Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Indoor Recess Ideas to Build Literacy

Brrr! The playground is iced over and temperatures are too low for students to go outside. Many of us in cold areas are looking at many days of indoor recess. This means many days of game pieces strewn about the room and chaotic recess sessions.

   But indoor recess can be a cheerful, productive time. Here are some ideas for indoor recess that build literacy while also providing fun leisure time.

Student organized plays
   "Mrs. Kissner, can we make a play?"
   The process of writing a script, assigning parts, practicing, and (most fun!) making props can span several weeks. It's interesting to see how students try to engage with this process. Often they try to start by assigning parts. I remind them to start with a script instead. Once a script is written, they either have sign-ups or auditions. I make copies of the scripts for students and they schedule practices for indoor recess time. Kids really enjoy the process--and sometimes revel in that overwhelmed feeling that one gets while undertaking a really big project. "Oh, Mrs. Kissner, this is so stressful!" one student said to me, with a tone approaching glee. As the big performance approaches, kids go at the construction paper to make every possible prop that might be needed for their play. It's lots of fun and a good way to cope with indoor time.

    Playmobil creates small toys that don't take up a lot of room. In my classroom, these toys attract lots of attention. I keep them put away most of the time to keep them "special", getting them out for cold spells and other times when we need a boost. I have a set with knights (weapons removed, of course!), a kitchen set, and several fairy tale sets.
    Interesting groups of students gather around the toys. Over the years I've seen lots of little dramas unfold. Kids act out joint custody situations, camping adventures, and mixed-up fairytales. What's so neat is that these little toys naturally get kids to talk and share.

Mancala Tournaments
    Mancala is a great game for the classroom--widely available, easy to play, and quick. Generally, I give the tournament-organizing job to the kids who miss outdoor play the most. I guide them through the process of gathering sign-ups and making brackets. In some years, we run a beginner and an expert tournament; in other years, we just run one tournament. It depends on the skill level of the class.
    Once students sign up and the brackets are made, it becomes a great background activity. Mancala sets are borrowed from surrounding classrooms so that tournament play can go more quickly. The kids who are in charge generally supervise the games and fill in the brackets. Excitement builds as the semi-finals and finals approach! As with Playmobil, this activity draws together interesting groups of students who like to talk strategy and give each other tips.

Drawing Contests
    Recently a student wrote a story, and wanted a dragon picture to illustrate it. Instead of letting him just grab a picture from the web, though, I suggested a drawing contest. A prize of 20 coupons (our classroom currency) is at stake, with posters advertising the contest and the criteria for the illustration. Not only is this building interest in the story, but it is also giving students a chance to see multiple sides to the publication process.

    Now imagine all of these things going on at once--with a few other activities tossed in! Long days inside can be tiresome, but the right activities help to make it more bearable. What do you like to do to make indoor recess interesting? (Or, if you are not familiar with the concept of "indoor recess", please tell us what it is like to live in such a marvelous place!)

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