Sparking Student Motivation: Back to School Activities to Keep Students Engaged

Phew!  I MADE IT through the first week of school!  WOot WOot! I had a great opening week and I am already loving the intelligence of my new sixth graders.
Today I wanted to link up with my BBB Joanne at Head Over Heels for Teaching to share a few activities that kept my students motivated on the first week of school.

In science we spent the week learning about safety and the scientific method.  As exciting  boring as that sounds, I knew I had to end the week with an activity that would keep my students thinking about science, and sharing it with their parents.  Have you heard about Saving Fred?  I first heard about this activity from some of my BBBs.  My friend Jivey has a great post about it {HERE}
One of the things I loved about this activity was that it needed very little prep. Gummy worms, plastic cup, peach ring and paper clips.  All things easily picked up in a quick shopping trip.
The premise behind this experiment is that Fred (our faithful gummy worm) has been trapped in a storm and capsized his boat (the cup).  Our job is to get Fred, into a life preserver and back in the boat using only the paper clips provided.  No hands touching the cup, or any of the materials.

What I particularly loved about using this with my sixth graders was what I had them do BEFORE they made their attempts to save Fred.  I call it a THINK TANK.  I gave them two minutes to THINK about how they would solve the problem on their own.  They could not share, touch or make eye contact with any group members.  Then I gave them 2 minutes to SHARE their ideas with their partners.. again, no touching, but the sharing had to come from NO talking.  They had to communicate their movements with gestures.  It was a great way to watch where frustration levels occurred and who would want to try and take over the group.  Next, I allowed them 2 minutes to share their ideas verbally, again with no touching the materials. Finally, I gave them 10 minutes to get Fred in his life preserver and back in the boat.

All of my groups but one was successful in that 10 minutes.  They had a blast attempting this activity!  Look at those silly happy faces!
Here a few FREE resources I found and used with this activity:
PowerPoint to set up Saving Fred {HERE}
Scientific Method worksheets for our Notebooks {HERE}

I used the PowerPoint to explain the scenario behind FRED, and the printed the worksheets 2 per page, had the students cut them out and make a booklet.  When we finished the activity we wrote a summary using sequence words and put this in our notebooks, gluing only the bottom page.  (Sorry I forgot to take a picture of that).  This helped us save space in our notebooks.

The second activity that helped keep my students motivated this week was in math.  I taught them a quick game I call Sum of the Dice.  Students get a game board that is numbered 1-9.  They need a pair of dice, and bingo chips.  Students take turns rolling the dice and covering up the sum on their board.  

For example if Student A rolled a 9, they have the option of covering the 9, 1 and 8, 2 and 7, 6 and 3, 4 and 5.  Once a number is covered, they cannot remove it. Then Student B rolls the die and covers his/her sum.   If the student rolls and the/she cannot cover any more numbers his/her turn is over.  You count up the uncovered numbers to get your score.  The person with the lowest possible score wins the game.  You can see that the boy in the picture below has all of his numbers covered except the 3.  This is his final score for the game.  He was a happy winner! ;)

This is a VERY VERY basic game for sixth grade.  But it does get them using mental math right away on the very first day of school.  It is also a great way for students to get to know their peers, AND it is easy for an older sibling to play with a younger one!  I always tell my students it is a good way to earn brownie points with their parents when they have to play with a younger sibling.  Any child that is learning or knows their number families can play this game!

Thank you so Joanne for hosting this great linky.

  I'd love to hear how you motivated your students this week!


  1. Thank you for sharing! Do you have the link for your cards that you made for your math game? I'd love to purchase for one of my math workshop stations for 4th grade. They'd love this!

  2. Also looking for the math game!!!!!!! I love these!


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