Classrooms are busy places with such a wide range of learners. Differentiation can be quite a challenge, especially with the time constraints and classroom management challenges that come with teaching early elementary students.

I absolutely LOVE using a center or station based approach for both reading and math. A center based approach, even for some of the math block helped me to differentiate and meet with students in small groups where they’d have 15 minutes or so of “just right” instruction and then skill practice and independent practice during the rest of the block.

The biggest challenge is giving directions, especially if I am the only adult in the classroom. My first graders had such a hard time remembering what each center entailed, and if I was to make good use of my time with the students at my instructional center, of course I couldn’t really be continuously interrupted to help another group get started.

The way I found to hop over this hurdle is to use a set of different games and activities that I could basically use to practice many different skills, but would require students to use the same routine, so they’d know just what to do (and use right alongside with some of my favorite math manipulatives)

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Here are my “go to” games:

Roll/ Spin and Record:

Roll/Spin and cover games are so easy to prep and they’re tons of fun because they can be differentiated based on the spinner or dice used.

Here’s are a few examples of differentiation:

For a math game, roll two dice 1-6 and add them for addition within 12 (I like using foam dice like these). Use 10 sided dice to add within 20.  Use two colored dice with one being the number of 10s and the other beings 1s to practice modeling numbers for place value or add within 100.

For word work or reading:

Write letters on a spinner, spin and then record the letter. You could also write sight words in on spinners and then spin to match sight words. Additionally you could have a spinner with word families and children write down words that have the same word family ending.


Roll/ Spin and Cover:

Just like the spin and record, the spinners hold the key to many different skills that can be practiced. This game requires a recording sheet where students will find and mark or color the answer or match. The great thing about this game is that it can be done independently or with a partner.

For example: You could spin a capital letter and the children have to match to the lowercase match on their recording sheet.  Children could also spin two times and then add, multiply, build numbers, or even practice recording fact families.

Bump Games:

This game is sort of like the “level 2” partner version of a roll and cover game. Whether you’re practicing math facts, identifying sight words, or even phonics skills, bump games follow the same basic format. Students either roll, spin, or choose a card and then mark  on a game mat. They take turns with a partner. If their partner gets the same option as them, they can bump the first player’s piece away and replace it with their own. If you get a solution that you already have one playing piece on, you get to place a second piece on top to “lock the spot” so you can’t be bumped.

Write the Room:

There are tons of reasons I love Write the Room Practice and one of them is that it’s a common routine that children get used to. They know to grab a clip board, pencil, and move around the room responsibly to complete their task.

The write the room cards around the room can have numbers, equations, shapes, colors, words, sentences, or even reading comprehension questions. The options are endless! I loved using a common recording sheet with common images students were used to finding, but it’s also super fun to mix things up at different holiday time!


Color By Code:

I’ve also written about why I love this sort of practice so much. These are engaging for students, can be used to practice math skills or word study skills and they can be used during many different times of day. It’s fun to have different seasonal images, and you can choose different ones for different groups of students in order to differentiate while everyone is still working on the same type of activity.

Matching Game:
The fun thing about matching games is that they can be used to practice basic skills such as matching letters, colors, or numbers. Matching games can also be used to identify factors, solve equations, match number models, or even practice algebraic skills.

Clip Cards:

Clip cards are great for hands on practice of skills, whether counting, reading, vocabulary, or even punctuation. The opportunities are endless. These cards basically have a question or prompt and then multiple choice where students can use clothespins or paperclips to  clip the correct answer.

When I introduce each of these type of activities, I tend to have the whole class working on the activity at once so I can really answer any questions, we can talk about behavior expected for our routines, and I really just introduce these like I would an other routine or part of our day.

After that practice, our centers and small group or partner work goes much more smoothly!

Do you have any other “go to” activities?