Wednesday, October 30, 2013

10 Ways to Use Links in Your Classroom

If you are an elementary teacher, chances are you have links in your classroom. My first year as a kindergarten teacher I learned quickly that these colorful pieces of plastic can quickly turn from a math tool to a weapon of mass destruction! It's important to teach your kids (especially those in K-2) appropriate ways we can use links as learning tools to avoid the inevitable link-lasso-whack-in-the-face.

It's easy to say, "Well I just won't use them because my kids can't handle them." Yes, you can do that. But you'd be missing out on the opportunity to teach your students an important lesson: Just because we can, doesn't mean we should. You'd also be missing out on a really fun and engaging tool that can be used to teach a plethora of skills to our little learners.

Here are 10 ways you can incorporate these fun, little pieces of plastic into your curriculum:

1. Patterns

Links can be used to teach your students the concept of patterning. From AB to ABCD, links give you a wide option to practice with. You can have kids pattern with just the links or use a tray like the one in the photo. I purchased the tray in the photo from Lakeshore Learning. In kinder, most kids didn't need the tray but it's very beneficial for students with special needs. 

2. Building Numbers

For kinder and first grade students learning how to write numbers is an essential skill. Using links adds a tactile experience that many students need. I recommend giving students a model of the numbers you want them to build and having them recreate that number using the links. You could also have them place the links directly on the model for more support (see photo). I've made a PDF file with outlines for numbers 1-20, capital letters, lowercase letters and a blank ten frame. You can use these outlines in your classroom. I recommend copying them on cardstock, laminating them and you're good to go! You can pick the file up here.

3. Building Letters

In addition to learning how to write numbers, learning how to write capital and lowercase letters is a must for primary students. Similar to the "building numbers" activity, give your students a model of the letters you want them to build or ask them to lay the links directly on the model for more support. You can pick up the outline mats I used in the photo here. (These mats can also be used for play doh practice. Just make sure you laminate them first or you'll be sorrrrrrry!) ;)

4. Word Work

My friend Hannah teaches kindergarten and during her daily five time she lets her kids use the links to spell out popcorn words. Most do fine without a model, but they are good to have for differentiation purposes. They use her popcorn word wall to check their spelling. Fun!

5. Place Value

When teaching early place value concepts, links make a great tool. Use links to create strands of tens (connected links) and single links to act as ones. You can use links when modeling the concept of groups of tens and leftovers during whole group, small group or math stations.

6. Skip Counting

When teaching your kids how to skip count by 2s, 5s and 10s, links provide a nice visual aide. Group the links according to the pattern you are teaching. 

7. Sorting

I bought this nice sorting mat from Lakeshore ages ago. You don't need fancy, plastic mats like these but they are nice! Sorting can be done whole group, small group or during math stations. This can be an open ended task where you allow kids to sort their own way. You can also assign them a specific way to sort: by color, shape, size, etc. This concept can be taught during math or science (physical properties of matter).

8. Graphing

Place a set of different colored or shaped links in a bag. Ask students to count how many they have of each color or shape and graph them. (The tray was bought at Lakeshore.) Easy math station!

9. Incentives

Links can be used as a tool for tracking incentives. You can do this for good behavior, homework or attendance. Every time your class meets whatever goal you set, add a link. When you get to X amount of links, y'all get a treat! Easy and fun!!

10. 1:1 Correspondence

Counting with 1:1 correspondence is a basic but important skill to teach our little ones. For this activity, give each child a handful of links. You can call out a number or show a number to your students, then ask them to show you that many links. If working with numbers 0-10, using a ten frame is very beneficial. Have them layout each link in one frame of the ten frame and touch each link as they count. To differentiated for more advanced students you can ask them a question like, "How many more do I need to make a ten? How do you know?" You can also ask them to show you larger numbers.

10 ways to use links in your classroom and none of them involved forging plastic weaponry! Do you use links in your classroom? If you have any other ways to use links, please leave a comment below! I'd love to hear about them! 

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