Friday, February 1, 2013

Puzzles as Work Tasks

When I started my first teaching job in January (yes...the middle of the year!), I entered a classroom with no materials and four out of control kiddos!  My coworkers were nice enough to lend me some of their materials to get started, but I still didn't have enough to keep those busy hands occupied all day!  One of my aunts/uncles gave me a gift card to Lakeshore Learning as a graduation gift and I scoured the website for hours trying to find which product would get me the most activities for my money!  I ended up buying a set of 26 alphabet puzzles!  Of course, this was 6 years ago now, so the puzzles no longer exist on their site, but these bad-boys have lasted me all 6-years of teaching (and probably led to my obsession with Lakeshore!).  I kind of forgot about them because they were all cozied up in one of my cabinets, but they were a great thing to stumble across this week as I was looking for new work tasks for my class!

In my classroom, work station is an area where students work independently on skills/tasks they have already mastered.  This allows them to learn how to work on their own without an adult as well as give them additional practice opportunities to maintain skills.  I store all their extra work in the tubs on the right (in the picture below).  My assistants place 1-5 activities (depending on the student) in the drawers on the left.  Each day, the students go to their drawer, open it, take out their work and walk to a desk.  There, they complete the work and when they are finished, they return it to their drawer (where later my assistants undo the work and set-up new tasks for the next day).  A lot of this work gets repetitive, so I am always truing to think of new things to Lakeshore puzzles being my latest addition!

 I picked out the puzzle that still had all the pieces and placed them in one bin with some cookie trays I bought at the dollar tree this week.  The hard part about giving puzzles as work station tasks are that students usually need to clean them up when they are finished.  When this happens, the adults have no way of knowing whether or not the students completed the task correctly (or at all).  That is why, we are using the cookie sheets.

 So, students take out their work. 

Complete the puzzle on the cookie tray (I had to cut a little slit because they were slightly too small....ugh!)

Then, return the completed task to their drawer. 


  1. I love how you explained exactly how you accomplish their independent work. That is very helpful to me. I am new to self contained this year and struggle to get my students to do anything on their own. Thank you for sharing your step by step routine with pictures. I have a question for you. Have you had the same students for six years? Do they have you all day? If yes,what are the pros and cons as a teacher in this position (if you feel comfortable posting or emailing me them)?. Thanks again, Heather

    1. I usually have students for 2-3 years. I do have them all day (except when they go to gym, music, library for inclusion). I really enjoy having the students for multiple years because you really get to know them see them progress. Also, since my kids thrive on consistency and struggle with change, it sometimes takes them a whole year just to adjust to a new classroom...then the following years, you really get to see the progress start! The major con I can see is when I get a student who has had a bad teacher for several years...then they miss out on that much time learning! Does that answer your question? If you want to email me to discuss more, feel free Thanks for reading...I love comments!!

  2. I am many tasks and what sort of tasks do you give students at an independent station? Right now my students have 5 tasks at a time, and earn a reward after completing 5. The hard part is that they work at such different rates...sometimes they speed through stuff and sometimes the stuff I think will be quick takes awhile. I also have at least one student who does not do anything independently and has to be prompted to continue sorting, etc. Just curious how you manage the work at your stations. I am finding I am having a hard time with "timing" and there always seems to be too little or too much work.

    I am also curious - in your schedule if it is time for students to go on to a new station, but they have not finished the work where they are, what do you do? Do you just move them on, or do you have them stay where they are until they are finished?

    1. For number of work tasks, it kind of depends on each of my students. Some of my beginning students have 2 things (like a 5 piece puzzles and stringing some beads) while my more advanced students may have a packet of 3 worksheets, 2 file folders, and a sorting task.

      I agree that the hardest part of an independent stations is the timing! I kind of have it set up so that half of my students are doing a rotation of 3 independent stations while the other half are doing stations that are run by adults (me/my assistants). The stations run by adults are easy to manage and make sure kids finish activities...and if the time is up, even in the middle of the activity, we still switch. If a student doing the independent stations finishes faster, they usually end up getting a break until their next rotation starts (although I try and add/take out work to keep them as close to the scheduled time as possible). For students who don't complete their work at an independent station, I usually have them stay their until they finish (which usually means they miss out on something else they like). I also have one student who occasionally doesn't complete the work at one of his first stations. When this happens, he continues on to the next activities as scheduled...but when his break time starts, he has to go back and finish his work instead of getting a break.

      For my student who requires more prompts to work independently/stay focused:
      This student began with one very easy and quick task which I knew he could complete independently (because we had worked on it together at another station). He has an adult assigned to him at the independent station to deliver edible reinforcement 3 times throughout the task (we are going to try and slowly fade these out). He receives edibles (like 1 skittle) 3 times during the station. Once, right when he gets started on his own, again when he is half way finished, and at the end when he has completed all his work. Once he could complete the one task at the independent station, we added another task (so now he is up to 2 tasks independently. He still receives only 3 edibles. I am also having my assistant slowly move farther and farther away from him during his work time.

      Oh man...sorry for writing a novel! Hope that all makes sense and I answered your can always email me as well ( Have a great weekend!

  3. I love the cookie sheet idea!!! Noe I need to head over to the dollar store.

    Learning Ahoy!

  4. Love your blog, and your ideas and answers to questions!

  5. Thank you for the "novel." I have been struggling with how to keep us all on schedule. I never know if I have the kids move on to the next thing even if they haven't finished the task at hand or not. The hard part is that the behavior system most of them use has the possibility of them earning a break in the middle of a work session, which of course keeps them from completing the activities within the work station time. I can never seem to figure out why the schedule I have on paper doesn't really seem to work in practice. I think we could be getting a lot more done, if it wasn't for my stinky time management!

    There, I wrote a novel back. Thank you for your time!