Happy (almost) back to school! I know hearing that can be stressful as summer ends. Even as someone who LOVES her job, I (Brooke) get nervous about going back to school. This is because once I get started, I know how I will be going FULL speed for the first month of school. It’s a whirlwind of nerves, excitement, stress, foot pain, and fun!
During my first year of teaching, my principal said to me on the first day of school, “Are you ready? The first week is make it or break it!”. I was puzzled by this statement, but I just awkwardly laughed and said, “Hehe, yep! I know!”.
Y’all, I didn’t know. And I screwed up. My classroom was like a scene from Jumanji.
My students saw me as a friend, and when came down to “business time” it was a nightmare for me; example: formal observations. One time my principal popped in unannounced, and a student was braiding my hair. My shoes were off. Raise your hand if you are embarrassed for me right now. Steve Price if you ever read this, I am truly sorry and you were the sweetest boss ever.
Anyways, I knew I needed things to change but didn’t know how to make it happen. I turned to the internet and read blogs on blogs, I asked for help, observed other teachers, and tried things out! Classroom management is truly an art. It takes time to figure out and it also depends on the type of classroom you want.
I decided I wanted to have a structured, and engaging classroom. I didn’t want to be embarrassed when my students were walking down the hall, but I also didn’t want to be Ms. Trunchbull.
This ended up being the (not so) secret formula to achieve those 2 things:
1.Be very clear and explicit with what you expect (yes, yes, you’ve all heard this before. But, this part needs to be student friendly).
2.Reward to enforce good behaviors (you do not need to spend a million dollars on this part, just keep reading!).
3.Calm conversations to address problem behaviors. Then Practice over and over. Until you see student eye rolls (kidding, kind of).
This my friends, is how Puzzle Wars was born. A little friendly competition that encourages students to make good choices. I’m telling you, this works like a charm, especially at the beginning of the year, right after Winter Break, and during those super tough last weeks. This is because it is clear and structured! I’m going to break down how I use this in my classroom and will also mention some ideas of how other teachers have been using it as well!
STEP 1: SET UP “GAME BOARD”
I teach 3 blocks of ELA, so my puzzle wars contains 3 puzzle boards. If you are self contained, you can do table groups! I use Velcro so I don’t have to spend time attaching pieces up on the game board as they earn them and can reuse them from week to week. Some teachers laminate and color in with an expo, some print on regular paper and just color in with a crayon, that part is up to you.
STEP 2: PICK BEHAVIORS TO FOCUS ON
The ones I focus on at the beginning are: quiet transition, on task, follow directions, clean area. This helps each class run smoothly, depending on your grade or subject area, you might want to focus on different things. This is why there is an editable portion of Puzzle Wars.
STEP 3: DEFINE BEHAVIORS WITH STUDENTS
This is where you whip up a simple anchor chart (nothing fancy!). You could do one anchor chart per puzzle piece for younger students. This thinking map below is appropriate for my 6th graders. I plop one anchor chart that looks exactly like mine on every table, and students brainstorm and fill out as a group. They are thinking out loud “What specifically can we do to earn a Clean Area puzzle piece?” etc., etc. Then we come together and fill out an anchor chart together, which will go up on the wall. We will refer back to this anchor chart over and over, as we are learning expected behaviors.
STEP 4: NOW YOU ARE READY TO ROLL OUT THIS MANAGEMENT TOOL
There are a total of 16 pieces, and only 4 different behaviors I am focusing on. If my students come in quiet, and get unpacked, I immediately thank them and give them their puzzle piece. If they have an awesome class period, they could earn up to 4 pieces! Students might notice that they are really good at one skill, but need to work on another. This points out areas to grow to the students in a visible way, that they can understand. So much more powerful then saying, “We need to work on coming in quietly!” which I know I am guilty of saying at least a bajillion times.
I start the Puzzle Wars board on Monday, and it ends on Friday. Students will get their reward the following Monday. That way all students have the equal amount of time to earn pieces. The first block to fill up their entire board gets the reward! If no class fills up the board, then no one gets the reward. We will start over and try again next week! This happens rarely, as I am always on the hunt for an opportunity to praise!
Here is the thing…I NEVER take a puzzle piece away from them. I know it’s hard, trust me. The reason I do this is because I don’t want to discourage them. Mistakes happen. And their isn’t as much “buy in” if the teacher is constantly threatening to take away a puzzle piece that they previously earned. This is designed to be a positive approach which rewards students for making good choices. Their natural consequence for making bad choices, is not getting the reward. Not getting that “prideful moment”. Not getting to cheer when their board is the first to fill up. Maybe next time they will encourage each other and remind each other of what they should be doing. And they will. Seriously, try it! This gives students ownership of the way their classroom runs, and I, and the teacher, supply them with the tools they need and step in when needed.
Do not go overboard on your rewards! You, and your bank will not be able to keep up with this. 78 of the reward options within this management tool are FREE REWARDS. Some examples are: free sit (a big one in middle school), free homework pass, extra recess, lunch with the teacher, gum pass, play capture the flag. Anything that is outside of the classroom, will be about 20 minutes and will happen when time allows. One time their reward was Oreos, because a parent donated them. Each student got one Oreo, and they were still happy. This is because they had praise from their teacher and classmates along the way, got to stand out as “winners” and got to do a little special something out of the ordinary. It ends up not being so much about the reward, in the end.
We hope we broke down this classroom management tool enough for you! If you want to see all of this broken down in video format, we encourage you to go check out our instagram @twoteachersinfifth where everything is saved in a highlight called “Classroom Management”
Thanks for reading!
Useful links: TPT Store Puzzle Wars Game Blue Magnetic shelf ($$ spendy but durable) Velcro we use *aff link* Laminate we use *aff link* Laminator we use *aff link*