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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Back to School Time Savers -- Sponge Activities

No matter how carefully you plan your teaching day, there will inevitably be an awkward minute or two that needs filling.  It could be when you are waiting outside the music room for your "special," having arrived early because your class made it through the halls without having to stop for traffic or behavior control.  Maybe you find yourself with a few idle moments while waiting for all the classes to file into the auditorium for an assembly. Perhaps you lined up for lunch 2 minutes early.  For whatever reason and whenever it happens, do you have a plan for filling those moments?

Maximize those intervals with "sponge activities." You know, something that absorbs the time while doing what you have dedicated your life to -- exercising young brains.   

If you have been working on rhyming words, ask individuals to name a word that rhymes with ----. Give your class extra practice with counting and cardinality (per the CCSS) by asking them to count on or count backwards from an arbitrary number.  Reinforce whichever operation you are studying in math by tossing out some equations.  

Reinforcing concepts and facts is wonderful and worthwhile. But have you considered trying brain exercises?  

If you teach young children, a popular sponge activity is to clap and/or snap a pattern for your students to copy. Coincidentally, your charges have to be careful listeners to replicate your pattern. That's always a desirable goal.  

20 Questions and I Spy work well, especially if you are not in your classroom.  In our never ending pursuit of sight word recognition, you could institute "Spotlight Words."  To do this, turn out the lights, hand a large flashlight to one child, and ask him to shine the spotlight on a specific word wall word.  

If he spotlights the correct word, then he hands the flashlight to another student and directs her to find a different word wall word.  Play can continue as long as you wish.  This is my flashlight of choice.

Another sponge activity involves categories.  This can be related to content area subjects. For example, ask your students to name animals native to a rain forest, a desert, etc.  Other category ideas are foods you can eat raw, foods that start with "k," clothes you should NOT wear this time of year, a noun that names a place, verbs that describe what you are doing in P.E., a word with a suffix, an adjective, a 2 syllable word, a compound word, a country that starts with B, etc.  The longer you work with categories, the more fluent you become in flinging them at your students.  Simultaneously, your students will become more fluent in their thinking.

If you are a neophyte or simply trying to brush away the cobwebs from the summer, you may want to have some teaching aids handy.  My favorites and, more importantly, my students' favorites, are Hink Pinks, et al. and Triads.  Both of these word play activities can be made on cards that are handy to grab and/or carry in a pocket.  [BTW, I'm a big proponent of teacher tool belts for this.]  
Teacher tool belt

Imagine just pulling a card from your tool belt and instantly engaging your students' critical thinking.  
These are samples of Hink Pinks, Hinky Pinkies, and Hinkity Pinkities.  Currently, there are 23 Hink Pink products in my TPT Store that are ready to print and cut apart.  Place a stack in your tool belt and you are well armed for any fallow moment.  If you are not familiar with Hink Pinks, you can read about them here.

These are Triads cards.
Again, they are print ready to make life easier for you.  There are 8 triads units in my TPT Store.  If you are not familiar with Triads, read about them here.  Either of these activities will cause the cogs to start turning in your kiddos' brains and that should be your goal every day.

What are your favorite sponge activities?  Please leave some comments and/or links below.

Until next time...


  1. Hi Barb! I really love the toolbelt!
    Just thought I would let you know I took down my Teacher blog Directory (not too many people were participating), so the button you have on the right sidebar isn't active anymore.
    Kids Math Teacher

    1. Oh Lucy, that's disappointing about the Teacher Blog Directory. Seemed like a good idea to me. Thanks for letting me know.