No two days are alike in any elementary classroom. Students buzz with activity, moving in and out of projects and conversations like busy bees.
But there are ways to include some consistent (but not very time-consuming) activities each day that teach important skills and help establish the tone for work time. Here are my favorites.
This can be as simple as everyone reciting a pledge (like the Pledge of Allegiance) or having one student recite a poem. It can be the very first thing you do each day, as a signal that school time is starting.
I like to follow the recitation with a song. Since the American national anthem has some pretty high notes, I have used “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” successfully for years. But it can be any song, not just a patriotic song. You might want to ask children to suggest a song each day.
3. Write the date
One great way to teach the form and punctuation of writing dates is to have the children write them out every day. On a dry erase board, write the day’s date, like this: Today is Monday, August 31st, 2015.
This simple sentence teaches capitalizing rules (beginning of sentence, days, months), use of commas, end marks (period), ordinal numbers (adding “st” to “31”) and of course orients students to the current day, month, and year.
After it’s written on the dry erase board, have each student copy it down. Older children can write it in cursive. A month or so into the year, older children might want to actually be the ones to write the date on the board for their classmates.
4. Edit a sentence
Next to my small dry erase board for the date, I have a larger one where I write sentences, incorrectly, that the students must edit. While you can find books full of editing sentences at teacher stores, it’s easy enough to think of your own or get them from classroom materials or books.
For 1st grade: Write a short sentence and leave the beginning word un-capitalized and leave off the end mark (period, question mark, or exclamation point).
For 2nd grade: Write a medium-length sentence and include several un-capitalizations (beginning word of sentence, a proper name of some kind). Leave off the end mark and a comma or two. You can also misspell a word or two.
For 3rd grade on up: Anything goes. Leave out quotation marks, capitals, commas, and make any other mistakes you can think of.
The beauty of using a dry erase board for this is that it’s a) easy to change the sentences every day and it’s b) easy to edit.
To edit, ask the children, by grade, what mistakes they see and then have one or two children correct them with a different colored dry erase marker. Use conventional editing symbols – three lines under the missed capitals, add punctuation marks and circle them, circle misspelled words and spell them correctly near the misspelled word.
You don’t want them to erase the mistakes and just write the sentence correctly on the board. They’ll learn far more from seeing the corrected mistakes.
After the sentence is completely edited, have each child write the sentence for their grade level correctly on their paper.
5. A group presentation
While much of the work in Elementary is divided by age group or grade, there are always presentations given to the group. Sister Mary (my trainer) said it this way: “Math and language should be done by level; cultural presentations should be done for everyone.”
Make sure you are doing at least one group presentation every day. Nice ones for the beginning of the year are The First Great Lesson (coming of the universe), Parts of a Plant, the Continent Map, and Land and Water Forms.
Yes, this will be a review for the older students. But I find that each year they notice something new or are ready for a new level of information. As well, this kind of repetition solidifies the information they’ve already received.
6. Silent reading
I am a huge fan of reading of any kind, but I find that not much time is spent in silent reading. When introducing this kind of reading time, make it clear that students can pick their own reading materials as well as choose their own place to sit.
It’s tempting to use this time to straighten or prepare for lessons, but I find it very calming to sit down with the children and read during this time. It’s a great way to model the love of reading to them in a concrete way.
7. Reading aloud
I wish I knew where I had read this (it was years ago) but I remember reading a story of a principal put in charge of an at-risk school where grades and test scores were low. At the end of his first year, the students’ performance had improved dramatically.
Someone asked him what changes he made in the curriculum, and he shocked them when he said he hadn’t made any changes in the curriculum at all. Maybe he hired better teachers? No, he didn’t do that either.
What he did do was institute a 30-minute read aloud time at the end of each school day. He didn’t tell the teachers what to read, just that they had to read aloud to their classes for 30 minutes each day. That was it.
Most of us don’t see the results of reading aloud quite that dramatically, but we do know them to be true. I’ve outlines the benefits of reading aloud to children already, and I hope you’ll be able to implement that in your school time. Even once a week would be a good thing.
Hopefully you’ll find a way to work some of these ideas into your daily routines. Let me know what kind of results you see!