For the past several years I’ve had a morning work routine that I loved. I’ve blogged about it a few times, and you can see one of my more thorough blog posts here. My morning work procedures were a well-oiled machine, and I was so familiar with my routine that I could tackle morning work with my eye closed. However, last year I found myself getting bored with morning work. I still liked what I assigned, but I had been using it for years, and I found myself going through the motions without any real joy or excitement. I knew I was ready for a change, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted that change to be.
I know that during the school year mornings are FAR from my favorite part of the day. With two young children to get ready, after I drop my youngest off at a his school and arrive at my school, I’m already exhausted. More often than I care to admit I’ve already gotten upset about something before I ever step foot in my classroom. Seriously, how can a child lose his shoes every day-even in the car!? I know that my own children have difficult mornings too, and as teacher I’ve had plenty of early morning phones calls from worried parents because their child had a rough morning. Let’s face it. Life happens. I like to think that entering my classrooms is a way for my students to calm down, relax, and prepare their minds for a day of learning.
This year I’m implementing a “soft start” morning work routine, which is definitely quite a bit different from my traditional morning routine. Rather than keeping my students busy with traditional assignments, I’ve giving students lots of creative options to participate in for their morning time. For me this morning work time ranges from 7:30 until the announcements begin at 8:00. The vast majority of my class arrives well before 8:00, and I do have some arrive right at 8:00, which isn’t a problem at all.
While I love the idea of a slow start to the day with choices and flexibility, I also need some order and structure to our morning routine. I’ve created a morning work MUST DO and MAY DO chart that describes exactly what students must do each morning. Every day students have to do the basics such as make their lunch choice, sharpen pencils, and go ahead and take their Chromebooks to their desk (this prevents a bottleneck for when they all need to get their Chromebooks).
The only traditional morning work my students will complete is the Number of the Day. Those of you who follow my TpT Store know that I’ve got quite a few morning work products, and I still believe in those products-I’m just changing when I use them. I’m not teaching language arts this year, so I’m skipping the language arts portion of my morning work, and I’ve moved my Weekly Word Problems to my math skills block. To save on time and paper, I’m going to have my students complete the top half one day and the bottom half the following day. This means Monday-Thursday my students will complete two pages of Number of the Day.
On Fridays, I’m going to have students a multiple choice practice that will be a cumulative review of everything we’ve learned up to that point in the year. In class, we call this our Super Testers Practice. Both of these practice pages will only take my students a couple minutes to complete, so they should have plenty of extra time for the MAY DO activities.
I do not require students to sign up for choices or stay in one choice the whole time. It’s perfectly natural for students to be curious about what other students are doing. I simply let students work on any activity that they choose. One activity that has been a surprise hit is my puzzle table. I chose a 300 piece puzzle, and that is plenty large for my students, maybe even too many pieces.
I certainly don’t have room to leave a puzzle on a table all day, so I have students place the puzzle pieces on a piece a felt. When it’s time to clean up, students roll up the puzzle and put it away without having to break it apart.
Another favorite choice is my STEM activity. I found the cutest STEM activities from Lakeshore Learning. There are many different options, and I chose the ones geared toward 2nd and 3rd grade. I didn’t choose the 4th and 5th grade version, because I know it’s my students’ first experience with anything like this. I hope to gradually increase the difficulty level to the more advanced STEM projects. While they’re not cheap, I had a little PTO money that I was able to spend on a couple kits. I’m only introducing one STEM activity at a time, because I want everyone to have plenty of time to complete the activity. In the kit I purchased, each activity is based on a different folk tale, which is an awesome literacy component. Students read the story and the challenge. Then, they use the planning cards to design something to meet the challenge. In the Paul Bunyan version, students build a cart that can hold is knapsack and roll.The knapsack is heavy! I’ll eventually begin the Real World Challenges STEM Kits, but I’m in no hurry to switch the kits out. I anticipate leaving a kit out for several weeks before I switch it for a new one.
Another option is to simply read. I know that there is nothing I like better than enjoying a good book….well, maybe enjoying a good book on a cruise-but I can’t offer that!
I also included a little creative writing activity where students get different writing prompt task cards and write to the prompt. The prompts are from my creative writing journals that I created years ago. I just changed them into a task card format. All of the questions are from questioning techniques I learned in my gifted endorsement class. The encourage creative and divergent thinking, and students typically enjoy these prompts. You can download free August Creative Thinking Task Cards here.
I also wanted to include some type of art activity. But…it had to be something that didn’t create a big mess and could be completed independently. I decided to use what I call squiggle pictures….although I have no idea what the actual name of this activity is. Student select a task card with a squiggle line on it. They place a blank sheet of paper over the task card and trace the black line with black marker. Then, students use their creativity and imagination to turn the line into a complete picture. To prevent wasting paper, I encourage students to fold their paper into fourths, so they can draw four designs on one sheet of paper. You can download a copy of the Squiggle Picture task cards here.
You may notice that I didn’t include any technology on my MAY DO activities, and this is intentional. I 100% believe that there are MANY excellent websites and digital resources, but I try to be pretty careful with how much screen time my students have during the day. I regularly incorporate technology into my instruction, so I’m avoiding having students use their Chromebooks for morning work. I may change my mind later in the year, but that’s the plan for now. I’m certainly open to new ideas. In fact, I image that my students will soon be giving me suggestions! I’ve thought about adding board games or a Lego set to the rotation, but I’m holding off of those for now.
Here’s the crazy part…my classroom has never been so quiet and orderly in the morning. It’s the strangest thing. I don’t know if it’s the group, the smaller class size, or if it’s everyone being so engaged in what they’re doing. Either way, I’m not complaining. I certainly recognize that this may not be for every student or even every class. I’ve had some years where the collective class could not have handled this much freedom. In those situations, I’d probably continue to have these choices, but I’m set up some type of requirement to earn choice time. I want to avoid that if possible, but we’ve all had those groups of students that take advantage of every positive opportunity.
Clean up can be a challenge. I cannot think straight in a messy room, and I definitely don’t have time to clean up each area. I set my phone’s timer to go off a couple minutes before the announcements. When students hear their song, they MUST begin cleaning up their area. Everything must be put away before the announcements are over. I keep a set of creative thinking questions and Squiggle Pictures on rings. I place hooks underneath my dry erase board, and my students place a set of task cards on each hook.
I have a few baskets for students who have started a STEM project that they don’t want to disassemble and all other unfinished work can be kept in students’ folder that contains their Number of the Day.