Make Your Own Breakout Games

This is a pretty strange time to be a teacher. Or a student. Or a parent.

Actually, this is a pretty strange time to be anybody. 

And amid all the media coverage, trending vocabulary (like social distancing, pandemic, epidemiologist), and song suggestions for lengthy hand washing, the meme that stays stuck in my head is: Remember the days when we were terrified of romaine?

(I'd obviously go back to avoiding Chipotle's Salad vs. what we're dealing with now.)

Teachers scrambled to put assignments online, often with limited notice, resources, or guidance. And to add to the anxiety, many are also parents whose children were simultaneously becoming distance learners in their own homes. It's been rough. For many, it's still rough. If even a little of this sounds like your story, my hat's off to you and I hope you're accepting the title of hero because it fits you. Frankly, it always has.

Hmmm... I didn't plan on writing about that at all, but it's on my mind and I know you're out there and I hope you're doing ok.๐Ÿงก

All that being said, some of you are getting bored. (It is possible to be busy and bored at the same time.) You and your kids are out of your routine and there is nowhere to go. So, first, here's a Free Easter Breakout Game. Minimal prep is needed, but it's a fun boredom-buster for your own kids, as well as for your students. It's intended for children in grades 2-3, but as a "family game," older children can help younger ones with the challenges, making it a fun cooperative activity. And instead of competing with one another, they're only racing against the clock.

You know what else is a fun boredom-buster? Making your OWN breakout game. After using this one, try making one for your family or for the children you teach. 

By making your own, you can tailor the skills and level of difficulty specifically to the people who will be playing the game. And don't worry about making it high-tech. In all the Escape Rooms I've ever paid to go to with friends, we've never had access to an iPad or computer. 

If you've done breakout games in the past, then you know you can get creative with themed artifacts, locks & keys, flashlights, mirrors, magnifying glasses, riddles, and so much more, but these are the basic bones of designing your own game: 

Feeling up to it? 

You're thinking about it, aren't you? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Happy teaching!

Back to School Breakout Game

Have you ever gone to an Escape Room or Breakout with your friends? It's a lot of intensity packed into what feels like the fastest 60 minutes ever, but if you happen to beat the clock, you're the smartest people on the planet ... or at least that's what you tell yourselves in the car ride later, right?

Don't lie. ๐Ÿ˜‚

None of the Escape Rooms I've paid to do were ever appropriate for young children, but I started thinking, "These are ultimately just teambuilding activities that require a lot of creative and critical thinking ... we just have to make them kid-friendly."

They're such a fun way to practice problem-solving skills in an interactive, collaborative context ... skills even young children should be developing with encouragement and guidance. Some of the benefits include: 

• experiencing teamwork
• strengthening communication skills 
• practicing time management strategies
• solving multi-step problems
• thinking creatively 
• understanding individual accountability within a group
• learning the value of persistence and perseverance ("grit")
• resolving interpersonal conflicts

And for you? Careful observation of the entire game gives you the chance to notice and reflect: 

• Which students demonstrate leadership skills? 
• Which students seem to be encouragers? 
• Which students tend to manage materials and time?
• Are any students confusing bossy behaviors with leadership?
• Are some students uncomfortable? How or why?
• How do the children handle disagreements and conflict? 
• When a task becomes challenging, do they push through?

Being a total game nerd, I decided to make my own for young students ... a back to school version where the kids (or Special Agents) work together to find out who has the principal's missing key. 

One thing I really like about this version is that it's a No-Tech option. Everything you need is provided in the download, so it doesn't matter if you don't have iPads or continue to be faced with the world's slowest computers that spend more time "rainbow spinning" than loading the actual page you need.

But you can also make your own and there are so many fun options to play around with! Pick a theme, make up a story, decide on the content and organization, and set a time limit. Then have fun choosing props or tools to make it even more interactive, such as using mirrors with reversed text or magnifying glasses with super tiny font. You can also buy silver scratch-off stickers to conceal clues and kids can use coins to reveal the answers. Special flashlights and of course a variety of locks (keyed and combination) can add to the excitement.

This is one of the first articles I read that inspired me to make my own Breakout-style game, but there are many out there offering different ideas about how to use technology (or not), how to organize the challenges, and what kinds of props and tools to use with children.

If that sounds daunting or you'd like to try one first before venturing out on your own, I designed this one for elementary students to play as a teambuilding activity during the first few weeks of school. You can see more pieces by clicking on the link below and viewing the PREVIEW to see if it's right for you and your students. 

Try just one and I'd be surprised if you didn't decide to give it a go yourself!

Happy Teaching! :)

Makerspace Literature: Boxitects

Architect: One who designs buildings.

Boxitect:  One who makes things out of boxes. 


If you've been collecting children's literature that inspires MAKERSPACE activities, add this new one by Kim Smith to your list. (©2020) It's a fun story about Meg, a boxitect, who has a serious passion for constructing things out of old boxes. Meg loves school, and the thing Meg loves most about school is that she's the only boxitect around ... until Simone shows up. 

(Cue the villainous music.)

Jealousy, competition, and disaster ensue until the girls learn to accept their differences and work together. 

A special feature of this picture book is the HOW-TO page spread at the end of the story. The author includes a step-by-step layout (with text and illustrations) explaining how to make a castle using boxes.

Why do I like this book? 

• The main characters are girls and I think we need to make sure we're sharing examples that depict females engaged in math and science activities.

• The plot includes an opportunity to talk about conflict resolution and the benefits of teamwork and a shared vision.

• The author includes a nonfiction text feature at the end of the literary story. It's an unexpected touch and will appeal to many students. 

• It inspires MAKERSPACE activity.

Now all you need are a bunch of boxes!! (Well, and this book.)

Happy teaching!  

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez

Have you seen this new book by Andrea Beaty? She wrote these other amazing books, which I'm sure you've seen over the past few years:

Ada Twist, Scientist

Rosie Revere, Engineer

Iggy Peck, Architect

Her books empower children, leaving them feeling like they can do anything and her new book does not disappoint. In Sofia Valdez, Future Prez, a young girl notices a problem in her community and goes about taking action, knowing it won't be an easy journey. 

Her emotions run the gamut ... she feels concerned, then motivated, mad, overwhelmed, discouraged, then encouraged, determined, and finally victorious. But at no point along this journey toward a solution does she give up. And in the end, with a lot of perseverance and the support of her neighbors, they're able to create something beautiful out of something that was once a disaster.   

First of all, Sofia gets my vote for President, but that's beside the point. This is a great book for many Big Ideas you might want to address in an elementary classroom:

• Children can be empowered to take action and make changes, even in a world of grown ups. 

• Girls have a voice and can be strong and courageous leaders. 

• A proper plan and perseverance pay off. 

• Communities benefit when people work together on common goals. 

• It's important to take care of the environment and be mindful of the footprint we're leaving behind. 

... to name a few. 

If you're working on issues of teamwork, equality, activism, or environmentalism, check it out.

(Oh, and it's written in rhyme, so you might want to read it through once on your own before attempting it in front of the kids ... you know how that goes. ๐Ÿ˜‚)

You go, Sofia!! 

Make Ten: A Game for Math-Loving Kids

(Make Ten / Free in App Store)

This is one of those games I play on my phone when I'm waiting in a doctor's office or find myself needlessly and unfortunately wide awake at 3:30 AM. 

My son and I are in a not-so-secret competition for high score, but I'll never catch up because he plays it when he gets bored at school (which is a WHOLE OTHER topic of concern, but I'll save my educational reform rant for another day). 

In any event ... I was playing last night when I realized what this game offers for kids. In order to get a good score, you need:

• an understanding of various sums of ten

• spatial dexterity (the vision to rotate pairs of numbers to make sums of ten)

And once you get the hang of it, you'll see opportunities to create multiple sums of ten in one move ... which, of course, gets you extra points ... although that still doesn't give me enough to catch up to my son. #MathNerd

๐Ÿ‘ Thumbs up for this game.

Happy teaching! :)

Reusable Anchor Charts for K-2 Readers

I have a few teacher-friends who hate their own handwriting and swear they can't even draw a stick-figure. 

(I'm not sure I totally believe the stick-figure part, but I get the point.)

So you can imagine their anxiety over the thought of creating anchor charts. And seriously ... don't we all have that one teammate whose charts are museum-worthy perfection? The kind of charts with superior artistry we envy and despise? I mean admire. 

We just want them to make our charts too. Is that too much to ask? they're busy or something. ๐Ÿ™„

Here's the thing ... maybe they're not completely perfect. Right? I've been in primary classrooms before where anchor charts look more like mini-novels ... even in kindergarten where we're thrilled if they're reading leveled books with the words I can see the ... on every single page. Believe me, it is actually possible for an anchor chart to have too much information written on it. 

I attended a workshop one time where the presenter said: 

"An effective anchor chart is a lot like a billboard on the highway. It has to communicate a lot of meaning with a small amount of text. Relatable graphics are key. The sign maker has about 5 seconds to grab your attention and memory."

I know Interstate traffic and a first grade classroom aren't completely the same, but (again) I get the point and I walked away that day with a commitment to reevaluate my own charts and start the conversation: 

• Are we constructing charts that will help our students function independently?

• Or are we making super wordy, fancy charts to impress our administrators and colleagues?

If you like to draw, have zero qualms about your own handwriting, and have a gift for getting to the point, great! This blog post may not be for you. (Sorry I didn't lead with that sentence, but I just thought of it.) 

However, if you're just starting out or you need a little help bringing some clarity to your chart-making, you might like these CHART PARTS. They're ready to print and assemble with your students, and the limited text design allows you to elaborate and model in a way that supports your specific standards and style. (Plus, you can use them again and again, year after year.)

There are 35 reading anchor charts in all and each comes with an instructional planning sheet, a suggested sample of the completed chart, and all the pieces needed to construct the charts. You'll most likely still be creating other anchor charts on your own, but this set provides K-2 teachers with a wide variety of lesson topics, including:

• the structure of reading workshop
• decoding unknown words
• choosing "just right" books
• recognizing repetitive text patterns
• understanding the differences between fiction and nonfiction
• making predictions
• asking questions
• visualizing
• making inferences
• synthesizing information
• thinking about emotions
• retelling
• sharing and supporting opinions
• making meaningful connections
• providing text evidence to support ideas
• close reading
• nonfiction text features
• plot vs. theme
• cause and effect
• participating in higher-level literary discussions
• knowing how to stay engaged
• ... and more!

You can CLICK HERE to see more samples of the materials in the set and decide if they're right for you and your needs.

I love hearing ideas from people, so if you have suggestions for other charts that could be included in a future updated set, please feel free to write to me.

Happy teaching! :) 

(And don't be mean to your Perfect-Poster-Peers. They can't help it.) 

Freebie: I'm a Little Penguin

If you're planning lessons on polar animals, animal habitats ... or just think penguins are cute ... and need additional resources to integrate literacy work, you can grab this nonfiction poem at the link above. 

It's sung to the tune of I'm a Little Teapot and provides factual information about penguins, giving the children a spot to draw what they know based on the text. 

The text also provides opportunities to focus on: 

• rhyming words
• blends
• digraphs
• high frequency words
• fluency 

To extend the learning, show children how to research additional information about penguins and record new facts / illustrations on the back of the page. 

And for a little extra fun, try acting out the song ... it can be very engaging to let kids create the movements to accompany the text. 

Happy teaching! 

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