Dangler Days or What to do when half your students are out?

With the holiday season just around the corner, and PARCC testing looming in the distance, my colleagues and I have had much discussion recently on –  what I have affectionately come to call – dangler days.  Days that you’re not to sure how to handle – they just dangle there, and you’re left to figure out whether to attach them to a lesson or a unit, or just hit play on the newest Pixar blockbuster.

This includes those last-minute delayed-opening/early-dismissal/snow days, those days when half of your students are out on a band field trip, those freakishly odd weeks when you only see your students for two days, and the dreaded testing days when your students are mentally exhausted and daydreaming of a utopian world without multiple-choice questions. You can’t possibly move on with instruction because then you’d have to catch up the other half of your students before school, after school, or during recess – which would be a ridiculously inefficient waste of time for everyone. So what are you to do?

Fear not fellow educomrades! I’ve compiled a list of activities you can utilize that will allow the students who are present to simply have more practice with concepts and skills they are already familiar with (and quite possibly have some fun while doing it).

Reader’s Theater

My students absolutely LOVE having the chance to shine in the spotlight and having a role to play.  Unfortunately, I rarely have time for reader’s theater in my 6th grade ELA classroom.  There is just too much “stuff” we have to get through in time for state testing and my students need all the practice and feedback they can get.  So, when we do have a random dangler day or two, I love slowing down to perform some reader’s theater.  This can work for ELA as well as History/Social Studies classes. Below, you’ll find a list of links with resources for reader’s theater scripts.  They range from short 3 minute scenes from movies (A Christmas Story) to full-length plays (A Christmas Carol) and even historical fiction/historical reenactments.  Reader’s theater can help students with skills such as fluency, intonation, visualizing, identifying character traits, and can lead to a deeper understanding and connection with a text.

Resources:

1. ReadWriteThink 

2. Reader’s Theater Scripts 

3. Busy Teacher’s Cafe: Reader’s Theater 

4. Aaron Shepard’s Reader’s Theater Editions

Close Reading

Being able to read a text closely, draw conclusions, and comb through for evidence is one of the most important skill sets that the Common Core State Standards and the new standardized tests (PARCC) are focusing on.  Why not take this dangler day to give your kids some extra practice.  You can pick high-interest texts that you know they love (The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, The Maze Runner) or you can even let them pick the text such as song lyrics. If you’re really feeling ambitious, you can gather a few clips from popular movies (easily found on YouTube and Google) and see how they transfer these skills to film.  I find it usually works well if you break the students into groups so they have a small support system. Then if there’s time at the end of class, each group can present their findings.

Resources:

1. Close Reading of Media

2.  ReadWriteThink: Close Reading 

3. Common Core Toolbox: Close Reading

Debates

Not only do students get very heated when debating about controversial topics they care about (Are video games causing children to be more violent? Should students get paid to go to school?), but they also are able to practice important skills such as supporting claims with evidence.  Especially for students who are more of the social-butterfly type and aren’t too hot on actually writing argumentative essays, debating can be a way to get these students engaged in this skill that they might otherwise have just skipped over. Students can be broken into teams and given several articles to use as their “research”, or if you have more time, you can give the students’ free-reign over researching and finding what articles to use.

Resources:

1. Room for Debate (NYTimes)

2. The Teaching Factor: Debate Topics

3. Middle School Debate Topics 

Explore Web Tools

One of my all-time favorite ways to use a dangler day, is to have my students explore and teach themselves (imagine that!) how to use web2.0 tools.  I will typically select 2 or 3 web tools, on which I give a brief (2 minute) run-down. Students will have the rest of the period to explore 1 or more of these tools to make something useful such as a study guide, a visual display, create a story, etc.  Most websites/tools have a Help or FAQ page that I encourage students to use before asking me for assistance.  Not only do students get to learn how to use new web tools, they also learn a little something about grit and problem solving.

Resources:

1. Glogster

2. Word Mover 

3. Piktochart 

4. Prezi

5. Pinterest

Resource Harvesting

Similar to exploring web tools, I have also had the idea of giving my students the job of “resource harvesting”.  By this, I mean that students are able to explore the web/books/image/videos/whatever to find resources that relate to what we have been learning in class.  In order to do this, you do have to trust your students, and you do have to set up some boundaries.  I usually will give my students a starting point for where to look (such as limiting them to educational YouTube channels or specific websites).  I also require students to fill out a Google Form by the end of the class period with the resources they found and what lesson/skill it could work with. This way, students are held accountable and aren’t just roaming around cyber world. From this experience, students can learn that the internet/books are not only fun, but educational, and you as the teacher can gain a wealth of new, relevant, and relatable resources.

Regardless of which way you choose to go with your dangler days, be creative. Don’t be afraid to let your students have a little fun, and certainly don’t be afraid to let your students learn a little. This list of dangler-day ideas could go on and on. If you’ve got a dangler-day idea, please feel free to share in the comments below!

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