First Name Graph

Standard Met: CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.C.6

What You Need: Beach ball, index cards, marker, pocket chart or chart paper

What to Do: “There are so many different skills that go into a First Name Graph. The activity allows kids to start interacting with new friends at the beginning of the school year!” says Jaime Miller, who teaches kindergarten at Frances Willard Elementary School in Kansas City, Kansas.

Miller begins by having students sit in a circle and take turns rolling a ball to one another. When the ball is rolled to a child, he or she must tell the class his or her name. Once they have all introduced themselves, Miller hands out index cards with her students’ names on them. These name cards will be used throughout the school year as they work on their classroom First Name Graph.

“They love to share with the class how many letters are in their names and compare whether each one’s name is longer or shorter than others’ names,” says Miller, who blogs at A Spoonful of Learning.

Miller then integrates the name graph into her weekly lessons. Each week, she focuses on specific letters of the alphabet. As part of the activity, she has students visit the First Name Graph with their name cards. Once at the graph, they must determine whether their names contain the letter or letters of the week. Miller also asks students to count how many of them have the letter or letters of the week in their name.

Apple Taste Test

Standard Met: CCSS.Math.Content.K.MD.B.3

What You Need: Three types of apples, knife, plates, napkins, construction paper, graph paper, chart paper, pencils, crayons or markers

What to Do: Sharing a healthy snack during the first days of school can be an excellent way to get kids comfortable with their new surroundings—and slip in a math lesson. Sarah Moellering, a kindergarten teacher at Carman Trails Elementary School in St. Louis, hosts an apple tasting. “There is nothing better than a taste test. It was a real surprise how many kiddos hadn’t tried different kinds of apples. Their sour faces were the best!” she says.

Before Moellering distributes the apples, she explains that students will be doing a taste test to decide which of the three types—e.g., Granny Smith, Red Delicious, or Golden Delicious—they like best. She then hands out plates and napkins to each student as well as a few slices of each type of apple. She encourages students to describe what it is they are tasting: Is the apple sweet or sour, or is it both?

After they’ve tasted all three types, Moellering has students draw a picture of their favorite apple, as well as write or draw three reasons why it is their favorite. Students share these with the class. Then, together, they tally and record the results on chart paper.

As an extension, Moellering distributes graph paper and has her students write the different types of apples at the bottom of their paper. After determining how many boxes will be considered a unit (three boxes up and across, for example), she has students graph how many students liked each type of apple.

“This was one of our first introductions to graphing and my kiddos did great!” she says.

Heads or Tails?

Standard Met: CCSS.Math.Content.1.OA.C.5

What You Need: 10–15 pennies per pair of students, chart paper, small dry-erase boards, markers

What to Do: Getting students to work together is a wonderful way to break the ice during those first few days of school. Anne Gardner, a K–3 RtI Teacher at Nathan T. Hall School in Newark Valley, New York, has her students play money-based math games. “Most kids have coins available at home, and they are highly motivated to learn about money! So, I love to use coins in math games.”

Gardner, who blogs at Common Core Connection, has her students pair up to play the Heads and Tails game. To begin the game, one partner calls either heads or tails. The other partner drops the coins. The student who calls heads collects all the coins that land heads up. The student who has tails collects the tails-up coins.

Next, Gardner distributes dry-erase boards and markers (you can use paper and pencils). Students split their coins into two small piles and add up the coins in each one. They then write an addition number sentence on their dry-erase boards using the two figures. The child who has the highest value wins the round. Encourage students to play several rounds, taking turns calling heads or tails and dropping the coins.

Once the rounds have wrapped up, have students share their final figures. On chart paper, show the difference in numbers. For example, if the winning student had a final figure of 10 and the losing student had a figure of 5, show that the difference is 5 by writing the equation 10 – 5 = 5. Have students play the game periodically in the weeks to come. To explore concepts around graphing, have them graph the winners and the difference by which they won. Once a unit of measurement is decided upon, students can do this on graph paper by themselves or you  can create a classroom bar chart.

“The game is so flexible,” says Gardner. “Students are reinforcing counting skills and can play variations of the game as they learn increasingly complex math skills.”

Classroom Colors

Standard Met: CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.5

What You Need: My Many Colored Days, by Dr. Seuss; chart paper; white construction paper; markers

What to Do: Melissa Clancy, a literacy specialist at Katharine Lee Bates Elementary School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, creates a Favorite Color Classroom Chart to get kids learning about one another as well as data collection and graphing.

Clancy, who blogs at Joyful Learning in KC, sets the tone for the activity by asking her students to wear their favorite color on a given day. 

On the day of the activity, she reads a book such as My Many Colored Days to get children thinking about color, and the meanings and feelings associated with various colors. Next, she distributes white construction paper and markers and has students draw a quick self-portrait of themselves wearing their favorite color. Clancy asks them to write their names (or initials) on their drawings.

To create the Favorite Color Classroom Chart, she labels a sheet of chart paper (depending on class size you may need two or three, or you may choose to use a bulletin board). She writes out the names of the colors represented and leaves space to stack the drawings below each label.

Clancy then hosts a class discussion where children share their favorite color and place their self-portrait on the class chart. She asks them to count how many students like each color in total, taking note of which color has the most fans and which has the least.

“I love how this came out. I was not planning on doing this graph, but a child said, ‘Mrs. Clancy, we wore our favorite colors. Now what?’” 


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