Purposeful Sponge Activities for the Elementary Classroom

teaching Jan 30, 2020

So often, we need a short activity that can be done on the fly in or outside of our classrooms. Perhaps your schedule is never straight forward. It’s cut up into odd pieces.  

While we want to make the most of our time, odd chunks of time or time waiting in line can leave you scratching your head wondering what to do with that 5 minutes between morning meeting and heading out the door to Art or the assembly or whatever it is. You know what I mean. Here’s a list of ideas to will help you keep the learning going, make a smooth transition or to just take a brain break on the fly. 

You can grab the full list of Purposeful Sponge Activities in printable form here.


Things to Do While Waiting or Transitioning [guest speaker, assembly, lining up…]

  • Storytelling: Retell a story in order. Students take turns saying the next part.
  • Counting, Skip Counting and Number Sense: Practice counting to 100. Practice skip counting by 5s, 10s, 25s… [start in random places for older students 249]. Guess before and after a given number. What is the number 2 spots before 155? Number Bonds: Split a number into a 10 and the rest.
  • Name and Explain: explain a classroom/school rule, routine, system or expectation…
Purposeful Fillers or Sponge Activities: Things to Do with the Time Left
  • The Price Is Right: Have pictures of items students know but probably don’t know the price of [cars, electronics, food, household items, clothing…]. Pull out a picture and have students guess what the item really costs. [you can put the prices on the back of each picture if you like. You can even do comparison shopping [guess the difference in price] between like items but different brands.
  • Adding On: Students add the number the teacher gives them when the progressive addition problem gets to them.
  • 20 Questions: Pick a topic you’ve been learning about, a character from a story you’ve read… Students must pose yes or no questions for you to answer in order to figure it out. You can give them a category or subject to start with to narrow it down a bit.
  • Memory Story: Students take turns repeating the items listed before and adding in one of their own. [I went on a trip and took… I went shopping and bought… I went on safari and saw…]
  • List the colors you are wearing. Count the items in the room.
  • How Many Do You Know: continents, oceans, seas, states, capitals, presidents, countries, land forms, vertebrates…
  • Sensory Sort (pick a sense: smell, taste..) This is played a lot like "I Spy" but just with senses other than to your sight. 
  • Creator Create a [band, animal, country…] Name it and give it a backstory.
  • Four Corners: agree/disagree, favorites, annoyances, favorite food categories, third favorite animal…
  • Sentence Sort: Give teams an envelope with individual sentences that form a story or a summary of a story they know. Make it tricky by adding in an extra sentence that doesn’t fit that they have to figure out and discard.
  • Punctuation Problems: Each team gets a different one so you can trade if you have more time. Give student a sentence [or set of words to make a sentence] without punctuation or capital letters where punctuation and/or word arrangement changes the meaning and have them decide on a sentence. [ex. let’s eat grandma]
  • He Said, She Said: Put a name to the characters who said these things… [fairy tales work in a pinch]
  • Progressive Story: You start a story with one line. Each student adds a piece as the story gets to them. This can be done is table groups too.
  • Word Finder: Use all of the names in your group and come up with as many words with as you can using only those letters.
  • Crayon Box: Name all the colors you know, and then, come up with new, descriptive ones for Crayola to use [Morning Sky Blue, Race Car Red, Faded Denim, Macramé Beige].
  • Sneaky Spelling: Create a word search with your spelling words [use grid paper] and then trade and solve.
  • Categories: Name a category and have students come up with as many words in that category as they can – ex. Space, math, cells.
  • Guess my Trait: Have students who have a trait in common stand. The class needs to guess what it is that makes them the same [brown hair, kind, trustworthy, nail polish…]
  • What’s in the Box
  • Statue/Last Man Standing: Students must move until you turn around. Then, they have to freeze before you catch them. Movers sit down.
  • Bingo 
  • Change in My Pocketbook – give students the number of coins in your change purse or pocket. Students have to guess the coins, how many of each and the amount.
  • Coin Matching: have clear bags of coins. Make sure there are 2 bags with the same value [or the same coins]. Have students add the coins in their bag and find their match.
  • Quick Writes: Give students simple writing prompts that can apply to many situations like "Write a six word summary of the story." or "Write a sound effect lead lead for a story about a knight." or "Change the ending to a cliffhanger ending for this story."
  • Number Talks: What kinds of things do we know about this number? What can we do with this number? Break it apart in different ways, represent it in different ways…
  • Whiteboard Race: Create teams. Have a race to run to the board and add/subtract the next number to your team’s problem or represent a number in different ways. First team done wins.
End of Day Ideas 
  • 10 Minute Tidy: A 10 minute race to clean up as much as possible in the classroom up before the timer rings.
  • One Thing I Learned Today [yesterday, last week]: This is a good one for families to do at home, too.
  • 2 Wins and a Grow: 2 things great about today or I learned today and one thing I’m working on.
  • Name and Explain: explain a classroom/school rule, routine, system or expectation…
  • Line Ups: by last name, first name, birth month, second letter of your first name, number of letters in your name, day you were born [14th, 10th]…
Brain Breaks on the Fly
  • Simon Says
  • Heads Up 7 Up
  • Tongue Twisters while standing on one foot.
  • I Spy
  • Make Me Laugh: Tell jokes, tell funny things that have happened in your family, funny things people say… 
  • Snap, Clap Patterns [Follow the leader to snap and clap the correct pattern. This can also be done silently by miming and not actually making the snap and clap noises - great when you're waiting somewhere students need to be quiet.]







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