Morning Work Alternatives (An August Bright Idea!)

Morning work in any elementary classroom can be a struggle, but it doesn't have to be! Give kids alternatives to traditional morning work may be one of the best decisions you make as a teacher. If you're ready to make some BIG changes, make sure you check out this post on soft starts as well!

I've taught for 12 years in the same school, and for 11 of those years I fought the same battle - getting kids to finish their morning work. I tried different books, segmenting one worksheet into smaller chunks, alternating the skills we practiced and reviewed throughout the week, etc.

That's a long time to fight the same battle!! And looking back, I really wish I had given in to my amazingly brilliant teaching partner's thinking earlier. She saw the writing on the wall. She had the bright idea. I fought it... WHY?! :)

When we sat down to talk about it, we had to identify the problem: Kids weren't finishing the daily workpages.

Why? Well, unlike many other schools in our district, most of our kiddos ride the bus to school each day. We have up to 2 runs of 7 buses every morning and afternoon. Some kids arrive at school at 7:15, ready to go and others don't walk in the door until 7:50 just as the bell rings. Very few of my students are car riders or walkers. We always had a chunk of kids who finished their work, and another group that were struggling to make it to breakfast before they came in the room. It wasn't fair to either group.

We knew we wanted the kids to practice and review skills we currently teaching OR had previously taught. We didn't want it to be a chore. We didn't want the kids to hate it. We looked around our rooms and saw lots of games that the kids were playing for a week or two during the year before we put them back for next year's group.

A-ha! Enter the bright idea!

For 2 days a week, the kids played language arts games. On those mornings, I would set out or send down the games I wanted the kids to play. At the beginning of the year, I like to pull out sight word and spelling games. It's an easy way to reinforce skills they've already learned, and to help them begin to build the sense of community and family that is key in our classrooms.

There are also 2 days a week where our kiddos played math games. Most of the time, these were fact fluency games. My brilliant partner had staggered sets of facts, and our kids knew which "set" they needed to pass in order to move to the next level. They often took the initiative to make sure they played these games with friends who were working on the same fact set. :)

We also tried to set aside at least one day each week for something fun and creative. They were particularly fond of this Minion Maker. We all need the chance to chill out and color sometimes, right?

 A few more points I want to leave you with:
  • Our kids were so engaged in the mornings. They loved being able to come in, unpack, and connect with friends. Kids were excited to get to class and they didn't drag their feet coming in from the bus or the cafeteria. Everyone started the day with a smile on their face!
  • They were quiet --- and on task!! I stopped redirecting behavior and got lots of housekeeping stuff done in the mornings. Glory!!
  • M and I alternated Math and ELA days. This kept materials together and we didn't have to make extra sets of games for the other classroom. 
  • As we inched closer to state testing, we were able to set out games that reinforced skills we noticed were weaker in our students. This acted as a "safety net" and preserved LOTS of small group and whole group instructional time. 
I'm not saying paper and pencil morning work needs to go. It just didn't work in my room, and I wish I'd thought about alternatives for it sooner. Hopefully this leaves you with some fun alternatives to think about!

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  1. At my old school, I did something similar and always started the day with math centers! The kids loved it! They were busy and on task and I could meet with parents, take attendance, etc. Win-win!

  2. Mind. Blown. So simple and yet so effective! I will be changing my morning work pronto!!!! Do you let them pick what to play each day or do you assign them games? I have a bunch of social butterflies in my room and worry they may flit about rather than settling down to play as soon as they unpack

    1. As long as they are playing one of the games we've set out for the day, we let them pick. Every once in awhile, I might pull a group to my table to play and practice a specific skill but I usually save those groups for our regular classroom schedule.

      The first week or so requires more monitoring, but it's really just walking around to make sure the groups remember and understand how to play the games. We also have a family group meeting before we start this to lay out expectations. If the kids don't follow the rules, they don't get to play. After one or two kiddos sitting out at my table for a day or two, I didn't have that problem anymore! ;-)

    2. Awesome, thanks!! I'm starting this tomorrow!

  3. I love this idea. Thanks so much for sharing! I will definitely try it out with my new group of kids in a few weeks!

  4. Loved this! Your students are really engaged and having fun too. That is a win-win situation. Thanks for sharing!

    Kathy Griffin's Teaching Strategies

  5. Great idea to play a review game...reinforces the skills and provides more social opportunities than we often have time for in class. We've had specials first thing for years, but this year they have been moved, so I need a morning plan. Stat. Dilemma solved! (And if you don't mind me asking, where did you get the fun roll a minion game?)

    1. Hi Suzy!

      I saved the minion game here: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/197102921166154663/


    2. Thanks for the link! I had searched TPT but came up empty. This will be great fun for the Friday of our first full week back, when we are too tired to do much else!

  6. I too had the morning work blues but last year I finally thought out of the box and tried morning rotations. I post a chart with 5 different centers (computers, puzzles, games, Ipads, and cards). Each table has a turn at one of those each day of the week. It worked like a dream. Students were engaged for 30 min. and loved getting to the room so they could get started. It also had a side effect of building community as they worked with each other.

    1. Love it!!

      I totally agree about the way this builds a sense of community. We experienced WAY less morning drama once this was established and running smoothly!

  7. I love this idea and plan to use it this year! How long do you give them for this in the mornings? Where do you get your language arts games?