Academic Word List, for higher level spellers

Do you want a set of spelling words, that can challenge and help your fast learners? I’ve got several kids who have blazed their way through the school spelling lists, and are also ready to get into bigger ideas. Here’s an idea you might like to try: words used in academic study.
Victoria University’s Averil Coxhead researched the language used in tertiary study, for an MA Thesis. The resulting Academic Word List (AWL) “was primarily made so that it could be used by teachers as part of a programme preparing learners for tertiary level study or used by students working alone to learn the words most needed to study at tertiary institutions.”
Too challenging for primary and intermediate school kids? I don’t think so …
My learners need to use words such as data, definition, method and role. They  need to understand concepts such as distribution, consumer, credit and potential. They need to be able to interpret, deduct, justify and transfer. So for those students who are ready, I think the AWL  is a great source of words and discussion.
The most frequently used words are collected in sub-lists on the Victoria University site.  A great ESL website has re-shuffled the 10 sub-lists, with links to definitions for each word.
I plan to chunk the sub-lists into ten or 20 words, discuss meaning and usage in a workshop (with technology access), and test for spelling/definition/sentences. 
Any ideas or questions for using this lists at school are welcome in the comments.

Maths games for home and classroom

A collection of maths games that can be played at home and in the classroom.  These are reinforcement activities aimed at 8-10 year olds, but are adaptable to any age and stage.

I can’t believe it has been six months since my last blog post! It was very hard teaching with a broken leg, and as I recovered – not only because of my limited mobility, but also because I was getting really, really tired. I didn’t have the time or energy left over for blogging, even though we were doing art and all sorts of other fabulous learning in the classroom. So I’ve got some great work from 2015 to blog, and I’m looking forward to sharing adventures with my new class from February.

To kick off my 2016 blogging, here is a collection of maths games for home and school, designed to be used as practice when children already understand a mathematical operation. I’ve aimed the collection at children about 8, 9 and 10 years old, but everything can be adapted for learners at different stages.

You can see and share the Google Doc here, or read about the activities below.

PLEASE NOTE: the Google Doc will be updated, but the blog post (below) will not. So over time, there will be differences between the two versions. For the most up-to-date games and activities, please hit the Google Doc link.




By Caroline Larnach update 21.1.16

This is a collection of games and activities for recall and practice of basic facts in mathematics, for children working at stages 5, 6 and early 7 in NZ mathematics. Everything here uses very simple resources, such as fingers, dice, playing cards, DIY cards, and paper. 

Anyone is welcome to use, share and adapt these games and activities to help kids learn and love maths. If you share this collection, please also pass on my blog address (carolineisateacher). Visitors to the blog can find updates and give suggestions. Thank you for helping our kids love maths!

A game to support recall of multiplication facts, for two players.


  • Hands!

How to play:

1. Players put their hands behind their backs and fold/hold fingers to create a number. On the count of three, both players show their hands.

2. First person to say the multiplication product of the hands ‘wins’ the draw.


A game to support recall of addition facts, for three players.


  • A set of DIY cards numbered 1 to 20

How to play:

  1. Place shuffled cards face-down in middle of table. The first player (the caller) gives a card each to players 2 and 3, facedown. The Caller commands  “salute” and the other two players lift their card (without looking) and hold it against their foreheads, facing out.
  2. The Caller mentally adds and calls the total of both cards.
  3. Players 2 and 3 must use the total and the card that they can see to work out what their own card must be. (e.g. if the total is 17 and my buddy’s card is 9, mine must be 8 because 17 – 9 = 8 and 8 + 9 = 17)
  4. First to call out their own number ‘wins’ the pair.


– change rules to multiplication (i.e. caller mentally multiplies both cards)

– to play solo, time yourself flipping and answering a given number of pairs (e.g. how fast can you flip and add/multiply 5 pairs)

– two players can have a deck each and flip cards at the same time, competing the call the total and win the pair of cards

– use a larger deck, with DIY cards up to 60 (can also be used for Six60) or 100 (for Fastest Hundred) to practice adding larger numbers


4 in a row
A game to support understanding of multiplication facts, for two or more players


  • Answer grid (fill a 5×5 grid with answers to multiplication problems using factors up to 10, or use a pre-completed grid such as these examples).
  • playing card
  • game pieces for each player (e.g. counters or coins), or highlighters to mark off numbers
  • How to play:
    1. Players take turns flipping two cards.
    2. Multiply the 2 numbers and announce the product.
    3. If the product is on anyone’s answer grid, it gets covered with with a game piece or checked with a highlighter.
    4. First player to cover 4 numbers in a row or column, wins.

    – use dice and a smaller grid for factors up to 6, and aim for 3 in a row.

    – discuss that it’s OK to have some numbers repeated on the grid if they have a variety of factors. Which numbers would be best to repeat, and why?


Multiply Me
A game to practice recall of multiplication facts, for two players.


  • A pack of regular playing cards, either face cards taken out or agree that Jack = 10, Queen = 11, King = 12, Ace = 1
  • OR a set of DIY cards, numbered 1 – 12

How to play:
1. Shuffle cards and split the deck between players. Place face down in front of each player.

  1. On the count of three, both players flip their top card, multiply the numbers and call out the answer.
  2. Fastest answer wins the pair. Compete to get the full deck!


– to play solo, time yourself flipping and answering a given number of pairs (e.g. how fast can you flip and answer 5 pairs)


Fastest Hundred
A game to support recall of pairs that make 100.


  • A set of cards, numbered 0 – 100 (“DIY 100 cards”).

How to play:

  1. Shuffle cards and place face down in middle of table. Take turns to flip the top card only.
  2. Players compete to call the “missing partner” that would add to a total of one hundred e.g. if card reads ‘42’ players call “58” (42 + 58 = 100)
  3. Fastest to call the  missing number wins that card. Compete to win the most cards!


  • to play solo, spread cards face down and play ‘memory’, finding pairs that make 100.
  • to develop 2-digit addition skills, flip two cards and call the sum
  • to develop 2-digit addition skills and play solo, time yourself flipping and answering pairs (e.g. how fast can you flip and answer 5 pairs)


A game to support understanding of time, by reinforcing pairs that make 60. Helps to understand “minutes to the hour”, and to calculate time passing. For two or more players. This is a variation of ‘Fastest Hundred’.


  • A set of cards numbered 0 to 60 (remove top cards from DIY 100 cards).

How to play:

  1. Shuffle cards and place face down in middle of table. Take turns to flip the top card only.
  2. Players compete to call the “missing partner” that would add to a total of sixty e.g. if card reads ‘23’ players must call “37” (23 + 37 = 60)
  3. Fastest to call the  missing number wins that card. Compete to win the most cards!


  • to play solo, spread cards face down and play ‘memory’, finding pairs that make 60.


Top That!

  1.  Remove the Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Aces from a deck of cards.
  2.  Shuffle the deck and deal five cards to each player.
  3.  Take the next card from the deck and put it face-up on the table in front of the players.  This is called the Top Card.  (There will only be one Top Card for everyone to see.)
  4.  Every player multiplies each of his/her cards by the Top Card and records the products on the scoring sheet.

For example, if the Top Card is 5 and your hand is 3, 7, 6, 2, and 4, you will record 15 (3×5), 35 (7×5), 30 (6×5), 10 (2×5), 20 (4×5).  The final step is to add each of the products and record the total for that hand.  Your score sheet would look like this:

Top Card: 5

My cards: 3, 7, 6, 2, 4

Product: 15, 35, 30, 10, 20

Total: 110

  1.  Share your scoring sheet with the other players- make sure everyone agrees on each product as well as the sum of those products!
  2.  For the next hand, collect all of the cards, reshuffle, and repeat the above steps.
  3.  At the end of eight hands, add all of the totals for your Game Total.  The player with the highest Game Total is the winner!    

Decimal Flip
A game to practice the addition of whole numbers and decimals, using tenths. For two players.


  • A set of playing cards, with 10s and face cards removed
  • two coins

How to play:

  1. Shuffle cards and split the pack, so each player has a stack. Place cards face-down on table.
  2. In front of each player place a coin to represent the decimal point mark.
  3. Each player flips two cards. They place one card on the left of their coin,  representing a number in the ‘ones’ column. Their second card is on the right of the coin, representing a number in the ‘tenths’ column.

e.g. my cards are 5 card / coin / 9 card (5.9), and yours are 3 card / coin / 8 card (3.8) 

5. Players race to add the ones and tenths.

5.9 + 3.8 = 8 ones and 17 tenths (1 whole and 7/10) = 9.7


– to play solo, time yourself flipping and answering a given number of pairs (e.g. how fast can you flip and add 5 pairs)

– make it harder by using DIY 100 cards for the whole numbers, and playing cards for the tenths.

– make it even harder by using only DIY 100 cards for whole numbers and hundredths


Other suggestions for home

  • Display a poster chart of the times tables in an often-seen location. In the kitchen, or back of the toilet door, perhaps? You can download charts from the internet, or buy posters cheaply at $2 stores.
  • Create ‘grids’ for children to complete. A grid randomly arranges numbers across the top (x axis) and side (y axis) of a table; children find the answer for a given box by multiplying the corresponding x and y. Time children for completion and calculate accuracy. Most importantly: celebrate improvements!

Tip: Please don’t ask kids to rule up their own grid table – it can be very stressful, and will detract from the real activity. Adults can draw up grids, or download blank or pre-filled templates online

  • See and Do … allow children to see the times table poster chart and complete a grid at the same time. The visual reminder will help with learning unknown facts; when facts are committed memory, children will realise that using recall is faster than looking


Ideas for the car

  • Download a playlist, or buy a CD, of times-table songs. (Got a good one? Let me know!)
  • notice the last 2 digits of a car licence plate. Family members take turns to use addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to create the best problems they can that use or end in that number.  e.g. for plate ABC515 make problems that use 15…

(+) 12 + 3 = 15 (easy), or 13.7 + 1.3 = 15 (harder)

(-) 20 – 5 = 15, or 163 – 148 = 15

(x) 5 x 3 = 15, or 15 x 7 = 105

(/) 15 / 5 = 3, or 75 / 15 = 5

  • estimate the number of a specific vehicle or object that will be seen within a certain time or distance. e.g. “I estimate we will pass 12 power poles in the next minute”, “I estimate we will see 8 red cars in the next 3 minutes”, or “I estimate 16 trucks will come towards us in the next ten kilometres”. Compare estimate to results and discuss why may have been a difference (e.g. “we travelled faster than I thought, so we passed more power poles”, or “we got stuck at lights for a whole minute, so we didn’t pass as much traffic”). Try again with a new estimate and compare the results – were you closer?
  • months and days: every time you get in the car, recite the multiplication and division tables corresponding to that month (e.g. in February, recite 2x multiplication and division tables); create problems that use or end in the day of the month (e.g. on 23rd March, make problems that end in or use 23 – like the licence plate game above); use day and month to add/subtract/multiply/divide (e.g. 23 + 3 = 26, 23 – 3 = 19, 23 x 3 = 69, 23 / 3 = 7r2


Have you got a suggestion?
Got an idea for another home game and activity? Know a really cool song or game? Got a comment on the ideas here? Are they working for your class or your own kids?

Please contact me at or I would love to hear from you.

I learned some of these games and activities at teachers’ college, received some from colleagues, adapted some, and invented some. If anything here has a source I have not credited, just let me know.


We are all heroes

FlyingOne of the younger classes at school organised  “Heroes Day”,  celebrating people who do great things. The class was raising money and awareness to help KidsCan, a New Zealand charity that does awesome work supportong kids who go without the basics.

KidsCan addresses New Zealand’s serious problems in child poverty. We’re a first world-country that has shameful statistics in child health, nutrition and poverty. KidsCan provides raincoats, shoes, socks, and food for children who need help.

I love what KidsCan does, but I’m painfully aware that their work is a band-aid solution. What they do helps kids, but it doesn’t address the problems that lead to poverty, hunger and illness.

I am a firm believer that a strong society helps its weakest members; I would love it if KidsCan no longer had to support our children. In the meantime, helping out and raising awareness makes our kids heroes!

Children’s poetry about their dance performance

Poem Chloe 

After the final performance of our space dance, we did a writing lesson based on the experience. The idea was to create poetry about dancing, and the learning intention was to start sentences by making effective verb/adverb combinations.

Our first step was to brainstorm verbs describing what the children did before, during and after the dance. I wrote their ideas on the whiteboard, down the centre  (column 2) of a three-column table. Then we talked about how an adverb makes a verb more interesting or informative – I used columns 1 and 3 to model how an adverb can be placed before or after a verb (e.g. gracefully lifting, or lifting smoothly). As a class, we came up with adverbs for the first dozen or so verbs, and then children completed the table independently, adding their own verbs and adverbs if they wished.

Next, we created and shared sentences that started with a verb+adverb combination, e.g. “Turning swiftly, I floated across the dance floor” and then a adverb+verb combination, e.g. “Patiently waiting, I counted the beats before I blasted off”.

Then I shared my own poem, about hiking the mighty Tongariro Crossing. It had three verses in this format: verb+adverb sentence / adverb+verb sentence / simile sentence, and it ended with a metaphor.

Finally, with my model pasted in their writing books, the children wrote their own poems. I scaffolded them according to their needs: coaching very capable writers to adopt other writing techniques and/or refine over-written work, helping others to plan a focus for each verse, and working sentence-by-sentence with those that needed more assistance.

Here are some excerpts of the children’s beautiful poetry inspired by dancing:

Waiting nervously, I stand quietly outside the hall ready to perform
Tensely creeping into the darkness, I crouch on the floor waiting for the beat.
We all rise like the burning sun.
Elliot (9)

Suddenly exploding, I burst off into the colourful planet.
Drifting slowly on the dance floor, I feel the softness of the fluro light going through my hands.
Slowly waving, my glow stick floats around me like planets.
Kailin (10)

Rhythmically stepping, we make figure eights with our poi.
Rotating dizzily, we circle around the front row dancers.
Our costumes flap like a flag in the wind.
I am a dancing comet.
Jamie (9)

Freestyling uncontrollably, I swing my poi like a solar flare bursting from the sun.
Motionlessly halting, I soak up the deafening applause.
The rowdy applause is a raging thunderstorm.
Alexander (10)

Olivia poemJamie poem Anson poem

Part of a 2m long wall display, using photos and the words they brainstormed about dancing. This was intended as an inspiration board, so it was a “quickie” – banged up overnight, to get words and images ready for the actual writing session. The poems were added later.

More about our outer space costumes


The costumes for our space dance were really effective under the UV lights, and – once we had the concept sorted – relatively simple to put together. The basis of all the costumes were black pants and long-sleeve tops, which the kids bought in from home.


The overall concept came from the layers that made up the final ‘exploding star’ move in their dance routine.
– the central four children had white caps made from stretch jersey, with their clothes covered in big white dots, cut from sheets of adhesive labels. They wore white fringed leg-bands, and spots of face paint. They also secreted in a super-cool accessory – umbrellas covered in glowing circles, that popped and spun like solar systems when our star ‘exploded’.
– the next eight kids were ringed in green. We used fluro gaffer tape to create horizontal lines across their belly, back and arms. They had a single stripe of face paint from ear to ear, and head bands cut from stretchy green fabric.
– the next eight were blue and white, like gases in a star’s atmosphere. They wore blue tops from our school costume cupboard, with ‘wings’ of white tassled fabric sewn along the under-seam of the arms. Their white caps had long tassles that plumed behind them as they danced, and white leg-bands. Three blue parallel stripes were painted on each cheek.
– the final kids, twirling around the outside, were bright comets. They wore pink and orange hats, and arm wings which glowed like flying flames. They all had pink swirls on their cheeks, and the girls had simple, elasticated skirts.

And of course, each child had their own, much-loved poi. We made them using tennis balls from the PE shed, and used gaffer tape to attach 40cm strings and long tails of off-cut fabric.

At the eleventh hour, I pulled together my own costume – a pink bob wig, black and white striped top, white tutu and long white socks under my Doc Martens. The kids cracked up laughing at me – just the way I like it!

With the help of a team of awesome parents it all came together like magic! When the kids finally saw each other  in full costume, with the black lights blazing, they were fizzing with excitement.

Watch us dance! – childrens’ performance inspired by outer space

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 3.18.04 pmAmanda_Grimsey_9486

Here are the wonderful children of Room 27 performing “Exploding Planet” – their self-created dance, inspired by outer space. Please check out the video that we made. I couldn’t be more proud of them!

This fabulous song is “L’Esperanza” by the Belgian duo Airscape. The Year 5 teachers had planned for a space theme to merge with inquiry learning, and I knew from the outset that I wanted a trance track – Airscape fit the bill perfectly.

I introduced L’Esperanza to the children before they knew that they would be dancing to it, so they would become used to the patterns and tempo. The choreography was developed  in a series of dance workshops.  We talked about how things move through space, how stars and planets form and explode, and how celestial objects orbit a larger star or planet. At first the kids free-danced, getting into the feeling of the song and discovering what their bodies could do, then they started making patterns. In pairs and small groups, they came up with ‘moves’ that worked with the music and the idea of space. They shared their ideas and tried things that might work together, and I threaded it all into a final routine.

When you watch the video you will see the dance ‘peak’ at the end, as the kids portray a star exploding. At the core are solid molecules [white spots, with umbrellas]; turning and surrounding them are rings of energy [green stripes]; next, you see an atmosphere of gas [on the floor, blue & white]; and spinning around them all are comets and meteors [pink & orange]. When the music peaks, the layers blow apart in a final supernova.

The poi were a relatively late addition (I wanted to get the kids’ feet and bodies moving before we added the extra dimension of poi) and intended to be only a small part of the performance. However, the kids were TOTALLY into swinging and dancing, and the role of the poi got bigger. That trance theme just kept growing!

Each of our three classes (including one double class of 57 kids) had their own dance and my colleagues put together some shared routines for all the classes, including performances to Fat Boy Slim’s ‘Right Here, Right Now‘ and  ‘Children‘ by Robert Miles. They also sang Space Odyssey by David Bowie.

The whole production turned out better than we could have imagined and I am so, so proud of my wee gang. It’s a privilege and an honour to learn and work alongside these children.



Amanda_Grimsey_9509 Amanda_Grimsey_9507 Amanda_Grimsey_9506  Amanda_Grimsey_9487

Preparing decor, costumes and kids for a dance production

CPDS dance prep_planets_2 CPDS dance prep_planets_3

CPDS dance prep_planets_1 CPDS dance prep_planets_4

We extended our study of outer space into the performing arts curriculum, and all the Year 5 classes created dances around a space theme.  Room 27 choreographed a sequence that showed stars floating in space, coming together, and exploding. In the build up to our performance, we got creative with the decor and costumes.

A galaxy of planets and stars were created for the walls of the school hall, which we blacked out using layers of polythene (a really cheap and effective solution, very easy to put up with staple guns and a few ladders). In small groups, children traced and coloured dozens of circles onto large rolls of paper. Some were faithful depictions of planets such as Earth and Mars, others were kids’ wild and fantastic ideas of far-away celestial bodies.

Late after school one night, my colleague Erin and I went loose with loud music and pots of luminous paint. We layered up the children’s artwork with colour that would glow and pop off the walls when the black-lights came on. We had SO MUCH FUN!

CPDS dance prep_costumes3 CPDS dance prep_costumes2Meanwhile, my living room was being transformed into a psychedelic sewing workshop. I planned the costumes around a key moment in our routine, when the kids would come together in concentric circles and perform the final explosion of a star. Piles of flourescent fabric built up, as I pulled together the ideas for 26 costumes. The help of an amazing group of parents finished it all off – we’ve got a great school community, who are so supportive of what we do in class.

Back at school, we were finessing routines and rehearsing our movements. I’m looking forward to showing you the final outcome!

Outer space – learning resources for children

We’re focusing on outer space in class this term and the children are getting into self-directed learning. I lead workshops on research skills and the students ‘dive in’ to our information sources.

I made a collection of learning resources on outer space for children – websites, videos and lessons mostly suitable for learners their age (8, 9 and 10 years old). It’s OK with me that some of the videos and lessons are sophisticated – even if kids aren’t fully comprehending the content, they’re looking at graphics and laying a foundation for ideas they’ll grasp another time.

Please feel free to copy and use this collection in your own teaching and learning.

Caroline’s Super-Cool Space Collection

The size and scale of the solar system
Compare the size of the sun and earth, compare sun to other stars, learn about the relative size of our solar system. A video from Khan Academy.

Compare the size of the moon, planets and sun
Simple illustration of how space objects near to Earth compare in size

Stars, blackholes and galaxies
How they formed and what happens to them (another Khan Academy video)

How big is the sun?
The sun and moon look like they’re about the same size in sky. A discussion of distance and radius. 

A day in the life of an astronaut

Compare worms, humans, Mt Everst, the moon, the Sun and other stuff

Why is the moon bigger on the horizon?
Have you ever seen the moon rising and noticed how huge it appears? Learn why it looked so big…

One small step for man…”
Watch the film of when man first landed on the moon

Learn about the Hubble space telescope

Amazing pictures of space, taken from the Hubble space telescope

These are real photos, taken by a hugely powerful camera.

How do we study stars?

What is a black hole?

“Twinkle, twinkle little star … you look small ’cause you are far”
Another way to sing that famous star song, using what you know about space!

A cartoon about comets

Dig around and find out more on these cool space sites.

Astronomy for kids
A collection of learning materials aimed at kids your age

National Geographic – the Voyager mission

Watch impressive astronomy clips, famous NASA footage, missions to outer space, the moon landing, mars rovers, space shuttle launches, fun space songs for kids.

Our very local observatory in Auckland! Lots of cool information and videos

The Guardian – Space
The space reporting of a British newspaper. What happend to the Russian spacecraft? Do Mars astronauts risk brain cancer? Why is Saturn’s moon like a sponge?
Huge resource of information about space. This is not collected for kids, but there’s lots of stuff to interest you.

You mean you want more?!  You are a spacey kid … here you go, get your head around this stuff!

Why don’t we know about aliens?

How many universes are there?

Does Pluto have an ice-cap?

How do black holes work?


Thanks for dropping by!