56 Technology Free Summer Activities

Recently, I asked my students what they might do during their summer vacation.  Some mentioned going to the local pool and park, but many said, "Play on my tablet all day."  After reflecting on their home lives, I realized that technology as a babysitter is a reality for many of my students.  I can't watch over them all summer, but I can send them home with ideas of things to do that don't require any technology at all. 

cover image of boy at lake, 56 tech free summer activities

All of these ideas are tech-free, require few materials, and most cost nothing.  They can be done alone or with siblings, with or without parental involvement, inside, outside, day, and night.  There is one activity suggested for every day of the week, for eight weeks, and can be done in any order. This tech-free list offers opportunities to continue practicing skills in STEM, literacy, and SEL.  While it won't keep them busy all day, my hope is that it sparks inspiration to explore and utilize the resources they have in and around their homes to create their own fun. 

free printable of 56 tech free summer activities

Feel free to save and share the image above, or click on this link to download a free PDF version.  Happy summer!




Teaching Grammar in Context with Mentor Sentences

Grammar matters! As students are tasked to read more informational text, they must decode and comprehend difficult academic language.  I've noticed that many of my upper elementary students can decode and comprehend new vocabulary words, but struggle to use them accurately in oral or written sentences.  So, in addition to teaching words and their meanings, this year I focused on identifying and using grammar in context, via mentor sentences.



After researching mentor sentences, I decided to use primarily non and historical fiction books as mentor texts.  That way, I would be able to focus on content-area vocabulary while developing grammatical skills.  When choosing a mentor sentence, I looked for sentences that specifically contained parts of speech my students needed to work on, specifically nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.  We also covered conjunctions, subject/predicate, and independent/dependent clauses.  Some of my favorite mentor texts from this school year are below, as well as how we used them: 

While working on visualizing, we learned about Jacques Cousteau and practiced past-tense verbs.
During our "Read Around the World" unit, we learned about world cultures, geography, and practiced noun types.
After reading Dragons Love Tacos, we learned and practiced adjectives.  We also worked on how-to writing, and wrote a recipe for a taco.
This was a great book to practice verbs! We also classified animals by mammal, reptile, amphibian, etc. 
During Black History Month, we learned about George Washington Carver and practiced dependent and independent clauses. 
Another class favorite was this book about Jackie Robinson, which we used to practice adverbs and possessive nouns.  
 The "typical" mentor sentence structure would be to spend one day noticing the sentence, one day identifying parts of speech, one day revising the sentence, and one day crafting a new one.  That schedule didn't work for my students, so we created our own.  

Day 1:  content vocabulary: we found images or made connections to academic words in each sentence, or throughout the book. 
Day 2: identifying parts of speech, with a mini-lesson on our weekly skill, or a spiral review.  
Day 3: finding examples of our weekly grammar skill throughout the book, grammar game (like Kahoot, SCOOT, or trashketball).
Day 4: comprehension and vocabulary mini-lesson or review.  
Day 5: writing, applying the vocabulary and grammar skill we'd learned. 

We also used non-fiction articles as mentor texts.  Readworks.org and ReadingA-Z.com are my go-to places to find appropriately leveled non-fiction passages. 

After reading about hot air balloons, we created a class chart of all the words we could think of about the subject.  While they were thinking, they had to sort them into the correct parts of speech categories. 

This was a great collaborative activity that really got them thinking! 
The students used the collaborative chart they had made about our mentor text as a word bank to help them write poems. 

Intentional, direct, explicit grammar instruction has changed my students' fluency, comprehension and writing skills so much! Because they know about plural nouns, they're more likely to notice and pronounce the /s/ sound at the ends of words.  Because they know about adverbs, their sentences are more descriptive.  Because they know about nouns and adjectives, their syntax has improved.  

As a review activity before the benchmark, we used a study guide to help us find parts of speech in a book about pirates, and they rocked it!  
Using mentor texts to teach grammar and vocabulary took a lot of prep work, but it was all worth it.  Even though we rarely did any drill style activities or grammar worksheets, my students learned to identify parts of speech in context and use them correctly in speaking and in writing.  Grammar matters! 





Jigsaw Strategy for English Language Learners

English Language Learners need lots of authentic opportunities to practice and improve their academic language, and the jigsaw method is a fun and collaborative way to do that.  

jigsaw cover image

I use the 5W's and How to teach social studies and science units.  In the pictures below, students are learning about Paleolithic, Neolothic, and Ancient Sumerians.   I start each jigsaw activity in a whole group manner, front-loading the content area vocabulary that students will be expected to know.  Each vocabulary word is assigned a color, which is continued throughout the reading.  Front-loading the vocabulary gives me a chance to review any language objectives we'll be practicing, such as past-tense verbs or common and proper nouns.

jigsaw activities for english language learners

 After pre-teaching the vocabulary, I assign students reading based on proficiency levels.  Higher proficient students may get the What or How pages, and lower proficient students may get the When and Where pages for even more visual support. 

jigsaw: assign notes

Students use a graphic organizer to summarize two or three main points from the reading. 

jigsaw: take notes

Some students write in complete sentences, others write in fragments.  Here, using perfect grammar isn't as important as comprehending the content.  I conference with each student while they are reading to make sure they're understanding the content at their proficiency level.

jigsaw: review and edit notes

The following day, students work on editing the notes they took, editing for grammar or content, depending on the need of the student. 

jigsaw: everyone shares their notes

Finally, we rejoin as a whole group and share the information we learned.  Students dictate their notes aloud one by one.  This often takes more than one class period, and is difficult at first, but with more practice it gets faster and easier! The struggle is worth it: dictating the notes they've taken gives them practice in speaking, listening, reading, and writing in the content area.  

After completing the jigsaw, my ELL students have notes about the 5W's and How written in language they can read and understand, and have had authentic experience speaking about the topic.  It's a true academic language trifecta!  

Student Centered Learning Tasks for English Language Learners


One of our district goals is to create more Student Centered Learning opportunities for all students. Truthfully, I struggled with the concept for most of our first semester. My concern was that my low and mid proficient ELL's would not know the necessary academic vocabulary needed in order to research, learn, and present on a topic.  To try it, I gave my middle school ELL’s an independent student centered learning task loosely based around our area of study, and they blew me away! If you're interested in incorporating student centered learning tasks for your English Language students, definitely give it a try!

student centered learning tasks main image

After researching various strategies such as Reggio, Montessori and Project Based Learning, I decided to create a project that would allow my students to produce content at their individual proficiency levels.  I chose two provocations that complemented our a unit of study on Early Humans, and chose them based on memorable inquiries students had made during various class discussions.  You can see the parameters for the project in the image below.

project based learning task instructions


I shared a sample project with my students to model the desired outcome.  This allowed my ELL's to see the general shape and scope, without giving away any of the content.  Creating this sample was a necessary step for my students to visually process my expectations, which were also shared via rubric.
student centered learning project sample


Although students worked mostly independently, I made sure to schedule one-on-one time during class for "status" meetings.  These quick discussions allowed me to check in on each student's progress without influencing their work.  Some of our discussions included brainstorming a list of potential research key words, certifying the validity of some images and websites, reviewing the concept of BC/AD, and helping choose a medium for delivery.

Below are three projects from my class.  The first is from a newcomer who has been in the US less than two years, the second a long-term mid-proficiency ELL, and the third a long-term high-proficient ELL.  (I should note that these three students chose to use Microsoft OneNote, while others chose to make posters.) While each project is unique and reflects the style and proficiency level of its owner, all the students achieved the desired outcome, and were able to present their learning.

visual of student work
student work 2

student work 3




All of this work was done independently, and truly reflects each student's proficiency level.  A task like this allowed my students to practice their research skills, graphic design skills, and public speaking skills.  My original concerns about scaffolding their vocabulary were addressed during our one-on-one conferences, and since they had a choice of topics and mediums, students were 100% invested and engaged in the project.  They took ownership and were proud of themselves, and immediately asked me what the next project would be.  Have you tried student centered learning with your ELL's? Leave a comment or send me an email- I'd love to hear about it!




Physical and Chemical Changes in Matter STEM Challenge

One of my teacher heroes is Miss Frizzle, whose catchphrase is "Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!" My students did just that during this changes in matter STEM challenge! Read on to see how making mistakes and getting messy created a deep understanding of physical and chemical changes in matter. (Also, find out what Miss Frizzle and Bill Nye have to do with STEM!)

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

As the culmination of our physical and chemical change unit, my students had the chance to solve a problem.  Their task? Create their own wrapping paper for a gift, using only objects found around the house.  Their wrapping paper had to include both a physical and a chemical change. 

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

I displayed my finished product (above) and then gave teams time to plan.  One of the perks of STEM for English Language Learners is that it allows students to use academic language in a non-threatening, student-centered environment. Giving students the finished product without the steps to accomplish it is another part of the beauty of STEM.  It's where the "taking chances and making mistakes" comes in, too!  (And believe me, we made lots of happy mistakes!)

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

This group had an interesting design; they wanted to create rainbow paper.  It was an excellent theory, and they worked hard to plan it out. Unfortunately, the product didn't turn out the way they expected.  I was so proud of them for taking chances and making mistakes! Even though they took a chance that didn't work, they weren't discouraged, because both students re-did their challenge that night at home! 

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

This group contained two of my lower-proficient English learners.  They had a trouble communicating their initial plan, partly due to a large language barrier.  This group definitely "got messy!" Even though they struggled with the language, they were working together to create and solve a problem, which is what STEM is all about.  

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge
Check out our wrapping paper! My kids were SO proud of what they created with food coloring and shaving cream. 

An administrator who walked by my room asked why the kids' projects didn't look like mine.  This is probably a common question among people who aren't familiar with STEM, so here's what I said, and what you can say too.  Simply put, A STEM challenge is not the same as a science experiment.  An experiment has a desired and predictable outcome, based on a question or hypothesis, and follows a series of exact steps.  A STEM challenge has a desired outcome, but it is often not predictable, is based on solving a problem, and the steps are initiated by the students. Another analogy? STEM is to Miss Frizzle as experiments are to Bill Nye! Both are excellent and engaging in their own ways.

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

This Miss Frizzle style STEM challenge was lots of fun! In addition, it was as an assessment of my students' knowledge of physical and chemical changes in matter.  The hands-on experience and usage of academic vocabulary in context created deep and enduring understanding of the content.  Answering the questions on the "evaluate" part of their challenge sheet gave them the chance to practice writing in science, which is another difficult skill.  STEM challenge for the win!

Do you do STEM challenges with your ELL's? My students are hooked and can't wait for the next one!

 



December Carolers Bulletin Board

I love holiday bulletin boards! There is just something extra special about them, especially when they share a warm message.  I'm not sure how I'm going to top last year's caroler bulletin board, which is definitely one of my favorites.


We started by making our carolers.  My original template came from Elementary AMC, but I modified it to suit our bulletin board. If you'd like the tracers I used, click here! 



Students chose their face tone, hair color, scarf and sweater colors, and used a template to trace and cut. Click here for the templates!



Meanwhile, I printed out the letters and glued them to cardstock.  I chose to use "The best way to spread JOY and CHEER is singing loud for all to hear," instead of the traditional saying from the movie Elf, since we have many students who don't celebrate Christmas.  This saying was more inclusive to all of our learners.



I spaced out the letters and carolers in the hallway, and stapled them up.


Extras that didn't fit were displayed on my door. 

The students and staff at my school LOVED this bulletin board, and I hope yours do too!




4 Ways to Make Spelling Meaningful

Hooray! Your students can spell their words after studying them all week and testing on Friday.

But can they use them? Students who are struggling readers may do well memorizing a list of words, especially if they are related in a word family.  But if they can't read them in context, tell me what they mean, or use them in different forms, what have they actually learned?  How are you making spelling meaningful? Below are four strategies I use to make spelling words meaningful and enduring for all the learners in my class.

1. Give students the choice

The average spelling list for students in grades 2-5 is 20 related words per week.  Some programs add challenge words, too.   Instead of having them learn all 20 words, my students choose 7 of the words THEY want to learn. In addition, they choose the homework THEY want to do.  Those two simple changes have made my students look forward to spelling, rather than dreading it. The logistics of giving students choice for their spelling words can be overwhelming, so clear expectations are key.  My students know they have the freedom to choose their words and their homework, and in doing so, they've gradually begun to take more risks in choosing more difficult or unknown words.

student choice for spelling lists


2. Create student centered learning

Since my students choose their own words, and homework assignments, they are choosing their own path to learning.  During our spelling introduction on Mondays, I conference with each learner to quickly discuss the words and their meanings.  During our test on Fridays, I conference with them again to assess their learning.  In addition to creating enduring understanding, I'm also creating strong relationships with  my students.

3. Connect to classroom skills

Throughout the week, while we are practicing our focus grammar skill, I'll ask a student to use their spelling word in an example.  My students are experts on 10 Finger Sentences, and I challenge them to create one using two or more spelling words.  Their weekly test connects our grammar skills and spelling skills together, and is an excellent formative assessment.

individualized spelling test
During this test, they had to circle the subject and underline the predicate.

4. Let them take ownership

 When it's test time, each student meets with me to write their words in traditional dictation format.  Once finished, they must write a sentence for each word, as well as identify the week's grammar skill in each sentence.  Meeting with me as individuals makes the spelling test feel a little more special.  I'm able to check in with each student on a personal level for a minute or two, and for some, that makes all the difference.

individual spelling conferences


I'd love to hear how you make spelling meaningful in your own classrooms!





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