I’ve always loved a theme: theme parties, themed events, theme days. Thankfully, my coworkers are just as nutty as I am, and we love decking the halls in whatever our current theme happens to be. The good news is that research supports teaching with themes! According to Focus on Effectiveness, choosing effective themes that relate to the students’ lives can serve as “concept glue” that bonds abstract ideas and understanding.
To celebrate our recent recognition as an Intel School of Distinction in Elementary Mathematics, we are throwing a football-themed day complete with help from Play 60 and the NFL. To get kids excited and to show off our school, the halls have been festooned with football trimmings from top to bottom. Each and every football idea is grounded in the Common Core standards and objectives we are currently teaching. I’m taking you on a trip down our hallway to see all the fun football ideas, strongly tied to core standards, which are easily adapted for your classroom. Bring on the bowl games; we are scoring a touchdown with our football theme!
Graphing is an obvious choice for displaying football data. Bar graphs, line graphs, and pictographs line the hallways, showing every football stat imaginable, from favorite football concession stand food to team scores in each season. Game time temperatures, scoring line plots, favorite team bar graphs, and more adorn the halls.
Common Core focuses on real world problems. From counting footballs and adding with number bonds in the lower grades to writing open-ended division questions mimicking state test questions in the higher ones, students apply their math knowledge to their love of the game. Younger students count by ten yard lines, find shapes on the football field, and create sports-themed patterns. Older students measure the yards they can throw a football, make comparisons, and add up concession stand foods.
Glyphs take any topic and turn it into a theme. Football players and cheerleaders hang from the ceiling all over the school. While adorable, the real meaning comes by making inferences. Lower grades record inferences for their students while older students can read and interpret data for themselves. Writing in math? That’s like getting a first down!
Fourth graders read Kickoff! by Tiki and Ronde Barber. The story shows how football can be important, but the lessons learned on the field are applicable to life and school as well. After reading the novel, many of my students sought out other football biographies and books by the twins, including the picture book My Brother's Side.
Flat Stanley went to the football game in 3rd grade, and students wrote about what they would enjoy doing on game day with Stanley by their side.
Miss Nelson and her field day helped 2nd graders study sequence of events. Younger students used their library books, cut in football shapes, to recount their favorite parts of the story, write, and share their love of reading.
Letter sounds and phonics weren’t overlooked in the football theme, either. PreK classes got in on the action, finding syllables in their names and using stars to represent each one on football helmets. Middle grades found compound words and practiced new vocabulary with graphic organizers. Throughout the subjects, reading and learning about the game abounds.
From the ABCs of Football in the kindergarten hall to expository essays on why football is fabulous, writing is evident throughout the school. Younger students practiced appropriate spacing and letter formation. Students as young as 2nd grade researched and wrote about famous players. Nearly every grade wrote about football using appropriate descriptive sentences and figurative language. Common Core English Language Arts standards require students at every level to digest information and be able to write with research and reasoning to support their viewpoint.
Fourth grade made football players and cheerleaders encasing cinquain poems to showcase their vocabulary skills. Soda facts and nacho opinions look good enough to eat on the snack bar. Fifth graders developed their own mascots and wrote about why each one would be an ideal team supporter. They also wrote main ideas on footballs, putting supporting details on each of the football laces.
Writing on labels, diagrams, vocabulary lists, and inference exercises is on display throughout the building, throughout the subject areas. That is what Common Core demands: total writing integration. Themes can help!
Connecting science and football may seem like a stretch, but committing to a theme helps students and teachers make unlikely connections. Muscles and parts of the body are important to any good football player, and labeling diagrams is a skill in itself. My class is learning the parts of a plant and the interdependence of living things. We labeled growing grass diagrams and then grew our own turf in class. Finding turf facts turned into a fun class mission.
Perhaps my favorite project of the entire theme was food webs. We were trying desperately to figure out a way to display more of our science knowledge. Leave it to the mascots to lend a hand. Students made food webs with mascots from around the country, figuring out which team would come out on top in the animal world.
What theme would be complete without a feel-good moment? Second graders have a large football field on display in their hallway with big footballs going towards the end zone. Each ball displays goals students have set for themselves. It’s an important reminder of why we work so hard to decorate the halls and celebrate our achievements. Want to see more football-y goodness? See a slideshow of 75 winning ideas from our halls.