Engage your students with Hands On Patterning Centers and Ditch the Worksheets!

I love, love, love using hands-on centers during my guided math time. What I don't love is marking the worksheet follow up pages that often accompany centers.  The more I reflect on my practice, the more I am coming to realize that there does not need to be a worksheet to keep kids accountable.

Math Centers and math activities are a huge part of my math instruction. Students need kinesthetic experiences as much as possible, especially in first grade, where I have spent most of my career.  My first math unit is always Patterning.  That is the one area in math that students all seem to come to first grade with an ability to do.  They can easily recognize and create patterns, so it sets them up for success in math right from the start and helps them approach math with a growth mindset.

Patterns are everywhere and a pattern scavenger hunt is a perfect spot to start!

Put out the clipboards and send them hunting for patterns to record and you will be amazed at what they draw and write.

Putting out any and all of your math manipulatives and loose parts is also a great way to inspire kids to pattern.

As teachers, we want to document their work as proof of learning.  Having students draw to show their work is one way to do it or giving them a worksheet is another. Lately, though, I have embraced technology and now have my students show their learning very frequently by taking a picture on our class I-pads.  They love to use the I-pads, so they are motivated to complete their tasks, so they can take a picture and share their work with me.  All of those pictures need a home and I found the app that makes this process super simple.

I absolutely love the app Seesaw - The Learning Journal
(I am not affiliated with Seesaw, I simply love how simple the app is for both me and my students) 

The app is a digital portfolio and so much more.  I only use the app to store their work in their own digital folder, which I can access later for planning, assessing and reporting.  If you are interested in learning more about how the app works, my good friend Erin at Mrs. Beattie's Classroom has written a terrific post about setting up the app to use in the classroom.  You can check out her post {HERE}

When I am ready to target particular expectations I somewhat move away from using any manipulatives and use more directed centers aimed at addressing particular expectations.  My favourite go-to manipulatives have to be pattern blocks when it comes to patterning.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

Clip cards are a huge hit in my class. They love the colourful clothes pins. These cards challenge students to name the pattern and another option asks students to extend the pattern, both first-grade expectations you can address with this one activity.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

The ability to look closely at a pattern and discriminate between patterns and non-patterns is an important skill to develop. You can use these cards as a sorting center - worksheet free - or many students can use the same cards and colour their responses in.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

This is a more open-ended activity that provides criteria for pattern creation but allows students to create with the blocks of their choosing.  It is differentiated in that your students can create a simple pattern as was created for the bottom card or they can create a more complex pattern using the same blocks for the same Make It! task card.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

Post-its are another great tool for quick and simple check in's.  Rather than using a worksheet use a post-it and have student's record their answer on it.  You can do a simple checkmark on the post-it to show you have seen it and they understood the concept or take a picture of the post-it and the center.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

Recognizing pattern rules and expressing a pattern in terms of the rule is more challenging for my students.  This is a great activity to purposefully pair stronger readers with weaker ones to create a more successful center time while sorting patterns with pattern rules.

hands on patterning centers for first grade

Sorting out patterns by names helps students to realize that any pattern can be represented in a multitude of ways.  They are always amazed as they sort that there are several cards on each of the pattern names. They have an idea that there is only one correct answer and thus only one way to make each pattern.   It helps to solidify the idea that there is not one right answer.

You can check out these centers by clicking on any of the above images or by clicking on the image below.

While there is some problem solving evident using these centers, it is not the focus. Instead, we work through pattern block problem-solving challenges.  I do have students complete these activity sheets but you could also project them on your interactive whiteboard and have students solve the problem with pattern blocks at their desk and take pictures of their solutions.

Patterning problem solving activities for kindergarten

I am not advocating doing away with paper pencil tasks completely but I am advocating finding new ways to document learning.  One added bonus I am finding during center time is students returning to centers they have already worked at.  This has not been the case in the past when they completed the center and accompanying worksheet.  I think once they completed the paper, in their mind they were "done" and saw no reason to return and work there again.

I hope you have found a bit of inspiration here for your own Kindergarten or Grade 1 patterning unit. It is a great math unit to break away from traditional methods and let the kids surprise you. If you are looking for more math center ideas then check out this post for 2D geometry.

Until next time,


12 Ways to Teach using Play Doh!

Play doh is something every child loves to play with.  Have you ever thought about using that love to excite your students and use it to teach?  There are so many possibilities and all of these ideas really help our kinesthetic learners.  Today I am sharing 12 ways you can use play doh in the classroom during your math and literacy times.

Use play doh in the classroom to teach math and literacy skills

At the beginning of this school year, I gave each of my students 2 of the mini sized containers of play doh (from the Halloween section at Costco). On the first day, it was a great ice breaker, all of the students were eager to transition to their desks to start playing.  On and off over the first few days, we pulled those little containers out and had a great time.  I was tempted to send it home but decided it would just stay in their desk as I thought we could use it again.  I started to think about ways to use it as a teaching tool and quickly came up with the ways that I am sharing with you today.

1.  Represent Numbers

Use play doh in the classroom to teach foundational math skills.

Roll out little balls to show a particular number.  It is good fine motor practice and a tactile way to show what you know.

2.  Use play doh to build a number in a 10 frame

Use play doh in the classroom to teach foundational math skills.

Roll out little balls and fill a ten frame to show a number.

3.  Make your own base 10 blocks

Students can create snakes (as they call them) and break them into rods for 10's and little balls for 1's

4.  Cover up numbers on a 100's chart 

Use play doh in the classroom to teach foundational math skills.

Provide students with number cards and have them find and cover numbers with little balls of play doh.

5.  Show skip counting patterns on a 100's chart 

Use play doh in the classroom to teach foundational math skills.

Cover the number patterns with different colors of play doh. This makes it very easy to see what numbers are used in multiple skip counting patterns.

6.  Use as a manipulative for addition 

Use play doh in the classroom to teach foundational math skills.

Use a different color for each addend to help visualize the addition problem.

7.  Use as a manipulative for subtraction

Use play doh in the classroom to teach foundational math skills.

Use one color to build the first number and then flatten the balls of play doh that are being taken away.  It's a great visual and the kids will love squishing the little balls.

8. Use to create patterns 

Use play doh in the classroom to teach foundational math skills.

Work with a friend and create patterns with 2 or more colours.  Work alone and create shape and size patterns with 1 color.

9.  Make 2D shapes

Roll out a long snake and form it into different 2D shapes.

10. Make 3D shapes

Create solid shapes with your play doh

11.  Make letters out of play doh

Use play doh in the classroom to work on literacy skills.

Roll long snakes and form letters and then words.

12. Stamp in play doh

Use play doh in the classroom to work on literacy skills.

I have lots of letter stamps but don't like ink pads.  The ink always gets all over everything and everyone.  This is a no mess alternative.  Flatten the play doh - I like to use old placemats or laminated sheets for a work surface. Use that flattened piece to stamp words into. It is a great no mess alternative.

All of these ideas build in fine motor practice for your students.  Rolling and manipulating the play doh will help build up hand strength.  Play doh can also be used a fidget for those students that need something to hold on to help with their attention.

Are you ready to start using play doh to teach in your classroom? Download a fun play doh themed freebie 10 frame building mat with numbers.  You can find it {HERE}

What ways do you use play doh in the classroom?  I would love to hear from you.  Share your ideas in the comments below.

Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
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