Hands-On, Minds-On Activities

As you plan your next unit, consider incorporating these hands-on activities to engage every student in your classroom.

By Samantha Cleaver

Hole-Punch Practice (Grade K-1)
Materials: hole punches, strips of construction paper, glue
Cindy Middendorf, a former kindergarten teacher, recommends using hole punches to practice numbers and letters. To practice counting, students cut strips of paper, then punch a number of holes onto three strips (9 on the first, 10 on the second, 11 on the third, and so on). They glue the three strips in number order onto another piece of paper, and label each strip with the number and number word. Students can extend the activity by punching out more strips or circling groups of two, five, or ten. Teachers can write addition or multiplication problems on strips of paper and have students punch out the answers.

Word Wheel (Grade K-1)
Materials: scissors, construction paper, markers, brads
Create two circles. Cut out a small pie-slice from one of the circles, and write a word family ending (at, an, ar, etc.) on the circle, to the right of the missing slice. On the other circle, write four or five letters that complete that word family (e.g., for the at family, b, c, m, etc.) around the center of the circle. Use a brad to fasten the word-ending circle on top of the word-beginning circle. Create new words as you turn the top circle.

Clothespin Clip-Ons (Grade K-2)
Materials: wooden clothespins, paint sticks or tongue depressors, markers
To practice vocabulary words and spelling, Middendorf recommends providing students with wooden clothespins with letters written on them, and a collection of paint sticks or tongue depressors. Students use the clothespins to spell words by snapping the letters in order onto a paint stick or tongue depressor. Clothespins can also be used in math centers by writing numbers and math symbols on them, then having students put the numbers in order or create equations.

Sentence Scramble (Grade K-2)
Materials: paper with sentences and words, scissors, glue
First, create papers with sentences from a book or lesson. Provide students with scissors and glue, and ask them to cut out the words and rearrange them into new sentences. Use this activity to reinforce sentence construction, as well as to practice using familiar sight words and new vocabulary words. (Hint: To make creating new sentences easier, include a few extra sight words at the bottom of the page.)

Fast Fractions (Grade 2)
Materials: construction paper, scissors, markers
As you introduce the concept of fractions, ask each student to choose a circular food (pizza, cookie, cake, pie, etc.). Have students create six circles that represent that food. Then, show students how to draw lines to divide one circle in half, one in thirds, one in fourths, one in sixths, and one in eighths (leave one circle whole, for comparison). Then have students cut each circle to make a different fraction (1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/6, and 1/8). Show how the piece they cut out—and the piece that's left behind—represent different fractions.

Make Your Own Memory Game (Grade 1-2)
Materials: scissors, note cards or sturdy paper, crayons or markers
Judy Dodge suggests having students create their own matching games to practice what you've just taught them. Using note cards or sturdy paper, students cut squares and create matching pairs of upper- and lower-case letters, addition problems and answers, beginning word sounds and words, letters and pictures (A and an apple), or vocabulary words and definitions.

Puzzle Stories (Grade 1-2)
Materials: scissors, paper, puzzle models
Create three puzzle models that fit together. Then, have students write or draw stories or scenes, putting the beginning, middle, and end of the story on different puzzle pieces. Mix and match and see if you can make different stories with the beginnings, middles, and ends you've created.

Phonics Flip (Grade K-2)
Materials: sturdy paper or construction paper, scissors, hole punch, small 3-ring binder
Cut paper into strips. Write one letter on each strip, hole-punch the strips, and add them to the three ring binder. Form multiple three-letter words by flipping different strips to different letters. Focus on short vowel sounds, CVC words, or family words. Margo Southall, author of Differentiated Literacy Centers (Scholastic, 2007), recommends making a flip book of compound words by putting prefixes, base words, and suffixes on the paper strips. Then, students can mix and match prefixes, base words, and suffixes.

Collections and Artifact Boxes (Grade K-2)
Materials: A shoebox, materials that relate to your unit or lesson Collections help kids organize information, compile knowledge, and maintain attention on a project. Dodge recommends keeping an artifact box during each unit. Start the box with artifacts that relate to that unit, and have students add to it along the way with images, pictures, work, and objects of their own creation.

Word Sort (Grade K-2)
Materials: Note cards or cards of words, large paper mats with two or three columns drawn on them
To practice word families, initial sounds, final sounds, and more, Southall suggests using note cards and mats with two or three columns so students can sort word cards. Then, they record their words in their word-study notebook, and write a sentence about what they notice about each group of words. As your students gain sorting and writing skills, have them make their own sorting center.

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