Thursday, January 29, 2009

Basic Tips on Using Manipulatives

We know kids learn by doing. That's why manipulatives are truly awesome teaching tools. But, they must be used correctly to be the most effective. Here are some quick tips for making the most of manipulatives:

  1. Let them explore first--Give students a little time to explore a new manipulative on their own before you want them to learn with it. Your kids may want to "play" with the manipulative. They need to get this out of their system! When I was a new teacher, I skipped this step and paid the price. Not only did the kids goof off, but my principal observed my class that day! Of course, she commented that the kids were just "PLAYING with manipulatives". She was right, but it was the fault of the teacher, not the manipulatives.
  2. Model the activity--crucial for helping students understand how to properly use the manipulative.
  3. Allow ample time for hands-on, small group activities--Remember that there's a trial-and-error process that students must go through when working with manipulatives. Sometimes kids need a little extra time to build these valuable reasoning and problem-solvings skills. Children gain the most benefits from manipulatives while working in small groups with other kiddos, which promotes social and communication skills.

  4. Assess students--Observe your students working with manipulatives when possible and always have them report back on their processes and conclusions.
  5. Help students transition from pencil & paper--This is another step that's often skipped. We never want manipulatives to become a crutch for students. Explicitly teach students strategies for transitioning from using manipulatives to working only on pencil and paper. These strategies help ensure that students succeed on standardized tests and in real life. Hey folks, your kids can't whip out those Reading Rods® and pattern blocks during the test!
  6. Use more than one kind of manipulative for activities on the same topic. Otherwise, learners may begin to associate a task with the specific manipulative used. Different textures, colors and shapes of manipulatives also cater to various learning styles. Manipulatives aren't just for math, either! Make sure to build hands-on materials into language arts, science, and social studies lessons, too.

  7. Make storate easy--Conveniently store your manipulatives in clear buckets or totes. (Many Learning Resources manipulatives come already packaged in them.) Small, zip-top plastic bags are also great for storing small, presorted sets for use in centers, small groups, or take-home ("and-wish-they-come-back") lessons.

Hey, frankly, we teachers are all strapped for time and sometimes forget to build one of these steps into our lesson plans. On some days, it's just easier to have a grab-and-go guide that lays it all out for us when it comes to using manipulatives. That's exactly what the Hands-On Standards series of handbooks does for math and science.

My favorite thing about Hands-On Standards is that it has an "at-a-glance" format with photos. All the steps are actual photographs of what the children should be doing with the manipulative! Plus, all of the standards covered are printed on each page. (Boy, my principal would have loved to have seen that!) For more information, or to download free sample lessons for your grade (PreK-K, 1-2, 3-4 or 5-6), take a look:

Oh, and there's also a new a science version, Hands-On Standards Science:

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