Tag Archives: sponge activities

Rainy Day Recess Activities

I was once in a teaching workshop with a woman who was raised in Alaska.  I remember asking her if it was hard as a kid to not be able to play outside at recess or after school for so much of the year.  I clearly remember her answer:  “Oh, we’d still play outside until it was 20 below.”  I still don’t think I’ve recovered from the shock of hearing that.

Having grown up in California and spent most of my teaching career here, I can’t fathom kids playing outside in that kind of weather.  Luckily, we have such mild temperatures for most of the year that the kids can be outside just about all the time.  That being said, we are not well equipped for the more inclement weather that winter tends to bring.  The only protection the schools have are overhangs extending from the classrooms.  The kids eat their lunches outside every day of the school year, rain, shine, or otherwise.  And there’s nowhere for students to go when it rains at recess, except back into the classroom.

When I was teaching, rainy days usually brought eye rolls and emissions of “Ugh” from the teachers.  The kids tended to be positively squirrelly with pent up energy and noise levels tended to increase exponentially throughout the day.  Perhaps that’s why I always thought it was funny that one of my students’ favorite indoor games was Silent Ball.

Silent Ball entails all the students sitting on top of their desks while a ball is tossed from one student to another in random order.  The object of the game is to stay as silent as possible and not drop the ball when it is thrown to you.  Anyone talking must sit down in their seat and is out of the game.  The last person left sitting on their desk wins. The teacher monitors to make sure that all students are getting equal amounts of chances to catch the ball, and to make sure students are staying quiet.  (I never had to monitor that much because students who were already out were happy to point out if anyone else was talking.)  Surprisingly, this game could keep them entertained for quite a while.

Another simple game the students loved was Four Corners.  One person is picked to be “it” and must close his or her eyes.  The rest of the students choose one of the four corners in the room.  Once everyone is in a corner, “it” calls out North, South, East, or West (or for littler ones: 1, 2, 3, or 4.)  The students in that corner are out and must sit down.  “It” closes his or her eyes again and play continues.  Once there are four students or fewer, they must each pick a different corner.  The last person who is left without his or her corner being called wins, and is now “it” for the next round.

Heads Up Seven Up is a game I loved as a kid, and students still love to this day.  (It seems the simplest ones are always the longtime favorites.)  Seven students are picked to stand in the front of the room while the rest put their heads down on their desks, close their eyes, and stick one of their thumbs in the air.  The seven students each then quietly tap the thumb of one of the students and then return to the front of the room.  Then they say “Heads up seven up!” and the seven students who were tapped have to try and guess who touched his or her thumb.  If he or she guesses correctly, they replace the student who tapped them.  The game begins again once all the students have had a chance to guess.

One game I learned from another teacher didn’t have a name, but is similar to I Have Who Has? in that students have to be listening to cards being read in order.  It requires a few minutes of prep time the first time, but after that the game plays itself.  It’s a great sponge activity as well.  Write out a direction on an index card; have at least as many cards per students in your class.  These can be very simple, such as When the teacher says START, stand up and say GO! The next card read would then read, When someone yells GO, stand up and open the door.  The card after that would read, When someone opens the door, stand up and shake the teacher’s hand, and so on.  Pass out all the cards and then say “START.”  The students have to be listening and observing what’s happening.  One rule I had to institute was that everyone had to wait until the person before them had sat back down in their seat, otherwise it was too confusing to try and follow multiple students doing activities at the same time.  Keep the set of cards to play over again at another time; the students don’t get bored of it!

Most of the above-mentioned games are for younger students, but I was surprised at how much my older students loved the games too.  Of course, rainy days are also a great time to play curriculum-oriented games as well.  If there is a game you’ve played in the past with your students, feel free to bring it back out, even if the subject has already been studied.  It’s great for review!  They may even forget that they’re doing “schoolwork” at recess.

More Sponge Activities for the Classroom

See previous post for description of what sponge activities are and how they can be used to enhance learning in the classroom.

  • Choose a category such as food, movies, or places, and challenge students to think of one for each letter of the alphabet.
  • Select a category such as famous people. Have one student say the name. The next student must name another famous person whose first name begins with the last letter of that person’s name. (for example, George Bush, Harriet Tubman, Nancy Reagan).
  • Ask students a number of questions such as: Is there anyone whose phone number digits add up to 30? Or Whose birthday is closest to the date when man first walked on the moon (or any other date you have been studying)? Or If you add the ages of everyone in your family, who has the highest number? Who has the lowest?
  • Create a spelling chain. All students stand. Give them a spelling word. The first person says the first letter, the second gives the second letter, and so on. If a student gives the wrong letter, he or she must sit down.
  • Play “guess the characteristic.” Ask several students who all have something in common to stand. The class, including the students, must guess what they all have in common, such as they all have shoes with no laces, they all walk to school, or they are all in band.
  • Do a daily edit to start or fill small spaces of time. These become writing skill mini-lessons. Lift an incorrect sentence directly from students’ writing or create one including errors that students are commonly making. You may wish to focus on one skill at a time. Print the incorrect sentence(s) on the board or overhead. Have students edit the sentence and write it correctly in a section of their journals or a special notebook that can be used for reference. Follow up at some time during the day with a class discussion so the students can finalize their corrections and see that there may be more than one way to solve a writing problem.
  • An especially effective daily edit that promotes more interesting writing is Expand a Sentence. Give students a very simple sentence (e.g., The child ran.). Include insert marks where you want students to add words and underline words that they may change to something more exciting. Model an expansion for students the first time you do this activity. The new sentence may become: The very excited young lady raced wildly down the street with her red braids flying straight out behind.
  • Keep a supply of board and table games that require strategy and thinking. Use them for special fill-in times like rainy day recess. Good examples are Scrabble®, Monopoly®, Boggle®, and Chutes and Ladders®.
  • Collect word searches, crossword puzzles, kids’ pages from Sunday comics, and Mad Libs. Laminate them for wipe-off and reuse.
  • Save about-to-be discarded paper with at lease one blank side (computer printouts, old dittos, faded construction paper, etc.). Use for free-drawing time. Also encourage students to free-write; many of them also improve creativity and expertise in drawing with practice.
  • Derive many words from one. Copy on the blackboard a multi-syllabic word taken from a theme or topic of the day. Ask students to write as many words from this as they can in a specified time. Only letters from the original word may be used. This activity can be done in small groups or individually.
  • Set up a magnetic board center for sponge activities. Divide the board into “yes” and “no” columns. Prepare a magnetic name tag for each student by gluing tagboard squares with the student’s name onto a piece of magnetic strip (available at fabric or sign stores). On the board pose daily questions which involve either a yes or no answer. Have students place their magnetic name tags in the appropriate column. Discuss responses.
  • Read a short story, poem, essay, news article, talk to the class. Have students write a short first impression of it. Compare student responses.
  • Play “Three-in-a-Row.” Make game boards from 81/2″ x 11″ (22 cm x 28 cm) pieces of tagboard, cardboard, or index paper. Divide each game into nine equal squares. Provide X and O cards (five of each) for each game board. (Be sure the cards fit into the squares.) Two students use one game board; one using X cards and the other using O cards. Use this game for reinforcement or review. When a student responds correctly to a problem or activity, he/she places a card in the squares. If incorrect, the player loses a turn. The first player to achieve three in a row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally is the winner.
  • Incorporate a “Brainteaser Time” into your day. Choose from a selection of brainteaser activities or have students make up some of their own. These can be presented to the class as part of your daily sponge activities.

Know a sponge activity that works great in the classroom? Help add to this list by sharing your sponge activities in our comment roll!

Sponge Activities

A sponge activity is something that teachers give students to work on as they come in the room or to keep the students busy while the teacher takes care of necessary business, like taking attendance, getting the lunch count, or collecting notes and homework. Sponge activities are also useful during transition periods while the teacher needs to reteach several students or to nudge someone into finishing. They are the activities or assignments that are made to “soak up” those wasted minutes when students may otherwise get out of control.

Sponge activities can be used to refocus students on something they have previously learned. For example, “Use your textbooks to write down the names of the three explorers that we talked about yesterday and when they explored.

Or they might be something like a puzzle, question, or a problem to solve that is used to challenge students and keep them busy while the teacher takes care of his/her required paper work. You might challenge your class to a question a day like, “Why is the sky blue?” It gives students a chance to make suppositions about something they will (or may) study later.

Good sponge activities give students an opportunity to review, talk, or write about something they have learned. Sponges are best if they can be posted for the students to read when they are ready to complete the activity.

Super Sponge Activities

  1. Play 5 x 5. This is easily accomplished by making a grid of 25 squares. Choose five categories. Place one at the top of each box. Then randomly choose five letters and place one on each box down the side. Have students call out words that fit each category. This is really handy when working with a theme that you wish to review.
  2. Charades is a fun sponge, especially to use as a review. Use spelling or vocabulary words, titles of books by authors the class has studied, or activities going on in school. Put these on slips of paper and place in a container. Let individuals or groups of students choose one and act it out.
  3. Read aloud to your class! Keep some funny, short stories or a book of limericks available for a quick read.
  4. Play “baseball.” Choose a skill that needs to be reviewed. Draw a baseball diamond on the board. Choose a scorekeeper. Divide the class into two teams. Determine which team is up first. Ask each player a review question. If the player answers correctly, have him or her run the bases by marking the diamond base on the board. A run is scored every time a player touches home base. If the team misses three questions, the other team is up.
  5. Try some rhythms. Clap or tap out a rhythm and then have students repeat it. Vary the patterns and the lengths, making them increasingly more challenging.

Click here for more sponge activities.