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Mr. Hooker’s Winter Guide for Heating Up Learning in Your Classroom

It’s cold and dreary outside. There’s the smell of snow or musty wetness attached to all your students as they come in from the weather. The dreaded “indoor recess” phrase is on everyone’s minds but what is a teacher to do? How many episodes of Koo Koo Kangaroo can kids dance to on GoNoodle? I mean, what’s the limit?

Worry not! Below are a collection of fun, engaging, and interactive ideas to get your students moving, grooving and learning in a different way. Many of the examples below are meant for classrooms that might only have access to a few devices and around the idea of mixing both hands-on with digital interaction.


Create an “Amazon Box” Village 

The days that follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday can only mean one thing….TONS of boxes from the company with the little smile on it. As our houses fill up with these boxes filled with holiday joy, why not take advantage of all this material as a teacher? On Monday after Thanksgiving break, send a message home to parents to send in those boxes! (As a parent with an office full of these, I’m happy to comply)

Have some left over boxes? Put them to use!

Drawing inspiration from the Caine’s Arcade documentary, have students bring in a handful of boxes of varying sizes in order to design a small village. Each student will design a place of business and tie in components of financial literacy. Then, using markers, construction paper, glue and scissors, they’ll design their building facade and discuss its placement with the village commissioner (a student elected by the class). Students can write advertisements for the local village newspaper advertising their goods and services (tying in language arts) and even make commercials that can be tagged on the buildings using FlipGrid’s new Augmented Reality tool.

As the winter break approaches, slide the desks to the side of the classroom and layout your village for all to enjoy! Students can even record “flyover” tours of their village like those found in Apple Maps or even design their own mini-virtual realty tours using panoramic photos in Google’s Tour Creator.


Make a Virtual Realty Holiday Scene

It is important for students to understand that the holidays are much more than just Christmas or Hanukkah. Why not have students research the many different cultural celebrations of the holidays and then use a tool like Panoform.com to have them draw out a virtual scene?

As a teacher, this is a great mix of both analog and digital tools as you print out the grids from Panoform and discuss how items will need to be laid out to go from a 2D worksheet to a 3D virtual world. Students place important items from their holiday celebration throughout the grid then upload it to any device via the web to enjoy the new virtual world.

When everyone is finished, take a virtual gallery walk of each scene and have students explain the items they place in their virtual holiday celebration.


Use Brain Breaks to Open Up Creativity and SEL Skills

Most of the sessions I do at schools or conferences involve a WIDE variety of brain breaks. While movement in general is a good thing for awaking the brain (especially on a dreary day of no recess), many of these brain breaks also stimulate thinking while enhancing 21st Century skills like collaboration and communication. Here’s just a few of my faves that are good for any age or classroom and only take a few minutes which is great for waking the winter mind!

Endless Handshake

My favorite way for finding random partners is to play a song while students walk around shaking as many hands as possible. (You can also do fist bumps or high fives) As soon as the music stops, whoever they shook hands with last is their partner. I try and do this between or before each brain break activity. Think musical chairs, only without the chairs.

Thinking on the Fly

In pairs students are given one minute to generate a list of as many items that fit within a certain category. One catch – they must alternate responses. The teacher can either put the category up on the board or on the screen and to add to the fun/pressure, have a large timer somewhere that the kids can see it. Categories can range from “Things Found In Winter” to “Holiday Movies” to something more aligned with curricular topics like “character types found in a fantasy novel” or “settings found in books”. For those teachers that teach world languages, have students create their lists in the language they are learning!

Here’s Ms. Reyna (@MsReyna2) using Thinking on the Fly with her students.

Three-Word Stories

I was inspired by Jimmy Fallon’s Three-Word Stories and have been using it as a brain break in many of my workshops. The idea is that you and a partner take turns telling a story using 3 words at a time, but here’s the catch, one of you has to get the other to say a particular secret word. I usually have the partners face each other with one of them with a back to screen where I flash the secret word on screen for a few seconds. Feel free to tie the “secret word” into any themes or units you might be reviewing and sit back and watch the hilarity ensue!

Team Charades

Team charades in action at a recent workshop

Starting in pairs, students make up the shapes or objects you assign them. After a few rounds, have the pairs match up with another pair to make a group of four. You can then have the groups recreate scenes from famous stories, make up math problems, or recreate historical events. Then have the groups of four merge with another group to form a group of 8. Larger groups, mean larger objects. Have them recreate the water cycle or Stone Henge, the choice is ultimately yours.  Just be sure to emphasize and applaud the creativity as students think outside the box when creating their objects.

If you want to see some more brain break ideas, check out my giant Google spreadsheet of ideas here for free!


Have a Game Show!

Nothing like a little competition to raise the heat in the classroom. There are a wide variety of quiz gaming tools out there (Quizziz, Kahoot, Quizlet Live) but in this iteration, you put kids into teams of 3 or 4. If you have time, you can design your own Jeopardy! like game show using Powerpoint, Google Slides or Keynote, but to save time, I would recommend using a Flippity.net’s game show template. (Note: be sure to publish to the back-end spreadsheet to the web to make sure it works)

Then, students use mini dry erase boards or clipboards or a device to post their answers. The key here is making sure students are discussing their answers before posting them. Award bonus points as you see fit for groups falling behind or pick a random question as the “Double Jeopardy” questions for more points. This is a great way to review a unit and adds some competition and collaboration into the classroom.


Make the Classroom Into an Escape Room

One of the best activities for really getting kids to discuss feelings/frustrations is having them work collaboratively on solving clues using something like BreakOutEDU. Last year, when I got to substitute for my daughter’s 4th grade class, we busted out a few BreakOut kits for the kids to experience for the first time. Don’t have the means to purchase these? Check out the bevy of Digital BreakOuts available online for classrooms that have access to a few devices. While only half the groups succeeded in the particular challenge, what was amazing to me was the inability for some of the kids to persevere when faced with adversity and pressure. Some gave up and some argued with their teammates constantly.

This may not sound like a joyous time as a teacher, I found that the time we spent on discussion after the 45-minute BreakOut to be the most valuable. How can we do a better job listening to each other? How do we overcome adversity as a group and support each other?

In this day and age of social media discourse, disagreement and vitriol, spending a few moments to have an outward discussion around this would go a long way to handling arguments in the future while also promoting a sense of community in the classroom.

BreakoutEDU success and fail w/4th grade

I hope some of the above ideas are useful in not only helping you survive the gap between Thanksgiving and winter break, but also as ways to enhance learning in your classrooms.  Happy Holidays everyone!