiced math concepts in the dark with games involving glow sticks, glow-in-the-dark toys, and fluorescent markers and tape.
Last year, “Monsters Inc.” was the theme used to review literacy skills.
“We had doors hanging from the ceilings at each one of those stations,” Hall said. “They had to get a code to unlock a door, then they got to do a fun activity.”
Planning the activities and transforming the classroom requires a lot of time.
“It's definitely a team effort,” Hall said. “It's more than one person could try to do by themselves. Part of the reason stuff like this works is because we have amazing people to work with.”
Having fun activities to review makes the most of the learning time in the classroom. Because the teachers don’t assign homework, they use their class time efficiently.
“I always tell my kids, there's no time to waste in third grade, so we’ve got to make everything we do count,” Hall said.
Third grade is also a pivotal year for literacy skills.
“This year, they go from learning how to read to reading to learn,” Cedor said. Third graders begin to encounter reading material for science and history subjects with content that is deeper and has more challenging words.
Teachers encourage parents to help their children develop literacy skills and a love for reading that will prepare them for success in school with these tips.
Read every day.
“You send your kid out to practice their sport so they can get better at it,” said Lauren Gresham. “It's the same thing with reading. You can't get better at reading if you're not reading; you can't get better at baseball if you're not playing baseball.”
Like a coach, parents should encourage, support and model good reading habits.
“Parents are the reading coach,” Glover said. “Even if it's just the moral support on the sidelines with, 'You got this! I believe in you!’”
Some struggling readers form a mindset that they are not a good reader.
“You have to try to help them get over those hurdles of their own self confidence,” Hall said. She suggests finding books about topics that interest them.
Reading with your child provides modeling as well as quality time together.
“If you make those positive memories of reading together, it might help the kids like to read more in the end,” Glover said.
Cedor said parents should not stop reading to their children even when they can read independently.
“That quality time is huge still at this age,” she said.