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Five-Minute Math Fillers

Use these quick math fillers when you have 5 to 10 minutes
How many times do we have an extra five or ten minutes before recess, lunch, or dismissal? I always keep a list near my teaching podium with a few time fillers for these situations. Most of them require little to no prep!
Guess My Number (Mastermind) is a fun way for students to use logic to fill 5-10 minutes!
Guess My Number (Mastermind)
Skill: Logic
  • Teacher Materials Needed: Whiteboard or projector
  • Student Materials Needed: -None-
  1. Think of a 3-digit number and write it down so you don't forget. The number should have 3 unique digits, i.e. 305 instead of 355.
  2. Call on a student to guess the number.
  3. Write down the guess so everyone can see it.
  4. Record how many of the guessed digits are in your number.
  5. Record how many of the guessed digits are in the correct place value.
  6. Keep collecting guesses until correct.

Multiplication Tetris uses basic facts and spatial reasoning to create a fun class competition.
Multiplication Tetris
Skills: Basic multiplication facts, spatial reasoning
  • Teacher Materials Needed: 2 dice, projector (optional)
  • Student Materials Needed: Blank grids (I use 10x16 grids), writing utensil
  1. Roll the dice. Either call out the numbers and/or project the dice.
  2. Students trace a rectangle with the rolled dimensions and write the corresponding multiplication problem inside.
  3. Continue rolling until students can no longer make the rolled dimensions fit in their grids.
  • Draw names after a few rolls. If those students have been able to make them all fit, let them line up first/get their backpacks/get a small treat. Continue rolling and drawing names.
  • Use paper with more squares and 10-sided dice {Amazon affiliate link}.
Quick problems are a differentiated way to fill those extra 5 to 10 minutes before recess, lunch, or special.Quick problems are a differentiated way to fill those extra 5 to 10 minutes before recess, lunch, or special.Quick problems are a differentiated way to fill those extra 5 to 10 minutes before recess, lunch, or special. 
Quick Problems
Skill: Varies, problem solving
  • Teacher Materials Needed: Whiteboard
  • Student Materials Needed: Dry erase marker and dry erase board -or- paper/sticky note and writing utensil
  1. Write two problems of differing levels of difficulty on the board.
  2. Let the students choose which one to solve on their desks or sticky notes.
  3. Check them while they're at recess or special.
  4. Put the answer keys on the board.

Quick images provide a perfect opportunity to practice spacial reasoning and listening to others.
Quick Images
Skill: Spatial reasoning, flexible thinking, listening to others' reasoning
  • Teacher Materials Needed: Projector, images made in advance
  • Student Materials Needed: -None-
  1. Show an image of dots on the projector for a few (2-3) seconds and then cover it up or take it away. Make sure that it is NOT enough time for them to actually count them one by one.
  2. Give students a few moments to figure out how many dots they saw.
  3. Optional - show the same image a second time for a few more seconds.
  4. Go around the room and call on volunteers to tell how many dots they saw. Students can either repeat what another student said or give some sort of signal to show that they got the same thing.
  5. Show the image again and leave it up.
  6. Count the actual number of dots.
  7. Choose students to describe how they counted/grouped the dots. This is the essential piece. Ask them to be as specific as possible.
  8. Occasionally ask another student to explain how the previous student counted them.
True/false equations are a quick time filler
T/F Equations
Skill: Reasoning
  • Teacher Materials Needed: Equations and non-equations, whiteboard or projector
  • Student Materials Needed: -None-
  1. Write equation or non-equation on the board.
  2. Give students time to think about if it is true or false.
  3. Call on students to explain their thinking.
Mental Math
Skill: Mental Math, verbalising thinking
  • Teacher Materials Needed: Whiteboard or projector, math problems close to landmark numbers or combinations of 10
  • Student Materials Needed: -None-
  1. Write problem on the board.
  2. Give students time to solve it mentally.
  3. Call on 2-3 students to explain their thinking as specifically as possible. Write down their processes.
Use these quick math fillers when you have 5 to 10 minutes

Low-Prep, Low-Stress Testing Treats

Four low-prep testing treats to give your students
I browsed through Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook looking for ideas for testing treats for my students this year. I knew that I didn't want candy, but I did want something that was a) gluten-free and b) something that could potentially double as breakfast for students who didn't take the time to eat before coming to school (for one reason or another).

After not seeing much that satisfied both criteria, I headed to the grocery store to wander the aisles. Luckily, the cereal aisle had a bunch of options that would work. I surveyed the shelves and chose three cereals with names that would lend themselves to some sort of cheesy pun that my fifth graders would either think was a) funny/clever or b) so lame that rolling their eyes would cause them to pull an ocular muscle. (I ended up buying Chex, Cheerios and Lucky Charms if you can't tell from the picture. A few days later, I remembered that we had four days of testing, so I quick ran to the store for fruit snacks.)

Now, as cute as all of those individual bags with their bag toppers were, I knew that I had no chance of accomplishing such a feat in one night. (Did I mention that I waited until the last minute?) If I did devote my night to it, I knew that I would be completely discouraged when the students looked at it for maybe five seconds before tearing into it. So the idea of just making one sign was born.

Also, I decided to go with paper bowls instead of paper cups or Ziploc bags for a few reasons. I couldn't justify using so many Ziploc bags during Earth Day week, and I knew that paper cups would be spilled in 0.2 seconds. Bowls would be reusable and less likely to tip. (This ended up being a pretty decent plan.)

For setup, I just put the students' numbers on the bowls, dumped in the cereal, and arranged my bowls around the sign. Students took the bowls and returned them to the table for the next day. Easy. Stress-free.

If you would like the set of signs that I used, please click any of the images below!
 Remember to Re-Check Your Work - Chex cereal as a testing treat
Cheering You On - Cheerios as a testing treat
 No Luck Needed, You'll Do Great - Lucky Charms for testing snack
 You've Done Berry Well - Fruit Snacks as a testing treat

Brag Tags - FAQ and Troubleshooting

Brag tags are a great way to motivate and reward students. This blog post focuses on the most commonly asked questions about brag tag management and troubleshooting.
From looking at the trending searches on TpT, it seems that many of you are wanting to try brag tags in your classrooms this year. My {previous post} has had a great response, and I have gotten A TON of questions about brag tags so I thought that I would devote a blog post to them.
Brag tags are a popular search item on TpT right now!
General Questions
Q: What are brag tags?
A: Brag tags are small, military tag-like "charms" that can be earned by or given to students. Teachers can give tags for mastering math facts, showing good character, reading different genres of books, holidays... pretty much anything that needs to be celebrated in your classroom. Students collect them on ball chains, binder rings, or whatever the teacher decides is easiest to manage.

Q: How do I prepare my brag tags?
A: There are many ways to do this depending on supplies and budget, but I print mine in full-color on white cardstock. Then I feed the page through my laminator. Then I cut the tags apart and punch a hole in the designated spot. I know that some people prefer to print the blackline versions on colored paper or cardstock. Others prefer not to laminate.

Q: Don't 5th graders think brag tags are too babyish?
A: Like anything, it all depends on your excitement and attitude towards them. In the years I've used brag tags, I've only had one class where the majority of my students seemed to be 10 going on 18. But for the most part, 5th graders still love little things like this deep down inside. Of course, there will always be a few that determine anything you do is "lame". Welcome to the joy of teaching 5th graders ;)

Brag Tag Management
Q: How do you organize your brag tags?
A: I use bead organizers from any craft store. {These are the ones pictured.} I know others use the teacher toolboxes from hardware stores. I've seen other teachers use binders with plastic sleeves that were made to hold baseball cards or embroidery thread.
Bead organizers are perfect for storing brag tags and beads. Bead organizers are perfect for storing brag tags and beads.
Q: How often do you pass out earned brag tags?
A: For easy tags, like math mastery on XtraMath, I hand them out ASAP. For awarding genre tags, like through Reading Counts, that's a little more time-consuming. On Fridays, I check their passed quizzes on Reading Counts, record their points towards the goal party, update their 100%s for our 100-100% party, and also award their tags/beads. All of that is easier for me to do only once a week.

Q: Do the students store the necklaces or do you?
A: I hang them up on a {Closetmaid tie and belt holder} attached to the wall with Command strips. I'm afraid that if my students stored them, then they would disappear into the black hole known as their desks. Then the motivation dies. However, I know of some teachers who use binder rings and the students attach them to the zipper of their pencil pouch or backpack.
A tie and belt holder can be the perfect compact place to store brag tags.
Q: Do you let your students take home the brag tags at the end of the year?
A: Yes! About 95% of my students want to take them home. For those who don't, I just take the pieces and use them again next year.
This brag tags template allows you to create your own brag tags to fit the needs of your classroom.
DIY Brag Tags Troubleshooting
Q: My version of PPT doesn't allow me to save slides as pictures. How do I do that?
A: If you have a newer Mac version of PPT, you need to export as a JPEG. If you have a PC with PPT 2013, you need to Save As and choose PNG. If those are not options, then you need to email me so I can help!

Q: Why are my inserted pictures blurry/too small/pixelated?
A: You most likely need to save at a higher resolution. On a Mac in PPT, click Options after choosing to save as pictures and type in something over 1000 into one of the boxes. On a PC in PPT 2013, try following the steps in {this article}.

Anything I'm forgetting? Leave a comment and I'll add your question with the answer!

You can browse my current selection of brag tags {here}.

This blog posts answers many of the brag tag questions that I've received.

Disclaimer: Fifth in the Middle is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Brag Tags

Brag tags are a great way to motivate and reward students for various accomplishments and holidays.
One of my huge successes of the year was my implementation of brag tags. I finally figured out a way to be consistent with awarding them in addition to having a variety of ways for students to get them. Since I get a lot of questions about using brag tags, I'm going to share with you how I implemented them in my classroom this year.

Set Up and Storage
First of all, I get a spool of silver ball chain from Hobby Lobby and cut 24" pieces. Or, if I'm feeling lazy in a time crunch, {I order 24" ball chains through Amazon Prime}. Some people like shorter, keychain-like ones or binder rings, but I like chains because I also award beads (more on that later).
24" ball chain necklaces are a perfect way to collect brag tags and beads.
Then I make each student a name tag and school tag. {The punch I use is 1/8" from Michaels. Here it is on Amazon.} EDIT: I totally forgot to give Nasreen at {Upper Grades are Awesome} credit for inspiring the name tag design.
Creating a tag with the students' names helps to clear up confusion on whose necklace it is. A 1/8" punch is the perfect size for ball chains.
The tags get hung on a {Closetmaid belt and tie rack} attached to the wall with {Command strips}.
A Closetmaid belt and tie rack attached to the wall with Command strips makes a perfect storage solution. A Closetmaid belt and tie rack attached to the wall with Command strips makes a perfect storage solution.
I made the wonderful discovery this year that my {brag tag template} can also be used to label the different hooks with the students' names. I typed their names onto the template, printed on cardstock, cut them apart in strips of six tags, and then punched with a regular-sized punch. They are spaced perfectly and slip right over the hooks so I can shove them to the back. This makes it MUCH easier for students to find their tags.

There are certain tags that all students get, mostly holiday and birthday tags.
Holiday tags make a quick, inexpensive, and easy gift! Holiday tags make a quick, inexpensive, and easy gift!
The PBIS tags are also handed out when we earn a yellow ticket party or we win the traveling trophy for the week.
Brag tags can be used to reward PBIS achievements!

Individual Tags
The rest of the tags are earned by individual students throughout the year.

When students pass an operation in XtraMath, they earns a tag for that operation.
Brag tags can reward math fact mastery.
After students finish a book, they take a test on Reading Counts. If they pass, they earn a tag for that book's genre. If they already have a tag for that genre, they earn a color-coordinated bead. I run the reports and award the tags and beads on Fridays, otherwise it's hard to keep up with the large number of passed quizzes. NOTE: Be prepared for a LOT of students opening their necklaces and spilling every bead on their chain onto the floor. I HIGHLY suggest that they add tags and beads on a table, counter, or desk.
Students can add beads to their brag tag necklaces for other achievements, such as reading multiple books in a genre. Genre tags can be used to reward Reading Counts quizzes and 40-book challenge goals.
I also have a tag for a desk gnome/fairy tag for the occasional spot-check of desks.
The desk fairy can reward students who keep tidy desks.

Bead and Tag Organization
I use bead organizers to store my beads and tags. All of my genre tags and beads are in one, and the other tags are in another one. {These are the organizers pictured.}
Bead organization boxes are perfect for brag tags. Bead organization boxes are perfect for brag tags.

Other Options
Sometimes finding the wall space to display the necklaces can be a challenge. Maybe the ball chain necklaces don’t fit into the budget this year. Perhaps using brag tags with multiple class sections seems overwhelming.
Brag tag data binder pages can solve the problem of where to store students' brag tag necklaces. Brag tag data binder pages can solve the problem of where to store students' brag tag necklaces.
I have created these pages for teachers who have contacted me to help them find an option to overcome some of these obstacles. They can be used as a stand-alone book or data binder pages that students can store themselves and transport from class to class. You can find them {here}.

EDIT: One of my Facebook followers asked about celebrations and such for earning the tags. Maybe once a month or when we've earned a goal, I let them wear their tags around school for the day to kind of show them off. They get so much attention from other teachers and students who want to see their tags and they love it!

If you are interested in seeing the tags I've created, you can {check them out on TpT}.

Teachers are successfully using brag tags in their classrooms. Read about how I set up and store mine!

You may also be interested in {Brag Tags Part 2: FAQ and Troubleshooting}.

Disclaimer: Fifth in the Middle is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Bath Rugs in the Classroom - Who Knew?!

Bath rugs in the classroom create soft and cozy places for your students to read and work.
This year, the most coveted cozy spot was without a doubt my round bath rugs. Something about the round shape makes them really desirable. I originally got the idea from Kristen at {Ladybug's Teacher Files}, and I included them in a Donors Choose project.

Most use them directly on the floor.
Round bath rugs create a soft and comfortable floor space for reading and working.
Then one student got the idea to lay one on his chair because he liked to use the softness to calm himself. The idea quickly spread because they made the hard chairs more tolerable.
Round bath rugs add a little extra comfort to classroom chairs. They also provide some stimulation for tactile students.
As far as holding up, one of them lost its edging somehow. And a particularly tactile student started pulling out the yarn. Otherwise, they did well in the washer and dryer and come out nice and soft.

{Here's the link} to the product if you want to pick a few up for your classroom (or bathroom). (Note: This is not an affiliate link. I just like the rugs!)

Classroom Library Success

Read about organizational tips and tricks that I used in my fifth grade classroom library.
In the past two years, I have gone back to being a fifth grade self-contained classroom teacher. If you have read my blog for longer than that, you know that I used to teach mostly fifth grade social studies.

In my new district, it isn't really common practice to send students to the library whenever they need a new book since they do not employ library associates. (Side note: I spent the first 13 years of my teaching career in the same building teaching the same grade in the same room. It's a really interesting experience to see the differences between buildings and districts. It has really shown me that certain resources cannot be taken for granted.) Anyway, I needed to build up a classroom library since my students only go to the library once a week.

Through Donors Choose and the wonder of Scholastic bonus points, I have built up a pretty decent library. Here are some things that are really working well for me up to this point.

Keeping Track of Titles
I haven't found anything that I really love, but for now, {Booksource} is working for me. I don't have students check in and out, but it's nice when I'm going through Scholastic book flyers or the bookstore and wonder if I already have a book. There's an app, so it has come in handy on more than one occasion when I've been book shopping. Most of the titles are in their catalog, so it's simply a matter of scanning the barcode and adding it to my library. If you have something you really like to inventory your library, please leave your suggestions in the comments.

UPDATE: I got one of these and I LOVE it!!

Protecting Paperback Books
I prefer to buy the library binding whenever possible, but sometimes paperback is the way to go. Before I put the books out for students to read, I cover them in Contact paper. I found {this tutorial} that is pretty easy once you get the hang of it, though it is time-consuming.

Creating labels for the inside covers will help answer those reading level and genre questions.
About halfway through the year, I got the urge to print labels for the inside covers of the books. There were a few questions for which I just got tired of looking up answers (namely, "What Lexile is this?" and "How many points is this book?"), and I also wanted to be able to grab the book when awarding {genre brag tags} and beads if I wasn't sure of the genre. Nothing fancy. Just a Word template for good ol' Avery label 5160.

Book Display
Organizing your books by author and series help students find what they're looking for. Organize random titles in genre or reading level baskets.
I am fortunate to have a bit of built in shelving for books and such. Pictured above is the section of my library for series and author collections. The baskets are organized by genre or author for paperbacks. On the window sill, I chose a few books/series to highlight by using a plate stand to prop them up. Often times, this is where I showcase the new library additions.
Using clear wall files gives you extra storage for picture books and other thin books.
I also have some clear wall files to hold thin or oversized paperbacks. I {previously blogged} about how I use these files in other parts of my room.

Any classroom library ideas that you have found to be successful? Please share them in the comments!
How I organize my classroom library using baskets, wall files, labels, and more!

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