If you are a teacher, chances are that you have been buried alive under a mound of laminating on more than one occasion.  I love laminating as much as the next teacher but sometimes you just need to be able to quickly get a meaningful learning activity into the hands of your students without a lot of prep time.

A couple of years ago, the need for highly engaging, low-prep math centers….along with a large stash of bottle caps in my cabinet (doesn’t every teacher have a stash of bottle caps in their closet) led the to creation of this activity that my students have enjoyed month after month.  

Simply adding bottle caps to the math center makes it more fun and engaging for students without being extra prep work for the teacher.  

Ask parents, family, and colleagues to save their water bottle caps for you and you should have plenty for your class in just a couple of days.  You will need to gather 10 bottle caps for each student in your class and it is nice to have a few extra to make replacements as needed.  

Separate the bottle caps into groups of 10.  Next, simply use a Sharpie to write the numbers 1-10 on the tops of the caps.  This is a great job for a parent volunteer or even a responsible student with neat handwriting.  

My students have individual math supply tubs where they keep their bottle caps so they are always easy to get to.  If your students do not have math boxes, the bottle caps can easily be stored in their regular supply boxes or in another easily accessible area of the classroom. 

To change things up a bit, you can use fun, seasonal erasers in place of the water bottle caps.  You can typically find a large selection of these erasers at the Dollar Spot at Target or at Dollar Tree.  My students often love using fun erasers so much that they start bringing them to school for the class to use 🙂

In order to save time on lamination and cutting, the center pages can be placed in folders with sheet protectors or in dry erase sleeves.  Students can use their math journals to show any work they might need to solve the problem.  By not having students write on the actual center pages, you can use them over and over and reduce the number of copies you need to make.  I like to keep copies of previous months’ activities ready and available for early finishers to use.  They are also great to pull for small group intervention and reteaching of isolated skills. 

The monthly centers in my room are designed to allow students to gain meaningful independent practice.  Once students become familiar with the routine and expectations, this will allow the teacher uninterrupted time to work with small groups and individuals to provide targeted instruction.  The use of bottle caps is helpful to the young kinesthetic learners in my class and helps to increase the overall level of on task behavior.   

After students have completed the center, I like to make the answer keys available so they can check their own work and receive immediate feedback.  The answer keys also come in handy during partner work where each student is working on the same set of problems independently and then they check their answers together.  I teach my students how to discuss any answer they did not get correct with their partner to determine where the error in thinking occurred.    

 Here are few more picture of my students using bottle caps during math.

If you would like to try out this activity in your classroom, check out the FREEBIE SAMPLER by clicking on the image below.

 I would love to hear about any success stories you have from using this activity in your classroom!

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Uttering “word problems” in a primary classroom is almost guaranteed to bring about sighs, moans, and groans….and occasionally tears.  Most young children love stories, puzzles, and riddles.  So why to they have such a hard time and often even HATE math word problems?

From my experience, it seems that 2nd grade is where the breakdown begins to happens.  In first grade, students feel successful with easy word problems such as “There are five birds sitting in a tree and four birds sitting on the ground.  How many birds are there in all?”  The problem likely has an easy to understand picture to go with it and manipulatives are often easily accessible if needed.  However, during second grade the complexity of the word problems increases and students simply don’t know how to approach solving the more challenging problems.  

Let’s take a look at three ways problem solving practice is typically used in the primary grades that hinders rather than promotes the development of true problem solvers. 

Word problems are often placed at the end of the lesson.  So, when the teacher is pressed for time the problem solving is simply omitted.  Even if the teacher makes it to this point in the lesson, the students have likely lost interest.  

Most math curriculum in the primary grades limit the problem solving practice to the skill being focused on that day.  If the daily lesson is focused on 2 digit subtraction then the accompanying word problems will be 2 digit subtraction.  This predictability does not help students become true problem solvers.

Most word problems provided with the adopted curriculum are one step problems involving only two numbers.  Repeated exposure to this type of problem trains young students that they don’t really have to read the problem carefully.  They just need to look for the two numbers hidden among all those words and add them together….and they often get the right answer.

Often, in order to see true growth, we have to approach problem solving differently.  Young learners benefit from having purposeful problem solving practice embedded in a variety of ways throughout the math block.  Why is this important?  Problem solving situations give children the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the math concepts they are learning by using their own strategies as they decide how to work through the problem.  Purposeful problem solving can be solved using a variety of strategies and methods. This encourages higher level thinking and encourages students to move beyond their basic skills.

One of the most important skills we can teach our students is how to solve problems.  This skill needs to be heavily modeled and scaffolded during the primary years in order to form a solid foundation that can be drawn upon throughout their lives.

Make sure that problem solving is a priority in your classroom and provide ample opportunities for your students to apply their skills and knowledge to interesting and meaningful problem solving situations.

Effective teachers model good problem solving skills for their students on a regular basis.  Young children often try to attack a problem without a plan in mind.  By using guiding questions, the teacher can help students formulate a plan for solving the problem without telling them exactly what to do.  It is important to work through a TON of problems together!

There is no nice way to say it….Problem solving is hard for young kids and they are going to make mistakes.  It is important to create an atmosphere where students feel comfortable and are not afraid to experiment, try new things, and make mistakes.  

 Most of the time, students should be given a mix of word problems to solve rather than sets of problems based on a specific skill.

Ongoing informal assessment of young problem solvers is important.  It is important that teachers gather evidence of learning by observing students’ work AND by listening to them discuss and explain their thinking. 

Remember, it is difficult, if not impossible, to assign a grade to this type of mathematical learning.  The purpose of ongoing informal assessment is to gain a clear picture of the student’s level of understanding so you can make informed instructional decisions on where to head next with the child.  As a teacher, you want to be looking for evidence of growth in the areas such as developing a plan to approach the problem, using a variety of strategies to solve problems, and being able to communicate their thinking effectively.  

 It is helpful to incorporate problem solving throughout the math block.  I love using word problems as a warm up to start the math block.  Students work on solving the problem independently and then we use a variety of methods to share how we got the answer.  This sharing time is sometimes simply placing student work samples on the document camera to discuss.  Other times, students explain their thinking to a partner.  These are only a couple of ideas….but the sharing possibilities are endless!!!! Students LOVE to share and the mathematical talk that occurs is extremely beneficial in increasing understanding.

Partner Problem Solving is a student favorite in my classroom.  In the beginning of the year, I frequently model for students how to “coach” your partner without doing the work for them or telling them the answer.  Working with a partner facilitates a lot of mathematical discussion.  Student quickly become experts in finding errors in their partner’s thinking and it helps to facilitate a deeper level of understanding when they are able to explain the mistake to their partner. 

It is important to teach a variety of strategies for solving problems.  Students need ample opportunities to practice applying various problem solving strategies.  Common problem solving strategies such as Guess and Test, Look for a Pattern, Act out the Problem, Draw a Picture, Make a Table of Graph, Work Backwards, and many others should be frequently reviewed and practiced.  These strategies should be viewed as tools that the student should be comfortable using whenever needed.  

 Expose your students to a variety of purposeful word problems that were created specifically to promote higher level thinking and the development of problem solving skills.  Discuss the structure of the different problems with the students.  Allow students to experiment with writing their own purposeful problems so that they become more comfortable and less afraid of problem solving.

This is the series of word problems that I use in my second grade classroom. 


The problems are created around a variety of highly engaging thematic topics which helps to keep student interest high.

I change the format of instruction from week to week…sometimes from day to day so that the students are exposed to as many problems as possible in a variety of methods.

If you would like to give this format a try, HERE is a FREEBIE to start the year.

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I am looking forward to introducing the SCOOT game to my lil’ pups this week.  I will be using this set of task cards to teach the SCOOT game and to review a tough concept for my little second graders.  I use SCOOT games a lot in my classroom because it is a quick and easy way to get the kids up and moving and to increase their focus, motivation, and learning.

These cards are available for FREE to use in your classroom by clicking on the image above.

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In recent years, I have found that the concept of interactive notebooks is a great way for kids to gain meaning and understanding from what they are learning.  The elements in the notebook are three dimensional which allows the students to interact visually and kinetically with their learning.  They also promote the long term retention of skills.  Young learners, especially ESL students benefit from the combination of written and visual elements in the notebook.  

Despite their benefits, anyone who has tried interactive notebooks with primary aged children as almost certainly run into challenges….somehow a student used a “little dot” of glue but the entire notebook is glued together……the student couldn’t find the “next blank page” so they skipped 25 pages between activities…..they glued everything in their book upside down….or pages were ripped from the journal even though it was placed carefully in their desk.  If you teach in the primary grades, I know you are smiling because you know exactly what I am talking about.  

Matty in Too Much Glue by Jason Lefebvre pretty much tells the story!

This past year, I tried a different approach that combined elements from interactive notebooking and lapbooks together and it was a success in my classroom.  

I taught my lil’ pups to make their own mini interactive notebook from file folders.  These mini books are only used for one unit so it eliminates the concern of having the entire notebook get glued together or pages falling out after only a few days or weeks.  The added durability of file folders made the notebooks easier to work with for my lil’ pups as well.  

During the first few weeks of school, I use colored file folders because it is easier to show my lil’ pups how to assemble the book if there are two different colors.  

After that, I just use regular file folders.  I ask each parent to send a box of file folders as part of their child’s school supplies.  They can be purchased fairly inexpensively during back to school time.  Large pieces of construction paper can also be used if you do not have file folders available.

To make a mini interactive notebook, each student will need two file folders or large pieces of construction paper.  Guide the students to make a pencil mark about 1 1/2″ in from each edge along the folded side.  I do not have my kids use a ruler.  I just simply give them a way to estimate the correct length….like the length of their finger….because the exact measurement isn’t important as long as they are they same on both folders or pieces of construction paper.  

On one folder or piece of construction paper, cut from the edge up to the mark on both sides.

On the other folder or piece of construction paper, have the student cut between the two mark while leaving the edge intact.

Direct students to roll one folder or piece of construction paper “like a hot dog bun” and stick it through the hole in the second folder.  Then, unroll the first folder or piece of construction paper until it lays flat.  

The result is a 8 page book that is sturdy enough to withstand little hands.  Larger books, with more pages, can be made by rolling more than one folder or piece of construction paper together at a time before assembling the book.  The first time you try and make this with your class, it will probably be a bit challenging.   However, the kids will learn to make them independently in no time at all.  Most kids have the concept after making only two or three.  

If you would like to try your hand at using interactive notebooks/lapbooks in your classroom this is the perfect unit to use at the beginning of the year because it covers many of the foundational principals of numbers and number sense.  Here is a glimpse at what is included:


Thank you for stopping by to read this week’s tips and tools for back to school!  I would love for you to follow my blog and TPT store so that you don’t miss out on other great ideas that will help make back to school go smoothly.

Be sure to stop back by next week as the Primary Peeps share more great tips and tricks for back to school.

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Geometry is one of my favorite math units to teach because there are so many fun and meaningful activities for the kids to work on.  We just completed our unit on Geometry and I wanted to share pictures from some of the kids’ favorite activities.  

We began our geometry unit with this book.  In this book, Matt and Bibi travel to Egypt to help find the hidden burial chamber for an ancient pharaoh.  They become trapped in the pharaoh’s pyramid and only have each other, their dog, and the geometric hieroglyphics on the walls to help them get out.  Matt and Bibi must use their knowledge of geometric solids to find their way out.

I can’t say much about the plot of this story because it has a quite silly story line.  However, the kids love it and learn the math concepts presented.  It is one of those books where the kids are learning and don’t realize that they are.  I left this book out during the entire unit and most of my students chose to reread it independently…must mean that they liked it!

One of the most challenging things about geometry is the vocabulary.  There are just so many new terms that are hard for a young learner to master. 

My kids loved to play this Geometry Bingo game.  I had the kids play with a partner to encourage conversation using geometrical terms. 

 The kids loved this game and begged me to play it over and over.  I loved how the game increased the students’ knowledge of some of the more confusing shapes and terms.

This was another kid favorite that worked on using geometrical terms.  The students create an animal and then described the shapes used to make up the animal.  

We watched this video to introduce the concept of symmetry.  

Then, the students practiced making their own symmetrical designs.  

I am linking up with Jivey for Workshop Wednesday.  If you are looking for some more great geometry ideas, check out this link.

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