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I have been SO looking forward to doing this episode for a couple of reasons.
First, I absolutely LOVE Halloween, and even if your school or district doesn’t allow you to even use the word “Halloween” anymore, first of all, you have my complete condolences, because I know how much fun it can be.
However, I want to encourage you because even if you can’t use the word Halloween, we’re going to talk about how you can channel the excitement and anticipation of this season that your kiddos are likely going to be feeling as they see all of the costumes and decorations coming out into some really cool October literacy projects that will really amp up your students’ engagement. The best news is that for some of these ideas, you don’t have to use the word Halloween or even use Halloween literature.
Secondly, I know that September is a VERY tough month for teachers. I know you’re likely feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, and there are probably days when you’re wondering if you can even do this.
What nobody tells you is that there is actually a rhythm to your first school year, and to pretty much every school year, and it’s this – once the anticipation of the school year ends and everyone is in their routine, you suddenly realize how very tired you actually are, and then you start wondering if you’ll be able to keep this up for the rest of the year. Sound familiar?
If this is true for you, please know that that is entirely normal, and that it will get easier. September is tough, even in years when we aren’t going through a global pandemic. 🙄
So today, I wanted to take some time to remind you why you went into teaching in the first place, and to inspire and invigorate you with some simple ideas that will help you to feel some of that excitement I know you have for teaching, but that is Iikely a little buried in your current exhaustion.
I learned a long time ago that the more I could harness the natural excitement that students feel with each changing season – and likely the excitement many of us feel with each different season – and find creative ways to incorporate that excitement into your classroom, the more engaged my students became in learning.
And here’s the other thing I’ve learned: The more excited YOU are about a topic or a project or a theme you’re going to be teaching, the kids feel that energy, they feed off of it, and the more engaged they become in learning.
So let’s talk about 5 of my FAVORITE ways to really amp up student engagement and excitement for learning in my classroom in October. I promise you, this is going to be SO much fun, and that by the end of this episode, you’re going to be all fired up with ideas and inspiration for how you can do some of these things in your classroom, too, whether you’re teaching online or in the classroom.
All right, let’s dig in and get started!
Now, if you’ve been following me for awhile, you have probably already heard me talk about my 3D, Glow in the Dark Halloween Haunted House Literacy Centers. Oh my gosh, these are SO much fun to do with your kiddos!
Year after year, no matter what grade I was teaching, from 1st grade to 5th grade, I did these Haunted House literacy centers with my kiddos and year after year they were a HUGE hit with my students.
The reason I love this project so much is because of how flexible it is. For this project, students actually create their very own haunted houses using a large paper bag and a hand-drawn haunted house, and then they decorate it with glow-in-the-dark paint. It’s so cool!I
The 6 centers that come with this product are designed for 2nd grade (CCSS.RL.2.1), asking students to answer "Who, what, where, when, why, and how" questions in response to text.
However, this resource can easily be adapted for any grade and topic (I also used these centers in 4th grade for reader response to a novel study, which worked really well!) so it can easily be used with non-Halloween books as well.
Now you might be thinking, “Hold on Lori – what if I’m teaching online?”
You are welcome to create the digital version of this product to use with your students. For the Haunted House part of the project, the kids can just download and print their haunted houses and then color them using markers and pencil crayons or crayons instead of using glow in the dark paint.
The second super fun way to keep kiddos engaged during this month is by using jokes for your morning work.
Oh my gosh, kids absolutely love to start the day with a joke, and they love it even more when those jokes have to do with monsters or skeletons or anything else Halloween related!
I created Halloween Jokes
flip books to use with my students during the first couple of weeks of October, so each day, my students would come in the classroom and there would be another joke waiting for them on the board, but the cool thing is that there are letters missing throughout the joke, so kids are working on spelling high frequency and seasonal words in context while making meaning with text in a very engaging and meaningful way.
The best part about this is that they then could take their flip books outside
at recess with them and tell their jokes to all of their friends – which is awesome because now your kids are getting extra reading practice during recess and they’re seeing the point of reading and writing in their daily lives, which is always the entire point of learning anything, right?
Now, what did we do for the last two weeks? I create a “Joke jar” in my classroom and I invited kids to bring in their own jokes that we could invite the class to solve for their morning work. The kids absolutely loved this because now THEY were the creators for our morning work, and the kids just wrote the jokes in their morning warm-up notebooks.
Now if you’re teaching online, I have also just created a digital version of
this product so kids can simply drag and drop the letters from a letter bank to solve the riddles. So that would be a super fun way to start each day with a little bit of fun in the month of October.
If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know that I’m all about creative and seasonal ways to motivate and inspire kiddos, and so for the month of October, I created something that I call my "Halloween Mystery Motivator."If you’re teaching in the classroom, this is a large poster of a Halloween scene, and you would print this out as a large poster and print a surprise class
reward behind the doors of the haunted house on the poster, and then cover it with 60 sticky notes.
Then, every day, your kiddos earn the privilege of removing sticky notes from the poster for working together and following class rules, until they’ve removed all 60 sticky notes and earn their reward.
What I love about these mystery motivators is that they last for several weeks, and you can be generous and reward your students often because there are 60 spaces on the poster, and kids love to see parts of the picture being revealed as they get closer to earning their reward. And of course, then there’s the excitement of not knowing what their mystery reward might be.
If you’re kind of stuck about what kinds of rewards your class might want to work for, especially if you’re teaching online, grab your FREE copy of a very special freebie I created just for you called 20 Awesome Online Class Reward Ideas that I know will help you to start thinking creatively about class rewards you might want to use with your kiddos.
And just a little tip – kids support what they create, so having a brainstorming session with your kiddos to list a whole bunch of different reward ideas can be a great way to not only get kids talking and excited about ideas and possibilities, but they just might come up with some ideas that you hadn’t though of. One simple reward that my kids came up with one year that was so simple for me to put together was a Superhero Party, so I make up some super cute superhero masks and printed them off using cardstock, and my kids were able to take pictures at our Superhero themed photo booth and play some superhero games. So simple and so much fun!
Now, if you’re teaching online or you’re thinking “Whoa Lori, that’s a really cool idea, the Halloween mystery motivator, but that’s a whole lot of sticky notes,” I’ve also just created the digital version of this product, so you can use it either online or in the classroom with digital sticky notes so we can all save a few trees in the process!
One of the other fun ways I’ve always found to keep kiddos engaged and inspired in learning, no matter what the season, is to keep them guessing as to what I was going to show up with next.
So for example, one year I bought a dozen party-favor monster Halloween sunglasses and I would wear a different pair each day when we either did our Halloween morning work or when we did our Haunted House literacy centers, and then I would choose one student each day who would get that pair of sunglasses.
Another year, to signal that it was time to transition to doing our Halloween centers, I would put on my witch hat, and another year, I brought out an adorable monster puppet that I had who would give the kids the directions for that day.
Whatever it is, one of the best ways to get inspired is simply by wandering the seasonal aisles in Walmart (with your mask on, of course) and choosing something that makes you laugh or that fits you and you think your students would get a kick out of. You don’t have to spend a lot of money and it doesn’t have to be extravagant, but again, having a little bit of fun and keeping kids guessing is the name of the game.
Just think of how much fun it would be to show up in a different pair of monster glasses each day when you’re teaching online? Your kids would love it!
Finally, one of my favorite ways to amp up student engagement, especially when doing writing projects or literacy centers, is to find a way to make it special.
One of the ways I do that during the month of October is to, for example, give my kiddos glowing LED rings that light up in the dark to use ONLY during writing time.
The point is to make the experience special, so they would only get to use these LED rings when they were working on their Haunted Houses, for example.
Then, each day that we worked on centers, I would choose one boy and one girl to earn and keep their rings. However, if you decide to do this, keep a class list of who’s already earned their ring so you can encourage your other students to earn theirs as well. 😊
Or, another fun way to increase engagement for writing is to invite your students to work by flashlight if you have a class set of flashlights.
Kids absolutely love to work by flashlight as a special treat, especially when they’re wearing their LED glow-in-the-dark rings. Your classroom is going to resemble some kind of a Japanese night club for awhile (don’t ask me how I know that – I spent too much time in Tokyo), but the kids sure love this very different experience in the classroom with all their friends. 😂
Now, I know that a class set of flashlights can be expensive and that this might be an item on your wishlist, so I’m going to be giving away a class set of mini-flashlights inside my Beginning Teacher Talk private FB group, so if you’re not already a member, be sure to ask to join by clicking here, because ONLY members of my FB group will be able to enter this contest, which I’ll be launching on October 1, 2020.
So, if you’re already a member, watch for my announcement at the beginning of October so you don’t miss out on all of the details!
Also, I have another special surprise for you. If you haven’t checked out my Beginning Teacher Talk TpT store, be sure to head over there and follow my store and scoop up a very special freebie I have there waiting for you:
A FREE Happy Halloween banner that you can use in your classroom or as a background when you’re teaching online. So to grab your freebie, I’d be so grateful for your support as I work to grow my little TpT store if you’d be willing to give me your vote and follow my store.
I hope you have a wonderful week, and until next time, remember: Just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one!
P.S. If you enjoyed this episode, you might also like Episode #30: 10 Best Halloween Books (And a Glow-in-the-Dark Haunted House Literacy Project)! Just click here to check it out now.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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