Friday, August 21, 2009

First week games

This time last week, I was at Disney World with my family. This time next week, I'll be in the middle of my third day with students. What a change!

I've been trying to shake off my vacation drift and focus on what those first three days will look like. Doing this helps me to avoid the blind panic of what is ahead of me (I went on VACATION a week before school starts? Am I insane?)

The poems and cut out words are ready for Found Poetry. But now I have to figure out how the rest of the day will look. To do this, I'm thinking back to the best preparation for teaching I ever had--my days as a camp counselor.

Because, for the first days of school, I need to think like a camp counselor. The emotional and social lives of my students will be foremost as we come together. This means getting myself prepared to do some things that teachers don't usually do--eating lunch with the students, planning extra recesses to practice routines, playing lots of games. But the time spent in all of these extras will have big payouts later in the year.

Here are some of my favorite games for the first few days of school. They all have some common characteristics--they are quick to explain and easy to play. The more complex, longer games I save for a few more weeks.

Train Wreck: Seat students in chairs in a circle. Have enough chairs for all of the participants except one. That person is in the center, and is the caller. The caller will make a statement, and everyone who fits that statement will have to find a new seat at least two seats away. (Examples: Everyone with long hair, everyone wearing shorts, everyone who has a sister.) The caller, of course, tries to take a seat, and the person who is left standing is the new caller. For the first day of school, I try to set it up so that students use descriptors that will teach us about the other students. And, of course, I explain that all descriptors must be positive! At "Train Wreck", everyone must find a new seat. It's fun, it's some movement, but it's not too crazy.

The Blanket Game: This is a game made for rainy Sunday afternoons. I first learned it as a camper myself. It sounds simple, and it is! You will need two volunteers to hold a blanket, or tablecloth, or whatever you have, making a screen between two equal teams. At your signal, each team sends someone up to right beside the blanket. The holders lower the blanket, and the two contestants try to say the other's name as quickly as possible. The first one to correctly name the other is the winner, and the other student has to go join the other team. It's fun as the size of the teams goes back and forth, and students have a real reason for learning names.

Zoom: This is from The First Six Weeks. You will need a timer. Students stand in a circle. Choose a student to be the start. At your signal, this student will turn to the right and say, "Zoom". The next student will pass the word to the right, and so on, going around and around the circle. The goal is to get the word back to the start as quickly as possible. This is great for team-building, because all members of the class are working on a common goal. Keep a poster with times to show progress! Once the class has gotten super fast (below 5 seconds is definitely possible), switch it up. What if they go to the left? Would the score be faster or slower? Why? This game is fun to play all through the first few months.

Distraction: I made up this game as I was writing The Forest and the Trees, and it's described in the third chapter. It's based on a segment on the HBO show Crashbox, and is a great way to explain to kids that they are in charge of their attention. Choose a student to read a paragraph from an informational book. (For the first week of school, the school handbook is a great choice!) While the student does this, zoom around the classroom doing crazy things--making faces, jumping on a chair, whatever you can think of that will get the students' attention. Then, when the reader is finished, stop being silly and ask five questions based on the reading. The point is for the students to try to ignore your silly behaviors and focus on what is being read. After the first round, brainstorm strategies for paying attention, and try it again. Kids can improve quickly at this. Keep the list of strategies for paying attention and refer back to it when you start teaching meaningful lessons.

My least favorite game: The one where you have to go around the circle, say your name, and an adjective that describes you, and then recite everyone who came before you. Played with twenty kids or more, this is an exercise in torture. Only one person is actually participating at a time, which leaves lots of down time for mischief. Too many Sunday afternoons of this game have led to my dislike for it!

Any other favorite first week games? Share them!

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