This year I have been given the opportunity to work with a group of 13 proficient/advanced 1st and 2nd graders for a Reading Enrichment period every day for 45 minutes.  At first, I grumbled and complained.  I had at least 3-4 ‘behavior problems,’ no lesson plans and no idea what the students’ reading levels were or what I was expected to teach.

I spent the first month experimenting with management techniques, procedures for meeting me in the IMC or at my lab (the students are not only in different grades, but in different classes).  I experimented in what kinds of activities to do. I researched their reading levels on SchoolNet, I looked up the weekly standards in the Planning and Scheduling Timeline and planned accordingly.  Slowly, as I realized through conversation with admins and coaches that no one was really monitoring what I was doing or seemed concerned with it (the rest of the school does a scripted Corrective Reading program during that time–I teach the kids who tested out of the program), I decided to take some freedoms.

My students wrote stories, which they illustrated and read for a podcast.  Now we are working on Storybird stories, many of which have been published.

With such wonderful work being produced and such enthusiasm and motivation, I still had to put out little fires as students argued or teased each other.

I decided, “Hey, no one really cares what I do with these students anyway….” so I decided to do some relationship and team building.

We had read A Chair For My Mother by Vera Williams and discussed how the community had helped the little girl and her mother after their apartment caught fire.  We wrote stories about people helping people. I figured it was time to do some helping ourselves.

Over the weekend I bought a 100 piece puzzle and put it together. I broke it up into 4 parts, labeling the pieces in each part with either a number 1, 2, 3 or 4.  I bagged up each group of numbered pieces in 4 separate bags.

In class the next day, I broke the students into groups by having them count off into 4 groups.  We reviewed best practices for working in groups (using kind words, being patient) and I reminded them that they would do their best work by working together as a team.  Each group worked on putting their pieces together in preparation for putting the whole puzzle together.  Three of the groups got right to work, without a hitch.  I was beaming.  The last group was struggling. One of the students didn’t want to work with the students in his group.  He was standing, watching, saying, “We need some of those kids in our group, they’re almost done!” I told him, “J__, your group is not keeping up because they need your help!  If you help them put the pieces together, you’ll be done faster.”  He, unfortunately, did not ‘get it,’ and I had to get down on the floor and help his group.

By the end of the period, we were still not finished, so I had to carefully pack the puzzle up for the next day. The students kept asking, “Are we working on our puzzle tomorrow?”  The experience of working with their peers had been such a positive experience, they couldn’t wait to do it again.

The next day, each group took turns placing pieces in the puzzle to finish it.  At the end, the students cheered and we all ‘high-fived.’ Sadly, the student who had not participated the puzzle activity the day before was absent, so he missed our success.  I can’t wait to show him the completed puzzle.

I won’t know until tomorrow and the next day whether this activity has helped pull us together as a group or whether it will make any difference in how my students treat each other.

With all of the scripted program and testing pressure, there is little time in their ‘regular’ classrooms for this kind of activity.  I hope it makes a difference!

I guess that will be another post…..

Puzzle photo:


  1. Ann


    This is a great example of what teachers can accomplish when they are able to use their creativity. Sadly, these types of lessons are put on the back-burner because they are not skills driven activities. Kudos for recognizing the students needs and creating a meaningful lesson to meet that need.

  2. Mary Beth


    Thanks, Shelly and Ann!

    I will be doing a short follow up post about the student reactions and reflections on whether it has had any effect on classroom climate.

    I wish more teachers in my school had time for team building in their classrooms!

  3. Karyn (2ndgradetchr)


    Mary Beth,
    What a great post! You are so right in your last comment… we need to incorporate the time for this in our classrooms. I teach second grade and I don't feel I have enough time for these types of activities. That's one of my goals for 2010–make time to have the students record videos (I want them to be the videographers, producers, etc.) on the Flip Cams at least once a month. Important for team building, conference building, etc.

  4. Reply

    Great idea, Karyn!

    When students can actually SEE what they have completed as a group and they can refer back to it in 'times of need' those kinds of activities become powerful tools.  Our puzzle is on the wall, with the words: Teamwork! We do better when we work together!  I can now refer to that experience to remind them of why we need to treat each other with kindness.

    Good luck with your endeavors—I'm hoping to score a Flip Cam for Christmas!

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