Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Toy Story (Part One)

My classroom is full of toys. Yep, I said TOYS. Yep, I teach middle school. Even though my kids are 11 or 12, they still love toys. Heck, I am an "almost old" lady and I still love toys! Toys are colorful, fun, and they make us smile. I have also found that they can add a spark to lessons.

Whenever I have a toy out that I will be using as part of a lesson, my students' eyes light up.

"What's that for?" they ask curiously as they enter the room. 
"Do we get to use that?" they wonder. 
"Is that for OUR class?" they hopefully question. 

There is something about toys that heightens their curiosity, and their immediate attention is mine as they silently wonder, "How is she going to use that?"

I never worry that things will be "babyish" or beneath them. Anything can work if you use it the right way. We teachers know that. We know we can make a popsicle stick or a cardboard box fun with the right plan. We are magicians! We are miracle workers!

My last post was about how I use my police toys in English class to reinforce proper writing. If you want to head back and take a look at that post in case you missed it, you can find it HERE.
I wanted to share just a few more toys from my "bag of tricks" and discuss how I use them in my classroom. Toy stores offer a wealth of teaching ideas if you just walk in with your eyes open and your creativity switched on.

I love music in the classroom. I think instrumental music is very motivating for students. I play classical music while they are working, techno music when we are having races, etc. 

One of my favorite things to do is have a "detective search." They may be searching for adjectives in sentences or underlining all nouns...whatever we are working on in class will do. While they do this, students become the detectives, and I play music as a timer for the activity. I try to make the music fit the activity, so for our detective searches, I have a favorite song. When students enter the room and see this little guy sitting at the front, they know we are ready for a detective search activity! I play the theme from The Pink Panther as students work to complete the task given. It's a lot of fun! He is kind of our "mascot" whenever we do this.
Humor is a big part of my lessons. I am always looking for toys or accessories that will make my students giggle. When we talk about writing, I do a whole unit on boring, overused words (good, bad, etc.) I have found, though, that students often want to replace these words with words that are just as boring but longer. They choose words like wonderful, awesome, etc. 

My whole lesson focuses on using words that actually give us some information. For example, instead of a "wonderful" hamburger, tell us it's a "juicy, mouth-watering" hamburger or a "flavorful" hamburger. Let us know why it's wonderful! I call these words like wonderful, terrific, etc. by the name of "boring words in disguise." They make you THINK they are better because they are BIGGER, but the truth is, they're NOT. I teach the whole lesson wearing my "teacher in disguise" glasses. They get such a kick out of it!

I also just found a very cool sound machine that I can't wait to incorporate next year! Some of the sounds are just downright funny!
Speaking of writing, we've all seen the hamburger as a model for writing an essay. The top bun represents the topic sentence and the bottom bun represents the conclusion. All the good stuff in between is the delicious part of the essay. Well, I found this great prop at a yard sale and knew I had to have it for my writing lessons!
I also look for "Dollar Store Deals" that I can use during review games. My students love the mini frisbees I sometimes use. I found the set at a dollar store, and each color represents a different team. I create some "bullseyes" to lay out on the floor, and I use the frisbees to see how many extra points each team earns. Landing on a bullseye earns you that extra point amount (whatever the bullseye is worth). If a team does not land on any bullseye, they receive the standard number of points.

You can see just how tiny these frisbees are in the photo with my finger!
I saw this idea on Pinterest for using hula hoops when creating Venn diagrams. I think my students would really enjoy it, and this is something I hope to try this coming year.

I will be back on July 31 with Part Two to share some more classroom toys with you. 
Until then, I would love to know if you have any favorite toys you like to incorporate into your lessons. 
I'd love to hear your great ideas!

Until we talk again on July 31, happy summer, friends!


  1. Wow! I LOVE all of these ideas! I want to spend a week in your class because it sounds so exciting! Sometimes we get so caught up in all of the background tasks (i.e. paperwork, meetings, conferences, etc.) that we forget to have FUN with our kids, our teaching, and their learning. Thanks for such inspirational ideas!

    1. Awww, thanks, Chrissy! :)

      I know what you mean about getting caught up in everything else! I try to make sure that we have fun every single day (even during the dreaded test prep). I feel that the only way for kids to love learning (and therefore become lifelong learners) is to make school fun.

      If it is boring and routine, I feel many of them leave school with a negative taste in their mouths for education. I want my kids to leave me with a hunger to learn more and a feeling of, "This year was so much fun that I can't wait for next year!"

      Thanks for your kind comment! :)

  2. Oh my! I love your ideas. I teach 2nd grade and I believe my kiddos would love the pink panther idea. I was looking up something that would spice learning about adjectives. I can't wait to try it. Last year, I did the Venn Diagram with the hula hoops and the kids loved it. We compared and contrast different stories in the classroom. Thanks for your wonderful ideas. :)

    1. Thank you for your kind comments! I can't wait to try the hula hoops!

      I hope your kiddos will enjoy the Pink Panther. The Mission Impossible theme is another great one for detective searches (although I tell them I am changing the name to Mission POSSIBLE because I know they can do it)! :)

  3. I know your students love your classroom and your enthusiasm. I, too, have seen the hula hoops on Pinterest and want to try it.


  4. Oh my gosh I love this so much!!! I want to start using toys now! What a great post thank you!

    x Serena x

    Magic Mistakes and Mayhem

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Serena! I think toys are a very important part of the classroom. I wish you the best as you start your own "toy story." :)

  5. Thanks for the inspiration! Sometimes teaching grammar can be a little mundane, but incorporating the Pink Panther and the police will certainly spice things up. Looking forward to Part Two. I would love to know more about the music you use in your classroom.

    1. Hi, Julie! I agree with you about the grammar. I have taught it for over 20 years, and you really have to do what you can to spice it up!

      You have inspired me to create a blog post about music I use in my classroom! Look for it sometime this summer! :)


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