What do you do when you need to bring students’ energy level up—or down?
A: When my students need a change of pace we’ll often play a few rounds of “Spelling Around the World.” They love this fast-paced game, which reinforces spelling and vocabulary words and encourages paying attention and listening. Here’s how it works:
First, everyone stands up. Then I say a word that students know well. I indicate who will start, and that child says the first letter of the word. The person next to her says the next letter, and so on, continuing around the room until the word has been spelled correctly. The next person says the word and uses it in a sentence, and then we all spell the word out loud together, clapping for each letter.
Because this activity has the potential to feel stressful for some children, I do several things to keep the focus on fun and cooperation. I choose words that I know my students can spell successfully, and when I teach the game, we establish that missing a letter is not a big deal. Then, when we play I keep the game moving quickly so there’s little time to agonize or dwell on mistakes.
Christina Barker teaches third graders at Chestnutwold Elementary School in Ardmore, PA.
A: Each of my fifth grade classes has a double period of math (one hour and twenty minutes) three times a week. We take a break as needed during that time and give our bodies and brains a chance to do something different. Because I want the group to feel refreshed and able to get right back to work, I choose quick activities that we can do together. For example:
In unison, we shake our right hands 16 times while counting briskly up to 16. We do the same thing with our left hands, right legs, and left legs. Then I say “half,” and we repeat the sequence but shake each hand and each leg 8 times. I say “half” again and we do it 4 times, then 2 times, then 1 time. The whole routine takes less than a minute!
Jean Holenko teaches fifth graders at Oak Bluffs Elementary School in Oak Bluffs, MA. She is a certified Responsive Classroom consulting teacher.
A: Early in the year, I teach my students techniques for energy-channeling that they can use in all sorts of situations. For instance, to get re-focused when we’re feeling a little ragged, we take several deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. To release pent-up energy, we press our hands together—HARD—in front of our chests, or we interweave our fingers and then squeeze our hands together. Once we’ve learned a few of these together, all my students— who are as young as first graders—may use them any time they need to.
We start by practicing together. Sometimes a few children feel uneasy at first, but once they see others (including me!) doing the movements they’ll try them, and then once they feel how their energy shifts, they get excited. It’s exciting for me, too. With these tools in their repertoire, children become more self-aware and increasingly able to manage their energy without making big body movements or distracting their friends.
Megan Sheldon is a reading specialist at Rumney Memorial School in Middlesex, VT.
More ideas about how to bring students’ energy up—and down!
Jean Holenko also suggests:
Double, Double, This, That
For this hand game, students partner up, facing each other. They tap their fists, palms, and backs of hands together while chanting:
Double, double, this, this [fist, fist, palm, palm]
Double, double, that, that [fist, fist, back of hand, back of hand]
Double this, double, that [fist, palm, fist, back of hand]
Double, double, this, that! [fist, fist, palm, back of hand]
When you teach this game to your students, emphasize that what makes this game fun is doing the movements with your partner fast and accurately. Be sure to model and then have the children practice what it feels like to tap fists, palms and backs of hands in a safe, gentle way before you allow the whole class to play at once.
Megan Sheldon credits her colleague Tim, an individual paraeducator, with a strategy that worked for a particularly wiggly and distractible group of kindergartners:
“We begin every day with a ten-second routine to start us off feeling calm and collected. Tim taught the kids how to stand and do the ‘Quiet Seconds’ like this:
As they arrived from their home classroom, they stood at the door before coming in. Tim would turn half the lights off. Students would watch and join in as Tim and I (or, later in the year, a child) would count silently to ten by showing fingers. After ten quiet seconds, we took a deep breath, raised the lights, and walked to our seats to begin.
The kids seemed to appreciate this structured, predictable, visual, and kinesthetic way to take a break from our busy days. Once we finished, class began from a softer, more collected, relaxed mood. My voice softened, and so did the kids’. Those kindergarteners are my first grade reading group now, and we don’t need our Quiet Seconds every day, but we still remember how—just in case.”