Trouble Keeping Kids on Task?
How do you keep the rest of the class busy while you’re working with children read one at a time? These hush-hush activities will keep everyone engaged.

IF you need 5 minutes...
Give each child a pair of foam dice, or regular dice and a noise-absorbing surface, such as foam placemats or squares of fleece cloth. For children who can add, have them roll the dice and write the sum of the two numbers that come up. Keep rolling and adding until time is up. Who reached the highest number? Who had the lowest? Children who don’t know how to add and subtract yet can count the dots that come up with each roll and record the numbers on paper. In five minutes, which number came up the most frequently? The least? Not at all?

Give each pair of students a deck of cards (remove the face cards for younger children). Show them how to play the game traditionally called “War” (which you can rename “Battle of the Numbers”) where the highest card wins. But be careful! Any student who talks or makes a sound must give an extra card to his partner. Challenge students to get as many cards as they can before the five minutes are up. For a twist, change the rules so the lowest card always wins.

Distribute Geoboards and rubber bands. Have children form the letters of their names out of rubber bands.

Give students a group of attribute blocks. Challenge them to see how many ways they can group them (by size, shape, color). If there’s extra time, kids can arrange the blocks into patterns or pictures.

If you need 10 minutes...
Give each child a piece of lined paper with a blank border. Have students decorate the border with things they like about school (books, recess, science, and friends, for example), and they can eventually share their designs with the class. This personalized stationary can also be used when students write invitations to their parents for Back-to-School Night.

Hand out a blank folder to each child. Have them label it with their name and then decorate it. This folder can be used as a writing folder, homework folder, or general portfolio for the year.

If you need 15 minutes...
Maybelle Goes to Tea is an early chapter book about a lovable cockroach named Maybelle by Katie Speck, with illustrations by Paul Ratz de Tagyos. Read the first chapter and ask students to close their eyes and imagine what might happen when a cockroach shows up at a tea party sporting a pink bow on her head. How will those around her react? On their own, students should draw (and write, if they can) what they think might happen to Maybelle in the story. Later they can share their predictions with the class before you begin reading the next chapter.

Read Tomie DePaola’s autobiographical picture book The Art Lesson. Just as young Tomie once drew on the walls with chalk, give each student a black piece of paper and colored chalk and let them draw what they’d like to be when they grow up. These illustrations can be displayed on your own “chalk wall” just like the one in Tomie’s boyhood home.

If you need 20 minutes...
In Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, a mouse learns to love her unusual name again, despite being teased by the other kids at school. Pass out die-cut letters that students can use to spell their names. Have them decorate the individual letters in their names with words and pictures that reflect their personalities and favorite things (show your own example first). Tell them that they should do this “in secret” so no one else will see their designs (and to keep them from chatting). Later, they can take turns presenting their letters so classmates can learn more about one another. Display the names on the wall from ceiling to floor, beginning with the shortest names and going in order to the longest. You’ll end up with a vertical “letter” graph where kids can see how many children have three letters in their names, four letters, etc.

Read The Shivers in the Fridge by Fran Manushkin and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, a silly story about a family of refrigerator magnets. Give students die-cut ovals (approximately the size of your palm). Have them draw members of their families, one on each oval. Eventually you can laminate them and put self-sticking magnet strips on the back. On another day, students can bring the magnets to the board (or another magnetic surface) and “introduce” their families to the class.