Go-To Teaching Activities: 5 More Favorite Lessons and Activities

Here are 5 more of our favorite activities. #1 is the best and we’re not going to make you scroll to the bottom to see it.

  1. Guess the Characters (Worksheet)
  2. Notebook Flaps (Activity)
  3. Top 5 (Game)
  4. Cootie Catchers
  5. Compound Word Game

1. Guess the Characters

This is a very elaborate unscramble. The questions can be about anything. The example below is social science about government.

“The cliiv eyritrsg _ _ _ _ _     _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (15) keeps track of births, deaths, and marriages in a town.” With a #15 under the last letter.

Students unscramble the words. In this case “cliiv eyritrsg” is civil registry. They write it in the spaces. The last letter is Y which has the #15 under it.

After they have filled out the whole thing they go to the bottom where there are clues about cartoon characters.

My hair is not 15/ 3/ 8/ 8/ 21 /17. We know Y = 15 from the civil registry question so we put Y there. My hair is not Y _  _ _ _ _.  They fill out all the letters to fill out the clues. In this case 3= E, 8 = L … it spells YELLOW.

But they’re not even done yet! This is a 3 part worksheet: unscramble, bring down the letters, and the last part involves reading and working with the clues to figure out who the cartoon character is.

I’m wearing shoes, I’m wearing a hat, I’m not wearing pink or red, etc.

The bonus un-mentioned 4th part to the worksheet is coloring the characters if you finish early. Hardly anyone finishes early. It takes a while to unscramble the vocabulary words and do the whole thing.

If you need a letter (for example: K) that doesn’t appear often in vocabulary words then you can just put one of the letters on the worksheet somewhere (“Work with a partner).

This works for at least 4th grade and up. It can be adapted for any vocabulary words (to scramble).

2. Notebook Flaps

This is a great activity for loud (read: out of control) classes, low level classes, vocabulary heavy classes or as an introduction to new chapters or vocabulary. This is not a lesson. This is a “welcome to the new chapter, let’s get oriented” activity.

Students get a paper, they fold it in half (hot-dog-way aka portrait). Then glue the back part into their notebook. They need to glue it to the far left of the page to fit the second page which goes on the far right.

When glued in “correctly” it opens like a cabinet- with both pieces of paper opening outward. You cut flaps so it opens up to contain information or translations. It can be used like flashcards or to contain information about the picture on the outside.

Take the directions slow – fold it in half. Now glue it in here. Kids who glued it in efficiently get the next page and will figure out quickly to repeat the process on their own.

When everyone has it glued in. They may get their scissors out and cut the dotted line to the middle (where it’s glued). Now you have a bunch of window-flaps to open.

This can be used for vocabulary – like flashcards. You see a picture of something, you try to remember the word inside. We put the Spanish and English vocabulary words inside. The picture above (left) shows a very complicated one that has a place for questions related to the picture. Students write the vocabulary in then color the outside. If there are questions to answer inside they can work quietly (or as a group) to answer the questions inside.

This is super easy to make on powerpoint or Google drive. Just change the slide-size to match an A4 paper. Don’t make it on word documents because if you shift pictures around it will ruin the whole layout. There are loads of wonderful powerpoint tutorials for worksheets, start here if you don’t know.

For the next few weeks students can pull their notebooks out to reference words they don’t know. The only problem with this activity is the first time you do it, it takes 10 minutes to fold and glue everything. From then on, they’re pros and you only have to hand the papers out and sit back. Also remind the students to close their notebooks carefully or they will accordion the pages.

3. Top 5

Holy crap Top 5 is something I could play in my sleep. I’ve played it with everyone I’ve ever taught. We almost played it at our rehearsal dinner for our wedding.

We would’ve put it on the very top of our list but it doesn’t translate well into some subjects. It works really well as a reward game, a rainy day, a holiday, or for some subjects.

You give students a list (hopefully with pictures) of 10 or so things. They have to guess what the top 5 out of those 10 options are the best.

You don’t need to print or write anything out. Groups of students use one notebook to just write 1-5 on a paper. They then have 3-5 minutes to work as a group (hopefully speaking in English!!) to discuss why they want to put things where. It gets heated fast “No! No! Dog is not favorite animal!!! Fish are good in apartment! Fish is number 1!” The good news is if they shout the answers (or arguments) loud enough the other groups can hear. So this game stays pretty quiet- “I swear  you better write Spongbob for number one or I’m going to cut your throat!” but whispered intensely.

They write their top 5 on their own papers. After time is up you show them the answers. Alternatively for cheating older students, grade all of the questions at the end (and switch group papers).

You can make the grading however you want. The technical rules are if they get

  • number one correct they get 5 points
  • number 2 is worth 4 points
  • number 3 is 3 points
  • number four is worth 2 points
  • number 5 is correct they get 1 point.
  • If they write a correct answer on the paper but in the wrong place they get 1 point.

For example Spongebob is #3 but if they put it as #1 then they can have 1 point. If they did put Spongebob (3) in the correct #3 part they get three points. This is the only part of the game that is difficult to explain. Play it and grade it together as a class or just make a more simple grading system.

This game can be adapted to some subjects-

  • science (top cancers, most broken bones, biggest animals, largest organs, environmental disasters, weather catastrophes, unhealthy foods, healthy foods, mammals, etc)
  • Social science (biggest countries, most popular types of governments, most popular government leaders).
  • Rainy day PE (top 5 sports/balls/activities, athletes, rules).
  • Art (popular artists, famous pieces, favorite mediums)

You have to do some bizarre research “what are the top 5 most consumed types of fish” which is a hard question to answer because fishermen and restaurants the world over don’t communicate with each other and then report their findings on the internet. So sometimes you have to just fudge the answers just a little.

4. Cootie Catchers/Fortune Tellers

Or “comecocos” in Spain (“coconut eaters” or PacMen). Most kids on earth know how to fold a cootie catcher.

 Just like how everyone seems to know about “the S.” 

They’re weirdly universal. So take advantage of strange classroom globalization (seriously who is going around showing everyone how to do these things? ESL teachers. Probably).

Make a question/subject based cootie catcher. 

Students have to fold it as a group (great for practicing directions in English). Then they have to answer the questions in the flaps inside. The one on the left is for 5th grade science – fusion, solidification, vaporisation, condensation (spelled with an S not a Z because I teach British English). On the right is a basic one for 1st graders learning about materials and recycling. They drew more examples of recyclables inside the flaps.

When everyone was finished answering the questions or coloring the catchers they walked around and asked peers the questions. Use typical cootie catcher rules: Pick a number, then move it around that many times. They pick a flap and had to answer the question. The first graders were even excited to quiz their peers on what recyclable materials go where.

5. Compound Word Game

These are brilliant for extra time in class or as a warm-up but it’s not exactly a lesson or a project.

You just need pictures of 2 words that make a compound word (notebook, blackboard, blackbird). Or something just funny like Facebook (a picture of a face, a picture of a book). The students have to raise their hands (but will absolutely shout when they figure it out) to guess. It also works really well if you have whiteboards for the kids to write their guesses on, then hold up.

Besides compound words you can also do things-that-sound-like.

For example Tea and Chair. When you say “tea chair” aloud slowly what does it sound like?

Teacher. Tea + chair = teacher. L  + Sa = Elsa (from Frozen). Toe + ma + Toe. Mad, a, gas, car.


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