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Monday, June 26, 2023

10 Fun and Engaging Activities to Practice Letter Identification and Sounds

Teaching letters is a big task in the primary classroom. This process often starts as early as the preschool years and continues on through kindergarten and first grade to ensure that children have a solid understanding. Since this is something you'll likely be spending a lot of time on, why not make it extra fun? Today I'm doing exactly that! Come along as I share 10 fun ways to engage your students while practicing letter identification and sounds. 

Getting your students excited about practicing letter identification and sounds is fun and easy with these engaging activities they are sure to love.

1. Find It Jars 

Everyone likes to play "I Spy," right? This first activity is focused on finding letters and identifying them with a letter sorting mat and Find it Jars. As a warm-up activity, I like to start with the letter sorting mats. Provide students with letter beads, and allow them to sort them out onto their mats, putting each bead in the correct spot. This activity also helps focus specifically on the letters in their name. There's a spot on the mat where kiddos can collect extra letters that are in their own name as they sort. 

Letter beads like these are a great way to get some hands on fine motor skills practice while your students are learning to identify letter names and sounds.
After this, take this letter identification activity up a notch and have students use "Find It Jars" to practice recognizing letters. The jars are filled with a mix of rainbow sprinkles and tiny letter beads. Children will draw a card, identify the letter on the card, and then turn the jar over to find that bead. This activity is great for small groups and centers. You can pre-make the jars and have children take turns with them, or make this into a craft activity and allow each child to make their own jar. 

This is also a fun activity to use as a whole group game. Have your kiddos gather in a circle, and choose 1 child to start with the jar. Draw a card, hold it up, and have the child identify it and find that letter in the jar. After they have finished, they pass the jar on to the person sitting next to them and repeat the process. This activity is anything but ordinary and will help get your kids excited about letter identification! 

2. Magnetic Letters 

Next up, let's talk about good ol' magnet letters. If you teach young students, you likely already know these are a classroom must-have! There are so many fun things you can do with magnet letters. Plus, they make a perfect "instant" center activity. Some of the ways we used them over the years include:

These easy to find magnetic letters can be used to spell words, identify letters, and much more.
  • Spelling names of friends - To do this activity, pair up students and provide them with a tub of magnet letters and some cookie sheets. Have kiddos take turns choosing a friend and spelling their name out on the cookie sheet with the magnet letters. Having all student names listed somewhere for this activity or written on the board is helpful. 
  • Beginning sound game - This one is great for small groups. To play, name something in the classroom, such as "desk," "light," or "pencil." Students will quickly find the letter that goes with that beginning sound and lay it in front of them. Repeat, or have students take turns calling out an item. 
  • Sensory bin - This is always a student favorite! To play this game, toss some magnet letters into a sensory bin filled with rice or dried beans. Provide students with magnet wands like these and have them "fish" for letters. When a letter sticks to their wand, they remove it and say the name of the letter and the sound.

These are just a few of the fun ways to use magnet letters for learning letter sounds and identification. Make sure to keep these on hand for quick and easy center games your students will love.

3. Hole Punch Letter Identification 

Young students work best when given many opportunities for hands-on learning. I loved incorporating fun manipulatives and other classroom tools in our lessons as often as I could to help keep kiddos engaged and excited about learning! One of my favorites for targeting both letter identification and letter sounds are these Hole Punch Mats. 

A simple hole punch turns this letter identification activity into a fun one your students can work on individually or in centers.
This fun activity has students draw a card, name the letter on the card and then find it on their mat. Then, they use the hole punch to mark it on their mat. There are card options for uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and picture cards to allow for differentiation. You use this game multiple times by having students match their cards in a variety of ways, such as:
  • Uppercase to Uppercase
  • Lowercase to Lowercase
  • Cross Case
  • Beginning Sound
  • Letters in Sequence
  • Letters Out of Sequence

This activity is great for little learners that are working on hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills too! Manipulating the hole punch is such a great way to strengthen those hand muscles and lock in student focus. 

4. Rubber-Band Geo Boards

These are another must-have, in my opinion, for a simple center option that everyone loves. 

Put your class set of geo boards to use during literacy time and have students practice identifying letters as they make them with rubber bands.
Geoboards are great for working on fine motor skills while practicing letter identification. My favorite way to use these is in small groups. 

I give every kiddo a board and some rubber bands. Then I'll say something like, "I'm thinking of a letter that makes the /s/ sound." 

The children call out the letter and then use the rubberbands to make it on the board. 

You can also say things like, "Make the letter that the word 'dog' begins with."

Either option is a fun way to get the wheels turning in those little minds in a fun way!  

5. Letter Poems 

Do you have auditory learners in your classroom? We all know that every child is unique, and different teaching methods work better for some than others. Because of this, I always loved to have a variety of activities that support visual learners, hands-on learners, and auditory learners. One of my favorite ways to master letter identification through auditory lessons is with letter poems. 
Letter poems like these help students remember letter names and sounds.

Young students are often pretty excited about songs, poems, chants, and rhymes. Use this to your advantage to help them remember their letters! These catchy letter poems help prompt children on what capital letters look like and how to write them. 

Once you introduce these to your students, they'll be repeating these poems to themselves as they write their letters. "Slant to the left and to the right...hooray! A line in between, and you write the letter A!"

These letter poems come in 2 sizes. The larger version is perfect to display as anchor chart posters around the room or laminate and bind them together as a book. The smaller version is great to give out to students as a reminder for each letter. 

6. Letter Identification Sensory Bins 

Do you use sensory bins in your classroom? If not, you're missing out on a valuable opportunity to master letter identification in a fun way! Sensory bins get a bad rap for being large and making a mess, but when done right, they're such a great way to mix things up in the classroom. 

I liked to use a small bin or wash tub to create a portable sensory bucket that can be used all year long. You can fill the bin with anything you'd like, but keep in mind how you'll want the kiddos to use it. If you plan to make this an unsupervised center activity, go for something low-mess like shredded paper or Easter grass. Make it festive by swapping out the paper shreds to match the current season or upcoming holiday. 

Letter sensory bins like these are perfect for all sorts of fun activities like letter searches and center activities.
Dried beans, dried rice, popcorn kernels, or Styrofoam peanuts are all great options too! If you go this route, I recommend putting a tray under your sensory bin to easily catch spills. Always be sure to have a brief rundown of the rules before letting kiddos use the new sensory bin too! 

Once you've got your bin all set up, add letter cards like these. This resource includes card options to target uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and beginning sounds. 

You can choose what works best for your students or differentiate to meet varied needs. To use this activity, kiddos will choose a card from the sensory bin and say it aloud. Next, they find it on their recording sheet and trace the letter. 

This resource also includes spinners to add another layer of fun. To incorporate these, students will spin, identify the letter they land on, and then find it in their sensory bin. This activity is perfect for center time and will be something students look forward to participating in. 

7. Sand Trays 

Sand trays are one of my favorite activities for practicing letter identification and formation. 

Sand trays are a great kinesthetic way for students to practice identifying letter names and sounds.
To make these for your students, grab some simple plastic trays and colored sand. For this activity, I liked to provide students with a tray filled with sand and a stack of letter flashcards. 

Students will draw a card, say the name of the letter, and then write it in the sand using their fingers. 

You can also use cards with beginning sounds as well if you'd like to target that skill. 

Once children have used this activity a few times, it makes a great center activity. It's also a fun option to use in small group interventions instead of pencils and paper. 

8. Pop It Letter Activities 

Pop-Its are a sensory toy that makes practicing letter identification and letter sounds more fun for children. Grab a Pop-It Fidget Toy with the alphabet on it, and use it alongside these activities for instant engagement. To play, students will choose a card and complete the task. There is a variety of different games included to work on different skills:

Pop It letter activities like these make practicing letter identification and sounds feel more like a game than learning.
  • Match capital letters to the capital letters on the Pop-It Toy.
  • Match lowercase letters to the lowercase letters on the Pop-It Toy. 
  • Match beginning sounds to the corresponding letters on the Pop-It Toy.
  • Find the Missing Letter in a sequence of 3. 
This activity is perfect for centers, independent learning stations, and fast finishers. Children will have so much fun "popping the bubbles" on the fidget toy. They won't even realize how much they are working on letter identification and letter sounds!

9. Wooden Letter Beads

This activity is one that you can easily make and can be used in a variety of ways. 

Use wooden letter beads like these to ask students to spell out words and identify several different letter names and sounds in a hands on way they will love.
First off, grab some plain wooden beads like these and use a permanent marker to write letters of the alphabet on them.

These letter beads are another fun variation as well. I liked to have a set with uppercase letters and one with lowercase letters to differentiate this activity among my group. 

To use this activity, have students string letter beads in ABC order on a piece of lacing cord. 

After they have the whole alphabet, they can write the letters on a piece of paper to extend the activity further. 

This is a great center activity or independent learning station that encourages hands-on learning. 

Alternatively, you can also have students work on spelling words and naming each letter as they go. For this option, have them sit near a word wall or provide them with a stack of flashcards. 

10. Letter Fluency Game

Last but certainly not least, I have one more fun activity for you to try! This letter fluency game is focused on quickly identifying and naming letters to promote overall fluency. This game is also a low-prep, print-and-play option to help save you time when preparing your literacy activities. 
Help your students learn letter identification and sounds in a game like way with a partner or small group.

To play, students will spin the spinner and then find that picture on their card. Then, they point to each letter and say it aloud, moving from left to right. You can also have students say the letter name and the letter sound before moving to the next one if you'd like to focus on both skills during this activity. 

I always loved to use this game during small groups and intervention lessons. It's also a fun pattern game too! Simply have kiddos take turns spinning until all of the letter boxes have been read aloud. 

BONUS Activity: Name Spinners!

I know I said there would be ten activities in this post, but I have one more bonus activity that I know your students will love! Aside from helping your students with letter recognition and sounds, these Name Spinners will help target the letters specifically in their names.  Starting with letters that the student has a connection to is the perfect place to begin teaching letter identification and sounds.

This resource comes with editable pages that allow you to easily add student names. Simply type in each student's name and the individual letters and spinners will automatically be generated for each child. Once the spinners are ready, add a spinner or use a pencil and paper clip to spin for letters. Children will say the letter they land on, as well as the sound it makes in their name.   Check out this video to see just how quick and easy they are to create and use.

This simple activity is a great way to get plenty of practice with the meaningful letters to each child- the letters in their own name! Use this activity during intervention groups, morning work, as a warm-up activity, or send them home to be used with parents. No matter how you choose to use them, they're sure to be a hit! 

Even More Letter Games 

Hopefully, you found something inspiring here to try. The big takeaway when it comes to learning letter identification and letter sounds is to think outside of the box! Fun tools and manipulatives like beads, magnetic letters, sensory bins, and spinners help make any letter identification game more fun and engaging for students. Using a variety of these items helps to keep a task that you work on frequently feeling fresh and exciting every time!

If you're looking for more ways to level up your letter games, be sure to check out all of the fun and engaging letter resources in my shop. You'll find games, sensory bins, task cards, riddles, and more to help your students master letter identification and letter sounds in a fun way! 

Save This Post 

This post is filled with tons of great tips to encourage letter identification in a fun way. Pin this post on Pinterest so you can come back to it when you need inspiration! 

Use these letter fluency and letter identification activities in your classroom this year for exciting literacy activities they will love. From magnetic letters to sensory bins, these activities will keep your students excited about learning letter names and sounds with hands on engaging activities you can do in centers, as independent practice, or even as a whole group activity. #tarynsuniquelearning #letteridentification #lettersounds #practicingletteridentificationandsounds

Thursday, June 8, 2023

6 Ways to Make Staff Meetings Lively and Engaging

As an administrator, you know that teaching and working in a school is more difficult now than ever. Staff morale plays a huge role in a healthy, thriving school. What's an administrator to do? Focus on those staff meetings! Engaging and lively staff meetings are one of the best ways to focus on boosting staff morale. If you're an administrator looking for ways to make your meetings more fun, I've got tons of great resources for you. 

Need help making the most of your staff meetings this year? Here are 6 ways to make staff meetings lively and engaging that everyone will love!

Today we're talking all about how to help your teachers and staff actually look forward to faculty meetings, rather than dread them. Let's dive into some fresh ideas to boost staff morale and help your entire staff feel appreciated! Everyone from the office staff to classroom teachers, and counselors to custodial staff will all benefit from the activities and ideas.  

First Up, Get to Know Your Team  

Every school is different. As an administrator, creating a positive and engaged working environment is a big part of the job.  It's important to tune into what makes our team unique, and how you can best support them. To do that, you must get to know them.  
Getting to know your team is a very important step if you want to make the most out of your staff meetings this year.
  • What's your teacher demographic? Mostly newbies, veteran teachers, or a mix of both?
  • What are their pain points in the classroom? This likely varies by grade.  Don't assume - ask them. This will show that you are interested in helping.
  • How are teachers and other staff members being treated by parents?
  • Do they feel supported? Why or why not?
  • What are their personality types? 
  • Do they know YOU? 

The key is to make sure you're well-educated on your faculty, gain their trust, and ensure they feel supported! Not sure how to do that? No problem, these 6 activities will help you learn more about your staff and help them feel supported all year long.

1. Staff Meeting Icebreakers 

The beginning of the year is hectic for everyone in the school system. This time of year marks when new teachers might be entering your school and this is an important time to make sure they feel welcomed and supported in their teaching journey. 

Ice breakers like these are the perfect way to make your staff meetings lively and engaging and will help both veteran and newbie teachers get to know one another.
This can be a "make or break" moment. After all, if a new teacher or staff member doesn't feel welcomed into their new community it can be hard to persevere through the struggles of that first year!

With all of this in mind, we also know that staff meetings are packed with TONS of things to cover. 

You're short on time, and while you want to ensure everyone is acquainted, you've also got a fair bit of ground to cover too! 

This is where simple Staff Meeting Icebreakers will save the day. These fun get-to-know-you sheets aim to have staff get another person's signature on each square. The squares list things like:

  • Pinterest-worthy classroom
  • taught 20+ years
  • literacy guru
  • long commute to work 
The idea behind these fun icebreaker sheets is that your staff will be presented with an opportunity to learn a bit more about their peers during meetings. They will discover commonalities, get to laugh and converse about some of the funny topics, and make newbies feel welcome! 

There are 4 different options, so you can use a variety of these sheets for a large group of staff, or repeat this activity once a quarter. This quick and easy icebreaker is always a hit, and easy to implement. Plus, it's a wonderful way for YOU to learn more about your staff too! 

2. Staff Morale BINGO 

Next up, who doesn't love BINGO? This simple game is a fun option that can be used all year long to keep your staff meetings feeling a bit more lively. The object of these Staff Morale BINGO cards is to mark as many boxes off with an X (or a digital sticker on a PDF) during the meeting. Since these can be printed or sent out digitally via email, they're great for Zoom meetings too! The boxes are filled with fun topics like:

Use a staff meeting BINGO game like this to keep your teachers engaged during staff meetings this year.
  • I enjoyed my favorite beverage during the meeting. 
  • I received a compliment from our principal. 
  • I sat with my teaching BFF. 
  • I brought a shareable treat to the meeting.  

These simple boxes are easy to follow along with during the meeting and add a touch of fun to what might feel like an ordinary (and sometimes monotonous) monthly task. The boards also feature seasonal decor on the game boards as well because we all know how much teachers love a good theme, right? 

After the meeting, staff members can turn in their game boards and be rewarded with some kind of prize. That piece is up to you, it doesn't need to be fancy! Just a small token of appreciation is often all it takes to boost staff morale and encourage your teachers. 

3. Four Corners Staff Meeting Game 

Next up, let's talk about Four Corners - Staff Morale Edition. Four Corners is such a great way to infuse a little bit of fun in your monthly staff meetings without taking up a lot of time. 

A four corners activity like this is perfect for staff meetings because it won't take up a lot of time to run and is fun for everyone.
There are 20 different questions included along with 4 corner signs to hang in the room. This game helps get your staff up and moving, mingling, and getting to know each other a bit better. 

To play, read or hold up a question and answer choice. Next, staff will mix and mingle while moving to the corresponding corner to answer the question correctly. 

The format of this game makes it easy to customize based on the amount of time you have to spare. If you have limited time, choose just a couple of question cards. If you have more time, use more.

This is a great starter activity for your staff meeting to get everyone started off on the right foot and set the tone for a fun meeting! It's also great as a mid-way movement break.  Students aren't the only ones that need brain breaks!

4. Staff Morale Photo Hunt 

This next activity is really fun, and a bit unexpected from what you tend to see at your typical staff meeting. To play this Staff Morale Photo Hunt game, participants will search their phones for specific scavenger hunt items from a list. There are 3 categories for this game - school life, my work family, and work-life balance. Some of the fun things to hunt for include:

Everyone has a smartphone these days so put it to good use with a fun staff morale photo activity during your staff meetings.
  • an organization hack (teacher life)
  • a student beaming with pride (my work family)
  • a self-care photo (work-life balance)
  • plus MANY more

There are a total of 45 questions across 3 categories and recording sheets for teachers to write down their answers. This is another game that can be modified to meet the time allotment that you have. Simply decide prior how many questions you'll ask, and how much time you'll allow teachers to search.

After the game is finished, have staff members turn them in and award a prize to the winners. The prize can be inexpensive (or free) too - "Jeans Day" is always a hit!  

5. Gratitude Roses for Staff Morale

Focusing on gratitude and appreciation for others is so helpful in boosting staff morale. 

Use this gratitude rose activity not only during staff meetings but also throughout the year as a special way to show appreciation to your teachers and co-workers.
The idea for these Gratitude Roses came from some of my previous administrators who had a real knack for keeping the staff feeling appreciated and motivated. My past two principals began each staff meeting armed with a vase full of fresh-cut roses. 

During our meeting, anyone in the building could thank a colleague for something that they did well or in recognition for something kind. 

For example, if another staff member walked your kids in from recess, handled emergency sub plans, covered your class, or helped unjam the copy machine, you could thank them with a rose. The idea is the same here, except these roses come in the form of notes! 

Simply pass these out, or make them available for your staff to grab at the beginning of the meeting. They fill out the page with a note of gratitude and pass it along to the deserving staff member. These can be used all year long during staff meetings, or placed in a central location to grab at any time. Encouraging kindness and gratitude is always a great practice for boosting staff morale! 

6. Appreciation Spinners for Staff Meetings 

One of my favorite ways to ensure that staff feels appreciated is through small tokens of kindness. As a special way to thank your staff for their dedication and hard work, try these Staff Morale Prize Spinners at your next meeting. 
Use staff morale prize spinners like these for extra special fun during your staff meetings throughout the year.

These spinners use fun, seasonal themes, so you can choose a different one for each monthly meeting. Teachers will spin and receive the prize they landed on. Many of the prices are free or very inexpensive which makes this feasible to facilitate. Some of the fun prizes included on the spinners are:

  • jeans/comfy clothes day 
  • prime parking 
  • having pencils sharpened weekly 
  • having a bulletin board changed out 
  • having duty covered 
  • a candy stash
  • a pack of favorite pens

When I created this resource, I surveyed teachers to see what they would value most as a prize and many of them said to get more of their time back. You'll notice that many of the prizes on these spinners do just that! These are great to use as a final activity to close out your staff meeting. 

Keeping Staff Morale Up All Year Long 

Overall, the key to maintaining healthy staff morale is to form meaningful relationships with your team! Taking the time to implement icebreakers, games, and activities focused on building trust, be intentional about showing appreciation, and making room for socializing makes a world of difference. You want to make sure your staff feels heard, valued, and supported. After all, working in education is NOT for the faint of heart in this day and age! 

My best advice for making sure your staff morale stays high is to keep those meetings fun, and lively month after month. We all have a lot going on, but putting some time into this helps ensure a happy team of teachers. If you want to boost morale all year long, be sure to check out the Staff Morale Activity Bundle.

Grab this Staff Meetings Bundle to make your staff meetings lively and engaging this year!
Included, you'll find all 6 of the fun activities and games mentioned in this post so you can keep the fun rolling in at your staff meetings all year long! With the bundle, you'll be able to...

  • get meetings started off on the right foot every time
  • turn boring meetings into engaging opportunities for community building
  • encourage teamwork and random acts of kindness among your staff
  • recognize staff for a job well done
  • help staff members get to know each other (and you) better 
  • gain teacher trust
  • show your appreciation 

There's really no downside to organizing lively and engaging staff meetings, so make sure to check out the Staff Morale Bundle if you need some no-brainer ways to boost morale among your crew!

Save This Post 

Don't forget to pin this post on Pinterest to keep these staff meeting ideas handy! 

Staff meetings don't have to be boring and tiresome with these 6 fun activities everyone in your staff meeting will love! From fun ice breakers to get to know you activities, to BINGO to prize wheels, your staff meetings will be the stuff of legend this year. Be sure to grab the Staff Meetings Activity Bundle for fun activities you can use in your staff meetings all year long! #tarynsuniquelearning #staffmeetings #successfulstaffmeetings #funstaffmeetings #staffmeetingiddeas