Matchmakers: Creative Ways of Forming Groups

I’m always looking for different ways of forming groups either for teams in games or for class projects/presentations. I like to make sure that not everyone is always working together with their friends. In a book called Energizers and Other Great Cooperative Activities for All Ages (Quest Books, 1991) I hit the jackpot. I know it’s an old book but good ideas are good ideas. I found these to be a great alternative to “Choose Your Own Partner” or randomly drawing names on popsicle sticks, etc. Not only did these provide a nice break or “energizer”, they were so entertaining that people forgot to complain about their groups!

Line ‘Em Up

Have the class line up in a single line according to the following criteria:

  • by age
  • by length of hair
  • by the time they get up in the morning
  • by how long they’ve lived in the community

Once in a line, you can then simply count off depending on the number of students you need in a group (ex 5).

Group Puzzlers

  • Select a picture from a magazine for each group you need (ex. If you need 5 groups, you then need 5 different pictures). Cut each picture into the same number of pieces as group members needed and mix all the pieces together in a container.
  • Students each draw a piece from the container and must then find others with pieces of the same picture. When they find each other, they must then put their pictures back together again.
  • *Make sure to select pictures that are distinct from one another.

Stone Soup

  • Fill a pot with groups of common items-the same number and kind of objects as the number of members needed in each group. You could use small rocks, jacks, marbles, squares of fabric, paper clips, paper umbrellas for drinks, etc.
  • Have each student draw an item from the pot. Holding up their selections, they mingle and find their fellow group members who have also chosen the same object.

Classroom Management Tools

As a supply teacher, I was constantly in and out of different classrooms on a daily basis. I found so many great ideas that I knew I would use (or modify) when I got my own classroom. I believe that classroom management is key! It not only helps students feel that they are in a welcoming classroom, but it also diminishes the behavioural problems that could occur in any of our classes today. I created a monitoring device in my classroom to help with my classroom management. I have placed each students’ name on a piece of paper, that has been laminated with a magnet on the back. Students are responsible for moving their own name on the chart throughout the day. On my whiteboard, I have made a small area that has 4 boxes, which are labelled: I’m Here and Ready to Learn, We Missed You, Washroom/Drink Break, and On a Mission.


Each morning, students will move their name from We Missed You (those names that stay here are because the students are absent from school) to I’m Here and Ready to Learn. By using this, it makes it very easy to quickly look at the board while completing the attendance and knowing immediately who is and who is not at school. Whenever students need to go to the bathroom or get a drink, they move their name to Washroom/Drink Break, and when they return, they put their name back to I’m Here and Ready to Learn. This is a great tool to use when other students ask to leave the classroom, you can take a quick look at the board and see whether any other students are out of the room (as we have a rule that only 2 students from each class are allowed to leave the room at a time). Likewise, if students are out of the room “On a Mission” such as dropping off the attendance, getting something from another classroom, etc. then they will move their name to On a Mission. Upon returning to the classroom, they move their name back to I’m Here and Ready to Learn.

My students really seem to enjoy using this chart as well. Students can work on their self-regulation by moving their own name to whatever box they need to. I have had a lot of teachers in and out of my classroom as coverage, and they all enjoy using this chart as a monitoring system. Many other teachers have also adopted using this in their own classrooms and I hope you do too.

I also created an anchor chart to remind my students what they need  to do every morning. It is October, and my students are FINALLY getting into the routine, however, it did take quite some time. After the first week of school, I got the idea to create a Morning Routine anchor chart that helped students remember what they need to do in the morning upon entry.

Getting to Know your Students

At the beginning of the year I complete some activities about the classroom environment. I look to build a community environment highlighting the classroom is as much theirs as it is mine. We completed a few activities but I wanted to share this particular one because the student responses really helped me understand and get to know them.

One of the activities we did this year was we talked about keeping the good in and the bad out of us in order to do well at school. We had a conversation about what helps us do well at school and what keeps us from doing well. Some responses about what helps us do well at school were: healthy eating, sleeping, completing homework, asking for help. Some of the responses about what bad things can keep us from doing well at school were: being late, not completing homework, eating bad, not getting enough sleep, bullying, people being mean, depression, anxiety.

The last two responses were comments which really made me pay attention to who said them. I immediately contacted the guidance counselor, informed the administration, and spoke to last year’s teachers. These two comments (from two different students) have helped me with my approach to the students. It made me remember, no matter what community you are in students could have a hard life and have a variety of family/life situations to handle. It reminded me of the need to make that connection as a person with the students.

Getting back to the activity; after our lesson, the students got into groups and traced one student in the group. Then as a group, they wrote what helps them to do well at school on the inside of the body and what keeps them from doing well on the outside of the body. The students really enjoyed the activity and every class (from grade 5 to grade 8) has asked to complete the activity. We have the final products hanging in the class as an everyday reminder. This year, I decided to not complete the activity with my prep classes but I will consider it for next year.

Setting Up My Grade 3 Classroom

A week and a half before school started, I accepted a Grade 3 LTO position at Joshua Creek Public School in the  Halton District School Board. As this was my very first experience having to set up my classroom and start the  school year off with my own class, I was a bit nervous yet very excited. I spent numerous days setting up  classroom, from bulletin boards, to desk groupings to our classroom library. I never knew how much time this  can take, but I feel it is key to have a welcoming class for student arrival.

How did I create a welcoming classroom?
* Posting a “Welcome” sign on my door with my name (Ms.  Pryde), room number (RM 25) and class designation  (3-1).  My welcome sign had frogs on it,  so I also wrote a catch  phrase of “Leap Into Learning”, and had small  frogs posted  on the door with each students name written on them
* Having students names posted on their locker and desks,  so they knew where to put their belongings
* Having colourful colours on my bulletin boards
* Labeling the classroom with pictures and words, so all students know a) where they can find things and b)  where things go (i.e. pencils, markers,         rulers, dictionaries, pencil crayons, erasers and I also labeled the  book bins in our classroom library)
* Created a central meeting place, which includes a carpet for students to be seated at

 As my school is a TRIBES school, I put my students in groups- 4 groups of 5 students. I also tried to ensure that  each group had roughly the same number of boys and girls (luckily, I was quite successful at this as I have very  close numbers of boys and girls). 

While setting up my classroom, I envisioned the different uses of my  classroom. So, I included a central meeting carpeted area with an easel  for modelled and shared instruction, as well as a comfortable place for  community circle or reading independently (or with a partner). I also set  up my guided reading table with chairs for my students. Textbooks,  dictionaries, classroom library books, clipboards, math manipulatives  and indoor recess games are placed on the shelves which are at student  level. I set up our listening area, with a stereo, audio books and  headphones, as well as a place for our classroom computer.

Overall, I was very pleased with my classroom setup, although it was a lot  of hard work! Luckily, my students really enjoy our classroom and I know  that all my time and effort was well worth it!


Getting Started In A New Grade and School

As I return to blog about my experiences this year, I have a different perspective of some of the challenges that September brings. In addition to a new program (Full-Day Kindergarten), I am also at a new school. The change is exciting, but learning the culture and practices of a new school takes time, as occasional teachers know all too well.

During the first week I was focused on creating an inviting and supportive environment for all the new students, and with staggered entry the number of students grew each day from 17 to 26. However, I was also getting accustomed to the many bells (bells for students and bells to remind teachers of duty), locating printers that were close to my classroom for print jobs, and learning school protocols for various incidents.

In addition to Carmen’s good advice in the previous post, I would like to add:

  • Be flexible. We love to plan, however flexibility is needed throughout the day dependent on the needs of the students, your colleagues, and your administration.
  • Be innovative. You may not have the materials or resources that you want for your ideal program, so draw on your own creativity and innovation.
  • Have a sense of humour. When things go array, see the humour and enjoy the laugh.
With Phase III of the Full-Day Kindergarten program being launched at my new school, we are all adapting to the unexpected. It helps that we communicate daily on what is working to establish consistent routines for entry, lunch hour, and dismissal in all the FDK classrooms. My classroom was previously a Special Education classroom. I set up the room with limited resources and furniture, though it is expected to arrive soon. We are waiting for a carpet, chairs, easels, and kitchen units for the drama centre. However, some creative borrowing has provided the necessities for the first few weeks of school.
I am attaching a photo of my room (15) before the make-over to a Full-Day Kindergarten room. Then I will post photos as the room evolves with materials, resources, and the children’s work. If anyone is interested in ideas for centres, let me know and I can also add a specific post in response to a question.
Room 15 (Before becoming a FDK room)

Getting Ready for the Art of Teaching and Learning

If you would thoroughly know anything, teach it to others. –Tryon Edwards

As I headed into my classroom today to set up our learning environment for this year, I stood in the middle and looked around at the space which, in a few days, will be filled with curious faces wondering what this year will be like.  A teacher candidate who was helping me mentioned that any advice I could give her would be appreciated because right now, it all seemed a bit overwhelming.  I told her that there are a few things I have come to know for sure about teaching and learning and proceeded to share them with her.  At the end of our conversation she had a big smile on her face and looked so much more at ease!  The truth is, my advice was simple.  Everyone knows it, but it’s sometimes forgotten as we go through our busy teacher lives!  Here are a few things I shared with her:

1. Connect!  Life and learning are about connections, to each other and to the world around us.  If you put in the effort to really connect with your students and create learning opportunities where they explore the connections within the world around them through cross-curricular activities, the learning environment will be charged with an energy that keeps students engaged and willing to take risks as their learning progresses.

2. Start small.  The journey to becoming a great teacher begins with mastering one aspect, topic, or subject at a time.  Choose one (or if you’re very courageous, two) areas to focus on this year to really explore, practice, and begin to master.  Become the best possible teacher in your chosen area of focus.  Celebrate your learning and success!

3. Become resourceful.  No one who has become great at what they do reached their peak without some guidance and support from mentors.  Network and reach out to teachers, administrators, support staff and anyone else who may help you on your path of professional development.  Contact the bloggers on our site!  A useful resource is the “Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning” to get you started this year.

Teaching isn’t always easy.  That’s a fact.  But the journey is well worth it when you realize the potential you have to inspire students, parents, staff, and the community around you.

Below you will find a few items that may be useful for the start of the year (some of which appear in the “Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning” resource.

BT Building effective Classrooms

curriculum night information newsletter

september wanted poster

my t-shirt and summer shorts

In a Million Words or Less…

if math were

grade 6 student intro letter

grade 6 math introductory letter

grade 6 homework newsletter

grade 6 first week newsletter

Heart Picture

I got the job and school starts in a few days….. now what?!

A post for beginning teachers who JUST got the job.

First of all, Congratulations!  Your Principal has seen your dedication, skill and dedication to teaching and has chosen you to become a member of the school community and guide these young learners.  It’s a great feeling of excitement and adrenaline but it’s also often laced with a twinge of anxiety over where to start.  As a teacher who has been teaching in LTO positions for the last few years, I understand what it feels like to go from completely uncertain, “do I even have a job?” to hitting the ground running,  “I have 3 days to set up my class for the year???”  in a matter of seconds and with only a few days before the first day of school; sometimes with little direction.

Many new and beginning teachers find themselves in this situation. Contract postings are available throughout the summer, but Long Term Occasional postings and some contracts often  come up during the mid-to-late August, which means that candidates are being interviewed a week or two before the first day of school, and are  discovering their new school and grade merely days before the school year starts.  This can be a little intimidating for new teachers who are new to a school, have few resources in their bag of tricks and don’t have the explicit or implicit knowledge of what needs to be done to ready yourself and your students for a new school year.

I have found myself in this position a few times now, and have learned (often the hard way) some practical tips and tricks that will make my classroom infrastructure a little less chaotic and a little more seamless for transitioning to a new school, new grade and new classroom.  I’m here to help and expand on Before School Starts,  Chapter 2 of THE HEART AND ART OF TEACHING AND LEARNING: PRACTICAL IDEAS AND RESOURCES FOR BEGINNING TEACHERS (ETFO, 2011).  I’ve compiled a list of things you should consider doing (and I wish I knew during my first year) in the days before school starts/during the first week as well as practical solutions for what to do in the event that you are missing the tools or information you need:


Do you have… If the answer is no…
  • A room key, class list, timetable and supervision schedule?
  • Speak with the office staff, administrator and caretaker
  • The basic supplies (i.e. pencils, masking tape, staples/stapler,  pencil sharpener , chart paper, markers, notebooks, paper,  glue, scissors, rulers, construction paper, file folders ) to start you off?
  • First make a list of the things you need to get you through the first week or two. Ask the office staff or administrator for some staff email addresses so that you may begin the ‘beg and borrow’ process.
  • Then obtain the Stock Order Catalogue from the office staff so that you can place an order for the things that you need and can’t access. If the catalogue is too intimidating, ask a teacher in your grade (or a grade close to yours) for a copy of their order lists to see what they order as class necessities.  Looking at the supply lists for other classes may help you conceive of what you will need and it will save the precious time you have.
  • Enough desks or work spaces for the students?
  • Speak with the caretaker or include the number of desks and tables in your ‘beg and borrow’ email to other teachers.
  • Peruse the halls of the school. Often teachers will leave furniture out in the halls that they no longer need.  Ask before taking!
  • Peek into other classrooms for ideas and refer to pages 26-30  in  “The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning” for some ideas and inspiration
  • The emergency procedures (i.e. for Fire and Lockdown)?
  • If you can’t find any information in the classroom, ask a neighbouring teacher and make a copy of theirs or ask the office staff for help.  Include a copy of your class list, pencil and paper,  label it “Emergency Folder” and hang it by the classroom exit ( I use a pushpin and a binder clip).   I find this helpful to get out of the way early in my set-up because there is usually a fire drill during the first week of school.
  • Textbooks or teacher guides in your classroom?
  • Ask around. Your school may have a resource room where teachers may sign out the shared resources, or another teacher may have them sitting in their classroom already. You may need to include a request for this in your ‘beg and borrow’ email to teachers.
  •  Books for the students to read?
  • Go to the school library or email the librarian to help compile a variety of books for the students to enjoy during the first week.
  • Think about including a request for ‘book donations’ for used books in your first news letter to parents to build your classroom library.
  •  A computer?
  • Find out where the closest one is so that you can type up class lists and do your timetabling at school
  • If you have a computer in your classroom and it isn’t set up, contact the teacher-librarian or board technology help desk for how to log-in and connect to printers in  the school.
  • A place to store the students work?
  • Think about using classroom budget to purchase plastic bins, or plastic storage drawers for storing some of the students’ work books.  I found that sometimes relying on students storing their work in their desks can be a bit of an organizational nightmare, especially in the younger grades, as students can often ‘forget’ which folder is which and spend a lot of time looking for it. It also makes it easier to collect the student work when it comes to assessing their workbooks.
  • Find containers that can be used for storing class supplies for the students’ easy access (pencils, rulers, scissors, pencil crayons).  It may be an empty soup can for storing pencils, or you may wish to purchase some smaller baskets and label them. It will save you a lot of running around if the students can independently locate the things that they need in the classroom.


I have figured out that these ‘basics’ are a priority in helping me to orient myself for my new school, classroom and what’s to come in the days approaching the first day of school (and during the first week of school, if you don’t have the luxury of a few days). There is more to do (which I will expand on in subsequent posts), but you will be busy over the next couple of days accomplishing all of these things first,  for a smooth start.

Don’t worry as much about the frills and how to beautify the classroom, that will come with time and  it will reflect the classroom community. Try not to compare how your classroom looks to neighbouring teachers. Many of them have been at this a lot longer than you! You were chosen for the position because you are the best candidate for the position, and you will bring knowledge, your experiences and heart to your classroom and your students. Remember that there is a big learning curve with every new school and each grade that you will teach, and with some direction it will get easier…you will be amazed at how much you will learn and how much you will grow this year.

Congratulations again and best of luck over the first couple of weeks!


Samantha Perrin


Starting Anew

Every school year is an opportunity for a new start for all teachers. Whether it is getting to know new students, new staff and teaching partners, or even a new classroom. This September I am experiencing all three, and after the first week of school I am just beginning to reflect on all the change. I am welcoming the renewed energy (after a very relaxing summer) and the challenges that teaching brings.

In the last week of August, I took the time to think about the classroom environment and what changes I could make to create an inviting and inclusive environment for the children and for me. Although it is a Grade one and two class, I want the students to have areas/learning centres that will encourage inquiry and collaboration. So, I started with a new layout that includes a reading corner, an art studio, and a math centre using cozy corners and spaces with shelving along the walls. Then I made two groups of six desks, one group of four desks, and added two round tables (I would have preferred round tables for all the students, but had to improvise with what was available). There is a place for individual book bins and pencil/materials trays for the students to access easily, so they don’t have to keep anything in their desks (allowing for flexible seating throughout the day). On the first day of school, I let the children sit wherever they want and place their “portable” name card at their desired spot. It was interesting to observe that all of the children, except one, kept the same seat all week!

Our first weeks together in Room 3 are important for creating an inclusive space and building our classroom community. We are learning about one another with Tribes activities, such as passing an inflatable globe and sharing “What’s important in my world?” Last week, we read the book One, by Kathryn Otoshi, which recognizes differences and encourages kindness and inclusion (already deemed a favourite by the kids). In their tribes, the children used watercolour paints to demonstrate their own feelings and connections to colour. These paintings are displayed in the classroom to remind us of our own similarities and differences. Otoshi’s book continued to inspire us through the week as we shared personal experiences about feelings at the carpet before writing about them in our Writing Workshop.

Despite a few hiccups for the grade ones learning new routines and adapting to a full day of school (a few tears at lunch time), I think the first week was a good first step for the new school year.